How the Kavanaugh Hearings Caused Me to Revisit My Own Rapes 44 Years Ago
A few of my Medium peeps have weighed in on last week’s excrescence. Their comments, even those which are carefully considered and thoughtful, have caused me to revisit, in awful detail, experiences that I would like very much to put permanently to bed, as it were.
Unfortunately, like Dr. Ford, I can’t. Even some forty-four years hence, certain details never ever leave you. Nor do the nightmares, although over time they tend to soften. The details of those sexual assaults are burned into my brain the same way a brand brandishes proof of ownership on the butts of the horses I ride at my stable.
Those Medium writers who tend to attack Ford for not being able to provide ironclad proof- at least for now, until the FBI can corroborate her testimony- tend to be a combination of conservative men and women who have not themselves been brutally raped. While I can understand their incredulity, and their demand for proof, it feels like an insult to those of us who have, like Dr. Ford, experienced rapes early in life. In addition, it comes across as a wholesale denial that such events ever happened, that they demand proof when it is uniquely difficult if not impossible to provide.
Those people appear to forget- or simply ignore- that other potential witnesses are watching carefully what has happened to Dr. Ford. While it may be the right thing to do to support her, I can hardly blame them for not wishing to be scorched alive on the social media altar and by bugf*ck conspiracy theorists who believe that Sandy Hook was fake. I’d hunker down, too. Hell, I’d seriously consider leaving the country.
I seriously doubt those who write about this with such passion would be so willing to be dragged naked and screaming across the red hot coals of a Senate Investigation, public inquiry and hostile opinions. Both Ford and Kavanaugh are suffering. It’s akin to watching people being boiled alive. Everyone loses, with the possible exception of those who find such public flayings entertaining in an horrific, Dark Ages kind of way.
As for Dr. Ford’s story? As a parallel, here’s mine.
It was 1974. The first consideration is the tenor of the times. As a young enlisted woman- and in Dr. Ford’s case as a teenager- in those years, marital rape wasn’t an offense. Women assaulted at work had no recompense or protection. In my case, we couldn’t even have our own credit cards. The conditions under which we were attacked gave us no way to fight back.
After being sexually assaulted at Walter Reed hospital while drugged and awaiting surgery, I was assigned to a LTC psychiatrist for “counseling.” Said “counseling” by a senior officer ended up becoming multiple rapes in his office, behind closed doors. I had no way to escape. Being the treating doc, he had complete and utter control over my life, my future job viability and if I could even stay in the service. Had I reported the man, all he had to do was pen that I was unfit, dangerous and a threat to my unit. I’d have been bundled out unceremoniously with a Dishonorable Discharge, marked for life, and unemployable.
Untold numbers of service women have had this precise thing happen to them. How eager would you be to report the man, knowing that your entire future was in his hands and not yours, and that he could torpedo you for the rest of your life?
My only choice was to bite the bullet, buckle down, and become a supremely good soldier. I am hardly alone. Other than that LTC, nobody knew what had happened to me, for some forty years. In part I paid with body dysmorphia, deep shame and immense guilt. When faced with emotions this volcanic, the body shuts down. We forcefully forget as much as we can. If we don’t, we die.
I’ve had people suggest that I should have reported it. I did. The one person I did tell, who should have been a trusted source, raped me. I was emotionally vulnerable because I’d already suffered the first attack. Others told me that I should have told all my friends. These are people who clearly didn’t have the same family training I did. My family never, ever aired their dirty laundry in public. These attacks were mine to bear. It’s too easy to tell people what they “should” have done forty something years ago in the cold, clear air of twenty-twenty hindsight. Girl children who are dirtied by a sexual attack are often embarrassments to their families, which only exacerbates their shame, their silence, and their burdens. In some cultures, they are stoned, shunned, even murdered. For having been raped.
Sometimes I think we aren’t very far from this ourselves. Witness the widespread disbelief and outright hate of the damaged woman who dares to speak up. It was her fault. No matter that she was 15, or 22, or 12, or 65. Or in Africa, infants . Infants. In America, it’s the woman who dares challenge a powerful man, whether it was Clinton or Kavanaugh. Politics isn’t the problem. Patriarchal power is the problem.
My story is Everywoman’s story in the military. Rank Has Its Privileges. Just as it does everywhere else. I still hear stories from contemporary military women who tell me that their NCOs and officers tell them that “it’s their right” to rape them. RHIP.
The supreme joke, after living with PTSD and developing pernicious anorexia and bulimia — which cost me all my teeth and a heart attack — was that when I finally decided to face my demons nearly forty years later, the Veteran’s Administration claimed that the rapes couldn’t possibly have happened. After all, look at the counselor’s notes. Look at your performance record. You were a perfect soldier. Clearly you were just fine.
Well of course. He wrote the notes. I had no power. No way out. I did what I had to do to survive. As did we all. So did Dr. Ford.
You learn to soldier on.
