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What We Say When We Talk About Assault

The conversations on sexual assault and survival have escalated during this election. Trump’s recorded conversation with Billy Bush amped up dialogue on how easy it is to be complicit to assault. Billy Bush shouldn’t have laughed off or egged on Trump’s behavior, and now he’s loathed across the country. I believe in every person’s responsibility to honor women’s voices and challenge how conversations about sexual assault are being mishandled.

I spent a few short hours observing my social media feeds and objected to any behavior I found complicit in suppressing women’s voices, stories, and truths. In a single day I was privy to some disgusting comments from educated men, working-class men, men with families and daughters …

On the accusations Trump was facing, an older, somewhat oblivious, man (who would like to be anonymous) stated that the accusers were eight “weasel ladies” who “wanted fame” and had “no life.” I’m paraphrasing here because he had problems forming full sentences.

After Trump’s exposure, women in the public sphere came out to expose how prevalent this issue is. On Jezebel, a piece was published about Rose McGowan’s account of being raped by a Hollywood executive. In the comments section, Dennis Oliver wrote, “She’s a media whore. I already know what they want, attention.” Oliver also stated, “Whores are capable of almost anything.” I asked him kindly if he would mind me sending these statements of his to his employer, and he quickly deleted his comments. Interesting. These are men existing in our work environments, under our noses, with covert misogyny they probably only reveal online.

I remind you this was what I saw in a single day. Then, a man I graduated with at the Institute of American Indian Arts (who would like to be anonymous), who has an advanced degree, discussed Woody Allen’s new show, Crisis in Six Scenes. I told him, aside from the accusations Allen molested his own child, I still don’t appreciate his aesthetic. The man rebuked my claims, appreciated Allen’s work, and then stated the allegations never led to a conviction, and that the allegations against him were, “… old news, frankly.” When I questioned the nature of his comments, he gave me his number and said if I wanted to have a more nuanced conversation about this we could. I’m not into nuanced conversations about child molestation, or separating art from its artist. Allen’s work just doesn’t excuse his transgressions. I can enjoy work by artists who aren’t ethical, and who aren’t politically correct, and who are faulty and human, but I had to draw the line at Allen: a man who married his ex’s adopted daughter, a woman he met when she was a girl, and the line became more apparent when his own biological daughter came forward as a young woman, to say that he had assaulted her.

I closed the computer at some point after all this, unable to compartmentalize the type of disgusting it takes to dismiss assault, naysay women’s stories, and assume that if there was no conviction, a victim is voiceless and unworthy of the deep contemplation that has helped our society evolve.

I think these men are unaware most often that the very women they’re talking to have been assaulted. These women (us) sometimes didn’t report the crime, because we were too small, because we didn’t know who to tell, or because we were told not to. Some of us reported the crime to no avail. Some of us reported the crime, and families were separated, or the system told us it was our faults.

I think these men should witness our power in telling. That even if there is no conviction, you can hear it in our voices, the truth, the excuses we tell ourselves, the blame we carry. Take this burden from our hands, and this crack in my voice, and embrace it. Recognize that most of us are living in communities with jocular banter, jokes, prods, hands, and pain, and we are asked to be silent to it all. Where I’m from, being asked to witness is the greatest honor. We’re asking you to rise to this occasion, where things have to change.

Terese Marie Mailhot is from Seabird Island Band. She is Saturday Editor at The Rumpus, and her work has been featured in Carve Magazine, Yellow Medicine Review, and The Toast.