Editor’s Note: This article mentions instances of rape or sexual abuse. If you or somebody you know has survived a sexual or domestic crime, please contact the police or the Tompkins County Advocacy Center here or call the facility at 607-277-5000. The center offers services free of charge and is a confidential, inclusive, non-discriminatory entity.
ITHACA, N.Y. — Within a day, the phrase #Metoo went viral on social media bringing the often taboo subject of sexual assault to the forefront of a national conversation about the topic.
The phrase was re-invigorated after actress Alyssa Milano, of “Who’s the Boss” and “Charmed,” wrote last Sunday night on Twitter, “If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘Me too’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.”
Her post has been retweeted more than half a million times and has found its way onto other social media platforms, such as Facebook and Instagram. It’s been about a week since then and, in the days since then, the tweet remains part of the national conversation about sexual assault.
If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet. pic.twitter.com/k2oeCiUf9n
— Alyssa Milano (@Alyssa_Milano) October 15, 2017
The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network states on their website that every 98 seconds, another American is sexually assaulted. The organization cites the Department of Justice for the statistic. The majority of these crimes go unreported.
Locally, people have been responding with their own stories about sexual abuse or supporting those who have experienced it.
Below are just four Tompkins County people who have consented to share their stories. Many other people have also shared their stories online.
Cynthia Brock, Ithaca First Ward Alderperson
“I think the intent behind the “me too” hashtag was to give voice and to give presence that demonstrated to everybody how big an issue sexual harassment and intimidation is for women and that it effects us all,” Brock said. “I think sexual intimation and harassment is just another form of violence against individuals male or female.”
Brock said that the hashtag was a way for people to start a conversation about sexual assault and intimidation as they became aware that their friends and family members had experienced those issues.
For Brock, the hashtag was a way for her to talk about an experience she said she’d never told anyone and finally told her mother about Tuesday night.
“When I was in high school, I had a very dotting boyfriend who became quite controlling,” she said. “And when I tried to break off my relationship with him, he stalked me and put me in the hospital twice.”
She said she tried to report the incident to police and tried to get a restraining order against him, but the police officer she spoke to convinced her not to press charges.
“The police officer taking my testimony did everything possible to dissuade me from filing a restraining order and trying to press charges,” she said. “Being a teenager, I was talked out of doing so.”
But Brock said that her story and any other individual story about sexual assault is not enough to speak to the breadth of the problem.
She said, “It’s a multitude of incidents. Some are small, some are big. There’s no one story of exploitation or harassment or intimidation or violence…”
In addition to having conversations about people who have been on the receiving end of sexual assault or otherwise impacted by it, Brock said it was a welcome turn to see people responsible for making people feel unsafe and uncomfortable step up to the plate and take responsibility for their actions.
Speaking about her own experience seeing the hashtag, Brock said she’s seen two men own up to their actions.
“They themselves see now how they have been part of the problem and…recognize that they have been part of the problem,” she said. “Knowing that people have allies and that they’re not alone and if we all stand together, hopefully, as a community we can recognize that we are here for each other and we can change out world for each other.”
Tamiko Toland, of the town of Ithaca
“Its not about me. It’s about other people and about society,” Toland said. “When you start looking at the number of my peers (who have been impacted by sexual assault) it almost seems like it’s more rare for that not to have happened at some point in their lives.”
She said, “I’m surprised by all the men in my feed who are like, ‘Oh, I’m shocked.’… Who hasn’t been sexually harassed and assaulted?”
Toland said the #metoo status is about visibility and awareness, especially after the Harvey Weinstein crimes.
Weinstein, a famous film producer, is being accused of committing sexual crimes against more than 40 women, including rape and sex abuse.
“I think that to some extent, like, the dam has broken,” she said.
In addition to creating conversations about sex abuse among women, she said she hopes the conversation can also be inclusive to men who have been abused.
“I’ve known some men who were sexually abused, and that’s not something that they feel (like they can talk about),” she said.
Amanda, of Lansing
More than a dozen years ago, Amanda said she spent six months with a man who beat her, sexually abused and raped her, and sexually abused her young daughter. During this time, Amanda said she was held against her will and, when she tried to escape the abusive relationship, her and her family were threatened with violence.
Amanda explained the details of the abuse and her journey through the criminal court system as she sought justice.
‘Define justice, honey, because honestly between you, me and the wall, he should be 100-feet under…and swimming with the fishies,” Amanda said. “There will never be justice in my eyes never until he’s dead. He needs to rot in hell.”
