Conditioning

I don’t recall the exact year but I would put it at 6th or 7th grade.  So it would have been 1969ish.   The boys and girls were split up and taken to different rooms at Brockett Elementary School in Tucker, Georgia.  And the teachers began the excruciatingly uncomfortable process of giving us our first sex education class.  I don’t have much recollection of the content other than we were all wishing it would hurry up and be over so we could get out to the playground and play dodgeball or something.

I do recall that this is where the conditioning started.  This session began a long process that extended through my teens that taught me that it was my job to keep myself from getting raped.  Never go out at night by yourself.  Carry a whistle and mace.  Have your car keys ready for quick entry and then lock those doors immediately!  Avoid eye contact.  Don’t dress suggestively.  Take a self-defense course.  You know all the things we were taught.  We’re still teaching those things to our girls.  You must be diligent or else something bad will happen to you.

Which naturally leads to this – If the attack finally does happen, what did YOU, young lady, do to bring it on?  You must have done something.  Went to the wrong place.  Wore the wrong clothes.  Forgot your mace.  Didn’t have your keys ready.  Drank too much.

Who were these sexual predators hiding in the dark just waiting to pounce on every unsuspecting girl who had the poor judgment to be in that place at that time?

It turned out that the majority of them were in plain sight.  Sure, occasionally, some creepy creep would jump out from behind a tree and attack someone.  A creepy creep in a van would pull up and grab a child and take them away to untold horrors.  Those were the ones you would hear about on the news.  Making us all afraid of creepy looking guys in vans everywhere.

But those attacks were the anomaly.  The majority of the attacks were carried out by the guys you knew and trusted.  The priest in your parish.  The coach of your sports team.  The nice, clean-cut guy who promised your father he’d get you home from your date on time.  Members of your own family.

All the sex education classes I sat in on never mentioned those guys.  None of us were prepared for that.

What a disservice to all of us.  While we were all moving quickly through the dark corners of our neighborhoods in an attempt to avoid the monster in the bushes he was standing out in the open just waiting for the opportunity to coax us into a false sense of security.

The lie that the victim of sexual assault is the cause of the attack has been going on for thousands of years.  And it continues.  Women, children and young men who are sexually assaulted all have the same thought process – It was my fault.

And out of the shame of that comes the silence.  Or maybe, like in my case, it wasn’t shame as much as pragmatism.

I was sexually assaulted at 21.  While I don’t intend for this blog site to be all about me, it is sometimes necessary to tell my own stories in order to explain my stance on the topic at hand.

With the #MeToo movement and the Kavanaugh hearings we are in the middle of a huge cultural awakening.  We thought we’d been here before.  We thought we had made some progress.

Apparently not.  Women are still not believed.  Men are still calling the shots.  And not only are they calling the shots, they are seriously attempting to make things worse rather than better.  That is not hyperbole.  That is a fact.  Denying access to birth control and abortions is happening right this minute.  Some women are fine with that.  Those women are more dangerous than the men pushing for those changes.  But we’ll talk about them another day.

So, I’ll tell my own story to make a point about #WhyIDidntReport.

My sexual assault story is unremarkable.  Unremarkable because I made it so.  I walked away from the experience with minimal physical damage, no life-long psychological trauma and very little anger.  That is partially due to my personality and partially due to my conditioning.

As a 61-year-old, cranky, fed-up woman, I look back on my 21-year-old self and am not even slightly surprised by the way that young woman dealt with the attack.  What I do find interesting is, that much like Christine Blasey Ford, there are total time periods of that night that I cannot remember at all.  Like how I got home.  And yet, the actual attack itself is seared into my brain.  I remember it in excruciating detail.  So while I have assured myself  that I wasn’t traumatized by the event, it obviously had a deep effect on my memories of it.

I can’t tell you the exact date.  As I’ve attempted to piece it together, I am pretty sure it happened in the fall of 1978.  I was 21.  I think it was a weeknight but can’t be positive about that.  Here is what I do remember:

First, I won’t use my friend’s name here.  I haven’t spoken to her in maybe 25 years.  To my knowledge she isn’t on social media.  But I still want to respect her privacy.  Let’s call her Jane.

