Fabiola Santiago

Not all victims speak up after a sex assault. Now it’s time for me to tell my truth.

Women of all ages are being forced by the national conversation on sexual harassment to confront ghosts we thought we had buried, says Fabiola Santiago, pictured here at almost 14.
Women of all ages are being forced by the national conversation on sexual harassment to confront ghosts we thought we had buried, says Fabiola Santiago, pictured here at almost 14.

I passed on Harvey Weinstein.

I passed on the Washington and Tallahassee sex scandals, on Charlie Rose and Matt Lauer, and on every other celebrity in between whose predatory behavior has been exposed by brave women.

I passed on writing about U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore, although I’m about to correct that here. It is our place to judge him — and the Alabama voters who support him.

It’s not that the #MeToo movement and the #MeAt14 awareness campaign were alien to me, a woman who has not only her story to tell but the experience of raising three daughters. Far from detachment, what I felt as I read the deluge of stories by women coming out about sexual abuse and harassment all around the country were the floodgates of memory cracking open. Episodes I had buried long ago, from childhood to adult life, haunted me everyday as I sat there with my morning coffee flipping the pages of the newspaper, or less aware, toiling in my garden, where magical thinking happens.

You see, the wounds and the demons of survival made me a writer.

This topic is personal, not political, no matter how assiduously those who want to silence women maneuver to shift the conversation to the partisan extremes.

This topic remains personal despite the fact the president has made it clear that he prefers a sexual predator in Congress rather than a Democrat. It’s natural behavior for Donald Trump — an offender himself who boasted about assaulting women without a shred of shame — to think that way. He was elected with the help of other male and female voters, enablers all, who looked past his résumé of flagrant criminal behavior.

But I’m here now, joining the conversation, for one reason: In the aftermath of firings, I’m seeing almost daily men and some women, too, voicing anxiety as if there were new rules of behavior to learn, as if sexual harassment and assault were new concepts to the human race.

“Are compliments (piropos was the word he used in Spanish) now not allowed?” asked on Facebook a man who worked in human resources for two media companies.

Another journalist I respect chimed in this morning: “The angst is real.”

I hear you, but your angst isn’t more important than women’s right to respect. This moment of revelation is far from over. For angst, I suggest therapy. For doubts about what’s proper behavior, a sexual harassment workshop.

Actress Alyssa Milano got an idea from a friend of a friend on Facebook to elevate the Harvey Weinstein conversation. She took the idea to Twitter, posting: "If you've been sexually harassed or assaulted write 'me too' as a reply to this tweet." T

These men and women with angst and doubts want to know from victims: What took you so long to speak up?

I’ll tell you: It’s precisely the reaction of all of you who, in subtle and even caring ways, demonstrate your disapproval to the outing of the personal. Add to that the spectators, the trolls, the creeps, the influencers trying to move the conversation this way and that, raising the pitch too high for the comfort of ordinary people suffering in the dark.

As we speak, women in abusive relationships are being told by their abusers: Don’t you dare think that because all these “feminists” are speaking up anything is going to change for you.

As we speak, girls are at risk of living the ultimate nightmare of sexual abuse and rape. For them, the hashtag needs to evolve and become a shield: #WeWillTell.

As we speak, women of all ages like me are being forced by the national conversation to confront ghosts we had buried.

Your angst is nothing compared to what we’ve suffered.

When I was young, a brave little girl in our circle of friends spoke up: An older cousin was molesting her. Her mother insisted on justice. He was prosecuted, convicted and jailed. I admired them. But, although I would remain vigilant all my life, I could hardly work up that kind of courage myself.

“If anyone so much as touches my daughter, I’ll kill them,” my father would threaten.

It’s something all of us parents have said at one time or another to express that we’d do anything to protect our families. But I paid a high price for his bravado. I didn’t want my father to kill anyone — or for him to go to prison. So I became the protector of misbehaving adults instead of the child protected. How could I ever say how uncomfortable one of his boorish friends made me feel? The one who greeted me with a caress of the face that came too close to other body parts at a time I was changing, becoming a young woman.

How could I possibly tell my dad about the man who exposed himself to me even as his daughters and I played a game of jacks on the living room floor? Their backs were turned to him, but I had a view of him on the sofa.

And so much more — before and after 14.

Secrecy enables predators.

Powerful men continue to be accused of sexual harassment and assaults, and have been responding by accepting, hedging or dodging the allegations.

People write all the time telling me how brave I am to call out politicians, to point the finger at hypocrisy and double standards in a town best known for political timidity and acquiescence.

I’m not brave at all. I write when what remains unsaid and unpublished becomes unbearable.

I write through the fear, to speak up for all the times in my life I was told, from the playroom to the boardroom, to keep my mouth shut. And I did too many times, believe me, to keep the peace.

I believe the #MeToo women, every last one of them, and especially, the Roy Moore accusers, because I’ve had plenty of time to muster the courage to revisit ages 13, 14, 15, and every year thereafter.

I belong to the club.

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