Why Do Women Fail to Report Sexual Assault or Harassment?

I’ve been watching the #metoo movement for a while now and all of the scandals with celebrities and other men in high places that don’t deserve a mention on my blog that have been outed for sexual assault and/or harassment. Alanis Morrisette sang about it 20-something years ago in her hit song “Right Through You“. The most recent celebrity scandal coming to light again is in the docu-series called “Surviving R. Kelly.” It’s amazing what money can buy to either silence or shame the victims in this fucked up, male-dominated world. And for people that continue to wonder why women wait or never speak up about sexual assault or harassment, consider this:

When I was in my early 20s, I answered ads at my local college photography department to do modeling for some students and instructors. One person in particular was an older man (a student), probably twice my age and older than my father. As it turned out, he lived in a multi-million dollar beachside home and also happened to own a talent agency.

Although I was extremely naive and trusting (because at the time my process of thinking was if he’s a student at my college, he must be safe… mmmkay), I was also aware of my surroundings and felt nothing threatening about him. I felt comfortable doing some modeling for him at both his home studio and on the public beach in front of his home. Things were okay, although he may have made a few unwelcome comments that I hadn’t quite caught onto.

After a few modeling sessions and promises to get me actual work through his agency – surprise! – nothing quite panned out. He knew that I was looking for odd jobs due to my college classes, so we agreed that I was going to paint a mural on his kitchen wall at an hourly rate. Being that I was both an art student and a single mom at the time, I thought this was a great arrangement to further my talents with a flexible schedule. Now remember that this was just over 20 years ago, so I don’t quite remember all of the details, but I believe it took me two to three trips to paint the mural.

On my last visit, this talent agent set up a camera, which I’d assumed was to film me painting. This particular mural was on a lower wall, so I was sitting or kneeling on the floor to work. Next thing I know, this man is behind me feeling me up, telling me to pose and look at the camera. I froze. I wasn’t sure how to react. He towered about a foot taller than me and certainly doubled my weight. I was alone in a house with someone I’d gained some trust, and his hand was literally up my shorts. I squirmed away, and he did it again. Eventually, my squirming and non-reaction finally caused him to stop. I recall him saying something along the lines of me not being turned on. Yeah, no shit, ya old skeezy perv!

I just wanted out of there, so I made some excuse that I had to leave to pick up my daughter from daycare. I packed my gear and never went back, never completing the mural. Obviously, this asshole had ulterior motives before hiring me. Hindsight says he knew EXACTLY what he was doing and carefully planned it.

Now here’s the thing – I can’t tell you specific dates of this event (I could probably narrow it to the year but it would take some research), but what I can tell you are specific details that I do recall. He had a daughter in college about my age, which was really fucking creepy thinking about it now. I was painting the dunes and seagrass of the beach. I was wearing somewhat baggy overall shorts with a tank top underneath. I was barefoot. His finger penetrated me. I remember feeling grossed-out, disgusted, humiliated, and somewhat helpless. How did I know he wasn’t going to hurt me or hold me down and force himself upon me? I felt powerless. All I could think about was getting the hell out of there, picking up my daughter, and going home to shower off the shame I was feeling. But of course we cannot shower off feelings. Feelings are the details that victims/survivors remember, and there may be triggers over an entire lifetime that rekindle them. For me personally, any unwelcome touch from a male can be a trigger.

Did I report this man? No. Why? Because as many women are either taught or as our backwards society thinks, I had put myself in a position to be alone with someone of wealth in his home, and no one would believe a young, single mom in college that needs money. I did not fight back. I did not verbally say no, although my body language clearly did. And I was too inexperienced to know that a man older than my father may not know better than to touch a woman his own daughter’s age inappropriately. You know how some of us have been taught that our elders are right?  Well, they aren’t always.

There is no doubt in my mind that I wasn’t the first, last, or only woman to whom he had done this. Even today, I think it’s pointless to come out and name this man. I have no idea if he still lives in the area or if he’s even still alive. If he were to run for office today, I would probably continue to keep my mouth shut, because survivors are constantly scrutinized, called liars, and put through the wringer and victimized all over again. I don’t want my private life made public (no matter what I may post here), and what proof do I have? My word against his, unless of course that video he was taking resurfaced. It would only add salt to old wounds, and who wants to be subjected to that? Unless, of course, several others came out and we united, then I would stand with my sisters.

I applaud women that are brave enough to come out with their stories, because these predators need to be exposed. But coming out after 20+ years isn’t for everyone. I can only imagine how many women have never told a soul about these types of behaviors and took it to the grave. It’s a dark secret to carry.

2 thoughts on “Why Do Women Fail to Report Sexual Assault or Harassment?

  1. Yes I totally agree with you. Most women have a story like this to share, and I have several. The only one I told police about was a flasher in a public park (deserted) when I was 18 and doing work experience in the city. As you say, often the biggest fear at the time is that he will hurt you and if he is physically larger, it’s usually implied.

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