In their own words: Sexual assault survivors tell their stories
Published November 3, 2016
BY Katy Bergen, Laura Bauer and Mará Williams
The Kansas City Star
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More than 350 people shared stories of sexual harassment and assault through a survey The Star circulated. Of the respondents, 92.3 percent were women and 7.2 percent were male. Most were from the Kansas City area.
Here are some stories from those who elaborated on their experiences.
Woman over 65: “I was touched by a family friend. I was date raped.”
No gender or age: “I told only a couple of close friends two years later. I didn’t entirely realize what had happened. I was scared to speak out.”
Woman 47-65: “I was both shocked and surprised. Since it was seventh grade, I’m not sure I even understood how inappropriate this was from a classmate.”
Woman 47-65: “Male uncle would grab my breasts, my vagina and touch my butt. Made me feel dirty and violated. After gaining courage, I slapped his face. His wife was present every time it happened and laughed about it.”
A person over 65: “I was groped by a respected older man in our church who had been hired to give me voice lessons. I didn’t tell anyone because I knew I wouldn’t be believed.”
Woman 47-65: “I was told it goes with the job (nurse) and I needed to just ‘deal’ with it.”
Woman 36-46: “I was passed out in a tent (backyard camping/underage drinking) and my brother came in and stopped his friend from assaulting me while I was unconscious.”
Woman 47-65: “I was in a dark auditorium and a boy sitting next to me, who I did not know, started rubbing my thigh. I was about 12 years old. I was sorry I told my parents, because my dad got angry. Not at me, but at the situation. This was in the ’60s. Now, there would hopefully be more concern for me and how I felt about it. In addition to this incident, I have also been followed into a department store restroom by a man who stood in the stall next to me. When I heard him clear his throat, I knew it was a man and asked him what he was doing. He said he was in the wrong restroom and left. Called store security, but the guy was never apprehended. I also walked right past a man who was lurking on my college apartment’s back doorstep. He was later arrested for raping several women in the neighborhood, and let me pass, I believe, because he would have been visible to the people in the basement apartment next to which he was standing. Still gives me the chills. Also, I have worked as a nurse (OB) for years and endured off-color comments directed toward patients and nurses by male OB-GYN doctors. Years ago, we let these comments go, but now we write them up. It happens much less now, but I believe that is because it is now a female-dominated profession, and the offending males are aware they will be called out.”
Woman 47-65: “I had been drinking some, older man (30 years older) tried to make a move on me. I didn’t say anything cause he went to the same church I did, was held in high regard in the same small community and was a neighbor to my parents.”
Woman 47-65: “Didn’t tell anyone and just survived it. Got counseling. Best revenge: survive, move on and thrive in spite of those who want to tear you down. Create a home of peace and love as an adult.”
Woman 47-65: “I didn’t admit that it happened until a few years ago. I felt responsible for the attack. I now know I was not.”
Man 47-65: “Being male I did not believe the harassment would have been believed.”
Woman 36-46: “A library patron who was well known in the community made inappropriate comments to the female staff. The solution was to not be at the desk when he came in. Nothing else was done by the library director because ‘that’s just who he is and he’s well respected in the community.’”
Woman over 65: “I am a registered nurse. I worked in the operating room at the old Menorah hospital in the 1970s. It was very common then for the physicians to grope the young nurses. It happened on a daily basis. I finally stopped one of them by hitting him as hard as I could. He was very surprised and nothing was said or done to me after that.”
Woman 47-65: “When I was pregnant with my first child my mother wanted me to talk to a psychologist. During my appointment he started asking me about my breasts and then said that he needed to check them to make sure everything was all right. He came from behind me and started feeling my breast and then came around, lifted my shirt and was feeling all over them. Also during this time the doctor that was checking me during my pregnancy was not having the nurse in the room with us. I never knew that a nurse/or someone else was suppose to be in the room when he checked my private area or breasts until my stepmother told me. I was 18 at the time, so this was back in 1980-81.”
Woman 47-65: “The VP of a major corporation, two levels above me in the organization chart, told me in front of others that he’d ‘like to get down my pants,’ and I told a supervisor as well as addressing it directly with him. Months later he threw a condom on my desk as he passed. I reported to the VP of HR, who investigated and terminated his employment.”
Woman 36-46: “The baby sitter’s boyfriend rubbed his private parts on me when I was 5. A group of boys from the neighborhood grabbed me and held me down and said they were going to rape me; thankfully my screams forced them to let me go. Boys in elementary school would put their hands up my skirt. In junior high, a boy grabbed me by my crotch and tried to kiss me.”
