In the two years since the New York Times published a story detailing allegations against Harvey Weinstein, Me Too has become a verb, a movement, a flashpoint. What has been lost in the relatively recent reckoning about sexual assault has been the steep cost — both literal and emotional — for those very people on whose testimony the movement has been built. New York interviewed 25 of them, whose stories date back to the 1970s and up to the present day, to find out what happened after they spoke up and everyone else moved on.
Read More: Rebecca Traister on the Toll of Me Too
“Guess Who Has More Money to Hire Better Lawyers and to Make a Stronger Case?”
Lindsay Meyer says that after VC funder Justin Caldbeck invested $25,000 in her start-up, he began to proposition her by text message, grope her, and kiss her. She spoke about the harassment to the New York ‘ Times’ in 2017. Following allegations from Meyer and five other women, Caldbeck resigned from the venture-capital firm he co-founded.
What happened with Justin was partially my choice, but also my lack of choice. I was reliant on venture capitalists to bankroll our future advancement. By the time I met Justin, I had probably talked to or pitched 100 people. When someone, anyone, shows a spark of interest in what you’re working on, it’s exactly what you need to keep your dream alive. And I think Justin sensed that.
I’m not proud of myself for any of this, but I think the world would have needed to change pretty dramatically in the past couple of years for me to be in a position to do anything different today. If somebody has something I need to advance my cause, especially a professional cause, I’m willing to deal with a certain amount of discomfort to lock that in. But at the time, it more or less felt like the cost of doing business. I had all of these labels that I still have zero ability to change: my age, my race, and my gender.
When an outlet started investigating him, I was launching my next start-up. I decided it wasn’t worth actually what I assumed would be tarnishing my professional reputation by going public with this.
The day I read a story about him and sexual harassment in The Information, and the days after, were some of the most gut-wrenching days of my life. I felt like I had some sort of duty to corroborate and elevate the issue. I don’t think I took a shower for two and a half days. I completely lost my appetite. I was obsessed with checking the news and Twitter, and I had all these Google alerts going. I kept feeling like there was a nonzero chance that somehow, because I’d shared snippets of what had happened with my mom and two friends and one co-worker, the story was actually going to get out without my telling it or was going to be told in a way that wasn’t accurate or that wasn’t 100 percent my own. That also helped to push me over the line a little bit. If you want to control the narrative around your part of this, you’ve got to be the person to take ownership of that.
You could distill the risk down into two key things: personal and professional. It’s already so difficult for women to get venture-capital funding for their businesses — why on earth would I do anything, especially given that VCs are mostly men, to make that more difficult for myself?
The personal side was more like, Well, I’m definitely going to get sued if I talk about this. My partner and I had just moved into a new home in San Francisco, and our lives were pretty good and coming together in a nice way. I saw it as, Well, it’s going to be his lawyers against ours, and guess who has more money to hire better lawyers and to make a stronger case? A couple months ago, I was watching an episode of Million Dollar Listings L.A., the TV show. The agent was selling Rose McGowan’s home because, at least as it was positioned in the episode, she needed cash to pay her legal bills, which were mounting in the post–Me Too period. That was devastating for me because that was like watching what was my biggest fear play out on TV.
That Saturday after the story broke, we celebrated my partner’s 30th birthday. It was just very difficult to be in birthday-celebration mode when I was sitting with so much internal conflict. So Sunday morning, I woke up and I went to breakfast with a friend and I said to her, “I’m really wrestling with something major, huge. I don’t want to talk about it, but I think it’s going to be a big story.” I came home, and I sent an email to Katie Benner at the New York Times and gave her my phone number.
I had text-message screenshots, I had voice-message audio, I had emails, and I had all sorts of documentation that could really back me up. That was part of why I also felt a bit more protected. I had a treasure trove of supporting evidence. In those days after I contacted Katie, I was writing things down fast and furious. I had this notebook, and I was both recalling and replaying and trying to dig out specific snippets.
I honestly think that, at the time, 20 percent of me hoped I’d somehow, someday, be able to use what was a great professional risk for meaningful professional gain. Like, Hey, big national press, now that you exposed some of the most humiliating things I’ve endured, maybe I can get a little recognition that I’m a person and a professional that’s working on other amazing things. Two years later, that hasn’t happened yet.
He never got in touch with me. I think that he and his family probably suffered a lot. Enough, even. I am 500 percent cognizant that my experiences and the way I presented them to reporters who shared them with the world profoundly impacted him, his career, his co-investors, the people who had put money into his funds, the other entrepreneurs that he invested in. In my most exhausted, worn-down, worn-out moment, I actually spent a portion of a flight crying and feeling some guilt, maybe some pain, maybe some sadness — it was really rooted in empathy for Justin. Which is just fucking twisted, right?
“You Can Never Say Don’t Put Up Naked Photos of My Body”
Chanel Miller was sexually assaulted by Brock Turner in 2015, when she was 23. Turner faced up to 14 years in prison but was sentenced to six months in county jail. In 2016, the victim impact statement written by Miller, then known as Emily Doe, was published on BuzzFeed and went viral. Miller came out publicly in September of this year and has written a book about her experiences.
When you’re on the stand, you feel totally stripped and exposed. It didn’t feel like we were working to get closer to the truth. It felt like a game of how quickly I could answer questions, if I could untangle the sentences the defense attorney was asking. He had really odd syntax sometimes. And by the end, I would feel completely picked apart and exhausted. Even when I would completely dissociate and begin crying on the stand, everyone would just sit in silence and watch and wait for me to gather and collect myself. It’s terrible to feel that and to have it answered by nothing, to just be asked more and more questions until you’re completely hollowed out. You can never say stop, you can never say enough, you can never say don’t put up naked photos of my body.
My advocate said, “If you get the verdict, you will get to read a victim impact statement.” And so anytime I had a thought related to the case, or remembered a very specific detail, I would jot it down in my phone and label it with Brock’s initials. The first drafts of my statement were almost too sarcastic and scathing and bitter. I had this fear that people would think I was crazy or out of line or aggressive. As I was rewriting, I worked really hard to go beneath the anger and get down to the core of it, which was hurt. On the car ride there, I was still crossing out paragraphs, trying to make it shorter. I really didn’t want to be cut off during it.
I thought I would be at the front of the courtroom, so I could address the whole room like a presentation, but I was facing the judge. Brock and his attorneys’ backs were to me. I remember staring at him as I read it, but I could only see the side of his face. He sat in a stoic manner and never turned to look at me. But as I was reading, I felt immense power, like everyone was trapped inside the sound of my voice and we were not going to go anywhere until I decided we were done. It was the only time I felt like I had any ounce of control.
They didn’t allow me to read the whole thing. Brock read his statement, and I thought, Wow, that was excruciating to sit through, but it’s okay. Then the judge announced the sentence, and I was in shock. It had not even crossed my mind that it could be less than a year. We had spent 18 months just to get to that moment. So when he said six months, I wasn’t processing it, but then I saw my DA’s face and she was shaken.
I just felt humiliated. I wondered why I had poured my guts out. It was like they were saying, “Why did you just read this melodramatic diary entry in this serious and formal space?,” like I had completely misread the room and it was inappropriate of me to have done something like that. It just felt almost comical how anticlimactic the whole thing was. There’s other people in the room who are waiting to get their sentence for a DUI. I’m just one person who’s been assaulted out of thousands of people. I felt so small.
