Some of you may have seen the #MeToo movement on social media at the moment. In response to high profile sexual assault and harassment cases, women have been sharing their stories of when they have been sexually harasssed, assaulted or abused. It’s a way of bringing to the forefront just how much this happens.
Some have called it “attention seeking”, which says a lot about attitudes towards sexual assault, harassment and abuse. Some have gone on the defensive. Others have called people liars.
Here’s my story…
(**Trigger Warning here for discussion of Sexual Assault**)
I was sexually assaulted back in 2012. I was assaulted by someone I trusted and who did it in such a way that it took me a year to realise what exactly he had done. I was assaulted by someone who was supposed to help us make a baby. Then there was the realisation through contact from others that he had done it to them too, followed by the slow breaking down of everything I thought I knew about him. His name wasn’t his real name. He didn’t do the job he claimed he did. He wasn’t the age he said he was. He had a LOT more donor babies than he said he did. I don’t think anything I thought I knew about him was true.
I’m not going to go into exactly what he did, because that’s not a place I want to go. Even five years on, I don’t like to talk about it. What I wanted to talk about here, was other people’s reactions to what had happened.
When I reported him to the police, he was arrested. Several women made reports – one whom I had met and others who I had not. Some whose names I had heard and some whose I hadn’t. The police were great. They had it in hand and they kept me updated. One thing they said to us was “don’t speak to the other women”. So, we didn’t. We cut off contact from the only people who had a clue what we were going through. Women contacted me via Facebook and email to say “me too” and all I could say to them was “go to the police. Here is the number of the lead officer”. Some of them did. Most of them didn’t.
I spoke to work about it as it began to affect me mentally. They could not have cared less. At the time I was working as a 999 call taker, so I would have thought that there might have been some understanding there, some support and some care. There wasn’t. There was essentially an attitude of “deal with it”. Most people I knew were the same. When I opened up about it, conversations quickly moved in another topic. Most friends didn’t want to talk about it. It was awkward. Even when going through court, only Amy wanted to talk about it.
The furor in the Sperm Donation community was something else. This was a man with a lot of donor babies, so there were a lot of people who came to his defence. A lot of people who got angry and a lot of people who were hurt. There were women who I now know that he assaulted too, who were standing up for him at the time. Making false accounts on forums to hurl abuse at those involved. I had someone stalk me online for several years during and after the court case. She went through everything – my forum posts, my blog, everywhere. She left abusive comments here even after I had Eden. I was told I had ruined his life. His wife had cancer – that was apparently my fault. His daughters disowned him – my fault. He lost his professional registration – my fault. He lost respect from his colleagues – my fault. He lost his job – my fault. I’m not sure if the other women involved heard the same too.
Even now, I see the occasional comment about it. I see people asserting that myself and the other women “colluded our stories”. I see people applauding what he did and talking about it like it was the funniest thing ever. People saying how great he was to “take a chance” and “it’s a shame he got caught – har har”. Don’t get me wrong – it’s usually the same bunch of idiots, but we are now some three years after the court case and it still comes up occasionally.
Reporting it, going through giving a statement and eventually going through court were the hardest things that I have ever done. They took some very low blows. At times, my Facebook account was brought into question. Someone dug through everything I posted online and fed it back to his counsel. The fact that I’d posted online that I had been in court was used against me in court. Used to discredit me, when what we should have been talking about was SEXUAL ASSAULT. not bloody Facebook. Before court, my medical records were requested. I consented to this, only for my counselling records to be requested. I told the police no. Therapy was my safe place and I wanted to keep it that way. They told me that they could tell the judge that, but he may insist and then I would have no choice. Thankfully my doctor’s surgery has some excellent legal eagles on their side and they were able to block the request so that my safe space could stay safe. Every part of my life was brought into question in the quest to prove that I must have done something to warrant his behaviour.
Then there was the “punishment”. I didn’t attend the sentencing, so what I know of it was picked up on the grapevine or from the police. The judge considered that his loss of reputation and career was a punishment in itself. It was brought up that one woman sold her story to a women’s magazine so was obviously out to make money. Consequently he got a nine month sentence suspended for two years – meaning he didn’t go to prison. He also had to sign the sex offender’s register. In this country, sometimes people go to prison for graffiti related crimes. So, the idea that one can be found guilty of sexual assault and not go to prison is ridiculous to me. I do wonder what the sentence would have been had he not formerly been a “respected member of society”.
I applied for compensation as the resulting PTSD led to me leaving my job, taking one that paid far less because I couldn’t cope any more. When I received a decision, it was “if you hadn’t realised what had happened, you wouldn’t have reported it. Therefore no crime would have been committed.” This made me RAGE. The guy was found guilty on two charges and there was a hung jury (unable to make a decision) for the other seven. I appealed the compensation decision on the basis that a crime is a crime regardless of whether anyone noticed. If the police and the CPS classified it as sexual assault, it was sexual assault. Needless to say, I had a billion more hoops to jump through before my claim was upheld. It took three years for me to be compensated.
Every day, people are harassed, assaulted and abused. Some of those people are children, some are adults and some are elderly people. Sexual harassment often just gets laughed off. The hurt that sexual comments caused is often brushed aside as some being “oversensitive”. Survivors of sex crimes are told to “get over it” or “move on”. Justice often isn’t served correctly and every high-profile case brings a spate of “liar liar pants on fire” type accusations. I’ve written about this previously in this post and honestly every time I think about writing about this stuff, I have to take a deep breath. Because I know there will be negativity. I shouldn’t have to worry about that. This is part of my story.
My point is that we need to talk about this stuff because it is life-changing. It changes the way someone looks at the world. We need to listen up when our friends say something like this happened. We need to move away from blaming phrases such as “well that’s why you don’t use an unregulated sperm donor”. Because fact is – whatever the situation – it is not ok to assault. It is not ok to harass. It is not ok to abuse. It’s not about what someone was doing at the time. It’s not about victim-blaming. It’s about making those that assault, harass or abuse responsible for their actions. Making people respect the body autonomy of others and making a world where people feel able to report these things. We need to stop making excuses. Stop brushing it under the table. Stop changing the subject because it’s awkward to talk about.
You might think #MeToo is attention seeking, but as long as you see it like that you are part of the problem.