While the crimes may be different, I watched Dr. Christine Blasey Ford testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday, like many women, in awe, feeling an overwhelming range of emotions and connection. Much like Dr. Ford, I've put my career, personal life and safety in jeopardy to perform what I feel is my civic duty. I've had strangers speculate about every aspect of my character, appearance, credibility and intentions. Like many victims seeking justice, we are frequently the ones first put on trial. My decision to go public as a victim several years ago was in no way an easy one. My beloved father's death meant in equal parts that I was without a support system but that I was free to expose all that had transpired without breaking his heart. I felt and still feel that it was the only option I had to save my life and, more important, the lives of others.
I was called the "Erin Brockovich of stalking" by Vice, which is just about the highest compliment for someone struggling with the victim narrative who wants to also be seen as an advocate. As a high-profile crime victim who shares a stalker with Ivanka Trump, Kim Kardashian and others, I've used the platform my story has afforded me to speak up for the 7.5 million other victims of what is essentially a silent epidemic. I've told the painful and terrifying story that has destroyed my life for the better part of a decade to millions of viewers on shows like 48 Hours. I've made nice Middle America housewives audibly gasp when I told my story to the live studio audience on Dr. Oz in an attempt to educate and propose legislative reform. I've had to relive my trauma so many times that I've learned to normalize eight years of constant threats of rape and death. As painful as the lack of assistance from law enforcement has been, the scrutiny I received when going public has been exponentially more demoralizing.
When I first went to LAPD with stacks of rape and death threats, the detective told me to dye my hair, get less attention and go off the internet. I've been dyeing my hair neon red since high school as a way to deflect all the attention my naturally big breasts always got me. Pretty much any woman can tell you all the ways they have had to alter their life out of fear for their safety since before they were of age. When I pointed out to the detectives that Ivanka — whom my stalker was convicted of following and harassing multiple times — was conventional-looking, this did little to stop them from blaming my appearance. To the police, my resemblance to Jessica Rabbit made it completely acceptable to treat me not as a human or a victim but simply a cartoon character. Sadly, this validated the fears that kept me from going to law enforcement to report my first assault as a teen. Just had to throw that out there for anyone posing the question, "Why is she only coming forward now?” Women don't come forward because we know we might be doubted, even blamed for what happened to us.
Like many women working in entertainment, I was unable to share my stories of workplace harassment as part of #MeToo because I've been silenced with a nondisclosure agreement. I also debated coming forward with my sexual assault but already felt so exhausted and drained that I thought it was best to focus on what I was already working on as an advocate for stalking victims, so I just listened and sought to be supportive to others.
When Ford's story came out and Donald Trump questioned why she didn't report it when it happened, another round of women came forward, explaining the many reasons #WhyIDidntReport on social media. I didn't participate in this either, but for different reasons. I couldn't even isolate which assault or incident to address. My experiences, like many women, ranged from remembering the first time a man exposed himself to me as I innocently walked to elementary school to nonconsensual gropes to the event I tried to shrug off for years as a really unpleasant experience but now have the understanding and language to call exactly what it is. It took me almost 17 years, an incredible, supportive fiancé and frankly, the equally polarizing but for me eye-opening Aziz Ansari Babe article to admit to myself and now you, hopefully gentle reader, that I was raped.
There are countless reasons why people don't report, and often, as in the cases of Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby and Louis C.K., it has to do with power. In my case, I was a fan of the man who was, at the time, twice my age and knew full well what he was doing. I was completely sober and am very certain I told him at least a dozen times I did not want to have sex, but he was wildly drunk and would not accept that answer. I remember being terrified and actually saying to myself, "Let him just do it so that he doesn't kill you," which in my young mind meant freeze and don't fight back.
I just couldn't admit to myself it was rape; I compartmentalized it and packed it away in the part of my brain where I filed all the gross and horrible things men had done. If it happened today, I would claw his eyes out, but this was almost half a lifetime ago. I never came forward because at the time I didn't have the capacity to see through the guilt and shame. By the time I had the clarity, I was well past the statute of limitations. I ran into him at a convention once. He winked at me and said he "had fun and we should do it again." Knowing what I know now, even if I had it in me to report, I may have been scared off by facts like conviction rates, or concern that my rape kit may just be left sitting untested with DNA and other evidence degrading somewhere anyway. Not to mention fear of retaliation. Years later I am very much a different person. As a fully formed adult, I now have the strength and ability to advocate not only for myself but for others.