My family and my friends were livid. They said, “Don’t worry, we’re going to figure out a way to tell your story.” Someone put us in touch with BuzzFeed. When the story went up, I was staying at my parents’ house. I was in my pajamas, just reading, looking at the BuzzFeed article and watching the count go up.
I almost became addicted to these streams of comments and just was filling myself up with them, like drinking them in for hours and hours and hours. There were positive ways of describing me that I’d never heard before. At least for the first four days, I didn’t change my clothes. My parents would say, “You need to go outside,” and I would sit in the backyard. I couldn’t wrap my head around what was happening. I was so hungry for any type of validation or humanness.
“One of Them Asked, ‘Are You Going to Tell About Brokaw?’”
Former NBC correspondent Linda Vester told the Washington ‘Post’ that in the mid-’90s, anchor Tom Brokaw twice propositioned her and gripped her neck in an attempt to kiss her. Brokaw denied her characterizations, but in a 4 a.m. email to various media figures, he admitted to “a perfunctory goodnight kiss” and wrote, “Hard to believe it wasn’t much more Look At Me than Me: Too.” More than 100 women at NBC, including Maria Shriver, Rachel Maddow, and Mika Brzezinski, signed a letter in support of Brokaw. Vester said she would participate in an investigation on the condition that NBC hire an outside investigator, which it did not do.
On the day Matt Lauer was fired, the phone lines and the texts lit up from so many women I worked with in the industry. A couple of them knew my story, and one of them asked, “Are you going to tell about Brokaw?” I was shaking. I was on the phone that morning with one of the Matt Lauer survivors. We were both vibrating with an anxiety we couldn’t name.
I thought coming forward would be empowering and would help other women. A short dredging up of old memories and then it would be over. I was wrong about all of that.
A few hours later, after the story published, my lawyer, Ari Wilkenfeld, called me and said, “Are you sitting down?” Brokaw had sent out an email. My lawyer read it out loud to me, and my first reaction was, Was he drunk when he wrote that? It sounded like someone who’s up at four in the morning writing some angry, drunken screed. It took a while for it to settle in just how misogynistic and malicious it was.
What was possibly more shocking was the letter from the NBC women. While it was so carefully worded, so nuanced, it was effectively saying, if you come forward, other women will shame you. Not only did it hurt me personally, I thought it did such damage to every other woman who was trying to summon the courage to come forward. Some people who I had worked with — one of whom had called herself my mentor — had signed that letter. I was also very disappointed in Rachel Maddow.
The worst part of the aftermath was getting repeated threats from Brokaw’s attorney Reid Weingarten. The first two threats were delivered to my lawyer’s media rep, Hilary Rosen, over the phone. The first one was after the Washington Post article: “This is going to get ugly for Linda. We’re going to get people to speak out against Linda.”
Hilary said, “Like who?”
This was the part that was bizarre. He said, “Like Robert De Niro.” I have never met Robert De Niro in my life. How is he relevant to anything?
The second threat was after the ABC interview, and the third one went directly to my attorney, after I did a CNN interview with Alisyn Camerota. Weingarten said, “I guess we’re going to war.” [He does not recall mentioning De Niro and says he behaved professionally.]
Those threats were what really caused rolling panic attacks. It’s not like I’m a shrinking violet. I used to report from war zones. I said to my lawyer, “We need to fight this. We know what he’s threatening to do.” And Ari said, “Here’s the thing, if you take him to court, if you try to sue him for libel, they can say anything they want about you, and it’s very hard.”
I think NBC did a great disservice to its female employees by conducting what I consider a sham internal inquiry, a “culture review at the news desk.” What I think the women in power at NBC News — like Savannah Guthrie and Mika Brzezinski and Rachel Maddow — [should do] is call for a real investigation. It’s one thing for them to be marketed as female power and all for the sisterhood. But they’re not using their megaphone to make women truly safe.
“HE SAID THAT HE WAS GOING TO TURN IMMIGRATION ON US”
The speaker worked at a Koch Foods plant in Morton, Mississippi, and was one of the plaintiffs in an EEOC case against the company, stating that supervisors openly groped and harassed female workers on a daily basis. According to the complaint, one supervisor, Jessie Ickom, removed women from the line to isolated areas of the factory, where he demanded they have sex with him in exchange for money and threatened to have them deported if they didn’t. Koch Foods settled the suit for $3.75 million in 2018. A year later, an ICE raid in Morton detained nearly 700 people.
In the beginning, I was a bit afraid, a bit ashamed of getting involved with the case. My main concern was getting myself into further problems with my supervisor—that he would look for me or do something to me—or that I would be detained by Immigration. But the things I was going through at the factory were very intense. I saw the other women who were involved in the case, and they encouraged me. The truth is that I couldn’t stay quiet, because had I stayed quiet, things may have gotten worse, right?
When Jessie Ickom fired me, he told me I had to get him money. I told him I didn’t have that amount of money, because I was alone with my children. He said there was a way I could get that money, and it was, well, to go to his house, and there were other things far beyond money. I was afraid. I didn’t go. But then when he found out I didn’t want to, he said that he was going to turn Immigration on us and that he wanted to know the home address of each of the people he had fired, in order to send Immigration to come find us, because we didn’t have papers. I was very afraid, to the point of not wanting to leave my house.
Other workers found out the case had been opened, and they said we should have stayed quiet because all Jessie did was do us the favor of paying us for our day’s work and it wasn’t right that we would pay him back in this way. One girl who continues working there—well, now it looks like she doesn’t because they rounded her up in the raids—won’t speak to me. She said it would have been better if I had stayed quiet. “I know what happens,” she said, “but I’m not going to say anything, knowing that it’s work and, because of you, lots of people will lose their work.”
Finding another job wasn’t easy. I used to work in a restaurant, but I left. The truth is Jessie used to go there a lot to eat. The way he looked at me made me feel awful. I was scared, and it was better to leave the job. I ended up alone because the father of my child—his mother was ill, so he went back home. I had to support my son because he had a little 1-year-old baby.
Every time after I finished talking to my lawyer, I would cry. To feel defenseless, humiliated, and intimidated by a man … having to remember all the things that had happened with Jessie. Sometimes after finishing talking about it, I felt dirty.
I was getting ready for work when they called me and told me we’d finally settled. I cried from joy. I shouted. I thought, Finally, finally we were heard, in spite of all the tears we cried, all the humiliation we’d undergone, of feeling guilty of so many things—finally, justice was served!
When I found out about the raids, I felt tremendously sad for the children because the children end up being abandoned, left alone. They came home from school, and the first thing they heard was “Your father isn’t here, your mother isn’t here.” There were even nights that went by when the children didn’t have anywhere to sleep, without having their parents near.
But if I were to go through the same thing again, I’d speak out again. I never regretted it. For me, the decision I made was always the right decision. In the beginning, I thought that as a migrant, as a Hispanic person, one didn’t have any rights. But after everything we went through, we shouldn’t keep this inside of ourselves, because no one has any right to humiliate or intimidate us for who we are.
“I Had to Literally Give Up My Child”
Miyoshi Morris had often been late to work because of child-care needs. She says Myron Alexander, her supervisor at Ford Motor Company, offered to make the problem go away if she agreed to have sex with him. She did. She ended their arrangement and was later fired in what she believes was retaliation. Alexander was accused by multiple women of sexual harassment and fired in 2014.
I was maybe 19 years old, with a small kid, constantly being told, “This is a good job, you don’t want to mess up something like this.” It’s a glorified position to have, to work for Ford Motor Company, to get these raises that they report in the news; you’re getting profit sharing, you’re getting paid $25.30 an hour with a high-school diploma.
