If I can tell my story in a public forum without embarrassment, I hope other victims can tell theirs and start the healing process.
The recent media coverage of sexual assaults against women has led to a progressive campaign that I believe is designed to empower those who have been abused, assaulted or harassed by a man.
Hopefully, women who see the campaign unfold on social media are empowered to say no to those who use their power to exploit them for a sexual purpose. In the case of the Weinstein scandals what is most disturbing is the frequency of his attacks and the silence of those in Hollywood who knew or ought to have known what was happening and the lack of action to top it or speak out about it because the man was powerful.
I have represented those who are survivors of sexual assault, or those on the losing end of power imbalances. I often wondered why it took so long for a perpetrator to be exposed. Sadly, it was never a simple explanation
The combination of embarrassment, fear and social shame on the part of the victim worked to the perpetrator’s advantage. His victims would stay silent thinking that they were the only ones. Once the first person comes forward, the floodgates are often open. Multiple victims begin to step forward and start to speak out because they know they are now not alone.
My experience working with male victims of sexual assault has magnified the impact of being shamed. Many men suffer in silence and are unsure how to address their trauma. A compounding approach to the issue is the homosexual stigma that men fear. Men don’t want this to be attached to them if they reveal they have experienced assault.
So like women, most men are silent, stay silent and suffer internally believing their job is to toughen up and carry the burden. A few lucky ones do become comfortable at some point to tell their story, and it is often first said to their spouse. This first reveal usually starts the process of healing. Often this is when they call my office, and their strength always humbles me. After a sigh at the unfairness of it all we then turn our sights on how to get justice, sometimes this is a lawsuit, sometimes it is a call to the police, sometimes it is therapy and just a discussion.
The ‘Me Too’ campaign so visible on social media triggered something in me for some reason this time. I asked myself how I could help the cause. I guess one way would have been to “like” a few posts or made a couple of encouraging comments on my news feed.
However, I knew that there was another way to be part of the moment to stop predators in the context of the campaign…
I realized that I could participate by revealing an incident that was traumatizing to me as a child. One I have not shared. I guess I realized I could say “Me too” in support of all the survivors I have helped and never told the story too because I was embarrassed. I realized that I had encouraged others to be honest for the greater good and thought well maybe I should lead by example…. so here is my “Me too” story.
I was in Grade 5, living in a small town (at the time) called Bradford. We lived in a great neighborhood, very normal, great family, no worries. One day I traveled to Newmarket for an orthodontist appointment. My parents were lenient by today’s standards in letting me take the bus from Bradford to Newmarket (with one transfer) alone to get to my appointment. I felt very proud that I could be trusted with such a voyage and made sure I was on time and carried my bus schedule with me at all times. The transfer occurred at the Newmarket bus station. I remember it as a circular building cement building beside a mall. Upon arriving, I waited for my transfer bus quietly in a seat. I am not sure what I was doing because there were no iPhones back then.
An older man sat down beside me with a cane. He seemed friendly and said:
“young man where are you traveling today?”
I told him I was going to the dentist after I got my transfer and then back home to Bradford. We chatted for a while, he seemed nice, and my parents always told me to be helpful to old people. I felt like a grown-up traveling by myself and being polite to older people like I was supposed to.
I caught my transfer bus, got fitted by the dentist for my Retainer and returned to the bus station 90 minutes later. When I walked in I saw the same gentleman with the cane; he waved me over. I asked him why he was still at the bus station He said something like he was sick and needed help and his family wasn’t coming. We chatted for about 10 minutes.
Then, he had asked me to help him to the washroom.
I remember thinking it was weird and wanted to ask the lady at the counter to call his family. But, Despite my confusion, I figured the man asked for my help and that I should be polite and respect my elders.
I nodded my head, he then held out his arm and asked me to help him. We then walked to the men’s washroom down the dark brown hallway.
He motioned for me to go first. As soon as he closed the door something about him changed, he stood straighter, looked more prominent and his face was different.
He said: “come over here and help me get “it” out…”
He stood by one of the two urinals and began to motion me over. I looked at him and said, “I will just go in here,” and darted into the stall bewildered, but still not getting it… I locked the door and went to the bathroom quickly.
