Shame On Who? (#metoo)

This story has been trying to escape for a while now, but I kept pushing it down. It felt at once too distant (events too long past) yet too close (too personal) to have relevance to others. Then a few things happened; an unthinkable number of my fellow citizens took Candidate-then-President Trump’s casual and consistent debasement of women as signaling open season on us; Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed to the Supreme Court; and ButcherBakerToiletryMaker published a stunning and affecting story from his life. From Butcher’s example I drew courage, and from current events I gained rage.

After consulting with site management about whether this post belonged here [obligatory trigger warning – sexual assault forms a part of this story] their main concern was whether I was comfortable linking these events to “Elliecoo of DeadSplinter”. I am. The shame should not be mine, and I will carry it no longer.


Forty-five years ago, my first job was as a beauty consultant (glorified shop clerk) at a cosmetics store. I was 15 years old, and thrilled to have a “nice job”, to earn my own money, trusted to work alone, and entrusted with a set of keys and the responsibility to open up in the mornings and close the store at the end of the day. The store was in an unenclosed strip mall; each store had an individual entry from the sidewalk. This store was the only one on the small stretch leading from a surface parking lot to the main intersecting boulevard of stores. It was isolated, and often the sidewalk was poorly lit, but the store was bright and welcoming, and full of “girly” things.

I’d worn my best late 1970’s look that evening: flat, shiny Mary Jane shoes, a high-necked, long-sleeved, loose midi dress, very hippie chic. My hair was in a curly perm à la Barbara Streisand, my nails were polished, and my makeup was color coordinated. Even now, I am justifying that my attire wasn’t asking for it. It wasn’t too short, too low cut, too tight, too bright, too anything that could be used to excuse a poor, helpless male at the mercy of his masculine instincts. It never occurred to me then that I shouldn’t have to prove that my clothing was “un-assultable.” After all, the public school I attended, in the northeast, had only allowed girls to wear slacks to school six years earlier. Until that time, the patriarchy (and it was a patriarchy, no women held elected positions, including seats on the school board) had judged that girls in pants posed a greater threat to society than thousands of little girls freezing on the way to and from school each winter. It was just the way things were…and continue to be…in communities and police stations and judicial courts.

Near closing time (9:00 PM) a dark-haired fellow came in and walked around the small shop, even peeking into the backroom. I was young and dumb and had no clue that he was casing the place. “May I help you find a gift?”, “Just looking”. “Oh, there isn’t more shop space, that’s just the backroom, what may I help you find?”, “I don’t see what I want.” And out he went.

A few minutes later, keys in hand, I went to lock the door and he shoved his way into the shop, with a gun in his hand. He forced me behind the counter and made me remove the money from the cash register – less than $200. Then he twisted my arm behind my back and forced me into the backroom.

By then I was out-of-body, as if observing everything from a distance. No shaking, no screaming, just preternatural calm. Now here’s the thing about that long, narrow backroom – it was shelved floor to ceiling on both sides, leaving a two-foot path, with a small bathroom at one end, and the owner’s desk at the other. Each shelf was crammed with open, clear bins full of cosmetics, boxes for the fancy gift items sold there, and a total mishmash of retail detritus. Overall, it was a bit disorienting, and there was little room to maneuver. I remain convinced that my life was saved by disorder.

I still had the keys clutched in my hand, having never locked the door. He pistol-whipped me about my body and head and told me to undress. As I was unbuttoning the many buttons on the dress front, I dropped the keys in one of the bins. This wasn’t some quick-thinking smart move made with any foresight; I couldn’t manage the tiny cloth-covered buttons and loops and hold onto the keys at the same time.

He pulled his cock out and began to stroke himself, moving the gun over my body and between my legs. He asked sexual questions, stroked faster, touched me and hit me. After he came, he demanded the keys, but I couldn’t find them. He cocked the pistol at my head and said to find them, but even he could see that they were nowhere to be found.  I told him my boyfriend worked nearby and would be coming to get me (not true, but a good lie). He gave me a final whack with the gun, took the money, and ran.