One of my harassers let me know that if I complained, they would receive the information: “Human resources lets us know, labor relations lets us know.” Where do you have some sort of safety to talk to someone or get some help? Where? It’s not there.
I had seen other people who were courageous enough to speak out, and the backlash from that was something I was fearful of. I had to support my family, I needed the benefits. Those are the things I had to consider sacrificing in coming forward. But once my job had been lost, my benefits had been taken away, what would the penalty be for joining the lawsuit? They couldn’t come for me.
Therapy forced me to realize this is not the norm. To be removed from that environment, it was like trying to walk all over again.
My mortgage has had to be restructured twice, possibly a third time as we speak. We’ve been without lights, without gas. I had to go back to school, incur student-loan debt, and work two part-time jobs while I was a student to supplement my income. [When I lost my job], my son had to go live with his father. I had to literally give up my child. He’s in another state, eight hours away from me. I see him when I can afford to drive to see him.
“I Had Nightmares Constantly After the ‘Times’ Story”
In 2015, 28-year-old Lauren O’Connor, a production executive at the Weinstein Company, wrote a memo indicting a “toxic environment for women” there. An executive leaked it to the New York ‘Times’ in what became the first story to expose Harvey Weinstein. She left the company with a settlement and a nondisclosure agreement, one of several negotiated by Weinstein over decades.
Filing that memo was a terrifying thing, but it didn’t feel like a choice.
What I hoped would happen is that once HR saw from a valued employee that this was something she had experienced in the way of gender discrimination and harassment, and that she had reason to believe someone had been assaulted, there would be processes in place that would kick into gear. I do not know to this day whether change was made.
I sent it over email. I was in a state of visible distress. Before I filed it, I called an attorney, and I had copied her in on the email. She started receiving calls from attorneys. That was the communication from that point forward. I was at the office, and I was told to go home. I was able to stay on as an employee for an additional four weeks, which was important: If suddenly your email address stops working, it can be very difficult to say why.
I was terrified. I couldn’t talk about it with anyone. I went home for a couple of weeks. I didn’t know if it was ever going to have further impact on my life. It’s a bit like if you have a browser window on the back of your phone and it’s draining your battery. I moved across the country.
The day I became entirely aware of the extent of the allegations was the day the New York Times story published. I was downstairs beneath the office building where I was working, getting a grilled cheese sandwich. I’m starting to walk out, and my phone starts blowing up to the extent that I blacked out. The smell of the grilled cheese brought me back. Probably only as of three months ago can I eat grilled cheese again.
I don’t think I understood the necessity of the New York Times using my name. I felt like all control that I had over my own life was taken from me. I felt stripped of my right to privacy. Because my name was going to become two words in a newspaper and no longer my own. I associate my name in print with a fear of retaliation, with a loss of privacy, of losing any sense of agency over the way you might be perceived in the world by strangers or people you know. You worry your intention will be questioned. You worry your credibility will be questioned.
I had nightmares constantly after the Times story. I woke up every morning with this massive pit in my stomach. The first thing I would do before my eyes were open was get my phone out and search Google News because, as hard as it was to read everything, scour every article, not knowing what was happening felt riskier than going through the pain of reading everything. I was looking for any indicator of what might happen in my life. I was terrified for a long time, but it was counterbalanced by the profound solidarity of voices. Larger than my shock over the abuse was my awe at how many of the abused were willing to come forward.
What I’m angry about is that there isn’t another way. There isn’t a system in place. You speak up through localized channels, such as HR, and nothing is done. And nobody listens. And the only other avenue I’ve come to know is the press, which means mass exposure.
In the wake of that article publishing, I now have three phone numbers, four email addresses. Just today, I woke up to three voice-mails on my private phone number from various news outlets.
To come forward is expensive in a way I had no idea about and has cost more than double my financial resources. Nine times out of ten, it will involve legal entanglements that cost money. I’ve come to learn how expensive it is to get a photo pulled down or out of print. Therapy is expensive. All in all, we’re talking easily six figures, even with some pro bono representation, and I’m still paying it off. I have questioned whether I would do it over again. It’s also emotionally expensive. There is a literal tax on integrity.
“I Ended Up Being Hospitalized Again”
Seo-Young Chu says she was sexually harassed and raped by Professor Jay Fliegelman when she was a graduate student in the English department at Stanford. Another student reported Fliegelman’s harassment of Chu to the university, which suspended Fliegelman without pay for two years. Chu, now a professor at Queens College in New York, came forward publicly in an essay published in November 2017.
After I left Stanford, I thought I had a new life, a new narrative. I was in denial for a long time. Then I started to get sicker and sicker. My body was speaking up. I started having emotional breakdowns.
I was inspired by the letter Chanel Miller wrote to Brock Turner. The Stanford connection activated something in my brain. I thought I had an obligation to speak out because I had just gotten tenure. I thought, What is tenure for if not for something like this?
In a way, to me, “survivor of sexual violence” feels like a sexual orientation. I did meet someone, and we started to see one another. But that relationship ended because I wrote and published an essay about the incident. I did a video interview with The Chronicle of Higher Education. He said, “I can’t watch this. I want to watch Ali Wong.” And he did. I wanted to watch Ali Wong too — she’s the best. But that was a deal breaker. In his defense, I was a mess. I ended up being hospitalized again. It was after that hospitalization that things started to get better.
I come from a family that didn’t talk about trauma, didn’t talk about bearing witness. That’s not the case anymore. The two people who have been most helpful to me in working through what happened at Stanford have been my father and brother. We talk in person, over the phone; we’re able to talk about almost every dimension or aspect of what has happened, including ways in which they feel like they could have done better. My father blames himself. We’ll go back and forth about whether I should have gone to the police. Whether I should have hired an attorney. My brother said, “Looking back, I’m astonished that we didn’t think to do that.” My dad asked, “Why didn’t you ask me before to read your essay?” I wrote in it that Jay Fliegelman said, “All men have rape fantasies, including your father.” My father hates that I included that line, but I had to. It haunted me for a long time.
“He Said, ‘I Had to Fire the Secretary of the Navy Because of You’ ”
Paula Coughlin, along with others, was groped and wrestled to the floor by a group of officers at the Tailhook naval-aviation conference in Las Vegas in 1991. She feared they would rape her. Of the 83 women and seven men who were sexually assaulted, Coughlin was the only person named in the public report. Facing retaliation, she resigned from the Navy. More than 100 officers were implicated, and multiple Navy officials resigned, including the secretary of the Navy.
I spoke to my boss the morning after the incident. He said, “That’s what you get when you walk down a hallway full of drunk aviators.” [He denies this.] A couple of days later, he explained to me that there were other women who complained about being assaulted, and his friends at the Miramar Naval Air Station were going to take the ladies on a tour of the Top Gun squadron and buy ’em some drinks and try and smooth it over. I saw the direction it was going, and that’s when I presented my letter of complaint.
I’d wanted to give the investigation a fair shake. That was one of my biggest flaws: believing in the system.
I cannot overemphasize that I had no advocate. I had a good friend who was a public-affairs officer, and she was a brilliant feminist and could be my behind-the-scenes call to ask for help. But the Navy wasn’t going to give me an advocate or an attorney. And you know what, they still don’t give people that.
Fast-forward: I get stashed literally in a broom closet in D.C. to keep me out of the news. There was an investigation that was going on, but it was absolutely stymied. Out of 5,000 men who were there, including all the top leadership, including the secretary of the Navy, nobody saw anything, nobody knew anything about what I was talking about.
