Tim stopped by the front office where he works last week and apologized to all the women there on behalf of all the wrongs men have perpetuated, continue to perpetuate, against women. It wasn’t a planned apology. It was spontaneous and heartfelt. As the father of three daughters now grown, Tim seriously wonders about how much abuse women have suffered silently.
“Is there any woman out there who doesn’t have a #MeToo story?” he asked me.
“Hopefully our daughters don’t,” I said. “I think they would have told me if they did.”
But after we hung up the phone, I wondered if that is true. Would my daughters have confided such a thing with me or would they have felt that was too personal? Too difficult for their momma to deal with, given my own #MeToo stories, which they have heard about since they were little.
Because of my #MeToo stories, I made a point of doing all I could do to protect my children from childhood sexual abuse.I took the approach as a parent that the one thing I owed my children was a childhood. I was determined that I would do everything within my power to give them that – and I knew from experience that children who are sexually abused have their childhoods stolen away from them. So while I raised my children to be responsible citizens and adults, I also did my best to protect them from predators.
When Roy Moore’s accusers stepped forward and divulged the many ways in which he preyed upon young girls, memories of my own sexual abuse trauma returned, the way it has for so many victims – male and female. It’s like a pus pocket – once you prick it, all that runny gross stuff begins oozing out. Only by cutting deeper into the wound of predatory behavior do any of us ever begin to have any hope of healing.
Generations upon generations have made the victims of sex abuse feel ashamed for the abuse, rather than holding the predator accountable. I have personally experienced this, as well as witnessed it in courtrooms here in Oregon where I live and work. I have heard in harrowing details the stories of women who were horribly abused at the hands of coworkers, family members, religious leaders, teachers. I have witnessed as adults moved to protect other adults rather than the children being preyed upon. I have personally been ostracized and vilified for writing stories about beloved coaches, teachers, and religious leaders who abused children. I was once kicked out of the courtroom to keep me from writing about a married coach who preyed upon a 14-year-old girl. That coach left Oregon and is now working in North Carolina.
I thought of that young girl last week when I heard the stories of Roy Moore roaming the Gadsden Mall, preying upon young girls half his age. I have worked with foster kids, many of whom have been victims of sex abuse, often condoned by the very adults who brought them into the world. I have heard their stories. I have heard what they didn’t say but their eyes told me anyway. I know that victims of child sex abuse can rise above all that, often do rise above all that. But I also know that anyone – child or adult – who has been the victim of sexual assault or molestation never ever gets over it. You can work your way through it, but you can never work your way out of the reality of it.
There can be no ignoring it. Sooner or later, a victim has to call the demon out by name. Confronting it is the only way a victim can ever take back the power denied them for so very long.
But here’s the truth: Not everyone who musters the courage to speak out is heard. Too often, all too often, victims are dismissed. Or worse yet – as we have seen in the case of Roy Moore – they are the ones put on trial.
I was 19 years old and coming out of the bathroom in the basement of a Portland church one afternoon when the head deacon grabbed me and forcefully kissed me. He was Donald Trump’s age. An old man by anyone’s account.
It was gross.
I pushed him away, didn’t say anything and ran up the stairs and out the doors of that church.
I never told anyone about that. Not then and not for years. He was a beloved deacon in that church. It was going to be my word against his. Nobody was going to believe me. And, besides, I had suffered much worse abuse at much earlier age, so in comparison, it didn’t seem like such a big deal. It was wrong. It was gross. It was a violation. It was predatory. But he had not violated me to the same degree other men had violated me as a child. So it was easy to tell myself it was no big deal.
So I understood why Roy Moore’s victims waited years to come forward. Because they knew that they would face the very sort of scrutiny they are being faced with every single day – a community of religious folks who question their every deed while never once considering that Roy Moore actually did grope young girls. That he really does have a deeper problem, a perverse attraction to young girls. The way that deacon at the Portland church did.
It’s easy to see why religious folks are prone to believe old men over young girls. We only have to turn to the Bible for the model for that. A woman raped is considered vile by Biblical standards. She becomes unworthy. Tainted. Defiled. Sullied. Desecrated.
He’s just a man whose natural instincts got the better of him. Poor fellow.
That model is perpetuated over and over and over again in American culture, in our courts and in our churches, and now in the highest offices in our land.
My heart aches for the women who have come forward with their stories of abuse at the hands of Roy Moore. I want to hug each one and apologize to them, the way my husband apologized to those women in the front office last week. I want to tell them I am sorry for the abuse they suffered, and that I am sorry they had to suffer in silence for so long. I want to tell them that I understand. I really do understand. I’ve been them. I get it.
Most of all, I want to say to them: We hear you. We see you. We believe you. We will work to right this wrong on your behalf.
Of course, those are the words that every sex abuse victim of Donald Trump’s have been denied. The women who were preyed upon by Donald Trump continue to be derided and dismissed. Overlooked and cast aside. The women who Trump abused continue to wake up in an America where they are regarded by religious Republicans as tainted and vile women. Or worse yet, mocked by those same religious folks.
I can only imagine the depths of the pain and anguish the victims of Trump endure daily. How must it feel for them to see people praise this man who violated them in the most abusive of ways? How betrayed they must feel on every level. What nightmares do they relive as all these #MeToo stories unfold? And, yet, they continue to be denied any righting of the wrongs done to them.
What must it be like to live in the country where the man who has violated you also happens to be your president?
Will the rest of us ever demand a reckoning for Donald Trump, the sexual predator?
Or are we just going to continue to allow Trump bragging rights to his predatory behavior?
Karen Spears Zacharias is a Gold Star Daughter and author of AFTER THE FLAG HAS BEEN FOLDED (HarperCollins.)