I called the owner, I called the police, I called my parents, and after-the-fact chaos ensued. No one believed I hadn’t been raped. Looking back, I see that the trauma of the assault was heightened by the disbelief of the police, my parents, and my boyfriend. The implication was that if it wasn’t rape with vaginal penetration, it wasn’t that bad. It felt like one of those worker’s compensation charts that show how much a limb is worth, if lost. Assault without a weapon wasn’t as bad as assault with a weapon which wasn’t as bad as sexual assault which wasn’t as bad as….you get the idea. The bruises on my body hadn’t shown up yet, and I wasn’t about to allow another stranger, even a police detective, to see me unclothed, so I wasn’t scoring too high on their internal assault-ranking chart. I suppose that my lack of hysteria didn’t help my case. Good girls should be sobbing for a big strong man to protect them; little hussies should just deal with it. My reaction wasn’t the typical one expected by these men, and that cast doubt on the severity of the assault. I wasn’t taken to the hospital, and I wasn’t offered counseling, I just went home.

My parents felt it best to pretend it hadn’t happened, and decided that “let’s put it behind us and move on, you’re fine” was the best course to take. My boyfriend minimized the impact it had on me, and joined in the let’s move on chorus. There was an undercurrent of disbelief that such a thing could happen in our nice little town, in the nice little shopping area, and that I must surely have somehow provoked the attack. Questions like “what were you doing, what did you say to him, and what were you wearing” all served to shift blame away from my attacker and put it on me. As if were it my fault, then it wouldn’t happen to others, and their notion of what a nice place we lived in could remain unassailable.

This fellow was bad at being a criminal. I picked him out of the second book of mugshots the police showed me the next day. They seemed shocked that I identified the criminal, though they were familiar with him – he was only out of jail (for rape) a few months, but his wife was already pregnant. I remember the part about his family because he obviously was getting sex at home. So, his attack on me was out of anger or pathology or something else. He was taken into custody within days and jailed on revoked bail.


Justice moves slowly. A year and half later I was in college and had to come home for the trial. I was made to speak publicly about the assault, which was a shame-laden thing – particularly the grueling experience of being questioned by a defense attorney bent on maximizing my discomfort and embarrassment in an effort to excuse his client. He got seven years. I got an un-diagnosed case of PTSD and fifteen years of less than stellar life choices as I worked my way through the trauma.

College went about like you’d expect, filled as it was with fraternities happy to make up garbage pails of sweet grain alcohol punch to get the freshmen girls drunk and ready to party (but only those who’d passed the intra-fraternity thumbs/up down night of viewing their ID photos). Eventually I dropped out of school and by age 21 married a friend from college, unknowingly looking for protection. The marriage wasn’t great, but the rough edges were smoothed out by copious cannabis use. (I was probably self-treating the PTSD with it.)

I remember being scared to be alone in the old house we’d bought and having an epiphany that I was afraid of “the man”. I remember my husband neither defending me nor interceding when his friends made sexual innuendo-laced comments about me. I remember being heavily pregnant, in NYC for work, and being catcalled by construction workers on the streets while walking to an appointment. “Hey mama, I’ll do you right.” “Hey mama, you can’t get more knocked up” “Hey mamacita, I’ll get those titties ready for that bambino.” I remember being at a professional conference and having a respected attendee praise my skills to one of the firm’s owners. My employer replied, “Well, at least she’s nice to look at.” At no time did I think I didn’t deserve this type of treatment, because, after all, it had started to be my fault when I was assaulted all those years ago. So thoroughly had I learned the lesson to “be ashamed” that I had fully internalized this fundamentally misplaced judgement and the misappropriated guilt it brought with it.