Woman 47-65: “Boys were grabbing girls as we went through a haunted house, and the other time on my way home on my bike I was bullied and groped at.”
Man 47-65: “As a member of a youth organization I would spend time with an adult adviser …. when in town I would stay at his home … I didn’t tell anyone for 30 years.”
Woman 36-46: “I was in college but the incident was off campus. A sorority sister went to the ER with me after the assault, so at the time it was my girlfriend and a medical professional who knew what happened (in addition to the assailant). I did not want this reported to law enforcement. I didn’t remember exactly what happened and was embarrassed that I got myself in the situation to be sexually assaulted. The hospital bill was later sent to my parents’ house. I hadn’t planned to tell them what happened but I had to when they got the bill. I think it bothered them that I would not report it to law enforcement, but they respected my wishes and we did not ever discuss it again.”
Woman 25-35: “Gave consent for sex but told him to stop certain things he was doing during, and he refused, leaving bruises.”
Woman 18-24: “I believe it is important to be open about harassment when it happens, so I try to post on social media about it when it does and tell people as necessary. I don’t believe it is something we should try to hide or be ashamed of. I believe talking about it helps people understand the reality of it and is the best way I know to fight it. This type of stuff happens all the time, whether you’re on the street or just at work. My worst example of this is work-related. At work, I had a co-worker who would come by my desk and do things like flicking my bra strap and pulling my hair. He thought that my anger was ‘cute’ and that I secretly liked it. I cannot adequately express in words how much that sexual harassment got in the way of my work — I loathed going to work and seeing him made me sick to my stomach. It sucked. Thankfully, he eventually quit.
“I’ve been (seriously) sexually assaulted or raped three times now. Three! It shouldn’t even happen to people once, let alone three times.
“The first time, I was around the age of 6, and my older cousin (like 15) cornered me in a play room and touched me and made me touch him. We were ‘just playing,’ he said, but he asked me to not tell anyone. I told my parents anyway, but they never did anything about it.
“I was raped the first time when I was 20 years old. My boyfriend at the time had a long history of getting violent and abusive when he had been drinking. In short, that is how it happened. He had been drinking, we had been fighting, and forcing himself on me was his way of punishing or controlling me. Horribly enough, I stayed in that relationship following the rape because I was in denial about what happened. I thought if I just stuck it out, he’d eventually change. He didn’t.
“Finally, I was raped again recently — on Oct. 3 of this month. An Uber driver, who also happened to be an acquaintance, took my drunk ass home from a music festival but decided it would be a good idea to also come inside and take advantage of me. I was so drunk I couldn’t even stand, to give you an idea of how unable I was to give consent. The police are involved in this one.
“It’s also worth noting that like any woman, I’ve been in my fair share of situations where a man refused to take ‘no’ for an answer and got physical. I’ve had men grope me without my permission at parties or the bar. The first time I remember it happening to me was when I was 12 and at a concert.”
Woman 25-35: “I worked for a housing organization in KCMO, where I was harassed by my then co-worker, whom then became my supervisor. I told HR and the director, only statements were taken as well as an internal investigation. I moved jobs and never spoke of it again.”
Woman over 65: “First time at age 4 uncle repeatedly French-kissed me and my 8-year-old sister. From that point on I experienced common lewd remarks from boys or men at work, school, church and in public. One night while working alone in a 7⁄11-type store I was assaulted physically, blouse ripped open, punched in head and on body, tongue shoved in my ear, and he tried to drag me in backroom where about five of his male friends were waiting to gang rape me. I did report that incident to the police.”
Woman 36-46: “Most recently, a man followed me closely on the highway, pulled next to me and was masturbating for me to see. He kept close whether I slowed down or sped up, and I feared that he would follow me when I exited.”
Woman over 65: “45 years later, I’m still fighting the results of being raped. It never goes away.”
Woman 25-35: “I only started sharing within the last three years. Before that, I just internalized.”
Woman over 65: “I am 67 years old. This doesn’t happen to me now. When I was young, it was the way things worked. As an adult, I was strong enough to confront it and stop it.”
Woman 36-46: “I was a high school algebra teacher and was assaulted by a 15-year-old student, in front of our fourth hour class. Because of his age, he could not be prosecuted. He was given a 90-day suspension from school, but afterward, he returned to my classroom. I requested that he be removed from my class, but the school principal would not allow it. The teacher’s union would not help me either, so I quit teaching altogether.”
Woman 25-35: “When I was in junior high, several of the boys in my grade would grab other girls’ breasts in the hallway, study hall, etc. I thought it meant they liked me and that I just had to deal with it. Honestly, it’s only been in the last couple of years that I realized that wasn’t the case.”
