On May 9, 2023, former president Donald J. Trump was found liable in a civil trial by a Manhattan jury of six men and three women for sexual abuse and defamation of E. Jean Carroll.
Do you need statistics on the extent to which sexual abuse happens in the U.S. to females and males? If I quoted sources, would you question their reliability? Have you been assaulted? How did you handle the assault, and why did you respond as you did?
In telling my story today, I am asking mothers and fathers or surrogates for same to realize that one of your most important roles as a parent is to develop trust at such a level with your sons and daughters that they will talk to you about any and all issues that frighten, baffle, confuse them.
I was 12 years old when the “troublesome” incidents began. And I told no one. It was a summer Saturday ,and my brother, two years younger, and I were at one of the two theaters in the small town where we lived, eager to see our usual fare of a news reel, cartoons, and a Western film. Did my brother and I sit together in the theatre? Not on your life. There were lots of empty seats in the theatre, and a grown man moved to the seat by me. I considered moving but decided that would not be polite. Within a few minutes, he had his hand on my thigh. I jumped up and said, “I have to go home now.” Do you understand that I was apologizing to him for leaving?
That fall, I was a junior high school cheerleader and was practicing cheering in my grandmother’s side yard when a man in a yellow convertible with leopard upholstery stopped and inquired, “Would you like to go up in the woods with me?” I ran, first behind my grandmother’s house, then behind my own, and finally up the steps to my back door. Safe.
Still 12 and on some Sundays after church, I visited a friend, and her father frequently wanted me to sit on his lap. I remember thinking, I’m too old for that, but I was a guest in their home, so I was polite. The pervert also taught me and his daughter to drive at the local football field, and he always had me sit on his lap.
Additionally, at that vulnerable time in my life, age 12, when I visited the family doctor in his office, as I started to leave, he would say, “Give me a kiss” and stick his tongue in my mouth.
Had I told someone, the theatre manager would have called the police and the pedophile would have been arrested, my grandmother would have called law enforcement to track down the degenerate in the yellow convertible, my mother would not have allowed me to visit my friend on Sundays, and she would have spoken to the family doctor and told him to quit doing that to me.
Fast forward. I’m a young professor at Urbana College, married with two sons, and I’m attending a poetry reading at the college in one of the lobbies of a dorm. There’s a non-college student at the event who says he’s from Canada. Strange how we remember what we were wearing at the time of sexual assaults (sexually-motivated behavior done to someone without that person’s consent and on a continuum from words to rape). Is this because of the dismissive “She was asking for it by the way she was dressed” argument? I was wearing jeans and a long-sleeved, multi-colored shirt. As I was getting into my car, the “Canadian” grabbed me and was forcing me into his car when I saw some students and screamed for help. He released me and peeled out.
I’m older now, late thirties, and am an academic dean at a community college. Do the sexual assaults stop? No. At times, they are verbal, “We’ve been working together , and we’ve done everything but have sex.” At times, they are physical, a hand on my thigh under the table as I sit with a group of professionals at the hotel bar after a conference. At times, no apology is given, a stop at a hotel where I’ve been told I’m going to hear a speaker and there is no speaker. I’m no longer shy, but I still tell no one. I’ve learned to use my powerful words and some choice words to stop these unwanted advances. And I continue working with these men who are in positions of power, but they know I will not succumb to their advances.
By now, I am traveling extensively and have learned to be careful. This means not getting in a hotel elevator after dark if a man is in it and always being alert to men on the floor where I am staying, never consuming alcohol in social settings no matter how much I’m pressured to do so, being cordial to male co-workers but immediately excusing myself if the conversation turns the least bit suggestive, always making sure those males with whom I work know that I’m married and have two sons, wearing conservative suits (below the knee no revealing blouses), and refusing all invitations to go club hopping after professional meetings.
I’m feeling pretty secure, but one night my plane is delayed because of bad weather, and I know the decision to go to a hotel and drive the distance home the next morning is the right one, the safe one. It’s a Saturday morning , and I check out of the hotel and head home. I’m wearing a gray,wool, long-sleeved dress that hits me at midcalf, tall black boots, a gray wool jacket and a purple scarf with menorah prints, sent to me from Israel by a friend.
I have a flat tire. Do I know how to change it? No. A student at the college where I’m working drives by, sees my dilemma and takes me to an Exxon station (This is before cell phones). I wait for an attendant to drive me back to my car. On the way, we are in big trucks, and he pulls over to an isolated spot and begins attacking me, pulling up my dress. He is big, strong, and he is overpowering me.
And I find my voice, my powerful voice. I am furious. I scream, I curse him as I fight him. He finally backs off, drives to where my car is located, fixes the flat, and leaves.
Do I tell relatives or drive to the police station in that town and report him? No. Why? If I had told my husband, he would have taken one of his handguns, driven to that station, and killed my attacker. If I had reported it to the police, it would have been in the newspapers. I knew with that kind of publicity, my career would have been over, and I was ready to be a college president. Another reason- my teen sons would have been embarrassed because all kinds of gossip would have resulted, and I would have been blamed. I was not ready for the “He said, she said” game, and I had no cuts or bruises. I didn’t even tell my mother and my sisters because I thought they would have said, “Are you sure you didn’t do something to encourage him? I’ve always thought you were too friendly.”
My remorse: How any girls/women had that attendant already assaulted/raped? How many more would become his victims? For over two years following that assault, every time a man got close to me, I panicked and moved quickly away.
In the civil suit, E. Jean Carroll said, “I’m here to get my life back.” Why am I writing? To tell you mothers and fathers out there: Don’t pretend it doesn’t happen. Don’t think it will never happen to your son, daughter, grandchildren. Talk to them, coach them, let them know you are there for them – always.
Vivian B. Blevins. Ph.D., teaches telecommunication employees from around the country and students at Edison State Community College and works with veterans. You may reach her at 937-778-3815 or [email protected].