I was divorced by the time son was two, and it took me another seven years of hard mind-work to emerge ready for a strong and supportive relationship. Lemmy’s Wednesday Steel column title always makes me smile, because I am steel. I have been burned and melted to my core, beaten & molded time and again but have come back harder and stronger – tempered like the toughest alloy. I’ve done the work to regain trust in people, conquer fear, and lead with kindness instead of defensiveness.


Forty-five years later, I’m still a work in progress. And I am angry. I am angry for the girl I was, for the women I know, for the women I read about, and for our daughters. The Kavanaugh hearings – his smirking face, his assurance that his frat bros would lie for him (bros before hos, amiright?), and the public degradation of Professor Christine Blasey Ford (including death threats) was my proverbial last straw. Ms. Ford has more honor and integrity than the “honorable justice” Kavanaugh can ever aspire to. We humans still act like the apes we descended from, where might makes right and protection is exchanged for control.

I’ll end with this warning – no woman is safe. Not one. Not your wives, partners, mothers, sisters, or daughters. That invisible bubble of safety, the three feet of personal space we all think is there? It is a mental construct, and we all need to be very, very careful.

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About Elliecoo 493 Articles
Four dogs, one partner. The dogs win.

28 Comments

  1. …hesitant as I am to seem to be the first to say so…& paltry as it sounds to my ears as I type…I want to start by saying I’m truly sorry that’s a story you can tell at first hand & I wish you hadn’t had to go through it

    …when I first scrolled my way down here I thought I knew what I wanted to say but coming to type it out I feel like it can’t help but fall short as a response to something at once so personal & at the same time so dismayingly universal…but I think something you said near the top is one that kept coming back to me as I went through what followed

    …the shame was never yours to carry…& yet it seems so many of us would somehow rather allow it to coalesce about the victims of such treatment as if by some sort of tacit osmosis than to acknowledge that doing so is to compound the raw & visceral injustice of such an ordeal by punishing the least guilty party to the original horror by reinforcing it

    …it may be true that no woman is safe…indeed that might go for several other categories in our ever-expanding lexicon…but that they aren’t is all of our shame…for how could it be otherwise?

      • …I think if as a site we can make that claim it is very much because that community includes the likes of yourself…so if the cathartic aspect serves to repay you a little for the contribution you make around these parts I think I would be far from alone in suggesting it’s the least you deserve

  2. Thank you for sharing this, Ellie.  It’s super powerful.  An old friend of mine used to say “through self-disclosure we lose our uniqueness.”  Hopefully your story will help those who may still feel that the shame is theirs alone.
     
    Also: 
    “As if were it my fault, then it wouldn’t happen to others, and their notion of what a nice place we lived in could remain unassailable.”
     
    Truer words were never written.   I used to live in a Nice Small Town, but it was only that way for those who kept their eyes closed and for those who had a financial incentive to keep the illusion going.  There is no such thing as a Nice Small Town.
     
    I’m happy to know you.

  3.  I remember you talking about this job on a Coffee Break. It should have been a teen girl’s dream job instead of the nightmare it became. And when people reminisce about first jobs, as we do, your memory is spoiled by violence rather than the universal complaints about low wages, bad hours, and terrible bosses that most of us look back on somewhat fondly. 

    I’m angry for young Ellie, young Hannibal, and all the young girls and women who have been victims of a culture that facilitates abuse, assault, and rape. Then blames and shames them for their own trauma.

    Thank you for sharing this very painful part of your life. I’m so proud of young Ellie, and of the woman she grew to become. I’m proud to call her my friend. I’ve learned from you and Butcher, your growth is helping me grow as a person. You are both an inspiration to me. Maybe someday I’ll be strong enough to share my story with you.

    #metoo should  really be changed to #noshame

     

  4. Excellent piece Ellie and I’m proud to know you. And I’m thankful that you felt the space we’ve created was safe enough for you to share this here. 