Woman 25-35: “Groped by an older student on the back of the school bus when I was 13; groped by a stranger at a bar in college; groped by a stranger on a crowded subway train, where I could not move to escape.”
Woman 18-24: “A man who I thought was my friend locked me in the bathroom, pinned me against the door and kissed me against my will.”
Woman 18-24: “I would always tell my trusted female friends, and I would usually tell my mom. I never told law enforcement because they couldn’t do anything about it and were reluctant to do anything about verbal sexual violence and assault.
“Men think they can just grab any part of you at clubs and parties. It doesn’t matter how I am dressed or how I am dancing. I chose to be who I am, it does not give anyone the right to touch or grab me. Street harassment is prevalent. Men think it is OK to grab people when they are on the street.
“I only told law enforcement when the men would follow me or continue to harass me after I told them multiple times to leave me alone. Police don’t think anything can be done about a guy grabbing a woman once or twice.”
Woman 25-35: “I am frequently yelled at in the street, have men approach me in bars and not take my no as a final answer — I was assaulted by a friend at age 16, an ex at age 17, another friend at age 22, and also had a man rub his penis on me and a group of friends while we were out at the bar. I have also had co-workers (both male and female) make inappropriate comments about my body or sex life.”
Woman 47-65: “Obscene phone calls before there was the internet; comments in Facebook conversations; at a party, a husband of a friend thinks if he talks dirty it will turn me on and I will have an affair with him; dirty jokes told to me by my husband’s uncle at a family gathering to make me feel intimidated; inappropriate affection from male relatives; comments on what I was wearing by male supervisors and co-workers and these were not revealing clothes. They wanted to know why I did not wear dresses and heels more. Also they would stare too long when I wore a new outfit, then ignore me or not look at me when I had the floor in a project meeting.”
Woman 47-65: “This was in the ’70s. I assumed it was my own fault for being in a bad situation.”
Woman 25-35: “I work in a male-dominated field, and it happens all the time. Most recently a co-worker contacted me and asked if he could take pictures of me. I would estimate that I am harassed one to two times a week, and I’m ogled or cat-called every day.
“I was raped by an unknown intruder in my apartment when I was 21. Later, after I was married, my husband began assaulting me and eventually raping me as well. The hate speech spewed by Donald Trump has been a trigger for the negative memories. My parents plan on voting for him, and I consider it the biggest betrayal of my life. I’m scared for my 7-year-old daughter to grow up in a world like this.”
Woman 25-35: “I’ve been harassed simply running errands, at events or visiting places around the city.… Harassment happens so frequently it gets old having to proclaim you’ve been harassed.”
Woman 47-65: “I was 17, a virgin, and my rapist was a farmer with arms as big as my thighs and he took my virginity.”
Woman 47-65: “Who are you going to tell when you’re 8 years old and your stepdad is forcing you to have sex?”
Woman 47-65: “While out on a date; with (old) s.o. and also out with friends. And even acquaintances — who felt they had rights to touch/grab/grope any part of me because we were all dancing and they knew my friends.”
Woman 18-24: “I told my supervisor at the warehouse where I worked that my co-worker was saying sexually explicit things to me and made an official complaint. He was talked to but it only got worse, and he started to corner me and use his body as a blockade when talking to me. I felt so unsafe and was very happy when he got fired (he was fired for unrelated reasons). I didn’t tell my supervisor about his increasingly aggressive behavior because I was scared it would make him act out against me for sure.
“I told my best friend that I was assaulted at a house party when I was 17. She didn’t believe me, and I didn’t tell anyone after that for a couple of years.”
Woman 36-46: “Cousin molested me for years. Didn’t even understand until over a decade AFTER.”
Woman 36-46: “At a frat party a man tried to hold me down and kiss me. I ran.”
Woman 25-35: “The first time at work it did not involve physical contact, and I mentioned it to a co-worker. The second time at work the same person physically groped me. I didn’t tell my direct supervisor but another store manager that I was more comfortable speaking with about the incident. I know the store managers spoke with him — I’m not aware of any ‘punishment.’ He maintained his position at work, but he stayed clear of me and never bothered me again.”
Woman 25-35: “I’ve been assaulted three times … two of which I reported. Sadly the first time the detectives told me it was ultimately a ‘he said, she said’ case and that they were not going to pursue charges. The second time I reported, the detective in the case told me that the city does not have enough money to proceed with my case because they were not 100 percent sure that they would win in a trial experience. I’ve had no help from law enforcement whatsoever when I was victimized.”