During this time, the Washington Post started contacting me. Then you’ve got naval investigators hitting on me, calling me in the middle of the night to meet ’em at a bar; you’ve got every kind of bullshit you can imagine. My case went all the way up to a three-star general, and he met with me and said, “I appreciate your courage in coming forward. But I also met with the man you identified as one of your perpetrators. And I spoke to his minister. He’s a good Christian, and you have the wrong guy.” And my case was dismissed.
That’s when I said, “All right, I’ll meet with the Washington Post,” because nobody’s going to know from reading the inspector-general report. When that came out on the front page, it shocked everybody. And then I did two nights, back to back, with Peter Jennings. That’s when it really blew open.
It just baffled me that anyone else in the military would want to protect the men that were really destroying the Navy-officer-aviation reputation. The secretary of Defense was Dick Cheney at the time. He said to me, “You know, I had to fire the secretary of the Navy because of you.” Wow. Not because of me — because of every fuck-up between me and the secretary of the Navy.
There was no way my life was ever going to be normal going to work when everybody around me didn’t get their promotion because of me. It was over. When I left my squadron, not one single person walked me to my car.
It was a nonevent, like I didn’t even exist. It was really one of the worst days of my life.
I was so infamous. This was when the internet was really taking off. There are still to this day websites dedicated to destroying my reputation. They know where I live; every time I move, it’s updated. My dad’s golf buddies from the Navy, they had a lot of crappy stuff to say about me. It dissolved some of my dad’s lifelong friendships and my mom’s. In my own hometown, when Tailhook was in the paper and on the news, I went to a hole-in-the-wall restaurant near my house, and a woman threw a drink on me and said, “God forgive me, but you got exactly what you deserve, you whore.”
I had an epiphany, if you want to call it that, after I participated in this long interview with the producers of the documentary Invisible War, about the prevalence of rape in the military, in 2012. I went and saw the movie and I actually thought I was going to throw up. I looked around like, Where am I going to vomit? I was part of the screening panel, and I was supposed to give a speech after. I had never seen the movie, and I had no idea really how badly the military had been treating victims and just the scope of the problem. I had gone underground, I changed my last name, I married someone and had kids. I thought I was just the historical figure and they were going to paint a picture of how the military had progressed. But the movie literally made me sick. For weeks after, I thought I was going to kill myself. Everything I had suffered and endured and marched on to make the Navy, to make the military, a better place was for nothing. That’s when I realized how fucked up I was. I’m better now, but that moment left me charred.
“When Mommy Was a Teenager, Someone Who Mommy Trusted Broke That Trust”
Jules Woodson says she was sexually assaulted by Andy Savage, her youth pastor, when she was 17. In 2018, she wrote about her experiences on a blog for survivors of church abuse. Savage eventually resigned from his position as pastor of Highpoint Church in Memphis.
I’m a single mom. My girls were very aware that a lot was going on, and it really gave me the opportunity to engage with my kids in an age-appropriate discussion of what I was going through, why Mommy was emotional. My girls were 7, 5, and 3. I sat them down and explained when Mommy was a teenager, someone who Mommy trusted broke that trust, and they touched me in places they should not have touched me and asked me to do things they should not have. Mommy was very scared, but Mommy did the right thing and told someone else. And the person Mommy told didn’t do the right thing for Mommy. And here we are, and Mommy is once again doing the right thing and standing up for herself because nobody did the right thing for Mommy back then.
“I Was Shocked at How Little Attention the Bryan Singer Story Got”
Anthony Rapp says that in 1986, when he was a 14-year-old child actor, Kevin Spacey made a sexual advance toward him. Rapp told his story to BuzzFeed in October 2017 and was the first of 15 men to come forward. Following the allegations, Spacey was dropped from ‘House of Cards’ and had a special Emmy Award rescinded.
I realized that it had affected my thinking about sex and intimacy in ways I couldn’t really understand until after all this came out, and I was reading more people’s accounts of their experiences. There were times in my sexual history as an adult when I responded to people coming on to me that I never would’ve pursued myself. In a way, it’s kind of like I was trying to square that circle of what had happened to me before. It’s some kind of weird returning to the source of trauma to try to heal.
There’s a whole level of examination that’s occurring within the gay male community about these kinds of dynamics. There has been a long history of older men and men in power abusing that power toward younger men and those who weren’t in power. But it’s been an accepted thing within the community.
I was shocked at how little attention the Bryan Singer story in The Atlantic got from within the entertainment community. And to the degree that so many people came forward and were so vocal about my story, it was the exact opposite response to the Bryan Singer story in a way that was alarming to me. I don’t know if it’s because those men were essentially powerless young men who were living lives that were very much in the shadows.
“Why Would I Tell Someone to Go Up Against a Billionaire Company Like This and Destroy Their Life?”
Christie Van says that she was propositioned and shown sexually explicit material by multiple supervisors at Ford’s Chicago Assembly plant and that when she filed a report to the company, she was removed from work assignments, called a snitch, and attacked in the plant’s parking lot. Ford did not substantiate her report, but the EEOC later found she had experienced sexual harassment, gender discrimination, and retaliation.
Out of the blue one day, a supervisor showed me a picture of his penis on his phone. That was it for me. I complained to the UAW and the superintendent. The UAW did not respond until more than a year later, and by that time I was in a shelter. I sent pictures to the representative of me and my disabled son on the floor and said, “This is what a 2015 UAW bargaining contract has gotten me and my family because I wouldn’t sleep around with supervisors on the job.”
The retaliation once I started reporting — it got real ugly, real fast. The incident when the man attacked me in the break room about the lawsuit, I reported that right away. One man grabbed me by the waist, threw me in the air, and dropped me like a piece of trash. He got his job back. One day I felt intimidated by the forklift driver, and I didn’t even report it to HR. I sent it to labor relations, and it was four, five months before they replied, charged me with falsifying documents, and suspended me.
I ended up with no job or “No work available.” They were paying me through a grievance process after I complained, but they wouldn’t send my money regularly. And so I became homeless, and then I was asking the post office to hold my checks, which sometimes wouldn’t come for months at a time. When I lived in the car and the shelter, that was the most devastating thing.
I’m seeing a psychiatrist, and I have medication to cope with my anxiety and depression. I’m wondering where would my life be if I never said anything. I would never do it again, and I would never recommend another woman do it. Why would I tell someone to go up against a billionaire company like this and destroy their life?
“In the Other Me Too Stories, the Guys Were Already Creeps”
Tanya Selvaratnam says she was in an abusive relationship with then–New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman in 2016 and 2017. She and three other women spoke about their experiences to ‘The New Yorker’ in May 2018. Three hours after the story was published, Schneiderman resigned.
I wanted to be strategic about coming forward. I knew that I would be in danger if I weren’t. I wasn’t going to post something on Facebook or go blab around town. I was going to be as stealth as possible. I had very careful off-the-record conversations with people I knew in the journalism world. I had an exploratory off-the-record conversation with the New Yorker editor-in-chief, David Remnick, to see if it would be something he would be interested in pursuing. Remnick was very aware of the import of this particular story. In the other Me Too stories, the guys were already creeps. And I was dealing with someone who was adjudicating cases involved with Me Too. I think we all felt it was going to be explosive.
