Debbie Jacob writes a weekly column for the Newsday.
It is painfully clear from the #MeToo Movement that sexual harassment and sexual abuse are much more prevalent than we think. Suddenly, it feels like no woman has been spared in the US. You never know who will come forward next.
Everywhere you turn someone has a story on the internet. If you’re wondering how those stories could have been suppressed for so long and then appear everywhere, then know this: it takes one person’s story to finally break through, and then, buoyed by bravery, more and more women step forward breaking down the barriers of doubt.
If you’re wondering why many women waited so long to speak out, there are three answers for that:
1. Many women are victims of guilt as much as they are victims of sexual assault. They are so depressed, shocked, guilt-ridden and manipulated they don’t know they can say anything.
2. Women have had to break through a culture of sexual harassment. At one time, everyone seems to have been convinced that sexual harassment was “normal.” Men tried it; women wriggled out of it. Some women thought it was the only way to get ahead in a man’s world. Sadly, some women felt they had to play the game.
3. Many women did report sexual abuse or sexual harassment only to learn how difficult it is to fight power and popularity. People are reluctant to see powerful people like Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein or popular people like Bill Cosby fall.
I once reported a sexual assault by a doctor. I went to the police with all my shame, fear and depression because I felt sure there were other reports about this doctor. I was a young journalist, and I thought my report would be the clinching evidence for a story even worse than mine. I did my duty.
The Trinidad police in their nonchalant way “took a report,” which they buried. A few days later, I was standing on Charlotte Street waiting to do an interview with a singer who had emerged as Carnival’s biggest story. In the background a printing press groaned and spit out newspapers. Someone handed me a story to read in a weekly newspaper.
I clearly remember the sick, sinking feeling inside of me; the feeling of a violation worse than the incident itself when I read every detail of my story about the doctor in that newspaper.
Only the police knew my story. I had to hide the feelings welling up inside me: rage, disappointment, sadness, embarrassment, disgust and distrust; pretend nothing had just happened and do an interview.
On that day, I developed utter disdain for the police, who proved over the years to be even more incompetent and uncaring than I suspected when my family was violated in various ways: robberies, house break-ins and even refusing to investigate a gang attack that resulted in disfigurement of my son’s face.
I have noted over the years how often police turned their backs on women, and how society had allowed them to get away with “reports” that go nowhere. Thankfully, over the years, I have discovered some police who do their jobs, and that has kept me from writing off all police.
The Me Too internet campaign tells us all to stand up and voice our stories — even when it seems no one is listening because eventually — if there are enough of us – people will have to listen. The powerful and popular do fall, and their status ensures they fall hard. Then, women learn — as I have — that reclaiming trust is the only way to heal.
So, Me Too.