After learning that the useless and archaic stalking laws did little to protect me and others, I made an appearance on Crime Watch Daily, working through my vulnerability to confidently articulate both my story and my frustration. I went on the show to bring attention to my stalker case and it worked. As soon as I got on TV, I got bumped up to the elite Threat Management Unit of the LAPD, which is typically reserved for celebrities. Nothing about the nature of my crime had changed but being public meant that, if I got killed, people would now look bad.
For a brief moment I felt hopeful and that I had done something to help others and get some power back. That was, until the show aired and I was ripped apart by strangers. Some claimed I was making it all up for attention. Many criticized everything about my appearance, including my choice to wear red lipstick, which is apparently appalling for a victim. One woman even advised me over Twitter to "dress how you want to be addressed." Many speculated this was some grandiose attempt to appear on television, not understanding this is the last thing I had ever hoped to be known for. To this day, when you Google me, it's not my lifetime of accomplishments over various careers that pops up but the news stories connecting Ivanka Trump and me to this very sick, very dangerous man. Going public as an appeal for help earned me all new death and rape threats and a slew of strange men writing me all new creepy messages. Others offered to "protect me" or let me stay with them, aka what I call "saving me with their dick."
It kills me when people suggest victims come forward because they're seeking money or fame. Can you name a single Cosby victim who wasn't already famous before coming forward? I have never been paid to appear on any of the numerous programs I have done because that would be unethical. I'm still living in the same crappy studio apartment I've been in this entire time. I'm not Scrooge McDuck–ing into a pool of gold coins as deep as my trauma or wiping my tears with cash, as I've been accused of doing. My career has largely been derailed and I didn't date for years. Why is it that so many question the victims when statistically as little as 2% of reported crimes are false? Why do we treat victims and specifically women, this way?
The Kavanaugh hearings, Ford’s testimony and the Senate’s handling of it all has not only divided our country politically, it’s highlighted a lack of understanding between victims and survivors and those (mostly men) who have done bad things in their past for which they refuse to accept responsibility, as well as people who simply don’t get it. I understand that many men, or those fortunate enough to not share these experiences, may not know what to think or how to act. Now is not the time to #notallmen us. If you genuinely care about women and our well-being, now is the time to listen. Once you've taken in our thoughts and feelings, then you can start working on being an ally. We need more men like Detroit Lions linebacker DeAndre Levy, who raised $30,000 to test untested rape kits. If you hear of a man behaving inappropriately, it is no longer acceptable to let it slide. You can help out by speaking up. Also, let's just make it a rule and quit it with the unsolicited dick pics. It's really not that complicated.
Yes, women are depressed and enraged right now, but what's happening with the government is only part of it. We need to look at the cumulative effects of the messages we are being sent and the shaming, judgments and entitlements of modern culture. I'll end this with these points to ponder:
Our president is a self-proclaimed pussy grabber with multiple rape accusations including from his ex-wife, who was later silenced.
Bill Cosby, one of the most iconic TV fathers to a generation raised largely without a father, is a prolific rapist spanning many decades.
We have to relive our own traumas daily and be second-guessed and scrutinized on how we may have handled it for our own safety and survival.
We have to navigate the complexities of harassment both on the street and in our own homes.
We are often exhausted before our day has even begun. The reality and fear of doxxing, revenge porn, general harassment, and creeps forever sliding in our DMs is like the worst full-time unpaid job none of us signed up for.
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Something as simple as getting dressed can be a great cause of anxiety as it could be used against us later.
Boundaries and consent are cool. We are all individuals and deserve to be treated as such. Just because one partner liked a specific, possibly aggressive act, it's only decent and respectful to discuss before engaging with new partners.
We all deserve better.
Lenora Claire is a TV producer, media personality and victims rights advocate.