     

  5. Thank you for this story and your bravery to share it.  As the father of teen girls I am fearful every time they leave the house.  I wish stories like yours were a super rare thing but know it happens all the time.  In fact, most of the relationships I have had were with women that had been assaulted and many of them, that was their first sexual experience.  I’m glad the #METOO movement became a thing but unfortunately, it now seems to be just another blip in the Trumpian cycle of shitshows and things that divide us.  I cringe when I hear shit like “Oh he got metoo’d”  to mean some woman accused him of sexual assault or improper behavior instead of listening and believing.  Not sure what else I can say other than thank you again.

    • Thank you, Loveshaq. The number of women who have experienced assault has been under tabulated because of the shame attached to it. Hug your girls for me.

  6. I’ll add my thanks to all the others. I’ve got a teenage daughter too, and she just got her first job, and she’s about to go to college, and I think about this stuff a lot. I just can’t be there every second, and that scares the crap out of me. I’m glad you’re stronger now, but I wish there was another way you could found your way to that place. 

    • Both you & Loveshaq mentioning your teenaged girls makes me want to share a bit of advice💖
      I’m pretty sure neither of you would misstep this way, buuuut I get how frustrating teens can be, having been one myself yeeeears ago!😉
      Please, to you guys, and any OTHER parents of teen girls who might read this–NEVER argue with them, about your desires for them to *not* go to a party/event, “…because i don’t want you to get raped.”
       
      Because sometimes, that’s exactly what does then happen. And if it does, she might NOT say anything to anyone but her best friend, for YEARS, because of a heartbreaking worry of hearing, “I told you so!”
      Even though as a parent, you would NEVER pull an “I told you so,” for something like that.
       
      That was what happened to one of my cousins.
      She wanted to go out to a party in another town, where her bestie lived, her parents were SO worried for her, and they made the mistake of saying it… they DID eventually let her go out. And she later went to a party, and was raped by a young man she thought was nice–then she felt like she couldn’t tell anyone… both because her rapist said “No one will believe you”, AND because she didn’t understand that her parents would’ve been horrified on her behalf, and would NEVER have said “We told you so!” after it happened…
      It took a LOT of years, and a lot of rebuilding, before she told anyone but that one best friend. And it wasn’t until after she met her now-husband, years later, before she was really able to process all the traumas around the whole situation.
      It had seemed like such a minor argument at the time, but it got all wrapped up in a ball of hurt & shame, because she was a teenager who wasn’t able to see her parents’ misguided attempt at trying to keep her safe.

  7. You are steel and amazing – especially to have been able to call the cops and go through the trial and everything. I’m sorry you had to go through all of that, but I’m glad you’re here Elliecoo. 

  8. Ellie, you did NOTHING wrong, and there was NOTHING you could have EVER done, to deserve something like this. I know you know that, but it also needs to be said!💖💗💓💞💕
     
    I’m so sorry you went through what you did, and that there weren’t supports for you, to deal with that trauma💖
     
    Rape & Sexual Assault are always crimes of Power & Control. And you’re right, on how common it is.
    For folks who are curious, this article has some hard numbers toward the bottom–although, i honestly suspect that even those numbers are probably low… 
    The guys may not realize it, but as women, we KNOW, because we’ve seen it & talked about it, because it either happens *to* us, or to the women we know best.
     
    Even when we’re “the lucky ones,” who’ve only been pinched on the ass at a bar, or just gotten groped by some creep on a crowded dance floor, etc., while *those* are technically assaults, most of us don’t think of them that way.
     
    Because we ALL know women who got attacked.
     
    Whether it was an assault like Ellie’s, molestation, a drugging & rape, intimate-partner rapes, date rape, or any of the OTHER types of sexual assaults, I’d bet ALL of us know *multiple* women it’s happned to.
     
    Off the top of my head, I can tell you that I know for sure, that 4 of the 9 of girl cousins on my dad’s side of the family have been raped… and that’s just the tip of the iceberg, of people I’ve known over the years–both women AND men(!), who’ve been willing to admit they were assaulted. 
     
