The author of this post has chosen to share her personal experience of sexual assault. I believe her, and she will be afforded the respect owed her as a survivor. We need to listen to and learn from the voices of those our society has failed. Persons making offensive comments will not be allowed.
Anxiety has been eating at me since this weekend, and it wasn’t due to Hurricane Matthew. If anything, the Hurricane and being out of town was a bit of a distraction from the triggering words of Donald Trump, the GOP candidate for President.
What many of you don’t know about me is that I’ve met “Donald Trump.” On three separate occasions, in fact. Sadly, too many women have met their own “Donald Trump” as well. Too many men have met a “Donald Trump.” Too many people – straight, gay, trans – have met a “Donald Trump.”
These “Donald Trumps” are narcissistic, self-entitled jerks that feel they deserve whatever they want, even if that means another person’s body. The majority of the time, it’s men groping women, but not always. It can happen to anyone. But ask most women you know… the problem is a part of our everyday lives. Until we change our culture of excusing such vile behavior, it’s going to continue to occur. I look at my daughters (and son) and I wonder if they’ll meet a “Donald Trump” one day. And I pray they never do. And I’m doing my damned best to make sure my son never becomes a “Donald Trump.”
Trump: “Yeah that’s her with the gold. I better use some Tic Tacs just in case I start kissing her. You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful… I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star they let you do it. You can do anything.” Bush: “Whatever you want.” Trump: “Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.”
I’ve been the woman in a club when a man who hadn’t even properly introduced himself walks up on the dance floor, and as he starts to dance, puts his hands on my butt and his tongue down my throat before I even knew his name. “Just kiss… don’t even wait.”
I’ve been the girl that was grabbed repeatedly by a neighborhood kid in the crotch during an innocent game of tag.“Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.”
I shook those situations off eventually. I hadn’t thought about them in years. But as soon as Donald Trump’s words were aired, those instances were triggered and came screaming back into my consciousness. Sadly, too many people have these types of unwanted advances happen daily to our bodies. We run into to those deviants that think they have a right to touch, to feel, to grope, to grab. No consent needed, just these creeps, in their power and strength, thinking they have a right to something that isn’t theirs: our bodies.
It’s so common that when a Twitter user asked women to give their own experiences being groped, in a day’s time, 9.7 million responses had been received. It’s #notokay.
But it’s when we’ve truly been violated, when trust has been broken, those events stay with us for life. Not perhaps in every day thought, but when you see someone across the room that looks like the person who abused you, who assaulted you, the panic in your chest builds, your breathing quickens, and you literally have to fight the urge not to run. When you are on the side of town where they live, you have simmering anxiety that they could be around the corner in a grocery store. When you work with them, you dread your shift and wonder if you’ll ever find another job. When you have to regularly see the person who assaulted you, it’s soul-crushing. Coping mechanisms are developed. Excuses are given not to be in the same area, the same room. You certainly never turn your back on them if they are near you.
See, I understand that because I was 16 when my cousin became my “Donald Trump.” An innocent walk around the block after a death in his family became a nightmare as he groped and grabbed and rubbed and restrained me. The darkness of the dead-end street by the river, with no one to hear me if I had screamed… I prayed for a car to come, but nothing. I was too scared to fight… he was bigger and stronger (but not older). I was unable to flee… his arms restraining me. All I could do was let it happen. I froze, trying to talk him out of it, my wits my only weapon against the assault of his hands.
And I never told anyone. I didn’t know how. His grandmother was too dear to me to break her heart even more in her moment of grief, I rationalized to myself. The doubts crept in. Who would believe me? Would it break apart the family? Would people choose sides? Would I just be expected to forgive and forget?
And so I stayed quiet. I pushed it down, deep in the recesses of my mind, only thinking of it when I had to face him again at family events. His smarmy smile as he greeted me during the holidays or at weddings or funerals is something I can picture even now. When he would talk or hug another cousin, I watched like a hawk to make sure they were okay. Every time I saw him, I relived that night. Did he? I shudder thinking about it. I found out later through a friend, he had tried something similar with her not long after, but she landed a kick to just the right spot to make him stop. His self-entitled personality obviously made many women a target of his depraved urges.
I kept quiet until 10 years ago when I finally told my husband. And I didn’t tell anyone else, even my parents, except in the last couple years. I had reached my limit with people excusing deplorable behavior, even, defending those who commit sexual assault, when I read regularly about Bill Cosby‘s and Josh Duggar’s assaults.
