He walks into the apartment, naked save his coach’s cowboy boots and a welcome mat he is holding, wrapped around his penis.
I’m 17, heading into my freshmen year of college. My friend and I are sitting on the couch in an apartment rented by members of a professional roller hockey team, the first of its kind in Maryland.
After a summer of my dad serving as a referee, I’ve gotten to know some of the players on the team, and this particular night, we’ve celebrated their win with drinks at one of their apartments.
As someone who grew up watching hockey, and writing about it in high school (one of the first players I ever interviewed was Wayne Gretzky), I felt incredibly important, incredibly special, to be hanging out with these professional athletes at a tender young (and naive) age.
Dan, the naked early-20-something athlete, heads into the bedroom.
“Diana,” I hear him yell from the bedroom. “C’mere.”
So, I do.
Why? Because I’m 17. And, this man is a professional athlete and in my mind, I’ve already created a long-term relationship where we get married, he plays in the NHL and I write about it, and we have 2.5 kids, a dog and when he wins the Stanley Cup, we retire somewhere exotic.
Except, that’s not what happens. At all.
Instead, I walk in the bedroom, and he is laying on the bed. Dick in his hands.
“My cock is so big, isn’t it,” he asks me as I sit there. Frozen.
What do I do?
I’m so uncomfortable. I sit on the bed and have no clue what I’m supposed to say. What I’m meant to do. I’ve never been in a situation like this.
“Um, yeah,” I fumble.
Then, he’s on me. He pushes me off the bed and to the floor, where he sits down next to me, as I lay there, shocked.
Dan takes my head and pushes it into his crotch.
“You know you want to suck it,” he says as I use my strength to push up and away, despite his hand on the back of my head.
I get up quickly, retreating back to the room with my friend and the other players. I tell her what’s happened.
“That fucking bitch,” he screams, storming into the living room, his face red and the veins popping at his temples. He points at me: “You fucking bitch,” and then grabs a chair to hurl at me.
The other guys grab it from him and we leave.
I’ve told exactly one person this entire story: my therapist.
And, I didn’t tell her until the summer of 2015, when we were trying to dissect why I tend to fall for men who are closest to me — the most recent being my best friend of a few years.
“So, that happened,” I tell her, as I finish recounting the story, tears rolling down my face because suddenly, I feel. I feel for the young Diana, who was embarrassed. Ashamed. Thought she deserved it. I feel for the woman I am, and how this incident impacted my growth as a woman. “But, that’s not the only time something has happened to me.”
Then more comes out. And more.
“Diana,” my therapist says, looking straight at me, sympathy I can detect in her eyes even though our Skype connection between Las Vegas and Madrid is spotty.
“Yeah,” I say quietly, “I guess it explains some stuff.”
In a sick twist, a session where I thought nothing was going to be discussed turns into a chilling breakthrough as I unwrap the secrets of my past. Secrets I was ashamed of. Secrets I thought I deserved to have happen to me.
“Diana,” she repeats. “You were sexually assaulted. Numerous times. This isn’t something you brush off. This is something that changes your life. And, it changed yours.”
I cry again. For so long, I wasn’t sure why I fell for the assholes. The ones who I felt I had to impress. To make them respect me. And then, I wasn’t sure why I always fell for my best friends. The ones who loved me, and treated me kindly and cared for me, and in return, I loved them (too much) back. They were safe, whereas the ones before — and the ones who assaulted me — were not.
Those patterns had been present since I was 12. Since the first time I was thrust into the sexual spotlight. Back then, I had dreams of winning an Emmy for acting in a soap opera like Susan Lucci. I was cast in my first non-school play, at a local playhouse, and that’s the place I lost my innocence.
The stage manager sat with me stage right, as he downed some cheap beer and I sat clad in flannel pajamas and a robe, watching the second act of the play.
“You’re cute,” he had said, moving his stringy chin length hair from his face. “I like the way you look in body suits.” (Yes, it was the early ’90s, and yes, body suits were most definitely a thing.)
Um, ok. I knew he shouldn’t be saying those things, but what was I supposed to do?
“Are you a virgin?” he asked.
Holy shit, this is uncomfortable. I smiled, because I didn’t know how to handle the situation, and shook my head “yes.”
“Well, when you’re ready to have sex, you let me know. It’s a gift, and I’d like to help you.”
I sat there, nervously laughing because: what the actual fuck? I was 12. What was a 12-year-old who has never even kissed a boy, supposed to do with those words?
I took my bow that night and knew something wasn’t right. Something, in fact, was very, very wrong. He had no right to speak to me that night. Yet, he felt there was no problem with it.
The next day, I wrote a note to my friend telling her what had happened. At 12, I used the words “I was sexually harassed” in a fucking note. No 12-year-old should have to do that. Ever. And, no 40-year-old man (and I use that term really fucking loosely) (with a wife and kids) should ever speak to a kid like that.
That set the stage for the rest of the shit I endured. I’m not pulling the victim excuse, it simply showed me how I should expect to be treated. I didn’t know any better. I knew it wasn’t right, but when other men would say inappropriate things to me, I shrugged it off.
It was the culture I was used to. A culture that told boys, told men, it was OK to tell a woman all the things you want to do to her, to go ahead and grab a woman’s tits, or her ass, or her pussy. It’s ok because it’s what we have come to accept.