Precisely like Dr. Ford, I couldn’t possibly tell you where the man’s office was. What it looked like (I had my eyes screwed shut the whole time, and so would you). What part of the Walter Reed campus it occupied. No recollection of the dates or times or any other detail. His office might have long since been demolished, precisely the same way my trust in the military had been behind those closed doors.
But that slimy piece of shit’s face is seared into my memory, as permanent as that brand on my horse.
That experience cost me the ability to be in a long-term relationship until I was in my late fifties. Then, as now, I have deep problems, and issues that make both trust and vulnerability damned difficult. I do face that. I do work with that. I do my absolute best to have those experiences sculpt me and give me compassion and empathy. That’s damned hard personal work. Changing the narrative from being a victim to a victor over that pain took me nearly forty years.
Ultimately, that POS died at 48. Good goddamned riddance. He was a two-star commandant, well-loved by all who knew him. To be clear, he helped make me who I am today. I should say, he was well-loved by all who didn’t happen to know him as a serial rapist.
Here’s the piece: were this cretin still alive, let’s say I go after him in front of a military court. I wouldn’t be able to remember dates, times, the place. All I would have is my memory of multiple rapes. He, on the other hand, could claim anything he wanted. He had notes that showed he was the picture of propriety. Never laid a hand on me. If anything he could claim that I was dangerously bipolar. He, a well-respected doctor of psychiatry, deemed me a threat. And delusional to boot. Here’s the proof, right here in front of us, gentlemen. This crazy woman, on a rampage to sully my good name. I’m the victim here.
Here I am with all my medals, my scrambled eggs (the gold on the caps of officers), my years and years of unsullied service. Who is this woman to question ME? Look at all the women I’ve mentored.
Besides, he could say through big, fat, rolling tears, “I’m a man of God. I have a wife and two kids. I was a virgin in high school. I love my family. How could you DO this to me, to us? We’ll pray for this poor woman.”
Who is the military court going to believe? One of their own? Or this dangerously delusional woman who can’t even remember when and where all this supposedly happened? This clearly damaged, crazy twit? Here is this decorated, well-respected military man, in tears. What could be more real than that?
Meanwhile, I end up with death threats, a burnt effigy on my lawn, a public flogging for having the temerity to call out such a good, decent man of God. Besides, I was probably hiking my Class A skirt above my panties and unbuttoning my blouse as soon as I walked into his office.
Well of course I was. What a slut. Even as a terrified, recently-molested 22-year-old enlisted woman looking for professional help to be able to continue my Army career.
To the VA’s credit, after forty years of fighting with them, they have finally accepted my claims as valid. Unlike many of the rest of America’s institutions, the Pentagon has at least begun to acknowledge that those of us who were raped by military men repressed our memories and didn’t report our abusers for damned good reasons. Reasons that any command structure creates: there is always a smorgasbord of powerless people at the bottom when rank rules above all.
Just like out in the farm fields with undocumented workers, in the halls and offices of our huge corporations, anywhere someone can wield threats and power over the powerless. You want to keep this job? Feed your kids? Take off your dress. Unzip my pants. Suck this, you whore. You know you want it.
While I tend to agree with those who point out that there is a great deal of maneuvering and posturing on both sides, and it is indeed a play of pawns to achieve a larger gain, the simple truth is that Dr. Ford’s painful truth is being lost in the scrum.
There is no question in my mind that she is right about Kavanaugh. No question whatsoever. Her experience is nearly identical to mine. She doesn’t stand to gain much (and may end up in a protection program), and stands to lose everything, by speaking her truth. The harsh ring of terrible accuracy rings in my brain every time I listen to her testimony. It sears my soul and reopens identical wounds.
The possibility exists that I’m wrong. That a lot of us are. However, I wouldn’t put any money on that.
Would I have forfeited my privacy, my work, my safety, subject myself to death threats, social media murder, professional suicide in order to attempt to call out an evil piece of shit? A piece of shit I(IMHO)who is in line to influence- for decades- policies involving women, our right to our bodies, our rights to protect ourselves against men just like him? A bitter, angry, self-righteous, partisan man who does not possess the character or competence to sit on the nation’s highest court?
Like Dr. Ford, and perhaps in many ways because of those rapes, I tend to be very private. I’m not sure that what’s happening to her wouldn’t drive me to suicide. I’ve dealt with those compulsions my entire life as a result of that sexual assault. The kangaroo court of deeply divided public opinion doesn’t much care about the price Dr. Ford paid, is paying, and will pay for the rest of her life for having the unbelievable courage to stand up to her abuser. Let’s be fair. The other side doesn’t care much about Kavanaugh either, and that’s part of the problem, especially if Dr. Ford’s claims are vindicated.
The arguments that we should forgive and forget those peccadilloes of our youth falls flat. Hard. Men of character, like the man I am currently with, quickly pointed out that first, they never did such things in high school, would never have due to proper breeding, morals and manners. To have Senators imply that people like him did the same thing causes him outrage. As it should for all real men, men who have a backbone and breeding (which isn’t at all defined by money or social status). It’s defined by decency.