I was prepared to come forward alone, but he said that if I were alone in coming forward, I would be in peril. The New Yorker wanted to do an investigation and get corroborating cases, women interviewed independently of each other. What was shocking was that the Weinstein case took, I think, a year to build. This one took a few weeks. I knew that once I shared my story with Jane Mayer, it was out of my hands; I couldn’t control how the story might come out. Participating in the story felt similar to when I found out I had cancer, where I had to submit to the process and trust the experts but also be my own advocate so I understood the process.
I was having terrible dreams around that time about people following me, being intercepted on my way to my apartment. I started carrying pepper spray.
If he hadn’t resigned in three hours, it could have been a long, painful fall. Instead, it was like a surgical strike, which felt unprecedented. But I feel that ultimately even when these perpetrators are outed, none of these guys actually suffer. Schneiderman has millions of dollars in his campaign fund. Hundreds of thousands of that went to cover his legal bills. He didn’t have to cover any of his victims’ legal bills. And he’s been offering large sums of money to various organizations from his campaign fund. He’s basically turned his campaign fund into his personal philanthropic fund. Why haven’t those funds been offered back to the original donors first, so they can redistribute their money? I almost never think about him, but that particular issue I find despicable.
“She Was So Clear That I Should Absolutely Not Come Forward, Because It Was Not Worth It”
Not everyone speaks out. In 2017, eight women accused Senator Al Franken of groping or kissing them without their consent, leading to his resignation. A former staffer who served on Democratic campaigns and works at a large progressive organization spoke on condition of anonymity about why she has not come forward. Franken told ‘New York’ in response to her account, “Two years ago, I would have sworn that I’d never done anything to make anyone feel uncomfortable, but it’s clear that I must have been doing something. As I’ve said before, I feel terrible that anyone came away from an interaction with me feeling bad.” Sirius XM recently announced that Franken will host his own show.
I was just out of college in my first job, working for U.S. senator Patty Murray. Al Franken was the guest speaker at an event in 2006. I was working the photo line, and he pulled me in. Murray said, “Let’s take the picture.” And he puts his hand on my ass. He’s telling the photographer, “Take another one. I think I blinked. Take another one.” And I’m just frozen. It’s so violating. And then he gives me a little squeeze on my buttock, and I am bright red. I don’t say anything at the time, but I felt deeply, deeply uncomfortable. It was such a confusing experience. At first, I didn’t take it all that seriously.
At the time of the incident, I think, I’m going to go to law school. All I want to do is run for office in my home state. This created a moment of reflection on like, Who the hell do you think you are? There is something that tells men that they, particularly those who have a lot of power, that they have access to my body in some way that is based on the hierarchy of the organization that we’re working in or society or whatever it is. My anger wasn’t directed toward him. It was more like, How audacious am I to think I could do anything? It rocked my confidence. As I look back on my career, I am always in deputy roles and support roles.
When I got a New York Times text alert on my phone about Franken and women, I burst into tears. I really considered adding my voice. When Murray called for him to resign, I felt very proud.
I mentor a lot of young women. And a few of them I’ve gotten so close to and have asked their advice about what I should do. I thought for sure one young woman was going to push me over the edge to tell you my name for this story. And she was so clear that I should absolutely not come forward, because it was not worth it. It would prevent me from being able to do the jobs I’d hope to be considered for in the future. I have dreams of being a Cabinet secretary for the first female president. I have dreams of running a large organization. And I believe that even in the most liberal, progressive organizations in the world, it will still be held against me.
Knowing the vetting process, I know that anything can be used as a flag to say “Not this person.” The idea that I would not get a job and would always wonder, Was it the article where I was the one who was raising my hand against a powerful man?
Earlier in my career, right after grad school, a supervisor was extremely inappropriate, commenting on how I dressed. He was bringing other men in the office around; he would show up at my desk and be like, “I told you. Isn’t she good-looking? Can you believe she also served in the military?” I went to one of the senior officials in our unit and expressed that I was feeling uncomfortable. And then the next thing I knew, someone was taking my statement. Several colleagues were upset that I had said something. He was pretty well liked in the office, and he ended up being on administrative leave for a while. After that, the work assignments I received, meetings I was allowed to attend, how people treated me, things I got invited to — I think I was put in the “troublemaker” category. I ended up leaving the job. I learned there is absolutely nothing I can do about it that will not hurt me more than it would hurt them.
I am the biggest of hypocrites. I work in a position where I am constantly trying to get people to tell their stories so we can make systemic change. But I’ve worked so hard to amass this small amount of power that I’m so terrified of that being taken away.
“Other Democrats I’ve Worked With Before Wouldn’t Look at Me”
Olivia Garrett says Alaska representative Dean Westlake groped her and made sexual comments to her while she was a legislative aide. Garrett reported the harassment to the Alaska legislature but does not believe any action was taken. She left her job and, motivated by the legislature’s insufficient response, spoke publicly to the press in December 2017. Later that month, Westlake was forced to resign.
When I finally did tell the legislator I was working for about what was happening, I said I just want the old man to leave me the fuck alone. What my boss didn’t tell me was that there was an HR department with the legislature. There was somebody I could talk to there who wasn’t acting in the interest of just keeping the caucus together.
It’s pretty much impossible for me to find political work here. About six to eight months after this had all died down, a candidate running for office in Fairbanks reached out. It was his first time running, and I think he hired me because he didn’t fully understand how much of a big deal that would be and how much institutional support that was going to cost him. I went to work for him for a few months, and there were a lot of Democrats who were very, very angry about it. The interior Democrats chair cornered me in front of my boss and told me not to cause any problems. Other Democrats I’ve worked with before wouldn’t look at me, wouldn’t talk to me. Candidates will not pick me out to work on their campaigns. People stop including you in things or stop asking you for strategic advice. It’s worth it, don’t get me wrong. But isolation is a really powerful tool.
“They Said, ‘Phil Must Be Really Angry He Has Aids, and He’s Taking It Out on Father Holley’”
As a boy, Phil Saviano was repeatedly sexually assaulted by Father David Holley. He spoke about his abuse in a 1992 Boston ‘Globe’ story and again in the 2002 series on which the movie ‘Spotlight ’ was based. He sued the Catholic Diocese of Worcester. In 1993, Holley was sentenced to 275 years in prison.
It never occurred to me that 10, 15, 20 years later, he would still be out doing parish work, assaulting other children. And it never ever occurred to me until I was 40 that the emotional problems I was having were related to my childhood abuse by this priest. I was sitting at my desk, looking at that morning’s Boston Globe, and there in the metro section was this little story about a priest out in New Mexico whom two men out there were accusing of assaulting them in the 1970s. And after the first paragraph, there was the name of my abuser.
So I called the reporter at the Globe who had done the story. I was very worried because a gay man with AIDS in those days was something of a pariah. I thought, Maybe I’m going to get thrown out of my apartment. Plus, there was the whole embarrassment of talking publicly about being molested by a priest.
I told my brothers. Then I went in and met with the Globe reporter and told as much as I could remember. I didn’t want the reporter to know I had AIDS. So I said, “Please don’t use my name in the first story. Let’s just get the story out there and see if anybody else comes forward.” And wouldn’t you know, like the next week, there were two other Holley victims still living in Worcester who came forward. And then men who were abused by other priests in the Worcester diocese started coming forward. Safety in numbers — it’s an old story, and in this issue it really is true.