Jane and I went to a bar called Timothy Johns in what is now the city of Sandy Springs, Georgia.  Timothy Johns was a pretty popular spot in those days.  It was in the lower level of a nondescript office building on Roswell Road just off the exit ramp from I-285.  We went there often, usually as part of a larger group of friends. But that night it was just the two of us.  I don’t recall who drove but it was probably me.

I think it was a week night simply because I recall it wasn’t very crowded and we were able to actually sit at a table.  We got our drinks, sat down across from each other in two of the four seats and started chatting.  We weren’t there very long when two young men walked up and asked if they could join us.  Before either of us could say anything, they plopped down in the two remaining chairs.  We kind of laughed it off.  I suppose we exchanged names but I have no recollection of either of theirs.  They were just your basic 20-something, clean-cut, white guys.  I have no memory of what either of them looked like other than that.

The one to my right immediately engaged me in conversation.  The one to my left was totally focused on Jane.  There was a short period of chit-chat.  Then the one focused on me said he needed some cigarettes and asked me to come with him to the cigarette machine that was near the front entrance.  (This was the 70’s.)  I declined.  He insisted that I go with him to the machine.

“Come on.  Don’t make me go by myself. We’ll only be gone a minute.  We’ll be right back.”

I looked at Jane who said, “I’ll be fine.  I’ll save your seat.”

So I got up and walked with him to the machine by the front door.  I remember he was talking the whole time but I have no memory of what he was saying.  I know now that he was simply trying to keep me distracted.

As soon as the pack of cigarettes popped out, he grabbed them and my arm and said, “Let’ go outside so I can smoke.”  This was not necessary.  Like I said this was the 70’s.  People smoked in bars.  All the time.

“No.  I’ll just go back to the table.”

He didn’t let go of my arm and continued to pull me to the door.  It was open, the guy who checked IDs was sitting on his stool and other people were standing there waiting to get checked to come inside.

This is where the conditioning comes in.  I didn’t want to be rude and I didn’t want to cause a scene.  I didn’t want to go outside with him but being rude was a much bigger problem for me.  So, I let him pull me outside.

I knew within seconds I had screwed up.  (See, still blaming myself.)

As soon as we cleared the door and the people standing there, he clasped my arm tighter and pulled me around the corner of the building to the parking lot where it was darker.  Within seconds he had pushed me backwards onto the hood of a car.  Somehow, he had managed to do it so both my arms were pinned under me.  My feet were off the ground so I couldn’t get any traction.

I immediately started to thrash around and went to start yelling.  He was on top of me and covered my mouth with his.  He wasn’t kissing me.  He was attempting to muffle my screams.  Since my arms were pinned and my feet were off the ground and he had all of his weight on my body there was very little I could do.  I moved every part of me that I could.  As he was attempting to get under my clothes I wiggled, lurched and fought as hard as I could.  All of this happened in seconds.  His speed was really remarkable.

I have no idea how much time had passed but my next memory was of  Jane yelling and his friend telling him to stop.  I seem to remember his friend actually pulling him off of me. I sort of slid off the car and Jane grabbed me to keep me from falling.  She had my purse.  We moved quickly away from there.  And then the memory stops.

I don’t know which of us drove back to my apartment. I don’t remember what we talked about.  I don’t remember anything else.

I just never thought about it.  I pushed it all to the back of my mind.  I never considered reporting it.  I never thought about going into the bar and telling anyone there about it.  I don’t think I told my boyfriend about it.

And here is why – It happened because I let it.  I willingly went with him to the cigarette machine and against my better judgment I allowed myself to be led out of the bar.

I let my guard down and this was the result.  The way I viewed it, he didn’t rape me, I wasn’t hurt, so it just didn’t matter.

