Everyone is still commenting on Donald Trump’s “hot mic” footage and honestly, I thought it was just one more sound bite in a string of ridiculous things he says, so I didn’t pay attention.
Until curiosity finally got the better of me.
When I heard his words, I felt sick—physically sick. I was angry and disgusted, but there was something more. I sat down at my laptop to try and put into words what I was feeling. My husband walked in and asked what I was writing.
Neither of us were prepared for what came next.
The second I tried to explain Trump’s words and what they meant to me, I burst into uncontrollable tears. He stared at me, bewildered.
I spent all weekend in a panic, questioning whether I should publish this. Then I heard Michelle Obama’s speech and it summed up my feelings.
“It has shaken me to my core in a way that I couldn’t have predicted, so while I would love nothing more than to pretend this isn’t happening…it would be dishonest and disingenuous to myself.”
So, this is a story I have to tell. This is a story everyone needs to read.
In school we are taught sexual education and at work we have mandatory sexual harassment workshops. Nonetheless, as women there are certain things we have learned to put up with, things that are so commonplace they don’t even warrant a mention anymore.
Sitting on buses or trains I have had men blow in my ear, been groped, had hands “accidentally” rest on my thighs. These occurrences are so normal, I’ve almost (almost) stopped reacting. I just get up and move away—no dramatic scene necessary.
Working in restaurants I have been looked up and down or had my ass pinched more than I care to remember. I have been told by bosses that I need to hire sexier waitresses because everyone knows “sex sells.” I have had a chef towering over me with his finger in my face screaming, “You want a problem sweetheart? I’ll give you a f*ckin’ problem!”
At a bar there’s almost a guarantee I’ll get groped or cat-called. I have been called a slut and a cock-tease when I’ve turned guys down—sometimes in the same breath, which of course makes no sense because how can I be both?
This is not a sympathy song; these are just some everyday examples of what it is like to be a woman. Don’t get me wrong, I am no prude. I have laughed at dirty jokes without threatening to report someone. I have enjoyed going out, dancing, flirting and even taking guys home of my own accord, but Donald Trump’s words aren’t related to this.
His words imply that he, and men in his position, have the right to treat women however they want. He can start kissing without consent and even “grab ’em by the pussy.”
Somehow, these words triggered something deep in me. I began unravelling—every incident that has ever happened to me flooded my memory and started tumbling out of my mouth.
Like the night a guy pushed me against a wall and forced himself on me. When I finally managed to push him off, he furiously spat insults and accusations at me. “This is your fault! You were wasted last night and I was a gentleman; I didn’t have sex with you, but I could have. I could have had you however I wanted. You owe me!”
He genuinely believed he had a right to me because when I was drunk he was a “gentleman” and didn’t have sex with me. The worse part? I apologised for leading him on. I blamed myself.
Or the time when I was backpacking and I got to know the owner of the hostel who offered to show me around. Part-way through the tour he put his hand on my leg and tried to kiss me. I politely turned him down, but had to say no multiple times throughout the day. When I got back to the hostel and told a worker, she said, “What did you expect? You went on a ride with him alone; you should be more careful with the messages you send.”
What I expected was to be shown around a city I had never been to before. What I expected was that it was a genuine offer of hospitality. What I didn’t expect was that I would need to repay in sexual favours. This is everything that went through my mind, but the second this person said those words, I recoiled. I blamed myself.
All of these stories and more were racing around my mind and tumbling out of my mouth.
“It’s not fair!” I sobbed to my husband. “Men thinking they can do whatever they want, that they have a right to our bodies, a right to treat us however they wish, it’s just not fair!”
I could see the concern on my husband’s face as he asked, “What do you mean, what happened?”
I was raped.
The words came rushing out of my mouth and stunned us both.
I wasn’t dragged down an alley like in the movies, so I had a hard time accepting this fact. But this also wasn’t a drunk one-night stand (which are sometimes still questionable). Without going into too many details (to spare my family and friends), I woke up in a car to find a man I had never seen in my life, on top of me.
I flipped out. I remember screaming, “What the f*ck is going on?” He said, “Whoa calm down, I am just taking you home.”
I was in shock. He started the car and I finally managed to take in my surroundings and realized I was near my house. I made him stop just before we got there, jumped out of the car and ran inside, praying he didn’t follow me.
That night, just after I got into bed, I heard a knock at the door. I panicked—I knew it was him. For some reason, I answered the door before anyone else could. I stood outside facing my perpetrator. I felt sick.
“Hi, I just wanted to come by to check you are okay. Do you remember what happened?”
“No” I replied weakly. In my mind, this was still my fault—it wouldn’t be the first time I met someone drunk and didn’t remember how. Maybe I initiated everything.