By the time I finished, I had forgotten about my disquiet minutes, I had opened the stall expecting to ask the man if he was OK…
Instead, I opened the door to the man standing in front of the door with his pants down and his erection in his hand. It scared the hell out of me. He demanded I touch it and he reached out to grab me…
I remember his face distinctly; I remember looking up at it. I saw the danger that had laid hidden behind his façade of frailty. His eyes were not human, and I could sense him moving towards me with his erect, gross, penis in his hand cornering me in the stall.
It was all slow motion, and I don’t really remember what happened next other than there was a brief scuffle… he had grabbed my shirt collar and was pulling me with one hand. I remember recoiling from his nakedness, and suddenly I dove between his legs.
Somehow I managed to get free, and I ran from the bathroom, and out of the station. I ran into the large field that used to surround the bus station; it was like a scene from the Children of the Corn.
I fell to the ground hiding and hugging myself…. not knowing what had just happened. I sat there shaking for almost an hour. I would every so often peek above the grass to see if he was coming and if my bus was at the gate.
Finally, the gate had a bus in it. I gathered my strength, told myself to stop shaking and ran to the bus. I didn’t even look at the driver, I just ran to the middle and huddled by a window trying not to be seen and wishing for the bus to take me home to my mom.
By god wasn’t I terrified when I felt him on the bus and he smiled and sat down beside me just as the driver was closing the door to leave. I fuckin froze as he put his hand on my leg and looked at me again with those insane eyes.
They had again changed, they were not eyes of a frail man or of a monster. He was now smiling in a way that was motioning for me not to worry; gazing like it will all be OK.
I sprung over the chair and climbed to the aisle. He grabbed for me but there were others on the bus. I went up and sat beside the bus driver, he asked me if I was alright, I just nodded and looked at him and back to the man.
The man sat there smiling at me intently.
I sat there shaking; it was the longest 20-minute bus ride of my life. I must have looked back 50 times to make sure he wasn’t coming up to sit with me.
Every time I looked back he was staring at me smiling, it still haunts me.
His eyes as I remember them looked at me as prey and nothing else.
I remember thinking I didn’t want him to know where my stop was so that he didn’t know where I lived. I whispered to the bus driver without looking at him that the next one was mine. I casually looked back, and he was still there smiling.
When the door opened, I exploded out of the bus and sprinted the whole way home never looking back.
I burst into my house, and my mom was shocked. I am thankful we had a relationship that allowed me to speak to her freely and I told her what happened. She hugged me and called the police.
It was a blur from there. The police arrested him later that day, as the counter attendant had spotted him when he came back to Newmarket.
I told the detectives my story when they came by later that night. They brought my parents into the kitchen, and I could hear them talking. He had done this and worse before, many times to other children. He had been released from prison the week prior because he had a disease that was killing him. The police explained that this is why he was reckless.
My parents were assured that he would be kept in jail, with nothing more to worry about until the trial date.
Except those words did not help me.
That night I lay in bed and cried… I shook uncontrollably in bed, every time I closed my eyes I saw him in front of the stall, my room didn’t feel safe. I felt like he would come in and it gave me goosebumps. My parents still don’t know this, but I felt too old to ask to sleep in their bed, so I snuck into their room and slept on the floor at the foot of their bed that night huddled up. It made me feel safer, but I still shook. I awoke before them in the morning and left. I went downstairs and looked outside.
That house never felt safe again. A couple of months later we found out he died in prison and I wouldn’t have to testify. No one ever spoke about it again. I never really told anyone, it just sat inside like a bad dream that woke me up every once in a while.
I am not sure how it affected me beyond that, but I can understand the terror and helplessness of being betrayed by an adult and the confusion about what an adult could want to do to a child and how it made no sense.
Perhaps that is why I go after these rapists so vehemently in the court system because I want to protect that little boy and all the other children who likely suffered much more than I did and didn’t have a loving family to help them through it. For every celebrity that comes out and reveals they were assaulted I think of the thousands of poor people without support systems who suffer without help or the love of their family, how some of them live with the abuse every day, not just one isolated incident like I did and I cannot fathom how they go on to be so successful in the circumstances.
So perhaps by sharing our stories, we can help others and prevent future crimes. I shared this story not to change how people see me but to show why I aim to serve and to empower people to know that it is alright to let it out.
All I hope is that there is or will be someone there to lean on and start the path to healing.
Being polite is not something I teach kids with strangers.
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