We’re in the midst of a profound cultural moment. Each day, new revelations of sexual assault and harassment are dragged to the surface as brave individuals step forward to say, #MeToo. “Your secret,” they seem to say, “that shame, that pain that you’ve carried? I share it.”
As the conversation has expanded and evolved, the issue of the passage of time has come up often — especially where it concerns accusations leveled against powerful men in media and politics. In most of these cases, significant time has passed between the incidents of harassment or abuse and the moment the victims decided to speak out. “Why come forward now?” the Roy Moores and Geraldo Riveras of the world ask.
For many, that line of thinking holds water. It spawns questions about whether women are exaggerating or, at the very least, remembering things incorrectly. As if trauma has an expiration date. As if there’s a limited window of time in which telling your story is valid. As if pain has no memory.
With celebrity-adjacent stories drawing most of the cultural spotlight, we asked 14 women — among the millions who can honestly say “Me too” — about when and why they choose to report their harassment, abuse, or assault. We hope that their stories add context to why women might wait to speak out and help other women understand that they are not alone.
Janice, Museum Employee
Janice was raped when walking home from class. She did not file a police report. She told her parents and school officials after several months had passed.
Why she waited to tell:
“Part of why I didn’t want to come forward was denial, if I didn’t say out loud what had happened, then it wouldn’t have happened. But… the bigger fear was that people wouldn’t believe me, in part because I’m fat and not the most beautiful creature.”
Why she finally spoke out:
“I stopped being able to go to classes, and failed. My grades were bad for three terms in a row and they were going to put me on academic suspension. My family was also very disappointed and kept pushing me to tell them why I was doing so poorly.”
Sam, Pharmacy Tech
Sam was molested by the son of a close family friend from ages 12-14. He touched her inappropriately and would lock her in rooms and force her to touch him.
Why she waited to tell:
“He said things like ‘do this or I’ll tell on you,’ I thought I would be in trouble if I didn’t do as he said. He was quite a lot bigger and stronger than I was and prone to violent outbursts in general, so it was safer and easier to just do as he said and/or pretend it wasn’t happening.”
What happened when she told:
“I told my mom what happened, and she said that she would talk to his mom about it, which she did. We then had a meeting (my mom, his mom and me) in which his mom informed me that she had spoken to him and he had denied that the abuse ever took place. It was then suggested that perhaps I had misunderstood something, or even that this was a cry for help/that I needed attention. They basically told me that no one was angry at me, but that I should stop making accusations against him because it upset him, and I was going to cause him a lot of problems in the long run if I told anyone else about it. That conversation effectively shut me up for another three years, during which he did it again to someone else.”
“My parents now believe me, although they continue to spend time with him and his family.”
KC, Event Coordinator
K.C. was repeatedly cornered and asked sexually graphic questions by a supervisor when she worked at a non-profit, at the age of 18. Once, he pulled out his pants pockets, unzipped his pants, put his finger in his fly, and asked her to “kiss the elephant between the ears.”
Why she spoke out:
“A lot of people knew what was going on, but I was hesitant to come forward. In the end, it was not I who reported it. My best friend at the time performed a skit (during an organization-wide training day) where she recreated the “elephant kiss” incident. Everything else is really a blur of closed office doors and conference calls.”
What happened when the abuse came to light:
“Looking back, I can’t believe that I was able to shoulder what was happening at 18 years old, with no parents or real support system to lean on. My work phone was confiscated, my work email locked, I was forbidden to go to the school I worked for days at a time, and on days that I was permitted to attend, had to arrange for my own transportation there as my supervisor would drive the rest of my team. I was largely ostracized from my co-workers, with a select few telling me they believed me and supported me.”
How she felt at the time:
“I’d like to underline the intense guilt I felt for months after he resigned. I would ‘fantasize’ – that word seems so foul in this context – of running into him on the street and apologizing. Blaming my friend who forced the situation to come to light. I wanted HIM to forgive ME, when I had been victimized by him for months. That’s how deep-seeded the grooming process is.”