April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM). And now you understand my title ‘typo’.
When we live in a world where we don’t feel obligated to write about these topics, I will finally be able to rest easy. Until then, it is a worthy cross to bear.
Today I made a connection on LinkedIn. I’ve been doing that a lot lately but it’s more about connecting with people who are not just professionals but philanthropists, motivators, and who are just generally out there trying to change the world for the better.
Linsey Daley is one of those people. Dang! It is difficult to write Linsey without a “D”.
Linsey is the owner and CEO of Healing Heroes LLC, a company that provides support and healing to active duty and veteran survivors of military sexual trauma. Her story is a heartbreaking and beautiful tale about how to find hope and love after trauma. You can read about her experience here. She’s turned her pain into a purpose and even though I’ve only known about her for a few hours, I can already tell I’m going to continue to be so glad I made the connection.
What struck me when I read about what she had gone through was 1. what a terrible and prolonged ordeal she had to endure in the service of her country and 2. why does this all sound so damn familiar?
Which leads us to SAAM I am. It’s no “Me Too” – I get it. I don’t suspect my marginally clever title will be turned into a hashtag any time soon but maybe it got you to at least open this post. I also am under no delusion that my ramblings are reaching any significant number of people but I read something about blogging recently and it basically just said, “focus on the one”. Focus on that one person whose life you might change. So, here I am…looking for my “one”.
To be quite honest, I think sometimes that “one” is yours truly because in the process of sharing, I have healed. Well, mostly anyway. Some scars stick around for a while. Anyway, in my heart, I know this is all worth it regardless of the audience.
The third thing that occurred to me was that I know I wasn’t alone in feeling that sense of a shared experience with Linsey. I can only imagine how many other women (and men) have been sexually assaulted, sexually harassed, margianalized…and the list goes on. I wish that ZERO people identified with her story and when I remember some of the moments in my life where I felt scared to be a woman…at my own desk – well, I wish no one identified with me either. But we are a tribe, aren’t we? We are a tribe of the wounded, the resilient and hopefully one day, the healed.
I have a lot of stories to share but, thankfully, many have faded with time and a failing memory. I remember one in particular though because it was the one that I carried for years. In fact, I still wonder if some of the way that I am is because of what happened that day. That’s sugar coating it – I KNOW that it had a deeply profound affect on my behavior and interactions with men in my professional life. Not just men, actually. It has toyed with my confidence in a variety of ways. I think you’ll see why shortly.
I was 21, just barely, and looking to start my dream job. If you’ve read some of my other posts, you know that I was hell-bent on being a real life Clarice Starling or Dana Scully. I did not have the experience required so I decided my route would be: police officer, detective, FBI agent extraordinaire. Look…I didn’t say I was realistic at 21. Wait! Ladies! That is a joke! You can damn well be anything you want to be!
Anyway, I was headed to a big city in Texas (specifics and names will be withheld because I don’t remember names and I work with a lot of people in law enforcement so…) for the physical, psychological, and oral board portion of the final testing before being offered a job. It was a two-day process so I was staying in a nearby hotel. The first day was reserved for the physical testing and when I say I nailed it, I mean I really nailed it. I had applied for and gone through the process for several police departments but none was as rigorous or organized as this one. I was in full gear on an obstacle course. There were walls to climb, 180 lb dummies to drag, and I was in my element. I shined. I really really did.
Before the physical, I met with my recruiter who I had never seen or interacted with before. He was genuine, explained the process, and we talked about the photo of his family on his desk. I handed over my packet with updated references, personal information etc and was on my way to the test. Not a dang thing struck me as odd. Nothing.
That evening I was exhausted but excited. I still had to study for the oral board. I had procrastinated preparing for a scenario that we were supposed to address the next day so I settled into my hotel room, made some coffee, and rather excitedly started thinking about how I would answer their questions. Then my cell phone rang.
I thought it would be mom or my boyfriend at the time.
