Monsters hide deep within our darkest core, awful beasts constructed of lies, shame and secrets born from a single disgusting act.
At times, the wrong words can summon them out of their concealment. Donald Trump’s 2005 “Access Hollywood” tape did just this.
“It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait,” he bragged in the recording.
“When you’re a star, they let you do it,” he muttered.
“Grab them by the pussy,” he spat. “You can do anything.”
And, with knowing that actions most likely backed those words, all my buried beasts started roaring again.
Trump’s disclosure has led to a growing number of women and men in Kentucky and across the nation to come forward with their own stories of sexual abuse and assault.
Kelly Oxford, a Canadian writer, shared her experience on Twitter of having been grabbed in the crotch by a man when she was 12. She ended it with the #notokay hashtag.
By the following night, close to 10 million people had interacted with her tweet. For more than 14 hours, women tweeted her their stories. At times, she received 50 responses a minute.
We are not alone, indeed.
Understand that what is happening isn’t about politics. Sexual assaults happen in blue and red states.
“Entitlement and privilege are really the issues there,” community sexuality educator Sara Choate said. “And entitlement is entirely tied to the comments that Donald Trump made.”
Statistics show the distance of entitlement’s reach. One in five women will either be raped or the victim of an attempted rape in their lifetime, according to the National Sexual Violence Research Center. Adding to the tragedy, one in four girls will be sexually abused before the age of 18. With underreporting, researchers wonder if those numbers could be even higher.
I get it.
Although I never discussed my abuse until college, my monsters came from a childhood of sexual molestation. The first instance, I was 5, I think. Exact dates and ages are blurry. You remember the musty smells, the hard touches, a few words and very little else.
As the years went on, and the instances became more prevalent, the behemoths began to get crowded. And so by the time I went to high school, the frolicking fiends tore into my life and manifested in depression, anxiety and low self-esteem.
Slowly, you learn to exorcise those demons. Talking about the abuses helps. So can therapy. With this, you can control the beasts and endure among them.
But once in a while, something punches you in the gut so hard that the monsters escape and flood your mind in all their horror.
Trump’s tape hit me in this way.
For those who have suffered abuse, these discomforts aren’t uncommon. Karen Bassett, a licensed clinical social worker in Indiana, said that such a reaction could be a symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.
Soldiers exposed to war zones aren’t the only ones capable of exhibiting signs of the trauma disorder. Survivors of sexual assault oftentimes can relive their events through random triggers.
To smell the cologne your attacker wore might- even though they aren’t present- could precipitate an attack. For me, graying mustaches, showers and polyester pants can trigger me. A sickening feeling settles into my stomach, and my skin starts to crawl with unsettling electricity.
Bassett said that is common.“It can lead to fear. It can lead to anxiety. It can lead to sadness and depression. It can lead to them not feeling safe again.”
In other words, the Trump tape, as well as the media attention and responses that followed, prompted some of our monsters to rise again.
A Washington, D.C., rape crisis center hotline saw a 20 percent increase in calls after the Trump tape was released, according to a Washington Post article. Use of The Rape Abuse Incest National Network’s live chat helpline grew by 35 percent in the same time frame, the story said.
“Donald Trump, the things that he said have been the things that these women see in their personal lives,” Bassett said. “We don’t get to talk very openly about these experiences as women. People don’t really realize how prevalent they are.”
But that might be changing.
“The women who do speak out, bravo to them. It’s not always safe and it’s not always easy,” Bassett said. “And I hope the sharing of their experiences can lend some comfort and some strength to the women who aren’t in a place where they can talk about that stuff yet.”
Juliet Lester of Greensburg, Kentucky, is one such warrior.
After viewing the Trump tape, the 47-year-old who had survived a rape and numerous instances of sexual harassment took to Facebook and posed the following question:
“Wonder what would happen if every woman on Facebook posted a status with the names of each person who has sexually harassed, touched inappropriately, catcalled, or assaulted her, throughout her lifetime?
If you opened the closet wide, and you protected no one, whose names would be on it? Relatives? Family friends? Bosses? Boyfriends? Members of your church? Teachers?”
With it, she posted a photo. It was of Lester, her head cropped off making her unidentifiable. She held a sign over her lower stomach that read “No Trespassing”, a not so subtle message to Trump and his defenders.
“Watching him on that tape made me realize how utterly, completely fucked up my life got because one guy hurt me,” Lester said. “And it has touched every single aspect of my life for 30 years.”
Her status was shared by friends, and prompted others to detail their own abuses. A sisterhood of sorts began to form, one based on a shared suffering and hope for a better future.
“It was cathartic and it was something that I needed to get out in the open,” Lester said. “A lot of women individually have benefited from that.”
I get it. I get that when you disclose, this sense of community, the feeling of belonging when for years or even decades you believed you were alone.
After posting on my own Facebook page a condemnation of those that defended Trump’s remarks, my friend Tiffany replied with the story of her own rape that happened seven years ago. It was the first time she had discussed her sexual assault on social media.
“We’ve come too far — as a society and victims — to open up about our attacks and to lay the foundation for discussions on how to end them, only to turn around and consider electing a man who brags about his actions and encourages others to use their power to continue the cycle,” she replied to the post.
Trump’s descriptions of his assaults and his rabid supporters’ defense of those actions had roused her demons, too. The Louisville resident gave permission for her Facebook reply to be used in this article, but requested her last name be withheld for fear of retaliation against her and her family.
“Anytime a sexual assault victim comes forward and wants to shed light on their experience, you receive backlash,” Tiffany said in a later interview. “People will find ways to degrade you no matter what you do.”
Choate said women and men should be careful about what they reveal on social media. Online anonymity provides a hiding place for trolls ready to attack. “That can be a very emotionally dangerous space to proclaim something as personal as a sexual assault,” Choate said.
She suggested setting up a private Facebook group for survivors of sexual assault, one that could be better monitored and moderated.
Bassett also recommended looking into local support groups if a woman feels the memories of the abuse are affecting her daily life, or if she needs someone to confide in. In addition, therapy can be an option as well.
“You don’t know where people are in their process. Someone might not be ready to talk about that stuff… It’s a really hard step for anyone to take, saying they need help,” she said.
“Seeing that other people are willing to, then they realize, ‘OK .I’m not alone. I’m not the only one dealing with this’. There’s a huge, huge benefit.”