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I was sexually assaulted and thought it was my fault. It's past time for a 1980s reckoning.

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© Getty Protestors hold signs at a rally of sexual assault survivors and supporters calling on US Senator Flake to reject Brett Kavanaughs nomination to the Supreme Court at Boston City Hall on October 1, 2018 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Joseph PREZIOSO / AFP) (Photo credit should read JOSEPH PREZIOSO/AFP/Getty Images)

By Kirsten Powers, USA TODAY

When I was 15 years old, I passed out at a party after being fed all sorts of alcoholic concoctions by older boys I knew and idolized, but who in hindsight were eager to get me drunk.

I awoke with a popular senior basketball player on top of me, and my shirt off. Dizzy and confused, I could barely remember anything about the night before. I asked what had happened and the boy told me we had just snuggled, but he couldn’t explain why my shirt was off.

A few days later, a male classmate I was close to exited the boys locker room visibly shaken. He told me this boy had bragged in the locker room that he had molested me when I was passed out. (“Molested” is my word. For his part, this boy chose to gleefully describe in salacious detail what he did to me while I was unconscious.)

My face burned with shame. I begged my friend not to tell anyone else, and as far as I know he didn’t. I feared that if more people in my small Jesuit high school found out about it, I would be viewed as a “sl**” or “damaged goods.”
Sexual assault used to mean strangers in alleys

The only people I would have trusted with this information were my parents, but to tell them would involve explaining why I was at a party drinking rather than at a sleepover I had been given permission to attend. I would have been grounded for eternity.

I told no one.

I don’t know what month it was. I don’t know whose house it was. I remember one of my two best friends being there but she doesn’t remember it, and why would she?  It was just some random party as far as she knew at the time.

I can hear the doubters: Why now? Why didn’t you tell anyone? Why didn’t you report him?

Liar.

The answer is simple: While I knew something terrible had happened, I didn’t think I had been sexually assaulted. In the early 1980s, we didn’t possess the vocabulary to make such declarations. I thought I had done something stupid and paid a price for it.

I thought it was my fault.

The memory of this event came flooding back last week with Christine Blasey Ford's testimony against Brett Kavanaugh. Many people have focused on the fact that she didn’t mention the event to anyone until 2012. As a former teenage girl in the early 1980s, this does not seem remarkable to me. In fact, the first time I spoke of the incident chronicled here was last week. And yet I have zero doubt of what happened and who did it to me.

When I was in high school, the phrase “sexual assault” was reserved for incidents of women being grabbed in dark alleys by strangers. It was always violent. If it wasn’t, then it wasn’t sexual assault. It wasn’t something the popular boy you went to school with did.

Lance Morrow, a senior fellow at the Ethics & Public Policy Center, channeled the 1980s view writing about Ford's allegation in The Wall Street Journal: “No clothes were removed, and no sexual penetration occurred. The sin, if there was one, was not one of those … that cry to heaven for vengeance.”

He didn’t rape you for God’s sake. Get over it. You don’t want to ruin a promising young man’s life do you?

The same boy who molested me had forced one of my best friends to give him oral sex the year before while they were on a date. We were disgusted by him. We thought he was a creep. But the phrase “sexual assault” never came up. In a recent conversation with this friend, she told me that she was too insecure to protest. She marveled that because they were boyfriend and girlfriend at the time of the incident, she didn’t think that it was possible that what happened was sexual assault.

But that’s exactly what she calls it today. It’s also what I call what happened to me.
Redemption, but no Supreme Court job

If the person who sexually assaulted me and my friend turned into an outstanding citizen, good father and husband, do I think he should be put on the Supreme Court? No, I don't. I don't say this out of vindictiveness or a need for retribution. As a Christian I believe in forgiveness, grace and redemption. I am a big believer that people can make terrible mistakes in life and learn from them and go on to make significant and important contributions to the world.

However, we cannot send teenage boys the message that they can sexually assault someone and, as long as they eventually become good citizens, we will elevate them to one of the most important positions in our society. We cannot send the message to teenage girls that attacks on their bodies don't matter because the perpetrator is young like them. 

We also cannot send the message to teenage girls that their response to being attacked, or lack thereof, is what will be put on trial. The fact that my friend and I continued to go to parties where this boy was, or said hello to him in the hallway despite thinking he was a dirtbag, does not mean these things did not happen. Our behavior then is not the problem, just as Ford’s failure to talk to anyone about what happened to her for decades is not the problem. We were young teenagers who didn’t even understand what had happened to us.

There is a problem, though, and it's this: The culture failed to give us the language to describe such violations, and made us feel that talking about what happened to an authority figure would only make things worse for us.

Fortunately for women, what happened in the 1980s isn’t staying in the 1980s. It’s a reckoning that is well overdue.

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Politics - U.S. Daily News: I was sexually assaulted and thought it was my fault. It's past time for a 1980s reckoning.
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