To begin with, I am not a journalist or a writer, I am simply a concerned citizen and a survivor of rape and abuse. Within these last few months I have witness incredible social change that gave me hope that if I were to speak up I would be believed, and that in the future, others might not have to experience the same pain that I and so many others have experienced. However, the events of the last week have inflicted different feelings upon me and I felt that instead of feeling hopeless and alone again, I might try to do some good instead. So I have written the following opinion piece:
Earlier this week a Babe article by Katie Way was published chronicling a night a woman, “Grace”, spent with Aziz Ansari, which made her uncomfortable and left her traumatized. Although this is one of many sexual assault allegations against famous members of our society, the reaction to it was very different. Following the New Times Article about Harvey Weinstein, #MeToo became a trending topic on every social media platform and an international movement, and following the multitude of allegations against well-known members of Hollywood, the 300 women founded “Time’s Up”, and the Emmys were awash with black attire, “Time’s Up” pins, and topical speeches. However, following the Babe article, both the writer of the article and “Grace” were accused of targeting Ansari, framing the story to negatively reflect on Ansari in what was a confusing situation, and taking advantage of the current social change for a spot in the limelight. These accusations came from many different sources, including television hosts and a wide array of newspapers, many of the same ones who quickly reacted in anger against previous members of Hollywood and Congress accused of sexual assault.
Let me get some things straight. First, I understand the claims that Katie Way, the writer of the Babe article, acted without journalistic integrity. The wording of the language in the article and some of the details included seemed almost immature and clearly did not serve her purpose as it opened up “Grace’s” story to scrutiny. Way also sent an email to HLN host Ashleigh Banfield using incredibly inappropriate language and insults. This further acts to discredit “Grace’s” story, a girl who was probably just trying to find someone who would help her share it. Second, I can’t stand false accusations of sexual assault. Not only do they ruin the lives of innocent people, but they also further discredit all victims of sexual assault who speak out in the future. Therefore, I try to stay aware of the minute possibility of this occurring among the many accusations we hear in our current news cycle. However, regardless of Way’s writing choices, the descriptions given by “Grace” and her friends were incredibly specific, quotes and screenshots from text messages between “Grace” and Ansari were provided, and in his statement, Ansari himself seemed to admit that an interaction close to what she described did occur. And third, this is not the first time in recent months that victims who spoke up have been treated this way. After Terry Crews announced that he was a victim of sexual assault, Wendy Williams claimed that he was “not brave, just talking” and that it would “affect his career”.
When I first read the Babe article, I noticed the oddity of the language but also how chillingly similar “Grace’s” account was to my own rape. What had started off as a casual date with a seemingly innocent man had turned into a night trying to drill a message into that man’s head: “I’m not interested and you’re making me uncomfortable”. Ansari followed “Grace” around the room and repeatedly placed her hand on areas she didn’t want to touch. As I read this, I immediately felt anxious. This happened to me too and it is the image that replays over and over in my head every day since it happened.
Many people have responded to “Grace’s” story by asking why she didn’t just leave. I can tell you that you spend every day afterwards wishing that you had, replaying that night over and over in your head, wondering if you had done anything wrong and if it was your fault. There are many reasons for not leaving. In my experience it was a mix of not really understanding what was happening in the moment, not knowing how I would get home or what I would tell my parents (I was in high school at the time), and being afraid of what he might do if I did. We had the same friends and I worked with him after school every day. So I stayed. And the next week he was suspended for bringing weapons to school and threatening a teacher. That same week he asked me to be his girlfriend, and how could I feel safe saying no? That was the beginning of a four month long abusive relationship. With him, I was repeatedly the victim of sexual harassment, sexual assault, and verbal and physical threats. These threats continued for a period of time after the relationship was over.
“Grace’s” story also caught my attention because not only was it similar to mine, but it was similar to most other accounts of sexual assault that I have heard from people I have known throughout my life. Beyond the accounts that have been shared by members of Hollywood and the government, there are people who aren’t famous and are sexually assaulted by people not in any well known position. These victims live in the gray area not knowing if what happened to them legally counts as sexual assault, not knowing if what happened to them was “really that bad” compared to what others experienced, and because the perpetrator wasn’t well known, not knowing if there are other victims or if it was just, as some have said of Ansari, a “misunderstanding”.
When I heard the responses to the Babe article, I felt sick, alone, and anxious. After months of feeling empowered by the national shift in perception of sexual assault, I felt like the rug had been pulled out from underneath me. I felt like I no longer was accepted in this national movement. I felt as if the thoughts I have had constantly for the last two years, that what happened to me “wasn’t that bad” and that it was my fault because I could have left at any point, where all being validated.
In order for movements like #MeToo and “Time’s Up” to really make a difference internationally, all victims of sexual assault must be included. Yes there are gray areas but if we are going to be brave enough to stand up against an entire culture which has allowed sexual harassment and sexual assault for so long, then we have to be brave enough to confront those gray areas. We cannot hope to make lasting change if we aren’t including all victims or if we are ranking who has it worse.