She identified her abuser as Alan M. Champion, 37, who is currently is custody at the Gowanda Correctional Facility in western New York after being convicted of first-degree sodomy and first-degree sex abuse.
“I just, I’m paranoid all the time. I don’t have a problem telling people about it. It was just a very horrific thing that I’ve been through,” she said.
Amanda has been married for 10 years and sought professional help for issues she still faces as a result off the abuse she’s been through.
“I have a pretty good strong support system that I have that many people may not have,” she said.
As a woman who continues to heal after her experience, she said it was important for her to participate in the #metoo movement — she wanted to share her story with people in the hopes that people who have experienced trauma will find the strength to get the help they need.
“Because I believe that if I could share the status, then maybe somebody, somebody would share it and be able to share their story as well,” Amanda said. “If it helps anybody, then I’ll feel proud of myself.”
Michelle Courtney Berry, of Ithaca
Note: Michelle Courtney Berry responded to a request for comment in writing.
There have been several assaults of my being — that I’ve written and spoken about over the years in a variety of public settings and on blogs.
Ironically, after conducting a required sexual assault prevention workshop as an RA at SUNY-Binghamton, I was sexually assaulted at an off-campus party. I knew not to drink must (not that drinking to excess should mean we are to blame for our assaults), but back then and still now, women were and are told that drinking made us more “suspect” and “complicit” in our sexual assaults. So, I was intent on following all the steps to stay “safe.”
One of the RA’s on my team introduced me to her good friend Gil who lived in the off-campus house that was holding the party. We talked for a bit, very cordially. He said, “it’s too loud, I can’t hear you, let’s close the door.” I didn’t sense anything awry, and anyhow, he wasn’t a stranger, he was my good friend’s friend.
He closed the door and showed me around his room, including showing me some really cool sculpture. Then, he started kissing me. I said, ‘no’ and he pinned my arms behind my back and pushed me onto his bed. He told me his father was on NYPD and that no one was going to believe I didn’t come here willingly. I told him my boyfriend was a US Marine and he was the one who should be scared and that if my boyfriend didn’t harm him, my father would kill him.
I started screaming but no one could hear me over the loud music. He finally released me saying that he was sorry and that he wasn’t going to “rape me or anything” and that he really loved me, which I found alternately ridiculous and horrifying.
A few days later he came to my room with three of his housemates — it was really intimidating — and he was also very drunk as he was that night. He had a gumball machine that he offered as a gift and he kept crying and apologizing. I was dizzy and nauseous.
He pushed his way into my room with his friends, and I thought I was going to be gang raped but they kept saying he was a nice guy and that Gil loved me. He put a gumball machine on my desk – and then promptly passed out and vomited on my bed.went to call campus police but his friends knew I was an RA, so they pulled the fire alarm.
I had no choice but to evacuate my floor, and they used that time to go into my room and remove him.
I pressed charges with campus police against him and it went to Judicial Affairs but it had little “teeth,” as he lived off-campus.
I also had to sit through grueling questions about why I was at the party? if I was drinking? and then refute to the committee’s seeming disbelief that this wasn’t a boyfriend of mine, which is what his three friends testified to.
All the while, my actual boyfriend, who was also an RA, was someone I was keeping this from because I was afraid he’d try to kill this idiot.
When I no longer wanted to be touched by actual boyfriend, he confronted me. When I told him what happened, he said, “Michelle, what he did to you is illegal. Putting his fingers inside your body, without your permission is an actual crime, and it is rape, a penis need not be involved. It’s a crime. You should have gone off campus because campus police on college campuses bury stories like this.”
I’d love to tell you I felt outraged, but I was numb and stupefied. I thought I’d escaped sexual assault. I had not.
I would later find Gil following me around campus. Believe it or not, back then you could look up an individual’s schedule in these big green binders, and find out where anyone’s classes were held. So, he knew my schedule and he followed from afar to my classes, giving me longing glances. I would later realize this behavior is called stalking.
Finally, my boyfriend spoke to him very softly, cornering him by the basement lockers. Whatever he said must have scared Gil to death because he never approached me again.
I remembered feeling powerless and angry, too, that I needed a man to tell another man to back off and that’s what it took, but I was still grateful, even in all that masculinity.
But years later, this story burned.
I vowed never to go into any room or homes of anyone I didn’t know, which I knew was ironic as “stranger danger” is a catchy PR phrase, but we’re often in even more danger at the hands of someone we know, as well as our family.
As a child, I was felt up by a neighbor, who was a woman. When I told my family, I remember people joking about it — that it was perfectly normal or just a goof — and it left me really shell-shocked – that adults could just grab your butt or “goose” you and that was totally okay. Perhaps too, because she as a woman, it was treated as a non-issue.
