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All the Rage

This Is Why Women Don’t Report

As we saw at the Kavanaugh hearings, female survivors of assault and harassment are the ones on trial, not the perps. And men still wonder why so many women don't report.

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There was a headline by the Associated Press on Anita Hill that appeared recently on Twitter that read: “Kavanaugh hearing not a referendum on #MeToo” that left me aghast, revealing an old reporter trick in which they ask Ms. Hill (thank you, God, for Anita Hill’s strength) about the #MeToo movement in relation to the Kavanaugh circus.

That framing exposes the media’s toxic systemic masculinity in the ranks. It is disavowing the decades of work and spark from Tarana Burke and Ms. Hill’s history in service of a strawman. #MeToo isn’t your news hook.

Those bemoaning “Why didn’t she say something 20 some years ago …” blah blah blah—save it. I don’t have to qualify my experience based on your arbitrary timeline of acceptable reporting and trauma. Why don’t women report? No, the real question is, why the fuck would women report?

My friend Cristen was raped and shot over 25 years ago. The other day she posted this on her Facebook status: “Rape culture & the patriarchy are why I was actually glad I was shot twice as I escaped my two rapists; I knew it would be easier for men, in particular, to sympathize with/validate my abduction, etc. if I had a physical injury and wasn’t ‘just raped.’”

This broke my heart. Cristen is one of the strongest women I know. She has never shied away from telling her story in service of helping other women. But this? That she is glad she was shot so she could be validated? No. This hearing is a referendum on white men in positions of power who continue to retraumatize and re-victimize women like Cristen, my friend Taylor, Brittany, the litany of friends and family who have been raped, assaulted, harassed over our lives.

I was speaking to one of my favorite editors yesterday. One that has let me do some of my best investigative work to tell the stories of women raped and re-victimized by the usual suspects: the cops, inept prosecutors, etc. She confided she was lucky enough to have not experienced assault or “any of that” which Kavanaugh stands accused—yet she still feels like she is experiencing a kind of PTSD. This is the ripple effect so many women I know feel even if they have escaped direct victimization.

Let me share just one of my “why I didn’t report” stories. Here’s the headline: “Why I Didn’t Report: I had no idea until 40 years after the fact I was being actively groomed by a lifelong self-identified pedophile because I was in kindergarten. Subhead: Your opinion of my process isn’t my problem dudes.”

My husband carries a photo of me in his wallet tucked behind credit cards, his driver’s license, and carefully folded bills. I ask him to give it to me as we stand in the reception area of the jail in Tama County, Iowa, in December 2015. He looks ready to ask: Why? Then, he silently pulls it from his wallet.

It’s not a picture from our wedding or a vacation. It’s my school photo from kindergarten.  My wispy, thin, white-blonde hair pulled into pigtails curled into ringlets at the sides of my head, my blue eyes happy, a smart grin on my face, my tiny self in a checked gingham dress mom felt the appropriate costume for picture day. I slide the photo into my pocket and we take our seats and wait as the jailer processes my request to visit prisoner Stewart David Smith.

I first encountered Smith on the school bus in 1977. I was 6 years old, and he was 16.

He had dark, curly hair and thick-rimmed glasses, was tall and thin and always carried his boom box. Because he was older he sat in the back of the bus—an honor reserved for the big kids—and played Queen’s new album every day.

The bus rattled and spit up the small hill to our family farm that still sits on a narrow gravel road two miles outside Beaman, Iowa. Every day me and my brother, who was a year older than me, waited on the side of the road until Freda, the bus driver, pulled to a complete stop. The bus was part Lord of The Flies, part carnival—horrifying and raucous fun at the same time.

It was Christmastime back in 1977 when I came into my house from the school bus crying. My mom was in the laundry room, and I came to her, tears streaming down my face and my hands behind my back. Mom asked me what was the matter. I didn’t want to tell her. She reassured me that no matter what it was I could tell her, that I had to tell her because it was upsetting me so much I was sweating through my clothes.

After some coaxing, I finally showed her what was behind my back. It was a Christmas card. Inside it read, I love you. I told mom that Stewart Smith, an older boy, gave it to me. I told her that he was scary and was always talking to me on the bus. And when he gave the card to me he told me he was also going to give me a present, and that I would have to give him one, too.

Mom calmed me down. Then she walked directly to the phone and called Smith’s stepmother, Bonnie, and lit into her. I remember being scared of what might happen to me the next day on the bus if Stewart got in trouble: Would he do something to me?

He didn’t do anything to me the next day. But he didn’t stop bothering me.

On numerous occasions, Stewart would corner me on the bus, slide into the seat next to me and not let me out, blocking my exit with his knees. In order to get away from him, I would have to jump over his lap to the safety of the aisle and another place to sit for the long ride home. He even called me once at home. This went on whenever he rode the bus.

It wasn’t until Smith appeared in a local Iowa news program that I felt like that terrified 6-year-old again. He had been arrested for “attempted child stealing” and “enticing a minor”—the teaser for the piece was Smith sitting in a recliner telling the reporter “I am a pedophile.”

I felt sick when I saw him in the video telling that reporter he gave shoes and other things to a set of young girls (his own daughter’s friends) out of concern for their welfare, not for any sexually charged reason. Despite his admitted history of being a convicted pedophile, this apparent grooming—gift-giving his long-time MO—this time was innocent.

But this wasn’t Stewart’s first or second time facing charges like this. Smith is a repeat child sex offender. His first arrest in the 1980s in Minnesota was only the first time he was caught, charged and jailed. He had been on sex-offender registries in Florida and Minnesota as well as the National Sex Offender Registry.

I had a very close call—Smith didn’t lay a hand on me that I remember. But he didn’t have to touch me to frighten me. Child abuse like all sexual assault or abuse isn’t about sex. It is about fear, control, and intimidation.

Fear. Control. Intimidation. Sounds like the GOP Senate Judiciary Committee motto.

Guess what fuckers. We see you.

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