#MeToo: The Importance of Sharing Stories of Sexual Harassment & Assault

By Catherine Frederick on October 26, 2017

I’m going to start this with what I was wearing, because this is an essay, and I can’t hear or answer your questions, but I know you’re going to want to ask, because that’s what everyone always wants to ask. I was wearing a pair of blue jeans, the type that come pre-faded. They were long on me, so there were muddy holes where the edge of my pants got caught under my shoes. My shirt was off white, with light blue and dark blue birds on it, with a rope tie with worn wooden beads tied in a droopy bow in front. The neckline might have been considered indecent, but I was also wearing a navy blue spaghetti strap tank top underneath it. I was wearing mascara, but no eyeliner, because I was (and still am) terrible at putting on eyeliner. I was wearing gray, all-star Converse that I’d owned since 10th grade.

You’ll also want to know how much I was drinking, because that’s important, too, apparently. The outfit I remember, because it was pretty much my go-to going out outfit at this point in time. The drinks I don’t remember as well, not because I was blackout drunk, but because this took place 4 years ago. I know it was something along the lines of cider, two tequila shots, and a jaeger bomb over the course of several hours. At no point did I throw up, at no point did I lose time, and I woke up with my full memory of the night.

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This took place my freshman year of college. I was studying abroad in London with 98 other students, about 15 or 20 of whom were also freshmen. We were new to college, and in a foreign country, far away from home, and we were just learning how to be friends with one another. Also, the drinking age was 18. So, we would go to the bars and club in hordes of eager, newly legal, barely friends and drink and dance until last call; anywhere from 1 to 3 in the morning.

The bar we found ourselves at this particular night was one of the groups favorites. It was dark enough that you couldn’t really see the sticky mess of the floor, but not too dark to see the person standing next to you. The bar was made to look expensive and old fashioned, and the bartender was too busy to talk, but not too busy to get you a drink. There was a DJ on the second floor, and live music on the third one. We all gravitated to the top floor, where the band was playing songs that weren’t so new that we didn’t have the lyrics memorized, yet. When the band realized that they had a bunch of drunk Americans in their crowd, they played Sweet Home Alabama and American Pie, and we all happily sang along.

Last call was at 3 am, but we skipped out at 2. We spilled into the streets in the way that only drunk people can, and made our way to a different club we’d heard about only a few blocks away, some kind of bar/casino combination, which sounded like a bad idea, given that we were drunk college students who were still trying to get a grasp on an entirely new currency that more often than not felt a little like monopoly money to us. So, when we got to door of this new club and the man at the door immediately pointed at Danny and told us that he was far too drunk to be let in, I volunteered to grab a cab and take him home, as I was about ready to turn in, anyway.

If Danny hadn’t been in London, he would have been pledging a fraternity, and that’s what he did once he got back to main campus. He drank like it was a mission to prove his masculinity and then stubbornly insisted that he was a lot more sober than he actually was. So, he was a pretty standard college student.

I ushered him toward a busier street, and, like a sheepdog, steered him back into place every time he staggered off course. I hailed a cab, gave the cabby our address, and settled in for a car ride that would take 5 minutes max. Almost immediately, I felt Danny’s hand slider over my thigh in a drunken attempt to get between my legs. I grabbed his wrist, and pulled it away.

“No, Danny.” I told him, exasperated, like he was a disobedient dog.

Immediately, the hand came back.

“Danny, stop it.” I said, grabbing has hand and shoving it off again.

Again, the hand returned.

“Oh my god, Danny. Would you stop?” I huffed in irritation, grabbing his hand and flinging it back towards him.

The cabby was laughing in the front seat. The hand inched towards me again, and I smacked my hand down on it, like a cockroach, and for the last two minutes of that cab ride, I kept my hand on top of his.

The cab pulled up to our building, and I released Danny’s hand and hopped out, pulling a few pounds out of my wallet. I circled around to the cabby’s window and offered the money. He took it and grinned at me.

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I returned to the back seat and tugged Danny out of the back seat. There wasn’t much after that. The door to our building was locked after 10pm, so we had to go through the main office and then downstairs to some hallways that connected the buildings, and then I had to guide Danny back to his flat, because he probably would have ended up sleeping in the courtyard otherwise. I returned to my flat and went to sleep.

I told that story later to some friends of mine from high school. We were gathered at someone’s house for New Year’s, and this was the first time a lot of us had seen each other in person since the summer before. I told this story like it was a funny anecdote, the same way we all shared all of our other freshman year drunken adventures with one another.

My friend Nolan stared at me and asked, “Are you okay?”

I was thrown off. To me, it wasn’t a big deal. But Nolan asking that made me think.

If I’d seen that happen to a friend, I would have been mad. How dare a person put their hands on her after she’d said no repeatedly? It’s harder when it’s you and not someone else. You see all these stories of people that have it a lot worse off, that it doesn’t seem to compute that it starts smaller than that. This behavior starts somewhere, and sometimes, it’s in the back seat of a cab with a guy that should know better, but doesn’t. And now, I look back and wonder if, because of my behavior, he thinks that doing things like that is okay. Because that one girl that one time didn’t yell at him, does that make him think that what he did was acceptable?

Along with the #MeToo stories, I’ve seen people post things like ‘that’s not sexual assault’ and ‘you’re diminishing the stories of real survivors.’ There are people who will think that about this story. Sometimes, I think that about this story. After all, it took me months to realize that something bad had happened. That means it couldn’t have been that bad, right?

I could have told a different story. I could have talked about the person who told me he was going to send a virus to my phone, because I wouldn’t send him nudes. I could talk about the former friend who sent me a video of himself jerking off, and then backpedaled when I got mad; saying that he was sending it to an ex-girlfriend and thought I would find it funny, as if that makes it better or makes any sense at all. I could tell you about the guy who was at least ten years older than me that followed me from one club to another. I could talk about the time my gynecologist, who is old enough to be my grandfather, told me how much he appreciated the fact that I was in shape, because so many girls aren’t, and I just had to sit there awkwardly while he finished my exam.

I could have told any one of those stories, which might be more socially acceptable as a ‘#MeToo’ worthy story. But I wanted people to see that this comes in all shapes and sizes, and that just because you were naïve enough to not notice it happening at the time, doesn’t mean that what a person did to you wasn’t wrong.

I’m still not traumatized or haunted by what happened in that cab in London. I rarely even think about it. Mostly, it’s one of those things you look back on and cringe over, and you think about all the better ways you could have handled it. Next time, and there will be a next time, there always is, I’ll handle it better.

For all the people out there who have stories like mine and worse, I’m sad for you, and I’m furious on your behalf, but more importantly, I’m so proud of you, for being here and living through your stories.

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