So, after weirdness like that and coupled with the sexual assault in college, it was years before I would go inside any man’s home.
This was a well-known man in Ithaca invited me to coffee and befriended me. I found him charming and very nice. He was friends with many of my friends. He held a high position of trust in our society.
He invited me over to watch a movie at his place. I wasn’t afraid of him, and he was a person many people trusted. He also had a lot of power.
After the movie, I rose to leave he walked me to the door. “What a nice guy,” I thought.
That’s when he blocked the door with his body.
He was a very strong, large, muscular guy. I was instantly humiliated.
He didn’t really like me at all, and I wasn’t a person to him. I was just a body, just someone to have sex with.
The realization that I wasn’t going to be able to watch a movie and leave with dignity and respect flooded through me.
With the college incident with Gil fresh in my mind from a few years before, my brain clouded over and I froze.
By blocking the door, he was essentially saying, “We can do this the easy way or the hard way.” I didn’t know until much later that this was sexual assault as well because I didn’t feel like I had any other options.
I kept hoping that this might be love or something, knowing full well, it wasn’t.
However, I’d spent so many years dominated by men and told how to think, what to feel, how to dress, how to behave — from my father’s critiques and vicious barbs when he was drinking, to the men that I’d dated, that I was always seeking some man’s approval or trying to please him.
It took me years to ever talk about this incident, and the man, let’s call him “Door Blocker,” and I had to work together on a variety of projects over the years. He acted as if nothing had ever happened, so I took his cue.
A few years later, I returned to my alma mater at Binghamton to teach on the faculty.
One of the units I was teaching in a popular mass media class was about an athlete being on trial for raping his girlfriend.
This was back when the term “date rate” (a horrible term) was widely used. I disclosed to the class that I was a survivor of sexual assault. It was a class of about 35 students — and about 25 were women, the rest men.
Someone asked if they could ask (only if people were willing), how many other women in the class had either been sexually assaulted or raped? The women in the class wanted to answer — and I remember wanting to ask if the men would be willing to disclose if they, too, had ever been “victims” but this wasn’t something we spoke about openly (what happens to men as being assaulted, raped, molested) — that just wasn’t a common conversation “back then.”
Anyhow, with tears in their eyes almost every woman student, along with me, raised their hands. The men in the class were stunned and some cried. It was one of the most powerful and palpable moments in my teaching career.
Now flashing forward some 20 or more years later, I’m saddened that we still live in a rape culture, that it’s almost expected that we’ll be assaulted in some way — that we’ll be harassed, and that I still can’t stand it when someone stands in front of a door, and I tend to hate surprises.
Many years later, I got up my courage and I said to “Door Blocker,” –”Hey, what happened was wrong – don’t you ever want to talk about it?”
He just smiled at me as if I were looking down at a small child or perhaps someone who was daft.
I didn’t even bother to talk to my mother or other woman relatives about these incidents because I already knew that their stories were worse than mine, and I wanted to leave them with the illusion that I’d somehow “escaped.”
I connect frequently with many survivors — both men and women — and I hear story-after-story about people in power, whole institutions, families, churches, industries, among others, involved in their abuses.
It’s sick. When I hear about Harvey Weinstein, I’m actually not surprised. But it’s still both nauseating and triggering.
The more you keep reading and hearing about the callousness and self-righteousness and disgusting stories from the unknown to powerful celebrities, you see a pattern of behaviors, like Bill Cosby and Weinstein’s, like those in the highest reaches of government, among so many others, who crave power and control, need to dominate, and commit acts of aggression and unspeakable violence and violations, because they ultimately feel that society sanctions that they can.
We must say enough is enough. We must say we can no longer abide by a rape culture. Speaking out is a first and powerful step. There should be no shame in being assaulted, molested, raped, or otherwise violated and harmed. The crime was committed by the perpetrator, yet years of self-recrimination and self-harm can ensue for you if no appropriate support and intervention transpire. Therapy helps, meditation works, and speaking out can be a powerful tool.
Speaking out isn’t easy. It doesn’t mean I’m not terrified every time I do so, like when I gave the keynote address for the Advocacy Center this year, but it also means that if I never speak up, then my abusers win.
For years, I have struggled with food (eating too much or too little), and body issues, all emanating from my abuse history. It took years of work to get to where I am now.
I can’t stop speaking out because my daughter deserves to live in a world that doesn’t condone these acts of violence, aggression, domination, and control. It has to stop.