I began this story by attempting to solicit comments via Twitter or email from every single woman listed as having participated in filing a complaint in the Entertainment industry on the Me Too movement’s Wikipedia page. I have not heard back from any of them despite these 50 or so solicitations both from famous celebrities to women with fewer followers than me on social media. This silence can mean many things. Perhaps, they have been silenced with threats. Have they already made all of the comments they want to share on this topic? Would they prefer speaking to somebody from mainstream media? Doing a dry research project on this topic does not feel sufficient to its personal nature. Thus, let me begin by relating my own sexual violence stories in the hope they will help to ground this issue.
When I was seven, I was sent to purchase apples from outside a train station (me venturing out on my own was normal, as, for example, I traveled alone to study at the first yeshiva in Moscow by train a year later). My path was intersected by an elderly man that appeared homeless. He asked me for help, and I readily agreed as I have always had a compulsion to be of assistance to the needy. He led me into the woods and asked me to help him go to the bathroom. I was as concerned about this problem he was having as a nurse might be, so I agreed. As you might have guessed, I thus engaged in assisting him with a hand job. When he was done, I suddenly realized that I was there under false pretenses and became scared, but he let me leave without further incident. This was my first sexual experience.
I am sorry to report that my encounters with sex (regardless of where I was located) have been nearly this bad ever since. Three especially violent sexual incidents stand out. In one, an African American youth (perhaps eighteen) came up to my porch in Nashville back in 2007 (where I was helping my neighbor by painting his rusted chair) with his privates exposed and a gun in his hand, and told me to get in my house, threatening to rape me. I told him to just “go away,” and he did after hitting me over the head with the back of his gun, causing blood to stream out and me to faint briefly. When I filed a police report on this matter, the officers gave me a book of very young offenders to look through, suggesting that it was my fault because of the young age of the offender. Days later, my car was broken into, and then the mechanic that repaired it hit the edge of the sidewalk where I was sitting waiting for him to return the vehicle (I jumped up a moment before the impact). Then the mechanic just repaired the car again, and no charges were filed against him for attempted homicide. I left Nashville shortly thereafter, afraid for my life.
The two other incidents happened while I was an MA student at the University of South Carolina in Columbia. These were men I knew, so these incidents leave some agency to me. In the first, a college sophomore came to a motel in Charleston where I was staying with some beer. I invited him there. But because of my prior violent sexual encounters, I might have been willing to engage in some fooling around. However, I did not trust him enough to go any further. When he made some moves, I told him to take a cold shower. He interpreted it as me saying I wanted him to freshen up. When he returned, he attempted to force himself on top of me. My instinct was to block him with my foot. At this, he pretended to be upset and stormed out. I heard him knocking lightly an hour later, but I was too afraid to ask what he wanted or to open the door. He must have assumed I would open because I found my car keys on the pavement outside my door when I opened it next morning. He had stolen my keys, and might have used my car without my permission.
In the following year, a senior asked me to give him a massage. I was comfortable with this, and it seemed to go well. Then, I tried to take a separate bed to go to sleep, without engaging in intercourse (I did not trust his intentions because he was always talking about his other girlfriends). He began chanting while swinging a knife he had sharpened earlier out of my kitchen. An hour of this started disturbing me, so I came over to try and convince him to return the knife and go back to sleep. He swung the knife and cut the back of my hand (I still have the scar). I asked him to leave, but he refused, so I said I had to call the police (which had come earlier in the evening on complaints that he had disrobed in front of my upstairs neighbors, but I assume this was a joke since the police just left after a brief interview). As I started making the call, he began slashing his wrists (just deep enough for strings of blood to show through). The police and ambulance came and they took him to a rehab facility for a couple of weeks, where I visited him. This was the most emotionally draining experience for me.
