It happened to me a few times in my 20s, and I was never really shy about telling my friends. It’s amazing how easy it is to speak out when you turn it all into a joke. And it’s a lot different for a guy my size — they’re uncomfortable encounters, but I’d let them go only so far because I knew I could have beat the shit out of someone if necessary. I was very “gay friendly” and sometimes dudes confused that with gay, and you’d end up in some unpleasant situations. With a woman, you know the signs. You can put the kibosh on it, but with a dude, you don’t want to jump to conclusions, and you don’t want anyone thinking you’re homophobic. So, sometimes “no, dude!” was mistaken for “You’re gay and you just don’t know it yet, so I’m going to remove your pants and then you’ll see!”
Whaddya gonna do?
I was a little more powerless when it happened in my teens with a teacher, but even that became a joke, which was fine. Because it was easier. “Sprockets” on Saturday Night Live was popular then, so when the teacher would leave the class, there was a kid who would stand up and say in a bad German accent, ‘Hello. My name is Mishus ———, and this is my shlover, Dushty.” The teacher’s affection for me was not a secret; anyone could have seen that from the way she approached me at my locker every day. I got teased a lot. Sprockets dude, of course, didn’t know how much Mrs. ——— pressured me outside of class every day to actually make me her “shlover.” I was an easy target. I got beat up a lot, so I think this teacher thought she could parlay that into something. I don’t know. I dunno what goes on in people’s minds. Besides a lot of uncomfortable flirting and a few unsettling groping episodes, I managed to avoid the worst of it. God knows what happened to the kid in my situation the years before. Or the years after.
But, you know: It’s different than what most women encounter. I could extricate myself. I always had that option. An older guy once invited me over for to his house for a steak dinner. I was dumb and naive. I was also poor and I’d never had steak before, so I said yes. Steak! When I got there, he turned on a soft-core porn movie, sat down next to me, and starting rubbing my goddamn thigh like a madman, and I got the hell out of there, because I could. I could push that motherfucker out of the way and beat a path home. I had to walk a lot of miles to get there, but I was otherwise unscathed, save for a story about a creepy old guy that I couldn’t wait to tell my friends. He still came into the store and harassed me a lot, but I got pretty skilled at hiding. I never did get that fucking steak, either.
Whaddya gonna do?
Anyway, I try to stay out of these conversations, because it’s not my lane. There are a lot of amazing women here, with a lot of stories they can (and have) told. It’s different with me and other dudes, though; it just is, and it has a lot to do with power. Physically, I had as much or more of it than most of my “assailants,” so to speak.
But then there was this piece today in Marie Claire, about how we must end the statute of limitations on sex crimes, and I read it and I was like, “Shit! That’s my lane!” And I’ll tell you why. It’s because there were all those other times when I was powerless.
Look: I don’t know what the per capita rate on lecherous, sleazy, rape-y men is in Hollywood, but I am guessing it’s roughly the equivalent to the number of child molesters there are in the shit-poor South. There’s one on every corner, and within a certain socioeconomic bracket, encounters with them are the price of doing the business of growing up. It is what it is. It’ll either fuck you up, or it won’t. Among those I grew up with, I guess it’s about 50/50.
In the dirty South, there’s a lot of dirty old men, and being poor comes with its own set of concerns specific to this. But where it concerns speaking out, there’s a lot of similarities with what so many women are experiencing now, specifically where it concerns the statute of limitations.
Goddamn that statute of limitations.
You see, sometimes it takes years to work up the nerve to say something for so many reasons, not least of which is because you don’t think anyone will believe you. And by the time you do work up the courage, it’s too fucking late. But you don’t know it’s too late until you go through one of the most humiliating, awful experiences of your life.
Folks, let me tell you something that a lot of you already know: Sometimes reporting the crime is more harrowing than enduring the crime.