I didn’t tell my father until the day before the story came out. The previous December, I’d had to tell him I had AIDS, and that was really difficult for him to hear. When I told him about Father Holley, he was at first sympathetic; he said just try not to think about it, put it behind you, get on with your life. I said, “Actually, Dad, I told my story to the Boston Globe.” And then he just completely changed. He was no longer supportive, he was really angry with me — because I was bringing a scandal to my hometown. Instead of thinking about myself, I should be thinking about him, and my poor aunt who had to live in that town and deal with the scandal and what it might say about the family. I finally said, “You know what, Dad? When I was a kid, I didn’t come to you, because I kept thinking somehow I was going to get blamed for this.”
I know several other people in my town who were abused by Father Holley. I’m the only one who’s ever gone public. At one point, when I was pursuing my lawsuit against the Catholic Church, one of these victims ran into my older brother at the town barroom and told my brother a little bit about his own abuse. But he said we guys — I guess other people he was talking to in my hometown — couldn’t understand why I was making such a big deal out of this. And they kind of felt bad for Father Holley. He said, “The only thing we could figure out is, Phil must be really angry he has AIDS, and he’s taking it out on Father Holley.”
My lawyer later called him up, and the guy admitted to my lawyer that he’d been assaulted. He didn’t describe it as an assault, but he’d had some sort of sexual activity with a priest. And my lawyer said, “Can we take your deposition?” “Oh no, hell no, I’m not going to do that,” he said. “I’m not going to take sides with some fag who’s dying of AIDS.” And that’s a direct quote.
I was the first person to be able to settle a lawsuit without signing away my right to speak about it. I was floored that my lawyer originally thought I would sign something like that. I said, “There’s no way. What are you, nuts?”
My father finally came around, about a month into the Globe’s reporting — they’d started again in early January 2002. Once they started, they were relentless. And I got a note from my father in the mail. He sent me a copy of the church bulletin from my hometown. There was a message in the bulletin saying if anybody had been sexually assaulted as children, please come forward and come to the bishop and let us know. So I called him up and I said, “Geez, thanks, I’m surprised you sent this to me, but I’m glad you did.” And he said, “Well, I’ve been reading all this stuff in the Globe, and I realize now that you’ve been right all along.” He wouldn’t believe his own son, but he believed the Boston Globe.
“I Wrote in the Letter That I Would Be Willing to Testify on Anita Hill’s Behalf”
Sukari Hardnett worked under Clarence Thomas at the EEOC in the mid-1980s, where she says she witnessed Thomas sexually harassing many of the young black women who worked for him. After Anita Hill testified in Thomas’s Supreme Court–nomination hearings, Hardnett wrote a statement and offered to corroborate Hill’s testimony. Hardnett was never called to testify. Thomas was confirmed.
Everything Anita Hill said was true. I mean really true to the nth degree. I didn’t know her, but I thought it was necessary for somebody to come forward and corroborate her story. The women who were corroborating Clarence’s story, one was his secretary. The other woman was working for Clarence, and her mother was high up in the black Republican community. I knew the composition of that group, and they all benefited from their relationship with him. And I just realized Hill was being persecuted. So at that point, I said, Well, regardless of what the consequences are, somebody’s got to come to her aid. I did not know about some of the other women who made statements but were never interviewed, were never consulted, in reference to Clarence and his character.
I went to the dean of my old law school, Edgar Cahn. We drafted a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee. It wasn’t something that was just thrown together. It was something that was very carefully thought out: I didn’t really want to emphasize anything I’d personally experienced with Clarence that would hint at sexual harassment. I think his behavior with females who worked for him was really pretty pathetic and really predatory in a lot of ways, but I didn’t want to deal with that. I wanted to strictly stick with what was happening to Anita Hill and to back and support her.
Edgar got in touch with one of his friends, Ralph Nader, to get it to the Senate Judiciary Committee, because they don’t ordinarily accept letters from the public. I wrote in the letter that I would be willing to testify on Anita Hill’s behalf, but I was never called.
Believe me, I was not looking forward to testifying. It was just something I felt obligated to do. I remember one day as a young girl on a bus coming from school. My parents had moved to a neighborhood in New Orleans that was primarily white. Most of the black people on the bus would get off at Elysian Fields and Broad. On this one particular day, a little girl much younger than I was walked to the back to get off, and these little white boys from a Catholic school called Resurrection, they started singing “Glory, glory segregation / They’re putting all the n—— where the white men ought to be.” The bus driver was white, and he didn’t say anything. She must have been 7 or 8 years old, and one of the boys took a big book, like a big biology book, and slammed that book into that little girl’s face. She hopped off the bus, and I didn’t see what happened after that. I don’t know if she was bleeding. It stuck with me that I saw it happening. That sort of put the bug in me that you just can’t stand by and see people take advantage of other people and not do anything about it, and sometimes even at your own risk.
I realized immediately that I would be targeted as a result of having come forward — Clarence’s secretary made a statement that I was angry because I didn’t pass the bar exam. I didn’t even take the bar exam when I was in Clarence’s office. So the smear campaign started early on. I remember one job interview with the Treasury union: The man who interviewed me said, “The reason why we can’t hire you is because we have cases that go before the Supreme Court.” Once, a federal judge called me and opposing counsel into chambers. I get into chambers, and there’s a picture of him and Clarence Thomas chumming around together that I felt was put there to let me know what his relationship was with Clarence and clearly how my case would be viewed. In other circumstances, once they Googled my name, it was apparent that I would not even be considered for employment. I’ve been in private practice since I realized I couldn’t get a job working at any other place.
I watched the entire Kavanaugh proceeding. It was like living through the whole Anita Hill situation all over again. Some of the very same players that were in the Anita Hill hearings were the same people who were in the Kavanaugh hearings. I looked at those hearings with great despair. I just thought, The struggle continues.
E. Jean Carroll
“I Did Put Bullets in My Gun”
In her book ‘What Do We Need Men For?’, excerpted in this magazine, E. Jean Carroll wrote that in the mid-1990s, Donald Trump attacked and penetrated her in the dressing room of Bergdorf Goodman in Manhattan. Trump dismissed the allegation as a political attack by the Democratic Party.
I’m interested in why so many interviewers want to make me feel bad. Is it because they want to see a woman on television crying because of what a man did to her? Why can’t they just have a woman sitting there matter-of-factly telling her story without bursting into tears or without being sad, sad, sad? I have a theory that they just don’t want to see a woman telling her story in a non-feminine way.
People didn’t like a woman controlling her own story. They were frantic that I had written a book, because apparently in this country, a woman is not allowed to earn any money, making a living. It looks like she’s going to make money on it. That drove people crazy.
About five days later, I did go on Twitter, and My. Gosh. But I could deal with it. I didn’t block anybody, I just let ’em do it. I wanted to see what they thought. I read for about two hours. I deleted the emails, which was stupid. I should have kept them. But my immediate reaction was just to delete. When you see an email like this, it’s really disconcerting. I did put bullets in my gun. And my neighbors keep watch. My neighbor will call and say, “There’s a car up on the road.”
Read an Excerpt From Carroll’s What Do We Need Men For?
“I Don’t Feel Safer at Work”
Tanya Harrell was sexually harassed by two McDonald’s co-workers in 2017. One of the workers quit. Harrell later transferred to another McDonald’s. She filed a complaint with the EEOC in 2018 and went public as part of the Fight for 15’s campaign against sexual harassment.
I was afraid to report it to my managers, and I got more afraid when they didn’t take it seriously. One said that I wanted it. Another one didn’t say anything. And one said that I was giving off sex appeal. Everything they told me at the time, they basically put it all on me, like it was my fault.