I had intercourse twice in my life, and both times were hardly love stories, and they made me feel pretty nauseated as the men were repelling and seemed to be engaging in a power struggle. I have not found any women who might have been any more emotionally available, so I have not engaged in experimentation in this direction. Going through Hassidic and Soviet schooling, I am extremely conservative about sex, and the realities of modern dating are counter to my sense of morality. Men have asked me on dates to expensive restaurants and I felt like they expected a return in sexual favors for a plate of food; and if this was not paid, a second date does not materialize. Nearly every manager I have had has made sexual advances or suggestions, and the threat of losing my job if I did not participate has been a constant cloud (I have never participated). Nearly every business meeting seems to become a flirtation for the men (and sometimes women) I am attempting to impress with my intellect or ability. Sometimes it feels as if the point of life for the bulk of Americans is sex. For example, I was presenting at a conference back in 2005, and a Yale professor introduced himself and invited me for a chat: I assumed it was about my research into Don Quixote, but pretty soon he was telling me about his wife, and suggesting an affair. Why are sex and relationships so grotesque? Who would be thinking of intercourse in the middle of delivering a presentation about bodily functions and other absurd humor in the first modern novel?
I decided to permanently say “no” to sex and relationships in 2007, shortly after the at-gunpoint incident. I was still trying to forget and move on, and dancing in a club had always made me happy. I met a guy at a club, and invited him to come over. We fooled around a bit, and then he stepped out and a friend of his showed up that looked nothing like him, and attempted to pick up where the other guy left off. Polite as ever, I drove this guy home. Internally, it was the final needle.
I have been very happy with my decision to be anti-sexual and self-sexual. The problem has been that being single has introduced a new problem. Whenever a powerful employer is flirting with me and attempting to solicit sexual favors, these suggestions tend to come with the insinuation that I might be engaging in sexual deviancy myself. In this common technique blame is shifted from the actual perpetrator onto the victim through a false accusation, which might force others to agree to be victimized.
A recent case comes to mind that is particularly outrageous. I have been having difficulty finding contractors for my new house in Quanah, Texas. A contractor that promised to do the driveway stole $2,375 and has not done any work: charges have been filed against him by Hardeman County’s Sheriff. The lawn guy quit after one cutting, and I tried to find a substitute at my neighboring gas stop. I assumed that anybody would do: what can possibly go wrong? I was given a number, and asked the guy to come in and cut the grass. He arrived next afternoon and without knocking to confirm with me began cutting the grass. This was strange, but I decided to let him carry on without comment (I don’t like confrontations). When he finished he came up to collect the $35 I promised for the job. On a walk-around I noticed that he had sprayed branches and leaves onto the car and house, leaving actual holes in the house’s skirting. I only noticed the holes later, at the time only pointing out that he had to get the mess out of my car. He started pretending as if he was cleaning the car with the towels I got for him, but did not actually touch it most of the time.
Then, a massive truck arrived and parked on my lawn. A guy came out of it and began threatening me and acting very aggressively, asking why I was asking the grass guy to clean my car. Then, another car parked on my lawn: it was the car mechanic who had left the lights on in my car during an annual checkup, causing my battery to die, so that I had to replace it. He was also threatening in demeanor. Then, the grass guy started shoving the check I gave him back into my hand. On the second shoving, I decided to take my check and exit this conversation that was threatening to turn into an altercation.
Some time later, I received comments in response to a social media post about a book I released with my publishing company, which were not related to the business subject I had introduced. A group of friends of this man were telling me that I had to “pay him” and suggesting that I did something sexually inappropriate with him by introducing the idea that he was “only 15.” During the debate I raised the necessary objections to quiet their rageful insults (as they called me a bitch, cheap and the like). I had never met this guy before nor since. Could he have filed a sexual harassment complaint against me, and would he have been found guilty of malicious prosecution if he did so? Me being accused of sexually harassing anybody is the most absurd accusation imaginable given the avalanche of other harassing encounters I have been a victim of that cannot fit into this article. Can some men be falsely accused as well? Should we have compassion for their plight? As a businesswoman with subordinate interns and board members working for me, are my interests aligned with the army of sexual harassers I have been fighting since I was seven?