Woman 25-35: “A man exposed himself to me at 8, another at 10, a man French-kissed me at 16, a friend’s grandpa grabbed my behind at her Sweet 16 (I was 15), a man grabbed my behind while I was out for a run. And I generally consider myself to have ‘gotten off easy’ when it comes to sexual assault compared to many people I know, especially women. I can’t even count the number of inappropriate comments.”
Woman 47-65: “Sometimes the assault comes from the man you married.”
Woman 47-65: “In a bus when I was about 10 years old, and from a note sent to me by a previous boss with artwork of a couple in an explicit situation. (This in 1983).”
Woman 36-46: “When I told someone I trusted they said it was my fault so I never reported it or the additional assaults.”
Woman over 65: “Staying with family friends while my mother was in a hospital when I was 9. Extended family of host family fondled me when he had the opportunity. Just avoided him when he visited. Only one incident as an adult that involved unwanted touching. Other things were inappropriate remarks.”
Woman over 65: “Male bus driver reached up under my dress and inside my panties. I was 8 years old.”
Woman 47-65: “I was sitting in a doctor’s office when I was around 10. An elevator opened out in the hallway and a man exposed himself to me, then he went on down in the elevator. When I was 13, at a swimming pool a young man came over and laid on top of me and his friends all laughed about it. When I went on to high school, I used to see him in the hallways. In the workplace an older man used to come over and hang over my shoulder and talk closely into my face often. He was a superior, so I feared saying anything about it. Also, once an executive got on an elevator and just came up and kissed me on the mouth. He didn’t say anything, just turned around and got off the elevator when it stopped. Women have no idea how far we have come with regard to sexual assault, and I fear we could lose ground if not vigilant. Still have a long way to go.”
Woman 47-65: “Bus driver was a neighbor and he asked me to help him drive the bus. He touched me inappropriately. Years later he was arrested for molesting children.”
Woman 25-35: “Boyfriend forced oral sex, threatened to kill my cat if I didn’t.”
Woman 18-24: “I had a stalker I had to report to my school and police. Other times my family was present when the harassment happened. Then times I was alone, I decided to keep to myself because ‘it happens.’ It’s made out to be normal to young girls, and it’s truly not really, it’s pathetic and insulting.”
Woman 25-35: “At first I told, but either nothing was done about it or I was disbelieved and treated as if I were the offender. I just started keeping it to myself after that. Interestingly, I have been treated with much more respect since having lost a significant amount of weight about eight years ago. All women are sexually harassed on a regular basis, but being overweight or a racial or sexually oriented minority seems to give offenders a greener light to harass.
On being assaulted: “At first I told no one. I was threatened and pressured not to tell. When I finally did, I asked for the information to be kept private because I didn’t want HIS life screwed up years after the fact. Ironic, huh?”
Woman 47-65: “Date rape by guy I was dating. He drugged me while we were out with others. The only way I knew was because I came to for a moment and screamed from the pain. He got mad, yelled, put his hand over my mouth, then I was out again.”
Woman 47-65: “I told the manager and the waitress. People in the restaurant could hear this older man telling me how he and his young work buddies were going to take turns with me. The man in the next booth was close enough to touch. I desperately tried to make eye contact with anyone, trying to get someone to help me, but no one would look up or acknowledge what was going on.
“When I was less than 10 years old, I was alone in a room with a male physician. My leg was in a cast, but he told me he had to insert his fingers in me to ‘make sure my pelvis wasn’t broken.’ I was too young to recognize what was happening, but I knew it hurt, so I told my mother when she came back in the room. I remember how angry she was, but I didn’t understand why. I do now.”
Woman 47-65: “The one when I was young, I told no one until I grew up. The one when I was raped at 25, I told everyone who would listen, and wrote about it for publication.”
Woman, no age: “Sexual harassment of females was so commonplace during the ’50s and ’60s, and we were told by elders that this was just teasing and boys will be boys. There were always comments from boys and men about T&A. We were supposed to ignore these comments or just let it pass.
“1. I was almost 4 years old when Mother divorced my dad and we moved from the farm to town where we rented two rooms with shared bath. The landlady and her teenage son lived on the other side of the house. When just he and I were home alone he had us play games naked. I never told anyone.
“2. A year later I spent a day with my dad while he was laid up with a broken leg. We were on the bed together and he said we would play dolly. He then pulled out his penis and called it dolly. That evening I told Mother. There was screaming and gnashing of teeth as she shouted, ‘I’ll scratch his eyes out.’ I felt I had done something wrong. I never ever told Mother anything again, even when my first-grade teacher whacked me on the head for stuttering in reading circle.