    It’s the dirty little secret, that goes EVERYWHERE, because it’s one of the few crimes where society almost ALWAYS victim-blames.
     
    No one ever gets told “You should have retrofitted sprinklers in your building when you bought it!” when they’re the victim of an arsonist… or “You should’ve had better insurance and paid for OnStar!” if someone is carjacked, yet “What did you DO?!?” and, “Well, what were you WEARING?!?” are typically the first questions asked, when someone was sexually assaulted😕
     
    And Ellie & BBTM are 100% right, with the, “Oh, that CAN’T happen HERE!!!” thing, regarding small “nice”/”good” towns!!!🙃
     
    Hell, that was part of the reason my classmates and I benefitted from an amazingly comprehensive sex-ed program, in our “nice” little town of 250-ish people, back in the 80’s/90’s…
    Because back in the 1960’s, and on into the 70’s, when our school nurse & her (later on) husband were high-schoolers, then in college, *his* younger sisters, and other young girls in the community (from very insular, very “religious”/”good christian” families), were being systemically molested/raped by older men in their families.  It took some of the girls committing suicide, and others getting pregnant while believing they hadn’t had any sort of sexual contact(in the cases of the girls who were being molested by family members), before the predation on these girls was brought to light.
    When that young woman came back from college with her nursing degree, and married her high school sweetheart, she got herself the job of School Nurse, and a seat on the school board… where she set about empowering the younger girls & women in the community by getting the rest of the board on her side, and got them to adopt a MANDATORY sex-ed program, that was age-appropriate & started in the 4th grade, culminating in a 6-week “opt-OUT”** class for the freshmen.
    She didn’t want what had happened to her sisters-in-law (traumas that started in childhood, and which culminated in suicides for a couple of them, iirc.), to happen to anyone else.
    It also meant that everyone growing up in that town understood consent, and the abusive relationships cycle, and that YES, rape and Intimate Partner Violence *were* possible, even in “nice little towns” like ours.
    **meaning everyone was automatically ENROLLED in the class, and the parents who objected had to sign paperwork saying they *did NOT* give permission for their child to take the classes… the fact that those parents then had to face other parents in the town–who KNEW them, knew *why* the Sex-Ed classes had been instituted, and then had to answer alllll the “nosey-neighbor” questions inherent when one lives in a small town, meant that pretty much NO ONE opted their child *out* of the 9th grade class😉😈😁
     

  9. I know a woman with a depressingly similar story. She could tear down buildings with her pinky finger. I don’t really know you, but imagine you’re made of the same stuff. I could tell that before you wrote this post. I don’t think I’ve ever met a “weak” woman. It’s an unfortunate necessity of our society that women must be made of steel. I’m sorry that’s the case.

  10. The only one to blame is the asshole who did this to you.
    The only lesson of trauma that has sunk for me is to try to make peace with ourselves (which is the hardest part of all and I’m not very successful with.)
    Your description of small towns is depressingly common and the attitudes they have (not all bad of course, but dismissing one’s “bad” feelings is a common trait.)

  11. I’m so sorry it happened to you Ellie. And I’m sorry for you having to justify your actions/clothes/etc.

    There was an undercurrent … that I must surely have somehow provoked the attack. Questions like “what were you doing, what did you say to him, and what were you wearing” all served to shift blame away from my attacker and put it on me. As if were it my fault

    I’m always stunned when people say these BS. I can’t comprehend it at all. The woman can be naked but that doesn’t excuse at all anyone from doing anything to her without her consent. Not one iota of excuse. I can’t understand it. And it’s not only men who say these things. Women say it too! The patriarchy must be a factor too for this being a thing.

    • Thank you Earendil. Consent as an expectation really didn’t exist all those years ago, at least in my town; the onus was on the female to avoid any situation which might lead to assault. And obviously, that was and is impossible.

    • Thank you for taking the time to read it. Really, after all these years, my brain just exploded and it was time – and DeadSplinter gave me a supportive community in which to do so.

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