“I didn’t think I would be here today. I was scared and nervous. It wasn’t until I started watching the impact statements from the other brave survivors that I realized I, too, needed to be here.” Aly Raisman, Olympic gymnast
I don’t know if you have watched any of the victim testimonies in the sentencing phase of ex-doctor Larry Nassar who was the team doctor for the U.S. Gymnastics team. I am glued and in awe of the strength the survivors are portraying. At most of their ages, I still wasn’t talking about my abuses.
Today, I watched a teenage girl look directly at Nassar and speak to him in a strong, steady voice about his abuse to her and all the others. I know, for a fact, I could not have done that.
I remember a day I was at work at an ice cream/hot dog place, and the guy who raped me walked in. He recognized me. He ordered a scoop of vanilla in a cake cone, and stood at the counter staring at me. He then left. He did that many more times over the course of several weeks, until one of my co-workers asked him what he was doing. She had tried asking me, but I was too frightened to tell. She felt something was wrong, and told him he couldn’t come back. She took a chance that he wouldn’t know I was staying silent and told him she knew what he did and she would call the cops.
He stopped. My point is that I never told. She was right there. She was supportive and protective. I didn’t speak.
Here I am, watching these girls confront the man who assaulted them, and I feel like I was so weak.
Even worse, all the words people are saying in the light of the #MeToo movement are echoing in my head like fingers being pointed in my face:
“Why didn’t she tell someone?”
“Why did she wait so long?”
“Why did she go back?”
“If he answers the door in a robe, just LEAVE.”
All of the above statements piss me off equally, but they also speak to something I will always carry in my heart.
It was my fault.
I mean, I know it really wasn’t my fault, but that lives in my heart. You people who think you can just judge decisions made by victims and survivors only hurt us more, abuse us more, when you say these things. It is awful. We already think it about ourselves.
In case you’re wondering why we made decisions you deem stupid, I will repeat it and keep repeating it:
Fear and Shame
So, today, I watch these brave girls and women face Nassar like all of us wish we would have our own abusers. I am so proud of all of them. I want to hug them. I want to thank them. I know what they are doing right now will make the world a better place for my own daughters. Girls will hear their voices, and find their own if they should ever find themselves in a situation that leads to #MeToo.
Also, as I watch these girls and women testify, I read comments. (I really need to stop reading comments.) Here is the main one I saw today, as one teenage girl, I believe named Emma Ann Miller testified with her sweet mom at her side.
“Where were the parents?”
Over, and over again.
Listen, I get it. I don’t blame you for wondering. I am disappointed that you don’t read the details before asking this question. I mean you act as though the parents were idiots, but you can’t even find out the details before asking.
I have to defend the parents right now. I don’t know the Nassar case with first-hand experience, though I can guess that parents trusted him because HUNDREDS of others trusted him and he was “the best.” Plus, the university and U.S. Gymnastics team trusted him.
I do know my own case though. I feel very hesitant to share details, because I can’t paint my mom in a negative light publicly. It is something that would make me feel sick. So, here’s what I can say:
My mother worked all the time. I mean it. All the time. I never saw her growing up, or at least it feels that way. She was a single mom, trying to do this by herself. My dad rarely paid the $20 a week in support, and she got little financial or babysitting help from family. She needed someone to help watch me.
Luck would have it that a family that lived just blocks away had a home daycare. They were foster parents vetted time and again from the state, subjected to many in-home inspections. Plus, they had adopted a daughter just a year old than me. They looked incredible on paper.
What my mom did not know is that they were master manipulators. They had all us kids scared beyond words. We all lost our voices. I watched foster kids being beat with wooden spoons. I endured and witnessed sexual abuse. The foster kids and adopted daughter felt they had no where else to go.
I felt like I would add a burden on my mom if I couldn’t go to this home anymore. I was also terrified of these people.
I was 4 when it started, and something happened at the age of 9 to compel me to tell my mom finally. She reacted with all the anger and rage you can imagine one would. However, beyond that, she was scared for me and didn’t know what else to do. She didn’t want shame for me. Also, we were poor and had limited means.
Do I regret that we didn’t do something legally? YES. Every time I think about it, I fill with shame and regret.
However, my mom was not some delinquent parent (my father was) that neglected me as so many of you are saying about the parents of the gymnasts. She didn’t put me in the situation to be sexually abused. Of course not. She would never want that, or turn away from that. She didn’t know and then, when she did, she didn’t know all the ways to do something about it. She did the best thing she knew to do: She pulled me out of the situation.
Sometimes people do not know what to do. It doesn’t make them bad parents. It doesn’t make them negligent.
Let me be clear about whose fault it is in the Nassar case, in all 3 of my assault stories, in any of your assault stories:
THE PERSON WHO COMMITTED THE ASSAULT
The person who committed the assault did it. Now, you can cast a net over anyone who enabled and provided the abuser with a means to do and continue the abuse. I think the blame should also be on the people who were in a position to stop it if they knew about it while it was happening. However, no one is more to blame than the abuser him/herself.
When I told my mom about the second incident where a man tried to assault me, she confronted that man. She told me it wasn’t my fault. However, his wife was her friend, and she convinced mom he was going to get help. You can judge us again for not doing more, but I really believe mom didn’t know any better and thought she did what she could.
More often than not in these situations, the parents don’t know, and when they do, they don’t have the means or feel they have the power to do more. Maybe they were abused as children. Maybe they don’t have the education or connections others have. Maybe their child is begging, pleading, crying that no one else finds out.
Listen, if one of my girls came to me and told me they were being abused or had been assaulted, you better believe the police would be called along with any other authority figure that needs to know. I would take action. I would fight for my girls by any means possible.
However, remember, I have a unique knowledge… and thanks to all the girls who are much braver than I was at their age… you are gaining that knowledge as well.
As some call this #MeToo movement exhausting or “getting old”, I will say I am thankful it continues on. It is giving voices and bravery to people who didn’t have it for ages. It is educating everyone else about what really happens when no one is looking. It is making it easier and safer to tell.
Their voices are giving all victims and survivors voices.
However, what is still shutting people down is those voices of people who don’t know, who continue to judge, who blame the victims and their families.
Please, shut that part of you down. Stop asking why the victims, survivors, and parents didn’t do anything and ask:
“Why did the ASSAULTER do what he/she did?”