I switched jobs because I didn’t feel comfortable going to work at that store anymore. It took me a while to bounce back. I lost my dignity, my pride, my self-respect. The person who harassed me multiple times didn’t get fired, but he quit. McDonald’s hired him back after I filed my claim.
I don’t feel safer at work after coming forward. I have a lot of frustrations, and I have to control my emotions. I lost half my friends. People didn’t know how to react. It was a joke to them at first.
“He Said, ‘Was That When You Stopped Being Ambitious?’ ”
Former ‘Charlie Rose’ show intern and associate producer Reah Bravo described in the Washington ‘Post’ how Rose had repeatedly groped her and exposed himself to her in 2007. At least 35 women would accuse Rose of assault and harassment. Rose apologized but added that he did “not believe that all of these allegations are accurate. I always felt that I was pursuing shared feelings, even though I now realize I was mistaken.” Rose’s PBS show was canceled, and CBS News fired him.
My whole Me Too experience has been one of excruciating and unflattering self-awareness. It doesn’t take away from his abuse of power. But just the extent to which — and not just with Charlie; I can look back on my dating life and other people, other men I’ve worked for or consulted — you can just feel like a cog in these broader systems that create a really hostile world for women. I think that’s what I grappled with. I kept going to work. I kept traveling with him. I kept doing these things. What was my role in this?
I didn’t think of myself as a sympathetic victim, and that was one of the reasons it was very important for me that the reporter use anything that could be used against me from Charlie. I think I sent her one of the more sycophantic emails I had sent him. What I’ve found is that precisely those things that I thought would discredit me most were those things that those who reached out to me after were most thankful about. Women who worked for Rose and other people were like, “Thank you for that email line. I was too ashamed.”
My parents called me to say how proud they were. And we were on Skype, and my dad has this ability to not think before he speaks. He said, “Was that when you stopped being ambitious?” I could see his face and it was like, Oh shit, like that was a horrible way to phrase it.
I think the answer is complex. After that, I took a job as a speechwriter that took me far away. A mundane corporate job. I can’t say definitively that Charlie Rose cost me my ambition. But I had never thought chronologically about what happened to me after the show. It’s hard for me to know that that’s how my father views it.
“Roger Told Me, ‘This Is How the World Works’ ”
Kellie Boyle was a 29-year-old Republican operative when, in 1990, Roger Ailes told her, “You know if you want to play with the big boys, you have to lay with the big boys.” When she refused, she says, she was professionally blackballed. In 2016, Gretchen Carlson sued Ailes, by then the chairman of Fox News, for sexual harassment. As dozens of women came forward with stories of groping, quid pro quos, and even sexual slavery, Ailes left Fox, reportedly with a $40 million golden parachute; he died in 2017.
I had told people about my experience for 25 years. There are tens of people who had heard it from the day it happened. The second I heard about Gretchen Carlson’s case, I found her attorney. I left a message saying I’m happy to provide my testimony as a character witness. I saw it as a way to help Gretchen Carlson because I knew she was going to be attacked and discredited. And she was. I had several reporters tell me that they didn’t believe her until they saw my report. Male reporters in particular were very quick to discredit Gretchen or to say, “Well, she’s in a contract dispute. She works for Fox, so what do you expect?”
Back when this happened and Roger gave me this long list of women who played the game, I spent many years being very angry at them, the women who did it. Here were these women accepting accolades for breaking glass ceilings, but all they did was comply with men’s games and make it harder for the rest of us. Because Roger told me, “This is how the world works,” and he made it work that way, I felt that he was right. Is this what I worked so hard for that I have to make my way on my back? But after I started reading other women’s stories, I had more compassion for them. They didn’t have any choice.
I just stepped off for a couple of years. We decided to have kids then. I remember being so happy I had boys. I didn’t have any answers for girls. I didn’t have to tell them, “Don’t be particularly ambitious, because this is what it’s going to come down to.”
I think I had two people on Twitter say kind of nasty things, but nothing else. I got far more attacks earlier than that just for being a Republican. I went to see the documentary that Alexis Bloom did on Roger Ailes at this event in Annapolis, and it happened to be the eve of the Kavanaugh hearings. People in the audience said, “I bet you have some thoughts about that. I bet you’re happy he’s going to go down.” And that’s actually not how I felt at all. I feel very strongly about justice and the legal process, and I think it was really sad that [Christine Blasey Ford] had no kind of witnesses. She didn’t tell anybody for 30 years, so there was no one who could validate anything she said. That’s not the way it works. Going forward, women have to know, Tell someone. Tell anybody. Do something to make sure you have some kind of validation. It’s very sad for those who didn’t. I know lots of good men. I would hate to have their lives ruined by someone who had no evidence.
“No One Ever Wins”
Barbara Bowman says that in the late 1980s, when she was a teenage aspiring actress in New York, Bill Cosby drugged and raped her repeatedly. Throughout the early aughts, she told journalists about her experiences with Cosby and wrote about her abuse in the Washington ‘Post.’ In 2018, Cosby was sentenced to three-to-ten years in jail for the 2004 drugging and assault of another woman, Andrea Constand. In total, 60 women have come forward to accuse Cosby of sexual misconduct. Cosby filed a defamation countersuit (one that he later dropped) against Bowman and six other women in response to their claims.
No one ever wins in a situation like this. Everyone loses something. And I felt like — okay, the scales of justice are never even, even though he was found guilty and went to jail. I lost what was taken from me, and he lost what he felt was an impenetrable bubble of — well, I don’t know what he’s thinking, I have no clue. I’m not bitter, but I would never go through it again, and I would never wish it on anyone else. It happened the way it was meant to, I guess. What’s justice? Define it. Who’s to say what’s justified? Was it enough, was it not enough? I don’t know.
I don’t know if coming forward has really had any impact at all, aside from how the entire scenario has impacted my life and family and reputation and how my children experienced school as teenagers. I’m labeled, and everybody knows it.
“I do war-crimes trials. But this ranks as one of the most stressful things I’ve been through in my entire life.”
Terry Karl says she was repeatedly harassed, forcibly kissed, and threatened by Harvard professor Jorge Domínguez when she was an assistant professor in the Department of Government in the early 1980s. She reported the abuse to Harvard, and the university found Domínguez guilty of serious misconduct. He was removed from administrative responsibilities for three years but allowed to remain at the school. Karl left.
I saw him leaning over a graduate student. I knew he was harassing her. And that’s when I decided to file. I had a choice to make: Either I sued Harvard, spent the next ten years doing it, and knew I would never get an academic job, or I had to define victory as warning people and trying to become a professor so I could show them that you could survive somehow. That was my choice. I decided real victory meant you didn’t let people take away from you what you had worked so hard for.
When I first filed a written complaint, I didn’t know the term sexual harassment. I didn’t even know how to name what was going on. I had no idea it was illegal. People always said, “At least you weren’t raped.” It was unimportant, you were unimportant.
I do war-crimes trials. But this ranks as one of the most stressful things I’ve been through in my entire life. My health collapsed completely. I wasn’t sleeping, I I weighed 90 pounds. He knew I was disabled, and that made me very vulnerable. I have a reconstructed spine, and I had to have back surgery again. My main physician, who knew about the harassment, told me I should leave Harvard. He told me that Harvard was making me sicker.
I lost the Tinker Fellowship I’d won, because I was too sick and stressed to accept it. I turned down a fellowship at the Council on Foreign Relations. I resigned from the Inter-American Dialogue, where I would have gotten to consult on policy, because I didn’t want to sit across the table from a guy who’d threatened to rape me. I told them it was him or me, and they chose him.
