Friday, October 7, 2016. 7:48pm. Kelly Oxford, Canadian-born screenwriter, and social media personality now living in Los Angeles, tweets:
Women: tweet me your first assaults. they aren’t just stats. I’ll go first: Old man on city bus grabs my “pussy” and smiles at me, I’m 12.
A movement had begun. The hashtag #NotOkay revealed the intimate stories of the dark and ugly side of growing up female.
Within a week, over 30 million people had read or contributed to her tweet.
As you might have expected, this tweet is in response to the hot-mic video of Donald Trump exchanging “locker room” banter with Billy Bush while filming an episode of Access Hollywood back in 2005.
In the footage, Trump shares with Bush that he has touched and kissed women without consent because he is a celebrity. Yesterday, a 10th woman came forward accusing him of unwanted sexual contact.
I’m automatically attracted to beautiful women — I just start kissing them, it’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab ’em by the pussy.
Oxford’s 27-word tweet has sparked a widespread ripple effect. Women in North America are joining the conversation and collectively speaking out against sexual assault. Thousands of women have shared their stories.
Creating a national dialogue around a sensitive and taboo subject is important at this time in political history. But it’s also encouraging women to come together and heal.
So what is sexual assault?
Sexual assault refers to sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the victim. This includes: rape (non-consenting sex of any kind), forced sexual acts (such as oral sex), and unwanted fondling or sexual touching (such as kissing or groping).
If you do not want to engage in intimacy with that person, you are coerced or guilt-tripped, you are intoxicated, or you are not old enough to give consent – these situations do not describe normal, healthy scenarios – they depict sexual assault.
Sexual assault occurs whenever you do not give consent – regardless of what you have done with this person before. Consent occurs when permission is freely given, when mutual feelings are discussed and it is loving and personal — not when it is forced or coerced.
Contrary to the popular myth of the shadowy figure lurking in an alleyway, the perpetrator of sexual assault is usually an acquaintance or family member. 3 out of 4 sexual assaults are committed by someone known to the victim.
Fundamentally, sexual assault is about power and control. It is an attempt to dominate the victim – the majority of whom are women and girls – and establish authority by making them “inferior.”
Once, I was out on a third date with a guy I had met through an acquaintance. I wasn’t sure about him. He was shy yet very brazenly straightforward, but since my friend had set us up, I decided to give him the benefit of the doubt.
After a few drinks, he blatantly asked me to come back to his place.
“No,” I responded.
He backed off, but later, he asked again: “Come back to my place.”
“No,” I responded again. “I’m going home.”
At this point, I knew this was going to be our last date.
“Jessica, please don’t be angry with me, okay? I am sorry I said that. Let me be a gentleman and drop you off at your place.”
The Uber arrived at my apartment. “Okay, thank you for dropping me off,” I told him. “Goodnight.”
I whisked out of the cab, and he got out after me. “Let me give you a proper goodnight.”
“No, don’t worry. It’s okay. You’d better stay in the Uber and head home.”
He leaned in and hugged me. The Uber driver, pressed with impatience, drove off.
F-ck, I thought to myself. This guy just won’t go.
“Do you know how beautiful you are?” he said, pushing me against the wall, starting to kiss me.
“Please stop. I don’t want to do this. Call an Uber and go home.”
As he took out his phone and requested an Uber, he continued to kiss and grope me.
“All right, that’s it!” I exclaimed. “Stop right now or I am going to scream bloody murder.”
“What is wrong with you?” he said, looking confused and somehow offended.
“You’re hot and cold. What is wrong with you?” he yelled.
“You’re a bipolar person. Honestly, are you sure you don’t have mental problems?”
Moments later, by some divine grace, his Uber arrived.
I always knew what this man did was wrong.
To me, the deepest disrespect of the incident was that he did not listen. He disregarded my words: I was ignored and invisible – he forced submission.
This oppression fills my veins with rage and humiliation. I am disgusted by this incident.
I was torn, however, about speaking out – or cutting it off a lot sooner than I normally would. I felt I had “do the right thing,” according to social politics. It would be rude, or 3ib, as we say in Arabic, to dismiss someone I had met through a mutual friend. I felt I had to be as polite and understanding as possible – despite what my gut instinct was telling me about his not-so-pure intentions.
The typical iterations to stories of sexual assault such as my own often include:
“Were you drunk?”
“What were you wearing?”
“She was ‘asking for it.’”
“Were you flirting with him?”
“Boys will be boys.”
These phrases and assumptions create the foundation of rape culture. It is based on the belief that somehow, in some way, the woman is always responsible – she caused it. This type of thinking withholds responsibility from the person that forcibly violated the woman, and shifts the blame onto the victim.
This is not okay.
Why should I, as a woman, silence myself with this burden of shame? I know of so many women – Orthodox and non-Orthodox alike – that opt for silence because they know no one will believe them — or worse, that they will be humiliated, and dismissed, yet again.
I am thankful for Kelly’s tweet and the conversation it has ignited.
Finally, we are speaking out about our shared experiences. Together.