“3. At age 7 we moved into a house with a private bath. The landlord lived down the block and Mother would give me the money to pay rent. The first time I walked down to pay the rent the landlord got close enough to get his hands in my pants. Thereafter, I would stop in at the neighbor’s house to find out if his wife was home. The neighbor would let me stay until I was sure it was safe to pay the rent to the landlord. When he was sure I was home alone he would walk into our house without knocking. If I was in the bathroom, I would leave via the window and run next door where I could stay until it was safe to leave. We lived there seven years. I never told anyone.
“4. During the summer I was 14 years I worked as a carhop from 4-midnight. I could usually get a safe ride home from somebody I knew. One night the cook, football captain and member of church I attended offered to drive me home. When he drove out he turned left instead of right to show me his folks’ farm. He parked alongside a creek and had me pinned down on the front seat. I managed to open the car door and slide out from under him. I took off running, and he tackled me. He was on top of me again. I found a rock that fit my hand perfectly and hit him up side the head. He rolled off with an ‘oof’ and was dazed. He offered to drive me home and not attempt to harm me. I kept the rock in my hand and replied, ‘Yeah, you won’t.’ I got in the house without being seen, hid my ripped clothes, which I burned the next day. The only person I told was my sister-in-law. This idiot then spread the word that I was a whore.
“5. THIS ONE IS THE BEST! Went to work in an engineering firm as the first female drafter at age 28 years. The first day I arrive early to locate the coffee machine and toilet. I was greeted by CP who was friendly and helpful. I was told by the female spec writers that he was a dirty old man. About the third week, as I was walking toward the front and CP was walking toward the back, we passed in the hall. He reached out and pinched a breast. I didn’t flinch but pivoted around, came up behind him, put my hand between his legs, grabbed his genitalia and twisted. CP let out a war whoop, jumped with both feet off the floor. I continued my walk. Everybody came out of their cubicles. CP explained exactly what happened. An older gentleman, NW, called my maneuver ‘the Boston crab.’ CP and I became friends and the rest of the male staff respected me.”
Woman over 65: “I was a college student. The person came to speak to our class. I spoke to him after class, and he invited me to a ‘dinner party,’ where he was having a ‘group of people.’ I showed up at his apartment and discovered I was the only guest. He was about 20 years older than me. He tried to assault me and I ran out of the door. About a month later, someone murdered him, and that murder (about 45 years ago) has never been solved.
“In the workplace, in the 1960s, it didn’t matter if it happened. If you told a supervisor, you would lose your job. I was a lowly secretary, going to college at night. I was desperate to keep my job.”
Woman 36-46: “Once I told a teacher a boy was fondling my leg during a showing of ‘Fiddler on the Roof.’ The boy denied it. The teacher told me to stop making a scene and sit back down. My assigned seat was between the boy and his friend. This was in sixth grade.”
Woman 25-35: “It was typical at college parties. It wasn’t out of the norm. No one would have listened, because it was happening everywhere you looked.”
Woman 25-35: “Sexual harassment is so commonplace that it feels pointless to report it in an official capacity. Women are encouraged to ignore it, and men are excused for doing it. We have no recourse, so no, I’ve never done anything about harassment other than ignore it or talk about it on social media to help others understand what women experience on a regular basis.
“I was silent for years after it happened. I opened up about it gradually as time went on, to mentors, pastors and trusted friends. I eventually wrote publicly about my experience but did not pursue legal action or ever officially inform any authorities.”
Woman 18-24: “One particular case of harassment I experienced was especially frightening and on a whim, I called the MU police. They responded quickly and took me very seriously, which empowered me to call other times when men shouted things at me.”
Woman 25-35: “It was always more of a ‘you won’t believe what happened!’ than any actual reporting of an incident. If things made me uncomfortable, I usually clammed up.
“People know now, but I told no one at the time. I didn’t even want to admit the assault to myself. I thought people would think I was over-exaggerating or lying because the assault was at the hands of my boyfriend, with whom I was deeply in love at the time.”
Woman 25-35: “Once in elementary school bathroom, once in apartment as an adult.”
Woman 47-65: “I was groped by a stranger in a parking lot once, literally grabbed on the street once, had a doctor inappropriately touch me in an exam room once. My boyfriend’s grandfather touched me inappropriately multiple times in and around his home on my one and only visit. I was sexually assaulted by an acquaintance while in his apartment.”
Woman 18-24: “These instances are so common as a woman that I usually just swap stories with my girlfriends later. How am I going to tell law enforcement or an authority figure when men scream at me from their cars or make disgusting gestures if I don’t know who they are and will never see them again?”