What bothered me the most was the excuses given by those who claimed the name of Christ. I don’t know why, really. I learned the hard way back in high school when a pastor excused the abuse my best friend suffered by a church member as a case of “a man being overly-friendly.” And I think that’s why I couldn’t say anything when I, too, was assaulted by my own cousin. This side of my family is nothing but church people and I’m terrified still I’ll somehow end up being the bad guy in all this.
In my experiences, too often sexual abuse and assault is excused in the church. Forgiveness is supposed to be automatically given because “we are all sinners.” If there is one thing narcissistic deviants are good at, it’s feigning repentance in order to regain trust and access to future victims. They charm their way back into good graces, play the penitent soul, and the victims of their abuse are, in a cruel twist, the bad guy if they can’t find it in their heart to forgive and move on.
And to that, I cry “bullshit.” Sexual abuse, sexual assault is an act that not only violates a body for a moment, but scars a mind forever. From the moment the assault occurs, a life is forever changed, be it just a kiss, an illicit touch, or heaven forbid, rape. A body is violated, and mentally, it’s close to impossible to erase the fear and the physical memory of the touch. Ask survivors… how many have frozen up during a moment of intimacy with their spouse as a fleeting memory crawls out from the scar in their mind? The simplest triggers bring the moment back because innocence and security was stolen by a deviant soul.
But yet, we’re told to just forgive. We’re told to move on. We’re told it’s just “locker room talk” or “boys will be boys.” I’m sorry, but that’s asinine. Excusing the behavior, turning a blind eye to it… it’s how we end up with Brock Turner and his dad claiming rape was “just 20 minutes of action.” We have a problem, folks , dealing with the structure of the rape culture these creeps take advantage of. Rape culture will never be dismantled as long as trite excuses are given.
I spent the better part of this week writing 3000 words about this topic. And you’ll never see it because it goes into greater detail than I think I’ll ever be comfortable relating. Even now, I can’t believe I’ve written this much about it. I’m paralyzed at times trying to articulate how I feel about my experience because I’m terrified of the friends and family that will dismiss this, shout me down, or defend the indefensible. As I think about hitting the “publish” button, a strangling anxiety creeps into my chest.
Let this be our truth today: What Donald Trump said to Billy Bush is inexcusable. And frankly, he is talking about kissing and groping women without their consent, and deny it all you want, but that is criminal. It is sexual assault. And every time someone defends it, or excuses it, or brushes it aside as “locker room banter” or “bar room talk” or “boys will be boys” a victim of sexual assault, a victim of abuse has to relive their attack all over again. The thoughts, the memories are there in the now-scarred psyche. It’s a wound that never heals, and those that dismiss these wrongs are guilty of ripping the scab off and violating a victim again.
It’s not hard to say Donald Trump was wrong. It’s not hard to say Bill Cosby is a sexual predator. It’s not hard to say Josh Duggar molested his sisters. And then stop. Don’t say anything else. For every victim of sexual assault, just stop there. You don’t need to add a clarifying statement. You don’t need to say “But…” Stop. Defend the victims. Stand by all of us who’ve had to deal with our own “Donald Trumps.” For a quick moment of your life, for all that is good and decent and holy, empathize.
If you’ve never been assaulted, you don’t know the fear. The confusion. The helplessness. The shame. The anxiety. The worthlessness that invades your mind. And so, just be helpful. Be kind. Show love. And understand that every time a story like this breaks in the news, we relive every damn moment of our attack.
And if you claim the name of Christ, do what Jesus would have done. It is the victims that need your defense, not those who violated us. No country, no election, no position of power would ever be more important to Jesus than healing a hurting man, woman, or child. I’m pretty sure he was given that offer and his words were clearly, “Get thee behind me, Satan.” And that should be your response as well.
If you are like me and have experienced an assault, please let me know if I can listen or find you help.
Mandi Livingston is a Christ-follower on a faith journey that has taken her down the path of doubt and discovery. She’s a busy homeschooling mom of three and still madly in love with her husband Eric after 16 years of marriage. When she can find free time, she loves to write. She’s currently working on a novel that might just get finished before her children graduate from high school. Mandi also blogs about the intersection of motherhood, faith, current events, and social justice at her blog www.mandilivingston.com. An introvert who runs on coffee, she’d love to connect with you on Twitter (@mandilivingston) or Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/mandiliv/). And if you are ever in Charleston, SC, she’d love to show you around her beautiful hometown.