Legal definitions of sexual harassment and sexual assault should help us begin the detached portion of this examination. According to The Law Dictionary, sexual assault is: “advances physically of one person from another in a sexual way that can lead to a sexual assault.” In other words, any advances (such as threats) and actual touching, groping and other forms of sexual contact are all categorized as forms of sexual assault.
The unwelcome sexuality might come in several different forms, and this term covers its most common forms. This category is extremely prevalent in America, as according to NSVRC, “one in three women and one in six men experienced some form of contact sexual violence in their lifetime.” At least a third of the women in America have experienced a similar string of horrifying and repelling sexual encounters to my own. It is surprising that any of them have managed to marry or reproduce under these stressful conditions. Females in typical animal species become unresponsive or hostile sexually in times of stress or fear; if we were still living in the jungles, the American human species would have died out.
The term “rape” has a different legal and statistical weight as, according to Law.com, it is: “unlawful sexual activity and usually sexual intercourse carried out forcibly or under threat of injury against the will usually of a female or with a person who is beneath a certain age or incapable of valid consent because of mental illness, mental deficiency, intoxication, unconsciousness, or deception see also statutory rape. NOTE: The common-law crime of rape involved a man having carnal knowledge of a woman not his wife through force and against her will, and required at least slight penetration of the penis into the vagina. While some states maintain essentially this definition of rape, most have broadened its scope especially in terms of the sex of the persons and the nature of the acts involved. Marital status is usually irrelevant. Moreover, the crime is codified under various names, including first degree sexual assault, sexual battery, unlawful sexual intercourse, and first degree sexual abuse.”
The NSVRC reports that, “One in five women and one in 71 men will be raped at some point in their lives.” Rape is an extreme form of sexual assault that typically has to involve violent penetration. But, it does not have to be violent, and it does not have to involve penetration. A drunk woman can argue that she was incapacitated during a sexual encounter, and therefore that it was a violation. If a couple is married, the above definition states that proving rape is more difficult. Being raped by a familiar partner makes up a vast majority of all rape cases: “51.1% of female victims of rape reported being raped by an intimate partner and 40.8% by an acquaintance.” This is one of the reasons I logically decided not to pursue a relationship as well as to avoid casual sexual encounters, as sexual violence is most likely to happen in these intimate relationships that are said to be built on “trust.”
Meanwhile, sexual harassment is “unwanted sexual approaches (including touching, feeling, groping) and/or repeated unpleasant, degrading and/or sexist remarks directed toward an employee with the implied suggestion that the target’s employment status, promotion or favorable treatment depend upon a positive response and/or ‘cooperation.’ Sexual harassment is a private nuisance, unfair labor practice or, in some states, a civil wrong (tort) which may be the basis for a lawsuit against the individual who made the advances and against the employer who did not take steps to halt the harassment. A legal secretary recently won an award of more than $3 million against a prominent law firm in California for not controlling a partner notorious for his sexual harassment of female employees.
While this thorough definition ends in the hopeful note that a woman has been victorious in pursuing a sexual harassment case, the vast majority of such cases fail, typically after dragging the women through years of emotional harassment through hostile interrogations in the courts.
I wrote a mystery novel on this topic, The Burden of Persuasion, which was inspired by a female Chase employee who was forced into a quid pro quo sexual relationship by her manager, and was fired after she finally refused to continue the affair; her father, a police officer, assassinated the federal judge that ruled against her in the case on what was likely to be the final appeal after eight years of litigation. I attempted to portray this story from the perspectives of the different players involved, arguing (among other things) that in my fictional world the judge had to be corrupted (even if only by his personal emotional abuse through subjugation of his own wife) to side with the perpetrator.
