The Baltimore Sun's Voter Guide 2016

My first sexual assault, #notokay

Op-ed: I tweeted my first sexual assault and watched it get swept up with millions of others.

I discovered the #NotOkay Twitter campaign quite by accident. After hearing the recording of Donald Trump bragging about sexually assaulting women years ago, released on a Friday, I was too disgusted and upset to pay much attention to the news the rest of that weekend and avoided watching the second presidential debate that Sunday because I couldn't put myself through it. As someone said on Twitter, "this election is killing my soul." That's exactly how I felt. Therefore, on Monday, when I found out that many people were actually very upset by what Mr. Trump had said and were dropping their support of him, I began to feel a glimmer of hope. Then I heard about the #NotOkay campaign, started by Kelly Oxford, and knew I had to be a part of it.

I tweeted: "@kellyoxford Where do I begin? Started when I was 5, with my step-grandfather touching me; ended when I was 12 #notokay." There. It was out, and soon, I couldn't even follow my comment because it was swept up with millions of others. Millions. It seems we women need to openly say "this happened to me."

It's hard to just mention one instance, the first one, without thinking of the many that came after, ranging from assault to harassment.

I was at a youth group retreat when I was 17 years old, and the group leader held me down inside a camper and tickled me and tried to touch my breasts. He was laying on me — his front to my back — and only stopped when a young boy walked in on us.

I was a sophomore in college and missed a test in a history course. The professor allowed me to take an alternate test and then asked if I would come to his office and compare the two tests to make sure they seemed comparable and fair. He was very complimentary, telling me how smart I was and how valuable my feedback would be; I was flattered to think I was doing so well in the class. Once in his office, he gave me the test to look at, but then sat beside me and started touching my hair and kissing my neck. I ran out of the office and he did not follow. He was mean toward me after that, and I ended up getting a "C" in a class where I should have had an "A," but at least I survived. (Ironically, when I told an adult about this experience, she said to me "why did you go to his office alone in the first place?" Great. Blaming the victim.)

At my first professional job, a man who made deliveries cornered me in my office one day, pushed me up against the wall and kissed me. It scared me, but I don't remember him ever touching me again.

Later, a consulting doctor at this same job was very flattering and nice to me. He took the staff out to dinner one night. Afterward, this married doctor told my supervisor he loved me. She made a comment like "yes, everyone loves her!" He said, "No, I mean I love her." He wanted to take me out to dinner alone. I refused, and he was very critical and difficult from then on.

The list could go on, but I think you get the point. How wrong that this is such a normal part of a woman's life. I honestly don't remember not being touched by a man or made to feel like a sexual creature even at a very young age — often a very damaged and broken creature. None of the men I mentioned was ever held accountable for his words or actions, either. As uncomfortable as this is to talk about, we need to talk about it to have any hope of ending it. It's truly "not okay."

Betsy Schindler is a clinical social worker. Her email address is

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