Breaking the Silence: A Therapist Shares Her #MeToo Story

Person with shoulder-length hair wearing long dark sweater stands alone at riverside having phone conversation. Editor’s note: The following article contains material that may be triggering for some readers. Names in the article have been changed.

I don’t think I know a single woman who has not experienced sexual abuse, including myself.

When I was a child, our neighbor, Mr. Davis, who lived down the street, spent every warm day on his lawn taking in the afternoon sun. He was in a wheelchair. One day he called me over in the most piteous voice, begging me to help him with something.

“Little girl,” he said, “please help me. I’m in a wheelchair. I dropped something and can’t reach it. Come here and help me, please.”

I was a little scared of Mr. Davis, but he was in a wheelchair and needed help. Also, he was a grown-up, and I was used to obeying adults. I went over to see what he had dropped, so I could pick it up for him.

“Come closer,” he said.

I came closer. He grabbed me! He captured me in his lap, and I was not strong enough to break free. He held me with one hand and used the other to run over and under my body. He felt my tiny breast buds and my genitals, and he would not let me go. Eventually he got tired of the game, or maybe he saw someone coming, I don’t know, but I broke free and ran home crying. I told my mother what happened, expecting her to comfort me, hoping she would confront Mr. Davis and tell him off. I wanted her to defend me.

“Why did you do that?” she said. “Why did you go over to him?”

“I thought he needed help,” I said.

“It’s your own fault,” my mother said. “Next time, stay away from him. Don’t be stupid.” She was yelling at me, not at Mr. Davis, like I was wrong and he wasn’t.

I could see she was angry. I felt dumb and ashamed. Scared, too. I knew better than to tell my dad, so my mother was the first person I told. She was the only person I told until many years later—after I got married, I told my husband.

My mother’s reaction was quite typical of how many people react to reports of sexual abuse: they get angry at the victim. “Why did you act like that, dress like that? You were asking for it!” My mother taught me my first lesson about how to react to sexual assault—shut up about it; it’s your own fault; you are stupid, guilty, and should be ashamed. Don’t tell anybody or you’ll be sorry. Society’s lesson about sexual violence is to protect the perpetrator and punish the victim, keeping them powerless and silent.

Ten years later I was grown up, living by myself in an apartment in the Bronx. I took the subway to work every day. It happened on a crowded train in the Bronx, a few stations away from my stop on 167th Street. A man grabbed me, pinned me to the passenger stanchion, and raped me through my clothes—all this in front of many witnesses.

Once again, I was overpowered. His arms were like iron bands and I could not break free. I had no voice; it was gone somewhere and I couldn’t scream. I didn’t make a sound as I fought him with all my strength, but it was hopeless. I felt desperate, ashamed, and beaten. At first I tried pushing away from the stanchion for leverage, so I could get free. Then I was clinging to it, so I could at least keep on my feet. I was starting to faint when another man on the train grabbed the offender, lifted him up in the air, and pushed him out of the car at the next stop. I had been saved by a brave and decent man, and I am grateful.

Sexual predation is not about sexual urges so much as it is about aggression.The offender stood on the platform and looked in the window straight at me as the train pulled away from the station. “I’m going to kill you, bitch,” he said. He meant it. We were only one stop away from 167th Street, where I lived, and I was scared I would run into him again.

What are the effects of having been preyed upon as a woman? If you walk down the street and see a group of men, you might cross to the other side of the street. It can feel scary to be anywhere crowded, especially in an enclosed place such as a train, where you can’t get away. When you’re on a lonely street and hear a man’s footsteps behind you, you may drop back and let him walk in front so you can watch him. You might be easily startled by sudden sounds and rarely feel safe.

These are symptoms of posttraumatic stress, or PTSD.

Today we are hearing endless stories about sexual abuse, and the people who abuse are finally being called out. This is not a women’s issue. People of all genders have experienced sexual violence. Sexual predation is not about sexual urges so much as it is about aggression. We must stand up and fight for a safe world.

What can you do if you’ve been assaulted? If you are still in danger, call 911. You may consider going to a hospital to get an evaluation and gather evidence (such as a rape kit).

Once you are in a safe environment, you can contact sexual-assault resources for additional help. The nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization, the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), has a hotline you can call. You could also contact Callisto, which gives you the opportunity to write down a time-stamped record of your assault. The report can be kept private or sent to the police.

Time’s Person of the Year Award for 2017 went to “The Silence Breakers,” the brave people who have told their stories in public. Let’s work together to make our world safe. We can start by speaking up.

© Copyright 2018 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Lynn Somerstein, PhD, NCPsyA, C-IAYT, therapist in New York City, New York

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • 4 comments
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  • Notbraveenough

    Notbraveenough

    January 14th, 2018 at 10:50 AM

    Thank you for speaking up. It is very brave. Do you think we are going to see change on the scale we are all hoping for?

  • Lynn Somerstein

    Lynn Somerstein

    January 15th, 2018 at 12:59 PM

    Dear Notbraveenough, Jen, and Michelle. Thank you for your wise and kind comments and replies. We must stand up and speak up to hold and support all genders.
    I wonder too what it would be like to walk without having to be conscious of possible dangers that might be waiting.
    Thank you.

  • Jen

    Jen

    January 15th, 2018 at 5:05 AM

    This is a powerful account, especially given the witnesses and responses by others. I’m so sorry you experienced this. Thanks for your courage in sharing.

  • Michelle

    Michelle

    January 15th, 2018 at 12:29 PM

    One of the things that I discovered when I directed and participated in a monologue workshop about women’s relationships with their sexuality, was just how many women had been affected by sexual assault in my community. Women I never would have expected, who seemed so confident and “together” – like the Mayor of the city I lived in – came to me and thanked me for telling “my/their story.” It is time to break the silence collectively.
    It is a difficult time for men also as they aren’t sure how to enter into the conversation. Some are scared to say something “wrong”. Some are defensive and feel like they are being personally attacked as the stories of their brothers as perpetrators are being told. Some are so angry about it because they have daughters and sisters and wives and feel powerless to change the dynamics.
    I believe a powerful change is on the horizon. As a therapist myself, that has been taught that self-disclosure is something to be considered carefully, must be in the benefit of the client and must not serve the self – I am very thankful that you have broken the silence! In many way, at this time, the “client” is our whole society. My work is most often trauma work and I think “Oh how the world would change if women were able to walk freely, without fear of assault. How many defensive behaviors would no longer be needed. How the world would be so positively affected by women who stood confidently in their power and were able to love with their whole hearts because they were no longer afraid. How positively that would also affect our men and our boys! How positively that would affect our entire world!

    Thank you for your story and your suggestions!

    In solidarity,
    “me too”
    Michelle Hardeman-Guptill LMFT

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