by Hanna Stolzer
When my mom was 25, she was sexually assaulted. Here is her story.
My mom moved to New York when she was 22, right after college. The classic story of a twenty-something, broke, living on English muffins and cheap beer at upper east side dive bars and loving every minute of it. The way she describes it, because of her job in advertising she was either dining at the best restaurants in NYC and frequenting Phantom of the Opera while entertaining clients or she was surviving solely on low-quality bread products, occasionally paired with Skippy Super Crunch peanut butter (on a week she was feeling particularly lavish.) One afternoon she was walking home on a notably good day. She remembers this because she felt compelled to smile at passersby rather than her usual code of conduct- staring straight ahead while listening to Chrissie Hynde and the Pretenders on her Walkman. She smiled at a gentleman that passed her and he smiled back, providing a small sense of camaraderie, a rarity on New York City sidewalks. My mom arrived back at her UES pre-war, a six-floor walk-up, stopping in the tiny lobby to retrieve her mail. While unlocking her small mail box she suddenly felt a foreign hand covering her mouth and another foreign hand holding a gun to her head. The hand on her mouth relocated to other parts of her body. The foreign hands belonged to the aforementioned tall-dark-and-handsome sidewalk smiler, who apparently felt a smile from my mom was the green light to follow her and grope her at gun point. She looked down at her mail, taking note of her apartment number, plain in sight to both her and her attacker. She was holding her keys still from opening her mail slot. In other words, everything needed to get himself and my mother into her apartment just a few floors up was available to the attacker.
“I panicked,” my mom explained to me “yet somehow also felt the presence of mind to know that I had to prevent him from getting me up to my apartment. I acted hysterical. Not because I was; I wasn’t. But I made a scene because that’s the only way I was going to get enough attention from passing New Yorkers and the only way this creep was going to let me go without taking me upstairs.”
She also realized that if she collapsed to the ground as “dead weight” “he wouldn’t be able to move me.” My mom stressed how different the situation would have ended if he had been able to get her to her apartment upstairs with him alone.
I’m 18 now, but my mom told my sister and I about her experience last year. More specifically, she told us on the day of Trump’s “grab them by the pussy” recording was released. She explained that she hadn’t told us about her experience with sexual assault previously because it wasn’t something easily talked about, and it wasn’t a world she was excited about exposing her daughters to. She noted the flaw in her reasoning, seeing that my sister and I are young women in the 21st century and therefore very aware of the cultural phenom of sexual misdemeanors. She also said that many of her friends had experienced varying types and amounts of sexual abuse/assault, but women of her generation had a tendency to “just deal with it” and “not make a big deal out of it.” She realized that by “dealing with it” with quiet stoicism and keeping it to herself, she was perversely protecting the perpetrators and in a way encouraging their behavior, allowing it to continue unchallenged or changed. She said that that is one day of her life she can unquestionably identify as a day that changed her. My mom, bad-ass business woman, commander of every room she walks into, strong as she is, went through a life-changing, defining event that was pioneered by an intrusive stranger with a gun. She explained that she decided to tell us when she did because she wanted to ensure we knew there is nothing innocent about the “locker room talk” President Trump takes part in. She said that when those words are acted upon, when men grab women, when anyone grabs anyone in the context that she was grabbed and handled, a real person is on the other end and is changed forever. She also wanted to speak to her belief of not brushing something under the rug just because people are uncomfortable talking about it.
My mom explained that after the violation and after isolating herself in her apartment for hours and hours following, she went to the police station and spent the evening looking at possible suspects.
“It was the last thing on earth I wanted to do, spend hours looking at faces and doing nothing but trying to recall every detail about what happened, and I did it. Two close female friends, one from the DA’s office and the other an investigator for the NYC department of tax fraud, convinced me that it was my duty as a citizen to try and help law enforcement find the guy. They picked me up in a cab for the ride to the precinct in Harlem and stayed with me for what felt like hours as I looked through cases and cases of mug shots. Because they were right, that was my duty. I owed that to every woman in the city that would cross this guy’s path.”
It’s not every woman that’s a victim of sexual assault and it’s certainly not every man that’s an attacker, but it’s more than is talked about and because of that it is far more than it should be. Talk about sexual assault, about violations, about things that shouldn’t happen but for some reason do happen. Don’t allow sexual assault to be solely a part of your past. Take the energy, however negative or uncomfortable it may be, and use it to propel a movement that’s been so long on the rise. This is a global reality that deserves to be brought to the foreground, so let’s talk about it and ask about it. Celebrate your survivor story and ask others of theirs. Ask your friends, your coworkers, your siblings. Ask your mother.
Interested in writing a blog for CDO? Sign up here!