This isn’t boys will be boys. It’s rapists will be rapist. Abusers will be abusers, in the same way that killing dogs and cats in your neighborhood as a child is a prime indicator of your future as a serial killer. Even the FBI has acknowledged that tracking this behavior in the young is a good way to prevent future murders. What a shame they don’t do the same thing with sexually abusive boys. What a shame our society doesn’t put the same value on preventing sexual assault when those proclivities do indeed present young.
Those who are so very quick to criticize, even those who are thoughtful and well-considered, tend to gloss over the cost to Dr. Ford to go public. And others who also came forward under sworn testimony, under threat of perjury. Everyone has their own version of their motives. You and I know and understand nothing except the filters through which we choose to perceive. However….
Until you have been there you do not understand. You will never, ever understand.
You will never understand the extraordinary set of balls it takes to go public.
Far more than the men who did the abusing. Bullies and abusers hide behind the apron strings of their families and cry. These women brave the hurricane force onslaught of public opinion and wrath in order to right not only their wrongs but to speak for all of us who have been similarly bullied.
You don’t understand how desperately the young mind tries to wipe out the details. How- especially given the circumstances of the times — you realize you are completely, utterly, totally on your own. The so-called “trusted institutions” that are there to protect you are the very ones which will call you a liar. A Lolita. Young women believe it’s our fault. That’s why we don’t talk. Psychology has plenty of evidence to prove this. However in the face of high stakes, that’s all nonsense. The burden of proof is on a fifteen year old girl. A 22 year old girl. Both of whom had- and still have- a great deal to lose, forty something years later. Vastly more, today.
Institutions protect their own. Period.
According to the World Health Organization, some 35% of the world’s women have experienced some kind of sexual assault. I have written elsewhere that it is 7%, but I was wrong. It’s much worse. Here’s the number : some 1,312,500,000 women worldwide, assuming that we generally make up about half of the world’s nearly 7.5 billion. That’s just what we know. This hardly includes all the unreported rapes, rapes in the context of marriage, incest and vastly more that we suffer at the hands of abusers and madmen who feel it is their God-given right to rape any damned time they please, anyone, anywhere.
The only way that those who are so quick to claim falsehoods and bullshit on Dr. Ford’s testimony, and the truth of some 35% of the world’s women, could develop a modicum of empathy is this:
Imagine, as a teenager or young man, a group of drunk women accost you. Drag you into a dark alley. Tie your hands behind your back. Jerk your jeans and tighty- whities down around your ankles. Shove your knees apart, and take turns shoving a big dry dildo up your virgin anus. You can’t scream because you have one of your dirty socks crammed into your mouth. Tears of pain and anguish roll down your cheeks into the filth of the alleyway. They laugh uproariously, clearly having the time of their lives. After you’ve been brutalized for untold hours, they leave you there to bleed, half-naked, torn and damaged.
Shamed beyond shame.
Who are you going to tell? Where are you going to go? How many thousands upon thousands of people are YOU going to broadcast your humiliation to, gentlemen? Exactly how do you think you’re going to engage in healthy sex after this? How are you going to trust a woman after this?
You’re goddamned right it’s unimaginable.
JOIN THE CLUB.
There are at least a billion, probably far, far more, who don’t have to imagine this at all. We’ve lived some version of it.
The men who understand this the best?
For the same exact reason that those of us women who have been brutalized cannot speak up. Are attacked if we do. We are in prison. We still are. Fear of reporting abusers keeps us in prison for the precise reason of what Dr. Ford is undergoing right now. The Kavanaugh hearings have clearly shown how badly very bad men — and their female enablers — want to keep us right where we are and have been since the beginning.
I’ve been in one since I was 22. At 65, I am just truly beginning to live a life that is free- or I should say freer- of the nightmares and the perpetual fear of another assault. The need to have an escape route. I am still assaulted today — at 65 — for god’s sake. Some say I should be flattered.
I know the bastard who put me in prison. Just as does Dr. Ford.
I don’t need her to present proof to know what truth sounds like, feels like.
Senator Jeff Flake changed his mind and asked for an FBI investigation in part because friends of his took him aside and told him about their experiences with sexual assault.
“I had no idea,” he was quoted as saying. As did so many other men- and women- who were overwhelmed by the #MeToo Movement.
I had no idea.
Of course not. Most of you don’t. Because we don’t feel free to identify our abusers. You should be damned grateful you have no idea. But that doesn’t justify crucifying someone for telling her truth just because that truth is both hard to hear and doesn’t fit your picture of who people are.
There are monsters among us. Just ask any of the some 1,312,500,000+ of us who have been assaulted by one.
The ticket to get out of prison is truth. Dr. Ford’s truth ripped my heart right open all over again. I am tired of people for whom the ugly reality of women’s experiences makes them “uncomfortable.”
Well folks, for the most part, you weren’t the ones who got raped, assaulted, brutalized.
It was pretty damned uncomfortable.
Welcome to our world.