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My 18th birthday was memorable for all the wrong reasons. I moved into my freshman college dorm that perfect August day inundated with Nelly’s “Hot in Herre” blaring on repeat from almost every room. I celebrated by meeting my two roommates, unpacking, and passing out slices of cake to the every person under 20 in the building. (Yes, I was that type…still am, if I’m being honest.) But the next morning I was alone in my room balancing on my roommate’s folding piano bench to hang a poster of James Dean (natch) when I fell. I’d spend the next few days with stitches in my chin and the next several years recovering from the two discs I herniated in my spine.
My recovery involved three spine surgeries including a spinal fusion, years of physical therapy and so many prescription narcotics that college is all a bit of a blur. However, in all of the haze and pain of those years, only one memory still hurts.
My Harvey Weinstein was a physical therapist.
The first time I met him I came limping into his practice begging for relief for the pain I was in. I couldn’t stand up straight. I couldn’t sit in lectures. I was in constant, unbearable pain. To say that I was vulnerable and desperate for help is an understatement. My primary care doctor had referred me to him, I had absolutely no reason to think that I was in any danger. I was the perfect mark.
Initially he played it cool. He made a few comments about college parties and asked if I was a “bad girl.” When I got uncomfortable he would change the subject to his wife and kids. I didn’t like him, but he was covered by my insurance and nothing he said was that bad. The second appointment he led me to a private exam room and asked me to remove all of my clothes so he could do a “deeper stretch”. He gave me privacy as I changed into a hospital gown, but when he returned and saw that I still wore my underwear he laughed and made a comment about my menstrual cycle. He said that he hoped I’d trust him enough next time so that he could really do his job.
Again, I was 18.
He would comment on my body. He would move his hands up my legs and butt and rub my stomach all under the guise of healthcare. When I asked at the fourth appointment for a female nurse to be present he told me I was being immature and that I’d get him in trouble. I laid there again.
Eventually I told my mom that he was being inappropriate and she kept me from returning, but I refused to make a report when she suggested it. I never told anyone the whole story for nearly ten years.
Writing that down now, 15 years later, my instinct is to focus on everything that I did wrong. I should have told my parents sooner. I should have stood up and walked out. I should have called the police. But then, a part of me looks back and thinks, am I overreacting? Nothing even really happened. I wasn’t raped. Maybe I’m making something out of nothing. I don’t want to get the guy in trouble if I just read the room wrong, right?
I did nothing wrong. Harvey Weinstein’s victims are not to blame. Nor are any of the women who are assaulted both physically and through microaggression on a daily basis.
It is not normal that my sister and I used to count how many grown men honked at us from their cars on our walk home from middle school. It’s not overreacting to feel assaulted by the man who made a vulgar gesture at me when I ran by with my kids strapped into a jogging stroller.
It took dozens of women to tell their stories of assault to bring down Harvey Weinstein. It took dozens to stop Bill Cosby. But it shouldn’t. It should only take the voice of one brave person to stop them. We should have believed the first one.
You should be believed.
It may be too late for some cases, but it’s not too late for the next one. There is power in speaking truth.
I will not be silent anymore.
I will not be afraid.
I will teach my daughters that they have a powerful voice that can not be ignored.
I will teach my son to treat women as equals in every sense of the word and to call out abusive behavior when he encounters it.
I will believe women.
If you’ve been a victim of sexual assault you are not alone. You can contact National Sexual Assault Hotline for qualified support.