I left Harvard and went to Berkeley first, and then to Stanford, where I stayed. I had to move around quite a bit. I was probably having what they would now call PTSD. What you learn is that it restricts your access to advancement. It’s not just moving and losing your job and losing all those years at the beginning of your career.
What is stunning to me is that Harvard kept promoting him and kept giving him more gatekeeper roles. But I didn’t realize that memories are not long, especially when universities are trying to rebuild somebody’s reputation, which is what Harvard did. I knew there were dictators. I knew all about edicts and political power, but it never occurred to me that the university could ever behave that way.
The second time I came forward was because a reporter from The Chronicle of Higher Education called me in 2018 and said he thought I was the first person who had filed a report in academia and actually kept her career. And he asked if I would write a story about how I did that. While I was trying to figure out what I was going to say, two women called me to say they had been harassed by the same man. I called the Chronicle back and said, “I think you have a different story to write than what you think you wanted to do.” And 18 women came forward.
I was pretty stoic during most of this, but I can tell you that after I talked to the other women Domínguez had harassed, I put my head down and cried. I felt I had done so much to protect other women and it didn’t work. The story had been everywhere. I thought nobody would ever forget.
“‘This is kind of revenge for what happened in college, isn’t it?’”
Emily Murphy says Alex Kozinski, then chief judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, made a sexualized comment to her when she was clerking for another Ninth Circuit judge in 2012. Murphy spoke publicly about her experiences to the Washington ‘Post’ in December 2017. At least 14 other women came forward to say they’d been harassed by Kozinski. He retired ten days later, following the announcement of a formal inquiry.
I was sexually assaulted in my second week of college, at Harvard, by someone I knew and trusted. When I tried to pursue redress through what I thought we were supposed to do, that process itself was as horrific as the assault. And something in me kind of snapped. It was the beginning of the destruction of my faith in institutions.
Coming forward about Kozinski started with a private Facebook group of women who are lawyers and mothers. Right after the Weinstein stuff broke, someone posted a thread: “Let’s all vent here and post all the times we’ve experienced sexual harassment in our jobs.” And I was like, “Oh yeah, the time a federal judge told me to work out naked in the gym of the courthouse, that was terrible.” And a friend of mine who had clerked at the same time was like, “I remember that. I know someone at the Washington Post, what do you think?”
I spent the next week, between the time I agreed to put it on the record and the time the story dropped, to try to find counsel. And I wanted to find someone to help protect me. I talked to some attorneys in San Francisco, who were like, I can’t go against Kozinski. I was afraid he might come after me in some way. Eventually, I was connected to my attorney, Mary McNamara, who helped guide me through.
One of the stories that motivated me to go on the record about Kozinski, was how he treated male clerks. That was very hard to stomach. They were friends of mine. And he was abusive to them, in my opinion. And there was a sense of catharsis and vengeance for them.
I will tell you that my husband, whom I have been with since late college, said to me, “This is kind of revenge for what happened in college, isn’t it?” Like fighting the powerful, very elite institution by not playing its game. I did that at Harvard; I did their process. I think he was right. I wanted catharsis. I wanted to take back control.
“After my rabbi was arrested, I struggled with my faith”
Lauren Landau was spied on by Rabbi Barry Freundel while she prepared to use the mikvah at her synagogue in Washington, D.C. She found out in 2014, after authorities pressed charges. Freundel is still in prison for voyeurism.
There wasn’t much information when the story first broke. You know, “Rabbi Arrested for Voyeurism.” I was thinking he’d walked past someone’s window and looked in, and they took it the wrong way. And then I heard there were cameras in the mikvah prep room. I’m thinking, Okay, maybe there’s a security camera outside the mikvah. Then once the details began to really emerge, it all clicked into place. I couldn’t be sure immediately that I had been one of his victims. I emailed the authorities a photo of myself. They confirmed that yes, there was video of me.
The synagogue was very supportive. You just had a lot of people who were also supportive of the rabbi. You had people who felt, well, this is awful and he should absolutely be penalized and I feel so awful for these poor women, but is it really fair for him to go to prison? Those were more where the disagreements were.
I was very anxious about outing myself publicly. The piece I wrote for The Forward, about accepting his apology to me, ran about a full year after his arrest. I thought it’d be therapeutic to share my experience and what I was thinking and what I was feeling. Accepting his apology was absolutely something I did for myself.
After my rabbi was arrested, I struggled with my faith. I wasn’t done with my conversion. I wound up finding a lot of comfort in a Modern Orthodox synagogue in D.C. called Ohev Sholom. It was Orthodox, but they also had a woman in leadership, Maharat Ruth Balinsky Friedman. After what I went through, the idea of being able to study under a woman and go to a female spiritual adviser with my questions was just so much more comfortable than going to a man.
I wound up converting through a Conservative rabbi. I always had this obsession with it being this gold-star conversion, that it had to be Orthodox. But after what happened I think I cared a little bit less what the Orthodox community thought of me.
“You’re Not Truly Recognized Until You’re Dead”
Sandra Bundy was propositioned for sex by multiple male supervisors while working as an employment specialist for the Washington, D.C., Department of Corrections, where she helped formerly incarcerated people secure jobs. After a formal complaint to the department went nowhere, Bundy filed suit in 1977. During the years when her case was being heard and appealed, she was moved from her office job and assigned to work as a guard in a correctional facility, a job for which she had no training. Bundy’s eventual victory was the first to establish that a sexual-harassment claim can be brought under the Civil Rights Act even if the complainant didn’t lose a job as a result of the harassment.
The ’70s were a period of time in D.C. where these opportunities were unheard of for African-Americans. And I was the only woman ever hired for that position. I think this is the reason why men felt they were powerful enough to subject me to these hostilities. There were women who I worked with who gave in [and had sex with supervisors]. They were promised promotions and a lot of things. Once they gave in, these men got rid of the women.
When I went to trial, I had five or six women I thought would be there to support me. Not one showed up. They had to subpoena one woman who did not want to testify. I went to my minister, and he offered no help. I was just desolate. I didn’t have friends I could talk to about the case, I couldn’t talk to my mother, my sister. They were against me and said that I brought it on myself.
I was demoted when I took this case on. I was put in uniform and sent to work in the security environment as punishment. I had to work in a tower over the perimeter of buildings to prevent inmates from escaping, up through midnight. I couldn’t have a radio, anything that would obstruct me from observing the perimeters. One day, three men tried to escape, and I had to use every firearm in that tower.
On three occasions, my fellow officers were found dead. That’s something I was never trained for. It was a constant barrage of emotional and mental punishment. They put me in these positions so I would quit. That’s what they wanted me to do. I wanted to give up, and I talked to my attorneys about not being able to go through with it. And they said, “You’ll lose the case.” All for naught.
I thought about jumping out an 11th-story window. But who was going to take care of my children? Their father had abandoned them. I couldn’t abandon them. I didn’t want that on my conscience.
After we won the appeal, I didn’t feel too vindicated. I was glad it was over, because I was tired. But it wasn’t over. They retaliated against me even after I won the case. They reassigned me, not back to the duties I’d had previously, but to another position.
A lot of women, they’re suing for money, for personal and emotional damage. I got nothing. But I saved my dignity and my pride. I’m not looking forward to being truly vindicated until I’m dead. That’s how things work. You’re not truly recognized until you’re dead.
Read More: Rebecca Traister on the Toll of Me Too
*A version of this article appears in the September 30, 2019, issue of New York Magazine. Subscribe Now!