Shame Is A Powerful Drug

winding_stairs_paris_by_dana223-d6r5kcwToday I said to a group of good friends, “If all of the women in the world told about all of the assaults, sexual and otherwise, that had happened to them, the world would explode.”



I have an essay coming out soon, and while it’s not at all about this, it is, of course it is, in part.

Like this part.

I’m 20. Late winter. An older gentleman with a well-shaped beard – a regular at the Sunny Hill café where I work – comes in for biscuits and gravy. He tells me he’s a photographer. “I’d love to take some pictures of you.” He tells me I have a great smile. At home I look in the mirror and make smiles, try to see what he sees. After a few weeks, I borrow my roommate’s blouses and sweaters and scarves (without telling her) and I go to the man’s apartment. It’s dark outside. It’s dark inside. I have chills and I don’t want to do it now, but it’s too late. He takes a lot of pictures. He gives me $20. I never see him again.

We’ve been taught that we get what we ask for, and that it’s not ladylike to speak of such things.

We have to be ashamed.  Of course we do.

Shame is a powerful drug.

I’m thinking about all of the times I’ve rationalized an encounter.  Haven’t we all?  I was flirting.  He didn’t mean it.  I had too much to drink.  He’s a really nice guy … otherwise.  I should not have done those shots.  I let him take me outside.  I asked him to drive me home.  He asked nicely, at first.  I wanted him to like me.

Notice how, even now, I call it, “an encounter”?

Bill Cosby.  Today his wife issued a statement:  “None of us will ever want to be in the position of attacking a victim.  But the question should be asked – who is the victim?”

I just remembered that Bill was not just a doctor on The Cosby Show.  He played an OB/GYN.

Who do you trust more than your OB/GYN?

It’s dark outside.  It’s dark inside.

Ray Rice.  You don’t cold-cock a woman if you’ve never hit a woman before, do you?  Really?  And yet his wife issued a statement, saying she’s still never seen the elevator video, that she just wants their lives back:  “I was ready to do anything,” she said, “that was going to help the situation, both help the way we looked in the media, help his image, help obviously his career.”

I have chills and I don’t want to do it now, but it’s too late.

There’s Ray MacDonald.  He plays for the San Francisco 49ers.  We have this.  “The fiancee, who was not identified by police or prosecutors, refused to cooperate in the initial follow-up investigation to McDonald’s arrest, including having photographs taken 48 hours after the incident, and told police who responded to her 911 call that she did not want McDonald arrested.”  McDonald has not missed a game this season even though “the victim, who was 10 weeks pregnant, had ‘visible injuries’.”

He takes pictures.  He gives me $20.

Today, Darren Sharper.  It now appears he’s been drugging and assaulting women.  For years.  A 2011 Miami Beach Police Department report shows two women who said Sharper sexually assaulted them went to a rape crisis center. Police wrote in their report that a nurse at the center “did not find any evidence of sexual battery,” but the nurse told CBS News she “would never say that, that’s not my role.”

What kind of person drugs women?

A man you do not know.

A man you know.

I go to the man’s apartment.

I was fully clothed in these photos.  I saw the photos.  I felt okay about them.  Some of them were good.  And yet.  He was old, the photographer.  He was not above-board.  He was 20+ yrs older than me and  I was a kid.  He was weird.  I knew he was weird.  I knew better.  And you know what?  I did it anyway.  And I’ve never told anyone this tiny little story.  Until now.

I borrowed my roommates clothes.  Without telling her.

Of course I did.  Who wants to tell anything like this?  It is still hard to tell.  30 years later.  This is what I think of when I hear the women come forward, when I hear them tell stories they never wanted to tell.


If you had to tell all of the things that have happened to you … could you, even now?

17 thoughts on “Shame Is A Powerful Drug

  1. amyg

    “What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? The world would split open.” –Muriel Rukeyser

    I first found that quote in college and have sprawled it across class notebooks, journals, blogs, here. Because it’s true. I want to read this post again and again until I have the courage to tell things.

    1. Teri Post author

      When I hear someone ask why a woman would wait 30 years to tell her story, my first thought is, “I bet she wishes she could wait another 30 years, and maybe not even then.”

  2. tdapra

    I read this last night and wanted to comment, but I just didn’t know what to say. I’m not surprised there aren’t a lot of comments, because rape is something we really don’t know how to talk about. Thanks for finding the bravery to share your secret.

    I think people question rape victims (“Why did you wear that? Why did you go to his apartment? Why were you drinking?”) because it seems an easier thing to control–what the woman did–than confronting the very scary problem that the men in our lives can do terrible things. It’s easier to paint these men as either monsters or to deny that it happened. That was my friend’s reaction when I was raped by her boyfriend’s fraternity brother: “I’m sure he didn’t mean it that way” as if it were a misunderstood conversation. So we feel shame and we say nothing.

    This semester one of my male students wrote a nonfiction piece about two of his male friends, one of whom filed sexual assault charges against the other. There was alcohol involved and an unwanted sexual act. I realize my student was just starting to tell this story to himself (he spent 4 pages writing about a non-related band trip before spending a page on “the incident”) but even as he revised, his conclusion focused on reconciling his relationship with the accused, with no mention of the victim. As if mending their friendship could somehow make this terrible act go away. It was very strange and also, not.

