This post is long overdue. A post I first considered writing back when Bill Cosby’s accusers (victims) started publicly speaking out, and the most common question early on wasn’t: “How could he do something so horrible?” Instead the question people seemed to be asking was: “Why should we believe these women when they didn’t bother speaking up right away?”
I believed them.
Approximately a decade ago, a friend of mine encouraged me to sign up for an acting class in Los Angeles. “Your college degree is in theater. You never know what types of connections you might build through this class. I know you’re going through a lot right now, but I think it’d be good for you.”
She was right. I was going through a lot. A lot, a lot. I had two children, one barely 3 years old, the other 18 months, and I had just decided to leave my marriage. I hadn’t even moved out yet. I didn’t know where to go or how I’d pay for it.
The acting class I eventually signed up for turned out to be a great two-hour weekly escape from the stress of my daily life as a stay-at-home mom and my worries about my future.
The last day of class was a presentation, when all of the students got to perform our scenes for a few industry professionals. Within a few days of my performance, I was contacted by one of the talent managers who had attended the presentation and thought I had enough talent to “make it in this business.”
Wow, a talent manager believed I could get television and film work. I was flattered and hopeful that maybe if I actually booked some work, it would make my post-divorce life a bit easier, at least financially.
My new talent manager and I signed a lengthy contract, met up a few times to discuss the plan for my career, and he joined me at my photography session to make sure we got just the perfect headshot. Every time we interacted, he was nothing but professional. No flirting. No inappropriate looks or conversations. He was the perfect gentleman.
Or so I thought.
One evening, my manager and I had a meeting at one of those fancy, high-rise buildings in Los Angeles. By the time we were done, it was dark outside. As we left the building, he asked me to drop him off at a restaurant for a dinner meeting he had scheduled. He had taken a taxi to our meeting and his next destination was on my way home, so it didn’t seem like a big deal to just drop him off. We got in my car and continued our business-related conversation. But once we got into the typical, annoying Los Angeles traffic, completely out of the blue, he placed his hand on my inner thigh and then grabbed my crotch. I screamed, “What are you doing? No!” I tried pulling his hand off me, but he was stronger and bigger and free, while I was still trying to control a car, unable to pull over due to all the other cars surrounding me. By now, both of his hands were on me, groping me, massaging me. His seat belt was off and he was leaning in close to me. I pushed and yelled, “We’re going to get into a car accident! Get off of me now!”
But he didn’t seem phased. He acted like he owned me. Like I was just a body with no voice, no say, no feelings. He didn’t seem at all concerned with my anger and disgust with him. He had no fear as he arrogantly and very calmly said, “You’re enjoying it. You know you are.”
The entire ordeal probably didn’t last more than a few minutes, though it felt like time had slowed down. I was in a panic trying to get him to stop touching me and get away from me, all while looking for a place to pull the car over, wondering how I could make this all end before it escalated even more. Finally I was able to stop at the side of the road. I told him to get out, and thankfully, he obliged.
As I drove off, my entire body was shaking. I was in shock. What had just happened? And why in the world did he think this was okay? And could I have done more to stop him immediately? And thank goodness he wasn’t the one driving the car. He could have taken me somewhere and raped me. Did I say or do something in the previous few weeks to make him think I wanted this? What. Just. Happened?
I felt like garbage. I felt empty. Numb.
I drove back to the apartment I still shared with my first husband, walked in, and said nothing. The next morning, I sat down and drafted a letter to my manager stating that I was breaking our business contract due to his sexual assault of me. I wanted those words “sexual assault” in writing. I wanted him to know that I wasn’t oblivious to what had just happened and how serious it was. I wanted him to know that, no, I wasn’t enjoying it. I didn’t want it!
The following day, I mailed the letter and then drove to the police station. I was going to report this. It had to be reported. He had committed a crime. I started to reach for the door handle of my car but my body froze while my mind raced.
It’s going to be my word against his. I can’t prove it. And I’m about to leave my husband. Could this affect my divorce proceedings? What if he accuses me of having an affair with him? And now that I know how arrogant and brash he is, what else is he capable of? What might he do to retaliate? He has money. He has power. I have nothing. Nothing except for my word. Is my word enough?
I sat in front of the police station for over an hour. And then I drove away. I didn’t tell.
I didn’t tell my friends or family. I didn’t tell anyone. I was embarrassed that I had even put myself in a situation where I was alone in a car with a man I barely knew. I was embarrassed that I didn’t punch him, or somehow have the strength to push him off of me. And after some time, I was embarrassed that I hadn’t reported it.
If you asked those closest to me to describe me, you’d hear “strong” and “outspoken” and “brave” and “doesn’t put up with crap.” And they’d be right. I am all of those things. Women like me would never let someone get away with abusing us, assaulting us, demeaning us. Never. Except sometimes we do. And sometimes the reasons are so complex and confusing that even we can’t fully make sense of them.
Looking back, I wish I had immediately told a friend. I wish I had asked that friend to take me to the police station, and make me get out of the car, and hold my hand, and remind me as many times as necessary that my word is enough. That my body and my dignity and the truth are worth more than his money and his power and anyone’s doubts.
But why should anyone believe me when I didn’t bother speaking up right away?