I ratted out one of the men. In fact, several of us did. The weight of carrying that secret around caused one of us to have a nervous breakdown in the middle of the goddamn day. In that nervous breakdown, there was a confession, one he didn’t even have to finish. We saw it in his eyes, because we all knew the story intimately.
We told my Dad. That was hard, because you don’t blame your Dad, but your Dad is going to feel responsible anyway, because he’s your Dad and it’s his job to protect you but he can’t protect you from everything. He’s gonna feel the weight of that forever, though, and you hate to do that to a person, you know? That poor bastard. Honest to God, I was glad I was me, and not my Dad in that situation, and I feel that even stronger now that I have kids of my own. God, what a nightmare it must have been for him. Anyway, my Dad confronted the man’s wife; she begged him not to call the cops. “He’ll go to jail!” she said. Well, that’s the point, isn’t it, you dumb piece of shit.
My Dad called the cops the next morning.
You know what happens when you call the cops? You have to tell your story. Again. And that sucks, because now it’s a stranger who doesn’t know you, and who has no reason to believe you, and the whole time you feel like you’re trying to convince this disbelieving person of something. It’s even worse when he refers you to an assistant D.A., and you have to tell your story again. Every little detail. You gotta say words to strangers that you don’t like to say to strangers. You gotta talk about “parts” because they won’t let you get away with vagaries. It’s a goddamn interrogation, and there’s a lot of raised eyebrows, uh huhs, skeptical looks, and “then what happeneds.” All in, it was hours of confessions.
And you know what that motherfucker said afterwards? After he’d put us through the wringer? After he’d elicited every goddamn detail? After he made us talk about parts? You know what that asshole said? He sat back in his goddamn chair, sighed real big-like, and he said in his thick fucking drawl, “Son, have you ever heard of a statute of limitations?”
He may as well have said, “Son, go fuck yourself,” because that’s what it felt like. I don’t know what it is now, but then, the statute of limitations was only three years. Most of us had just missed it; one of us was within the statute. He refused to confess. He just couldn’t do it. We didn’t blame him. Not one bit.
But what it meant was, we had to go back home. We had to see this guy, this guy who knew we’d ratted on him, but also knew that there was fucking nothing we could do. That sniveling shit. And that’s what all these women who came out against Cosby have to deal with now. It’s what most of the women Harvey Weinstein assaulted have to deal with. It’s what thousands of women have to deal with every day. You can tell your story, and that’s hard and it sucks because you worry about the way people are gonna look at you. Like, they’re gonna say, “She’s so brave!” But they’re gonna think, “She’s so damaged!” That’s probably what half of you are thinking of me right now (and fuck that half of you). Nobody wants to be thought of that way, and it sucks even more that it means nothing, at least in the criminal context.
I mean, with a guy like Harvey, at least you can ruin his life, and there’s probably some satisfaction in that, but not as much satisfaction as seeing that motherfucker buried under a prison where he belongs. Most men aren’t like Harvey, though. Most men are just dudes you know, or dude that you just met, and if you rat them out, maybe they’ll lose their job or something. But then they’ll just get another one. Because without a conviction, there’s nothing to put on their goddamn records, nothing to be discovered in background checks.
And that’s the problem, as Marie Clarie points out, with those goddamn statutes of limitation. They’re not realistic time frames. They don’t take into account how long it takes to build up the nerve to rat someone out. Sometimes, you need a lot of separation from the event to build up enough courage. Sometimes, you only gain that courage when someone else says something, or when you find out it wasn’t just you. It was her and her and her and him and her and him. And when you finally do build up that courage, the worst three words in the goddamn human language are “statute of limitations.”
Anyway, something needs to be done about that. Because speaking out is important, but women need to be given the legal tools to turn that brave act into consequences. You want to empower people to speak out by handing them a weapon called the motherfucking penal code. We are a country of laws, but you gotta let us use them, otherwise what the fuck use are they?
Also, believe women, because you shouldn’t need a middle-aged white dude to tell you how fucking hard it is to share their stories.