Old lady Lisa sees all of this quite differently.  First, my friend and I were targeted.  I know those men saw us alone in the bar and quickly determined that we weren’t with other friends or boyfriends.  There were two empty chairs at our table.  They planned to focus on each of us so we weren’t totally paying attention to each other.  We weren’t there looking to get picked up.  We both had boyfriends and besides, we weren’t “those kind of girls”.  And while Guy 1 managed to get me out to the parking lot, Guy 2 would continue to distract Jane.  It was going to plan until Jane, worried that I had been gone too long, made the decision to come looking for me.  Thank God she did.  I am certain if she hadn’t I would have been raped.

The conditioning of our young minds had worked.  I didn’t blame those guys.  I blamed myself.  I just buried it and went on about my life.

Just like I was supposed to.

Here we are 39 years later.  What has changed?  Not much.

Sexual predators are still attacking women, young girls and boys.  Some will be held accountable.  While others will become President of the United States and Supreme Court Justice.

This is not Republicans against Democrats.  Both political parties have had their share of creepy creeps in their ranks.

This is about conditioning.  We are all guilty of it.  People who have been sexually assaulted have been conditioned to blame themselves and by extension, to avoid all the of the heartache that comes with having to prove what happened to you.

Silence becomes the better choice.

It makes absolutely NO difference whether you believe Dr. Ford or Judge Kavanaugh.  Your opinions about why she waited to come forward or whether or not he was a drunken, privileged brat are unimportant.

Yes, there have been instances of false accusations.  But they are minor when compared to the number of real assaults that occur every day.

We don’t get to pick and choose which cases are investigated and which ones are not.

Every alleged crime should be investigated ESPECIALLY if it involves a minor.  Those investigations should be carried out fairly and without prejudice.  That is the job of law enforcement not the voices of Facebook and Twitter.

All women and all men deserve to be heard.  Whether you are the accuser or the accused.

Follow the truth wherever it leads.  Sounds easy enough but, as a society we still can’t quite get it right.

So attacks keep happening, victims carry it with them and attackers get away with it.

And our partisan politics keep the truth from being heard in an effort to get and keep power.  As long as our guy wins, who cares if he may have assaulted someone?

We are conditioned to distrust all politicians rather than holding them accountable for their character and their actions.

It’s all about conditioning.

 

One thought on “Conditioning

  1. Mary Cassidy Holmers

    I appreciate your blog and your story. I was raised in that exact same way.catholic school. Repression. I’m now 65. I blocked out and chose to forget my childhood assault for years. I and many of my female cousins, I later discovered were repeatedly assaulted by a cousin,as small children . He threatened to hurt my baby siblings if I told.
    At 13, two 20 something men tried to assault me at a deserted public beach where I was alone on a floating dock. I managed to get away as they held me under water to stop my resistance. I only survived because they were not good swimmers and, I was..
    Again in college. Police laughed when I told them about my stalker/assaulter. He repeatedly broke into my housing and dragged me out into the night. My roommates helped me fight him off. The campus police response was to remind me that boys will boys…
    My last assault occured at age 55 when I was at dinner with two female friends. I was newly divorced and had dared to dress in a form fitting shirt and put on make-up to try to rediscover my battered sense of self and beauty.
    He was a late 30’s something lawyer. Drunk. Repeatedly coming to our table and whispering filth into my ear…verbally inappropriate. I asked the manager to have him removed. His friends said they would keep him away. The manager let him stay under their watch.
    I went outside for a cigarette break. On a public street, at 10 pm, he snuck up behind me and started to strangle me, whisper how he was going to rape me in my ear. I thought I would die.
    Then, I don’t know how, I reached up and grabbed his head with both hands and flipped him into the street. I stomped on him. I stood on his chest. And told him not tonight, fucker, not tonight. I went back in and screamed at the manager and friends. My shirt was torn. Bruises on my neck, eyemakep smeared from my eyes watering as he strangled me. The police came. My friends and I made statements.
    In the end it was my word against his. He said I asked him to meet me outside. The police dropped charges.
    I see him at least 3 times a year. My only consolation is that when I do, his friends say, look, there’s the lady who kicked your ass…
    I do t remember how I got home. I do remember his filthy whispers. I remember the color of his suit. I remember the inability to breathe…thinking how my daughters would feel if I died…thx for letting me share my story. I refuse to sit in silence…

    Like

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