In recent days, a disturbing story has been unfolding about the Republican Presidential nominee, Donald Trump. After his hot mic comments to entertainment reporter Billy Bush regarding the right he felt he had to women’s bodies due to his celebrity status, numerous women have emerged with stories confirming Trump’s braggadocious claims. They have accused him of nonconsensual groping and kissing, just as his remarks conveyed.
In the days that followed, Trump and his supporters have attempted to discredit these women by insulting them and asking why they did not come forward before. “Why now?” they have asked. “Why didn’t these women come out before now? It’s a political set-up.” I shake my head and marvel at how people still do not comprehend the nuances of the power structures behind sexual assault by celebrities.
I understand exactly why women do not report or publicly talk about what happened to them. I know this because … I’m one of them. It wasn’t Donald Trump, but I was sexually assaulted by a celebrity-type when I was twenty-two years old, and I’ve never come forward and never said anything to anybody other than a therapist and a friend or two. And I’m still not coming forward now, really, as I’m keeping my and his identity anonymous. I understand this may cast doubt on this story and its validity, but the events I’m about to describe took place decades ago, and I have no desire to bring that kind of attention on myself or on the individual who assaulted me. I can’t reveal who I am because people who know me would be able to easily connect the dots of who did this. And that’s a whole can of worms I don’t want opened.
What Happened to Me
The scene went down a little something like this: I was in college and had a lot of classes with a local, somewhat nationally known celebrity-type that I had become friends with. He was significantly older than I was, but at twenty-two, I thought it was just incredibly cool to hang out with someone who had this level of fame.
One day he expressed interest in some of my artwork. I was thrilled and excited, because someone with “clout” and “prestige” was interested in my work. Maybe he could even positively influence my career! I told him I’d be happy to show him more pieces if he wanted to stop by some evening.
He stopped by one night. With a few bottles of wine.
It started out well enough. I showed him my pieces while we drank the wine and chatted. The wine of course started to have an effect on us both, and while we were sitting on the sofa talking, he suddenly leaned over and kissed me.
It took me by surprise, and at first I didn’t know how to respond. Then he did it again. I pulled away and pointed out he was in a relationship with another woman. I really didn’t think this was appropriate or right. Plus, he was twenty years older than I was, and I just wasn’t interested in him “that way.”
In response, he grabbed my arms and did it again. This time I shoved him away and tried to get off the couch, reaching for the phone as I began to realize this was quickly becoming a dangerous situation.
He was a much stronger, bigger man than my small, 5’3”, 117-pound frame, and he easily subdued me and threw the phone I had in my hand across the room, saying “Oh no you don’t!” as he pinned me to the floor and climbed on top of me.
I began to scream, begging him to stop, but knowing what was coming next.
He laughed as I yelled for help and said, mockingly, “No one is going to hear you.”
This was true, I realized, because the neighbor who lived in the apartment above me was out for the evening, I’d seen him leave earlier that night. But this man didn’t know that. When you’re fighting for your life, however, sometimes you do have strange moments of lucidity.
So, I replied, “Actually, I have a neighbor upstairs who WILL hear me. He’ll be down here any second to check on what’s going on.” Truth was, I’d barely ever spoken to him, and even if he had been home, he likely wouldn’t have done a darn thing.
It was what I needed, though, as that prospect made him pause, and he released his grip just long enough that I was able to scramble out from under him. I ran into the bedroom, closing and locking the door. I quickly got on the phone and called … not 911, not the cops, but a friend … and begged her to come over and help me.
She wanted me, of course, to call the police. But I didn’t. I knew how that story would go. I’d seen firsthand how the police dealt with women who reported assault and rape, and they definitely were not sympathetic to the victim. Plus, the man was a well-loved celebrity that they would probably side with. And I sure didn’t want to be the top story on the evening news.
That was the last thing I wanted in my life. I had a future career to think about. I had family members that were also fairly prominent in the community, and this would drag their name through the mud as much as it would me personally. I knew how the press operated, and I knew everything I’d ever done in my life would be investigated and looked into, called into question, and put out there for the entire world to see. I’d suffered from bouts of depression during my teenage years, and I knew that would likely be unearthed and used against me.
I just wanted him to go away.
My friend did eventually arrive, and that prompted him to stumble out of the house and finally leave. She stayed with me the entire night as I was shaking and crying–but despite her urgings, I was still adamant I didn’t want to call the police. I kept saying, “But nothing wound up happening. He didn’t actually wind up raping me, so there’s nothing to report.” I had gotten away, so there was no “evidence” that anything had happened.
It was my word against his. End of story.
The next morning he called … to apologize. That wasn’t “really him,” and sometimes the “demons just overcame him.” (I realize now this is classic behavior from an abuser, but back then … I was twenty-two, what did I know?)