Let me say this: it is NOT OK.
Not one, tiny, little fucking bit.
For most of my teen and adult life, I put up with the shit because there wasn’t anyone really taking a stand, telling these people it was not ok. That it was damaging. That it was putting little girls into dark places. That it was setting the stage for their development and for how they were to be treated in the future.
When I was harassed the year after the crotch incident, I felt my blood boil. Despite warning bells going off in the pit of my stomach, the following year I accepted a position as the assistant director of PR for that hockey team. I set aside the assault from the previous summer and focused on my career and my goal to become a director of PR for an NHL team once I was done with college. This opportunity was a foot in the door.
One day, I was at work and the equipment manager for the team I did PR for told me my boobs looked like they were going to pop out of my shirt. The men on the team treated me like I was a groupie. Like I had nothing of any value other than my womanhood to give to the world.
There was an afternoon where the coach yelled at me because I refused to go into the locker room and talk to one of the players while they were changing from practice.
“Get your fat ass in there,” he had said. Side note: that coach happened to be a former Capitals player and a real disrespectful asshole.
I stood my ground, but I could feel myself grow more and more ashamed. Instead of going into the locker room, I ran outside of the arena and sat in the parking lot, sobbing.
Guys, the shit goes on. The stories go on. The thing is this: it doesn’t just happen to me in America. I’ve been sexually assaulted in Spain. Bosnia. Turkey. Hell, I was just flat out assaulted by an old western man in Thailand when he called me a bitch and I told him that was unacceptable.
Because standing up for myself and demanding respect and setting boundaries is not acceptable in our culture.
“I respect women.” Yet, I force myself on them.
I am going to respectfully not get into any conversation about politics at this moment, but simply pull from the current events to discuss the important subject of sexual assault.
Let me say something very clearly:
You cannot say you respect a woman and also say that you walk up to women and “just start kissing them” or “grab their pussy.”
Respect and unwanted touching/kissing do NOT go together. Someone who respects a person does not touch them in any sexual way without permission or consent.
But, this conversation gets even scarier.
Victim shaming, denying people of their truths, justifying assault … it all makes me sick.
(Ed. note: originally, I had planned on including nuggets from social media regarding the current events, but have decided for the sake of peace and to keep this strictly talking about assault, I will not include them. I am including this video simply because it tackles what sexual assault is — and what it is not. Skip to the 7:45 mark to get my point.)
On the plane the other day, I was sitting next to a loud mouthed woman from Long Island. She asked where I was from and I told her Vegas and we started talking about assault. Well, her being OK with it.
“Well, I don’t care. He can grab any woman’s pussy he’d like,” she said.
“I don’t care.”
Did she really say that?
“So, if a man walked up to your daughter and grabbed her pussy without asking, you’d be ok with that?”
She faltered, rolled her eyes and said no and then brought up the fact that women came forward way after it occurred, and that they were likely lying.
(Because, of course, if a woman is assaulted, they would report it immediately, right? Wrong.)
As a victim, I think it is important to point out that women don’t often come forward. It’s scary. It makes them vulnerable, open to attack. But, when one person starts to speak, dominos fall. Then, another. And, another. And soon, it is a very important — and necessary — dialog.
The past few weeks have drummed up a lot of feelings and memories I already tackled last year when I finally forgave myself for what happened to me and realized these moments of harassment and assault were not my fault. It’s been shitty — really, really shitty — not only to relive them again, but also to read people’s comments about how these women are lying, or how they deserved it, or (this is the worst) that assault is ok. It is a part of our culture.
One more time: It’s. Not. OK. It will never be ok.
I hate that I am writing this post. I hate that the things which happened to me, happened to me. But this is an important conversation we need to have.
Many of the people who speak out against victims, who make this issue small, have likely never felt what it’s like to have their head shoved into a man’s crotch. To have their breasts fondled. To sit in a car with their boss and have him place his hand on their leg. To be thrown onto a bed and expected to have sex. To be disrespected. To be violated. To be told that what happened to them is ok, because boys will be boys.
As far as I’m concerned, each and every day since this hot topic broke, I’ve had to relive my assaults. To think about them. To dredge up the past and the feelings and the moments, and it’s a terrible fucking thing. It’s a painful fucking thing. And I don’t want to be told that the way I feel is wrong, or that I should be worried about other topics.
That’s not the issue here.
The issue is sexual assault and how people think it is justifiable or chalk it up to “locker room talk” and accept it. I wonder if those people commenting had a daughter, a sister, a wife who was a victim, if there wouldn’t even be a comment?
Sexual assault happens once every 109 seconds to a person living in the USA. That’s once every two or so minutes.
Until recently, there hasn’t been much of a conversation about it. But, now, there is. It sucks that it took a hot mic and a complete asshole to get this conversation going, but now it is.
It has empowered me to share my story. I want it to empower other women, too. Share your story. Stand strong. Stand together. And, let’s help to raise awareness about this cultural problem and set the record straight. Let’s change the future.
If you’d like to share your story, you can do so below and not use your real name. Help keep this conversation going.
More statistics can be found on RAINN’s site, along with support for victims of sex crimes.