I was ready to blame myself. I even wanted to blame myself, then I wouldn’t have to think about what really happened. So, somehow I found the strength to ask him what happened. Did I meet him out, how did I end up in his car?
“Well, I found you. I was driving around and saw you sitting alone on the side of the road at about 6 a.m. You were near traffic so I was worried about you; I thought I could give you a ride home. But when I tried to ask you where you lived, you couldn’t respond. You couldn’t talk and could barely walk, so I put you in the car and looked through your bag to find your address. Then I waited with you until you came to; finally you did and I brought you home.” (Note: I didn’t “get home” until 8 a.m.)
I felt my mind separate from my body at this stage. I somehow stuttered “thank you” to this man, ended the conversation, then collapsed in bed, too numb to cry or do anything.
That week, I told my friends the half-truth of this story and we all made a joke about the “bad taxi driver.”
The reality of calling this rape felt too heavy and there was still a voice whispering, “You brought this on yourself. You shouldn’t have gotten so drunk. It could have been worse.” I knew I had a history of getting wasted and I didn’t want to be the party girl who said the loaded R-word. So, I filed the incident away as Just another Bad Night.
Saying this out loud however, was the first time I realized holy f*ck, this is not okay.
That man raped me. If I was unconscious and couldn’t give my address, then when did I give consent? Yes, he took me out of a dangerous situation if I was drunk and alone, but does that give him the right to do what he pleased with me? No.
I have carried this around for the longest time. But no more.
This is what Trump’s words brought out in me. Because, the fact is, what he said is true—a man in his position can almost “get away with anything” and believe it or not, his words are not arrogance, they are the sentiments of where we are as a society.
His words, and countless incidents, show that there are still a lot of men who believe they have a right to our bodies. This is why his words have struck a collective nerve, because this is more than just “locker-room” talk—this is the reality for women worldwide.
But this is not about pointing the finger or calling all men evil, because that just isn’t true. For every story I have of men treating me poorly, I have just as many stories of the opposite. I love my father dearly, he has shown me nothing but love and support my entire life. I have incredible male friends who would have my back in a heartbeat and I am now married to the most amazing man who shows me nothing but love and respect. He has shown me what a real man is.
But the fact that I look at this as a glowing reference for men and not the norm, shows that we have a serious problem.
Whether we are talking about rape, abuse or harassment, I guarantee, every single woman has her stories. When talking to one of my best friends about whether or not I should write this, she revealed some of her own stories and said she could probably share one story from her each of her close family and friends. I realized I could do the same. We both cried.
Think about that for a second. If I can recount one story for the majority of my friends and family, that means there are probably 10 stories I don’t know. Now multiply that by all women and we have a seriously confronting number.
I felt uncomfortable saying this to my husband and I am extremely uncomfortable writing this now, wondering what people might think. But the fact is, I should be uncomfortable, we all should be, because this is not uncommon. I know I am not alone.
This is not a cry for attention or sympathy. This is bigger than my experiences, this is a world-wide conversation that needs to be ignited, a flame that needs to catch like wild-fire as we all lift our voices and speak up about our experiences.
After revealing my demons to my husband, I was worried he would not want to hear what I had to say and I was scared he wouldn’t look at me the same. He was of course shocked to hear all of this, but he walked up to me, embraced me, kissed my forehead and said, “Tell your story.”
This is why I have hope. I think the majority of the men in our lives would be mortified to learn the extent of our experiences—which is exactly why we need to start talking. The more we speak up, the more victims start stepping out of the shadows of shame, the more men realize the impact of their words and behaviours, the greater chance we have as a society to re-write this story.
We have a lot of work to do, on both sides. There are some men out there who need to know they do not have a right to our bodies, no matter what. They need to know there is a difference between our personal sexual choices and actions that are forced upon us; that slut-shaming and derogatory words only fuel the fire of rape-culture.
Just as important, as women, we need to break through the self-blame and shame. We need to know this is not okay. We need to know that we have the right to say “no” whenever we want, we owe no excuses and no apologies. Our bodies, our choice—full stop.
A deep-seated mentality and societal norm does not change overnight. We all need to stand up and actively engage in this conversation. For the first time, Trump brought a serious matter to the table, and how he did it could not have been more fitting.
This is why I want to thank Donald Trump—for bringing this topic to the world stage, for giving a platform to the issue, so now, our voices can unite and finally be heard.
None of this is okay, but we can all dictate where we go from here. Enough is enough.
It’s time to speak up.
*Author’s Note: To all women who understand this only too well, please know you are not alone. This is not your fault. And to my husband, thank you for giving me the strength and support to write this piece, but most of all, thank you for showing me I deserve to be loved (we all do)—scars and all.
Author: Tash Pericic
Editor: Nicole Cameron