A few weeks ago, the President of the United States mocked Dr. Christine Blasey Ford on his Twitter feed. In response, women throughout the country began to share their #WhyIDidntReport stories. Padma Lakshmi courageously shared her story in the New York Times. I shared mine too, on Twitter and Instagram. And nearly every single woman I know chimed in with #MeToo, with stories ranging from sexual assault to gender discrimination. I wish I could tell you this was my only #MeToo experience.
In the early months of 1999, I had just returned back to campus after winter break. I was newly single, having just broke up with my first “real” boyfriend in college, and the first person with whom I’d had sexual intercourse. I was briefly living in what we called a “single double” - my roommate had moved out the previous semester and my new roommate had not yet moved in. Ironically, I lived next door to the resident advisor.
I don’t remember much about that night. I know it was cold, and I’m pretty sure there was snow on the ground. I remember walking across campus to a fraternity house with two male friends. I know that I drank a lot that night. I was trying to hang with the guys, and my newly-single-self wanted to have fun. I’d met my ex-boyfriend in the first few weeks of college, so this was the first time I felt like I could really let loose. I was a “high functioning drinker” – I didn’t slur my words and stayed reasonably coherent, which meant that my friends often didn’t realize how drunk I really was.
One of the guys I was with that night was not drinking at the party. I had met him a few times but didn’t know him well. Due to the passage of time, and the alcohol I had consumed, I am hazy on the details. (This is a blessing and a curse.) What I do know is that he walked me back to my dorm room, just the two of us. I remember snapshots of what happened next. The blasting heat in my Wisconsin dorm room in sharp contrast to the cold winter air blowing in from the slightly open window. Trying to explain that I didn’t want to have sex. That I’d only done it with one person. I remember him telling me that it was okay. Everything was okay. He was a nice guy. We were friends. We were just having fun. What I don’t remember is whether he used a condom. I hate that I can’t remember this detail.
The next day I woke up confused and sore. I couldn’t understand why I would have had sex with him. It wasn’t in my character, but I was so drunk. I barely remembered the walk back to my dorm room. I don’t remember using my key to open the door. I don’t remember ever consenting, and I know today that I was too drunk to be legally capable of consent.
I went to a very small school, and within twenty-four hours, everyone knew what had happened. A “friend” I had met through my ex-boyfriend started rumors about me. She told everyone about what happened with this man and called me a slut. I was mortified and ashamed. But the worst part is that I believed her. I thought it was my fault. I was drunk. No one forced me to drink. We went to a party together. I assumed that I let him into my room, although I didn’t remember.
I didn’t tell a soul about what really happened. I ended up transferring to a different school and becoming a bartender, which opened me up to a whole other world of sexual harassment and assault. In late 2002, I finally sought therapy. I am forever grateful to my counselor, Lynn, for helping me see, for the first time, that it wasn’t my fault. I didn’t consent.
I was raped.
Why didn’t I report what happened to me? Surely this is a rhetorical question after the confirmation of sexual predator Brett Kavanaugh to our nation’s highest court. I was drunk, he was sober. I didn’t remember the details. I couldn’t tell you the exact date that it happened. I don’t even remember his last name. People saw us leave together and “I seemed fine.” And before I had a chance to think about reporting, everyone already heard a different version of the story: that I was a slut who wanted it to happen.
Why didn’t I report what happened to me? I knew that no one would believe me.
When I shared my story on social media, a well-meaning male friend commented that I could still report; even though the statute of limitations had run out, at least the man who raped me would have that on his record. This is something I never would have considered before Dr. Ford’s testimony, and something that I would never consider after the hearing. I went to college in a small town in Wisconsin. I can only imagine the jeering questions I’d get calling from California to report a 19-year-old sexual assault.
Like many women, I am shaking with anger at the outcome of this nomination process. I am outraged by the women, like Senator Susan Collins, who continue to prop up the patriarchy. These women enable sexual predators by saying things like, “boys will be boys” and “she must be confused, poor thing.” I am furious that 50 senators voted yes for a man who lied under oath, who was credibly accused of assaulting several women, whose demeanor revealed that he is objectively unfit to hold judicial office. And I am furious that those in power pushed this nomination through in record time with the specific intent to circumvent the November 6th election and to prevent Americans from weighing in on this crucial nomination—especially after what happened with Chief Judge Merrick Garland’s nomination. The hypocrisy is astounding and infuriating.
Here’s one thing I know for sure: I’m glad that I finally shared my story. I’m not sorry that I did so, even though it didn’t prevent the confirmation of Judge Kavanaugh. I feel free, I feel lighter. And I feel solidarity with so many of my sisters who shared their stories and all those who are still too afraid to do so. I know that our conversations are not in vain, and I hope that, through these conversations, we can change this culture of toxic masculinity so that our daughters can say #NotMe, instead of #MeToo.
To my fellow survivors: I see you. I hear you. I believe you. You are not alone. And we will take back our government from those who believe that women’s lives are not as valuable as men’s lives. Please make sure that you are registered to vote, and vote for pro-choice candidates who will fight for equality on November 6, 2018. And after you’ve taken the time for self-care, please join us as we Demand Equality. The Women’s Advocacy and Reproductive Justice Committees provide excellent opportunities to channel your rage and disappointment into action.
Jenn French owns her own practice focused on civil litigation and handles pro-bono asylum cases through Casa Cornelia Law Center and co-chairs San Diego Lawyers Club’s Reproductive Justice Committee with Brigid Campo.