It was the recruiter.
And you probably know, at this point, things are not going to continue on such a positive trajectory.
He was reviewing my paperwork, he said, and he noticed a couple of items were missed. Could he come by my hotel and drop the paperwork off so that I could complete the missing portions before tomorrow’s oral board. This is the only part of what happened that I don’t remember clearly. I don’t remember how I felt in that moment. I feel pretty confident that I felt nothing other than relieved that he was so considerate. I think the reason I don’t recall that with clarity is that what happened after and every similar experience since, has clouded my memory of that particular response because I absolutely would never trust someone like that again.
I said sure, of course.
And here is where that ol’ onion of mine is going to be peeled a bit further. I have lied about a portion of this story for years. I lied to my mother. I lied to the Chief of Police when I initially reported the incident. The only people I eventually told the truth to were the investigators that came to interview me and that was because, well dang, they were internal affairs investigators!
Since it happened, I have told everyone that I was “smart” enough not to give that recruiter my hotel room number. I told them that I met him in the hotel lobby and that we sat down for a discussion in a nearby conference room. That is not true and the fact is, I should have never been ashamed to admit that I gave an official representative of the organization for which I was hoping to work, my room number. I shouldn’t be ashamed to admit that because it didn’t mean I was giving him permission to do ANYTHING but drop off paperwork. But I was embarassed. And I think a part of me heard the words, “you were leading him on” or “what did you think was going to happen” ringing in my ears. In any case, I lied.
So, he showed up. And he showed up without the wedding ring he had been wearing earlier.
And then I knew.
No amount of 21-ness could make me naive enough to not see through the facade at that point. But he was already in my room.
We sat at the desk in the corner of the room. He had no paperwork. I didn’t ask. I didn’t ask because he launched into one of the most awkward conversations I’ve ever had. He said he wanted to talk to me about the reality of being an attractive woman on the police force. He used words like “stunning” and implied that my very presence would make people feel like I was only hired to fill a quota. He said all this under the guise of trying to help me. It was bullshit.
I could feel my face growing warm and my heart racing. How do you politely ask the person whose job it is to determine if your fit for the position to get the hell out of your hotel room? So I let him talk for a while and then I suggested that I needed to prepare for the next day. I think I said it about five times before I started to make a move to open the door. In truth, I didn’t want to stand. I didn’t want to move. I could feel him leaning in. I don’t even know that he was actually leaning in but it felt like he was trying to devour me…just by looking and talking. And that made me feel like any movement on my part would result in his pouncing on me. You know how you feel when you encounter a poisonous snake? Like…if you just stand or sit very still, they won’t attack. That’s what it felt like.
But I had to get up because I felt in my soul, if I didn’t this was going to end very very badly.
So, I did. I asked him to leave. Politely but directly. But he stood in front of the door. Literally, blocking my escape…or his departure. I stepped back, he stepped toward. He was pretty up front, at that point, about what he wanted. I told him I had a boyfriend. He said something insanely condescending but I don’t remember the exact words. Something like, your boyfriend can’t give you what I can. And then he made the move. There was grabbing and an attempt to push me back into the room. But, I had managed to open the door by that point and there was a housekeeper in the hallway. She made a noise. Bless her. He abruptly decided it was a good time to leave.
I was justifiably upset. Distraught. Confused. Distracted.
I did not study for the oral board.
It was awful the next day – standing in front of a room full of mostly (maybe all – I don’t know) men. I don’t know if he was in there or not. I couldn’t see any of them clearly so my eyes darted around to everyone. A couple of seconds here…a couple there. Babbly answers. Incoherent excuses as to why I was unprepared. It was a truly heartbreaking moment. I knew I had failed miserably and to add insult to injury, there was a meeting with the psychologist afterward. It was part of the process but in my emotional state, I had completely forgotten about it. As I look back, I couldn’t really tell you whether it was what happened with the recruiter or the dicussion with the psychologist that hurt me more.