    1. Teri Post author

      And my little story is such a little nothing of a nothing, compared to the number of things it could have been, yet I never told a soul.

      When I think about the Cosby women coming out in his defense, turning blame on the media and suggesting accusers should go to jail, it really shows how far we will go to “not believe” a man we know would do such a thing.

  3. donnaeve

    “If you had to tell all of the things that have happened to you … could you, even now?”

    I think the only place I’ve talked about any of the sexual abuse incidents I’ve had is right here. And then I only eluded to one – where I detailed about the male doctor who, after I”d just taken my feet from those wonderful steep stirrups, said, “Well, that was fun, want to do that again?”

    There are many others – and that’s for me alone. So. Yes. The world would not only “split open,” or “explode,” it would rip families apart, point fingers at pillars of the community, make utter chaos in the relationships between men and women.


    Because all of the DECENT men would be horrified that their fathers, brothers, uncles, cousins, best friends, ever did THAT. They would feel as ashamed as we do/did. They would be appalled as we were. They would never look at those people again. Just like us.

    1. donnaeve

      Sigh. My fingers were flying while typing out this comment and I have to correct this one sentence, “They would never look at those people THE SAME WAY again.”

      There. I feel better.

    2. Teri Post author

      In my family, now that the previous generation of women are all dead and gone, I wonder about them, and about what might have happened to them. During my mother’s last hospital stay, she asked me if any of the men she dated or married (and there were barely a handful) had “ever done anything to me.” I said, no, of course not, and I could see the relief.

      She must have wondered about it for so many years and never had the courage to ask. Which now makes me wonder if something(s) happened to her as a young woman, because why else would she worry?? And my Aunt Mary was so afraid of men all her life, I wonder what might have happened to her too.

  4. Averil Dean

    I read this article recently by Chris Rock, in which he describes the strides forward we’ve made as a society with regard to race:

    “So, to say Obama is progress is saying that he’s the first black person that is qualified to be president. That’s not black progress. That’s white progress. There’s been black people qualified to be president for hundreds of years. If you saw Tina Turner and Ike having a lovely breakfast over there, would you say their relationship’s improved? Some people would. But a smart person would go, “Oh, he stopped punching her in the face.” It’s not up to her. Ike and Tina Turner’s relationship has nothing to do with Tina Turner. Nothing. It just doesn’t. The question is, you know, my kids are smart, educated, beautiful, polite children. There have been smart, educated, beautiful, polite black children for hundreds of years. The advantage that my children have is that my children are encountering the nicest white people that America has ever produced. Let’s hope America keeps producing nicer white people.”

    Which is about this, too. Men are the problem, and men need to take control of that and correct their behavior. It’s not about women, what we do or don’t do. That might help the individual woman avoid trouble, but it doesn’t stop the trouble itself. There needs to be a fundamental shift in the paradigm of male behavior, and it needs to happen through the influence of men on other men.

    1. Teri Post author

      I read that interview (linked from your place) and I remember this — he’s right, of course. The person being abused is not the problem. Ever.

      When I read the news about Darren Sharper, I kept looking at photographs of him and then I saw some interviews he did (as a football player) and all I could think was, “He’s good-looking guy, charming, young, successful. Why does he need to drug women, to render them unconscious in order to have sex with them??” Which led me to imagine him, and Cosby too, planning it all out (premeditated), buying and hiding the drugs, grooming the women like a pedophile grooms a child, establishing trust, charming them … and then using their limp, unconscious bodies for who knows what all. Scary as hell.

  5. Hania Sudymont Whitfield

    I’m so glad to see this post. My .02 is that maybe it’s not so much shame that drives a victim to make those kinds of statements as much as it is perhaps wanting to state the accusation of presumed guilt before someone else does. In other words, if I say it first, it will hurt less than having to acknowledge no one will support my victimhood.

    I, too, have been a victim. When I told my (then) boyfriend, he asked why didn’t I just shove him off? It’s always our fault someone succeeded in a crime?

    IMO, I should be able to sit naked on any corner and not be violated. And a child should be able to enjoy a playground without fear of a pedophile. And anyone should be able to walk down a dark alley without anticipating assault.

    But, as long as society succeeds in protecting the perpetrators rather than the victims (such as these celebrity athletes), nothing can change.

    Let’s not look at feminism as radical behavior. It is simply standing up and being counted as a human equal to all others. Which means, a victim is a victim and there is no excuse for assault, and victims need to speak to that. Yes, it’s hard, but nothing changes without challenge.

    I hope more and more women and men come out with their “shame.”

    1. Teri Post author

      Well said. And speaking of the words we use, I was watching Stephen Collins’s interview with Katie Couric today and was completely thrown aback when he referred to his first victim as “the young woman.” She was NOT a young woman, she was an 11 year old GIRL. And then 12 and then 13.

  6. Catherine

    Great post and comments. Yes the world would explode. I’m thankful I’ve not had too many of these things happen to me, but how I would become a tiger if I think of someone laying a hand on my daughter or sons in that way..

    The drugs and raping, it’s just too sick to imagine. But domestic violence, oh how I’ve been there and gone back over and over to my ex.. but I’m out of that cycle now!

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