What about the age factor in my own story? How common is it for girls to be sexually assaulted, and how likely is it that a grown woman would have any inclination to abuse a child? It is surprisingly common for a girl to be assaulted: “one in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18 years old.” It is very unlikely that a woman would abuse a child, but some do: “96% of people who sexually abuse children are male.” In the female abuser category, news typically reports on teachers who engage in sexual relationships with their students. In the years I was teaching, I had a few students who made suggestive comments towards me, including one student who asked if we might begin an affair now that a class he was a part of was over. I cannot imagine anything more morally repulsive than engaging in a hint of an affair with a student. But, there are 96 men to every 4 women that probably would be ecstatic to be asked, and, in my experience, are first to propose it.
With these definitions in place, I can finally address the issue that must be troubling all victims of the full range of sexual violations during the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearings for the Supreme Court. News that the Senate has cleared his path was posted earlier today. Only one Republican, Senator Lisa Murkowski from Alaska, voted against him. They have approved a man with sexual assault accusations pending, but they blocked President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, without any objection to his integrity, or any other reason why he would not have made a fair and unbiased judge. The most impactful allegations against Kavanaugh were made by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford (California psychology professor), who stated that he pinned her to a bed, groping her as he was taking off her clothing, and shutting her mouth with his hand to suppress her screams. He was also accused of indecent exposure at a Yale party by Deborah Ramirez. Julie Swetnick has alleged that she was a victim of a gang rape that involved Kavanaugh as a perpetrator. With three named victims, and with several witnesses coming forward to confirm the truth in these testimonies, what does it say about the American Senate that they have voted to confirm Kavanaugh?
Republicans have argued that they are voting for Kavanaugh because they believe his denials that none of the three sexual assault cases happened. If this is true, it means that at least three women have come forward to make false accusations against a judge to prevent his nomination to the Supreme Court, without any truth in their accounts. What kind of a society would have this many classmates willing to lie under oath or to reporters? Having been falsely accused (however slightly) of misconduct myself, I want to believe the possibility that Kavanaugh is a victim of falsehoods. But, is there seriously anything like my own story of a life of monastic anti-sexuality, or a history of being persecuted and harassed in Kavanaugh’s background? The Senators who voted for him have been able to do it because these arguments are extremely prevalent in the courts and the media. Women are constantly told that they have insufficient proof of sexual assault that allows perpetrators to escape justice. However, how could any female Republican Senator vote for excusing sexual assault? Have these Senators never experienced sexual assault themselves: are they in the minority of women who haven’t? Can it be that these women are in the minority of women who engage in sexually assaulting others?
Is the #MeToo movement in part to blame for this conundrum? The basic idea in #MeToo is women coming forward to report that they have also been sexually abused by a powerful man that is facing an allegation. On the one hand, this is one of the only ways for women to find sufficient proof of their stories to bring charges. If a he-said-she-said conflict without a rape-kit or without bruises to demonstrate a violent assault is insufficient in American courts, only a witness that testifies a similar case happened to her might tip the scale.
However, it is too easy for malevolent people to take over a strategy with the best intentions. An actor who wants a part in a film, might solicit a group of women to come forward to accuse a rival of sexual harassment, thereby making this rival ineligible on moral grounds (even if charges are never brought due to insufficient proof). Is it possible that if I become famous, a group of men (perhaps those I’ve never met) will come forward to accuse me of raping all of them one drunken night? Why did the victims who came forward during #MeToo fail to voice these allegations previously? I only reported the attempted rape at gunpoint to the police, and they hardly wrote up a report on it.
So, I can imagine why coming forward while you are afraid for your life and career is extremely problematic. It is empowering to know that so many celebrities managed to speak up. Kavanaugh looked like he was acting and lying during the hearings; anyone who says otherwise is supporting America’s rape-culture. There have been men and women who have been wrongfully accused of sexual crimes, and for their sake, the FBI must do an extremely thorough investigation to confirm or prove faulty the allegations against Kavanaugh. Alternatively, I hope victims of sexual harassment will join me in withdrawing from all sexual activity for the sake of our bodies and minds.