It was a few hours after the oral board that I was scheduled to meet with the psychologist. I wish I could tell you what I did in those few hours. No idea but I think it involved angry rap music. For some reason, I recall this trip included a lot of Eminem.
The psychologist was an unforgiving older gentleman. He was not warm or endearing in any sort of way. At least, not that I recall. He simply told me that I had come to the end of the process and that I would not be getting a job offer. He said that I failed the oral board (duh) and for some insane reason, I asked why. I wish that I had politely gotten up and left. Or, better yet, told him that my jackass recruiter down the hall had made a move on me the night before that made me question the integrity of their department and distracted me from being able to prepare. But that’s not what happened.
What happened is that this man said to me that they (the board) were willing to overlook my bumbling around with my answers and wanted to offer me the job anyway but that HE had recommended I not be hired on account of my awkward eye contact during the board scenario. He said that I didn’t come across as trustworthy – that either my eyes were darting around from person to person or I was just staring at one person for way too long. As if I was burning into their skin with my laser eyes. No, he didn’t say that last part – it was implied. So basically, I was not trustworthy enough to be a police officer for a department where one of their recruiters felt entitled to hit on their recruit the night before the oral boards. Great.
So, guess what I’ve had trouble with ever since? Eye contact. The most endearing human behavior. The easiest way to connect – to feel heard and to show someone that you’re listening. Yeah, I have a LOT of trouble with that. To.this.day. Just two days ago, I was watching a YouTube video about how to connect with people through vlogging, zoom, etc and she said, the most important thing is eye contact and I about had a nervous breakdown. Exaggeration? A little. But it is VERY hard for me – even with people I trust with my life…or the life of my dog. I’ve had people comment on it. It is something I’ve had to explain to get other jobs – particularly with the government. Do you know how difficult it is to have to tell a version of this story just so that a potential employer understands why you have “sketchy” eye contact? It really really sucks.
I suppose if you’re still with me (cuz, as ever, this is a long one), you deserve to know how this all ended. I’ll say this, in some ways it ended. Life went on. I lodged a complaint, there was an investigation, he was suspended for a short time and then shockingly (not at all) – they offered me a job. The recruiter called me relentlessly on my 3.5 hour drive home and left probably a half dozen voice mails – apologizing for what had happened and that I didn’t get the job. This would be my saving grace during the investigation – like a good potential detective, I kept records of everything and erased nothing. I received another (much better) offer on the very same day the police department offered me a job. I am sure it won’t surprise you to learn that I didn’t the police department’s offer.
In other ways it didn’t end and it may never.
I fought with my boyfriend at the time – who insisted I shouldn’t report it because I’d either never get the job or be tormented if I did get the job. He did not seem terribly upset by the actual incident. I’d like to say I broke up with him right away but that’s a story for another day.
I did get a wonderful career opportunity that many would envy and I stuck with it for 15 years but I do sometimes wonder what would have happened if THAT never happened. I am grateful for the opportunities that presented themselves and I know that God has a plan and it is clearly for the best that I never worked for that police department BUT I feel like it was taken from me. I would have much rather come to that decision on my own.
SAAM I am.
Have my experiences shaped the person I am today? Absolutely. Because of the lessons I’ve learned, am I in a unique position to help others? Yes. Do I wish that they hadn’t happened? Also yes. Do I wish they didn’t happen to anyone? More than anything in this world.
What can we do but be a “Linsey” in a world full of “recruiters”? That is an answer in a question right there! Or perhaps better said – YOU ARE THE ANSWER. Tell your buddy Bobby that no means no. Tell Jeff that she didn’t wear that skirt so he could ogle her. Tell Fred that he needs to stop calling his VP “little lady”. Women can and should stand together but men should also participate. April is the month to bring awareness, our lifetimes should be taken up with making it stop.
SAAM I am.
Who are you?