For the next year, I faced him in the classroom every day. He was super nice to me and showered me with autographed paraphernalia and rare items that I knew were probably worth some money, or would be one day. You might say, in a way, he bought my continued silence.
As a result, I developed a type of cognitive dissonance to deal with what had happened. I refused to associate the events of that night with the person I had to interact and deal with on a daily basis. Even now I have feelings and reactions about the event, not the person per se. It’s more of a generalized “fear” and “anxiety” that rears its head when triggered, and still I do not mentally connect with it the person.
After graduation, I moved halfway across the country and didn’t really think about the incident or about him much after that. I just had a general awareness now never to invite men over to my house alone.
Years later, I would move back into the vicinity in which he was still fairly popular and well-known. I still displayed some of the items he had given me, and people thought it was cool. The cognitive dissonance I had developed years ago continued to operate. I pushed whatever negative thoughts I had toward him down into some deep recesses of my mind. People make mistakes, after all, I told myself. And it was a long time ago.
There was even a time when someone asked, since I knew him, if I’d be willing to reach out and ask him about helping with an event.
So I did.
In my own mind, I’d pretty much dismissed the entire incident. It was in the past and over. It somehow didn’t even dawn on me that reaching out would be considered strange. We’d spent a year in classes afterward and had both moved past it. I’d forgiven and forgotten.
Until I was at a movie one day with a friend where a scene very much like the one I had gone through unfolded. I began to hyperventilate and almost had to walk out of the movie.
No one was more surprised than I was at how the trauma of the event that I had long brushed off and forgotten suddenly came rushing back so many years later.
Then I felt shame. Embarrassment. Why HADN’T I come forward? Why DID I display the stuff he’d given me? Why on earth had I ever willingly reached out to him again after all those years? Why did I continue to refer to him as a “friend”? What was I thinking?
And I knew that’s exactly what everyone else would ask, too, if I ever spoke up. So I continued to say nothing.
Why Abuse Victims Wait so Long to Tell–Or Never Do
So why did these women wait until now?
Like me, they still have a career and life to think about. Family and friends that they fear would be affected … and even disappointed in them. They have a reputation that they don’t need dragged through the gutter.
Trump and his defenders have asserted that the women he allegedly abused would have sued the self-proclaimed billionaire for lots of money years ago if he were actually guilty. I would counter that while there may be those who make false allegations for monetary reasons, those of us who were actually assaulted don’t even think of such a thing. It’s not worth any amount of money to put ourselves or our loved ones through the circus that will follow if we go public.
But then, the man who assaulted me is not running for President, nor did he just have a tape reveal in his own words, on national television, that he does the things he did to me. If that were the case, if the stakes were that high—I would hope I would be brave enough to come forward.
In my case, yes … I’m still afraid. Afraid of all the things that kept me silent back then and keep me silent now. Even if I were to come forward at this point, one of two things would likely happen—I either would be dismissed and not believed after putting myself on the line (and the statute of limitations has long run out anyway), or it would start a cascade of other women coming forward to say the same thing had happened to them. I honestly don’t know if I can live with knowing that, had I said something decades ago, someone else’s trauma could have been avoided. Intellectually, I know the guilt is his burden to bear, not mine, but I still fear the devastation of such a revelation.
He’s still occasionally on TV, sometimes locally, sometimes nationally. Seeing him does not raise my anxiety level. It grabs my attention, but I immediately focus on something else. I still dissociate the event from him. It’s how I’ve learned to cope and deal. I’ve never heard a peep out of anyone else ever accusing him of something similar.
These may seem like stupid reasons. These may seem like cowardly reasons, and I admit they are. They are all the reasons and justifications for why men get away with what they do. But in a world where victims are retraumatized when they report, it seems wrong to blame women for failing to report.
I implore you to respect and listen to the women who are brave enough, years later, to come forward and say, yes, this happened to them. You have no idea what it takes to come forward. What a woman risks when she admits this happened to her and names her abuser.
For the rest of us who still have never come forward, we watch stories like the ones that have been plastered across the news in recent days, and we see our worst fears being played out on national television. We feel the trauma all over again. The guilt, the shame, the embarrassment, but mostly—the violation. The fear. The anxiety that we know how helpless we are when faced with someone who truly wants to do something despicable to us, with impunity, because he is famous. We shudder, knowing that the horrendous risk of coming forward may not yield positive changes and results, knowing that we could put everything on the line only to have the person with the power and the money destroy us all over again in a much more public way. We watch their supporters cast doubt on the women who speak out, saying all the things every woman fears will happen if she comes forward.
So we speak out on behalf of others, but not ourselves.
We stay silent about our own trauma and pain because the alternative seems so much worse.
This article originally appeared on Rebecca Florence Miller