I could feel his eyes undressing me through the camera. It made my skin crawl and sent nausea swirling through my insides—but I felt safe, protected. I was surrounded by the makeup artist, the stylist and the photographer’s production team. As a model, it was my job to seduce the camera. That day a world renowned photographer stood on the other side. It never crossed my mind to express my discomfort.
When we finally finished, I left in a hurry, desperate to be anywhere but there. I was a good mile away when I realized I’d left my portfolio, the big black book of photos I needed more than just about anything professionally. I had more castings that day, for jobs I wouldn’t likely book without it.
I raced back to the photographer’s studio, through throngs of pedestrians, hoping and praying that the crew would still be there. But when the photographer opened the door, I saw no one, just him.
Today, I never would have gone back, or if I had, I would have listened to my instincts as the door opened. RUN! they screamed. Get out. He’s a monster.
Instead, I told myself I’d make this quick. Grab the book and leave.
“Ah…” he said, his French accent apparent in every syllable. “Forget something?”
He held the book up, tauntingly. I grasped it, feeling momentary relief. In a second, I could go.
I mumbled polite words, the kind nice girls and good models say. I thanked him.
Then he pulled me close and kissed me hard on the lips. As he forced his nicotine-soaked tongue in my mouth (cringing as I write this), I punched him in the nose with all of my might.
I have no idea where that reaction came from—perhaps the zillions of thrillers I’d consumed played a role. I hadn’t hit anyone ever, that I recalled.
He stumbled back, spouting what could only have been French profanities. I ran as fast as my shaky legs could carry me from the place, clutching my portfolio, afraid he might follow me. Luckily, he didn’t.
When I called my booker at my agency and shared what had happened, he seemed far more concerned about the famous photographer than me.
“How could you hit him?” he scolded. “Do you know who he is?”
For years, I told people I was one of the “lucky ones,” who’d never been sexually assaulted. Assault was something that happened in dark alleys, I’d thought, perpetrated by masked strangers who lurked in the night. Now I know that my fortune was only that it hadn’t been worse.
The Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network defines sexual assault as “a crime of power and control…sexual contact or behavior that occurs without explicit consent of the victim.” Any unwanted touch of a sexual nature is assault, and the repercussions can be fierce and long-lasting.
In light of the Trump tape release, I’ve heard people downplay the violence Trump joked and boasted about (which is very, very different from talking about sex, by the way), chalking it up to “normal guy talk.” Some have said grabbing another’s crotch without consent isn’t actually assault. “It’s not like he raped her,” one person wrote. “What’s the big deal?” Such talk may be relatively common, but it’s not remotely normal or natural or healthy or non-criminal. And any touch, sans consent, is a very big deal. Countless people of all genders, including many men, get this.
Anyone who doesn’t has been misled by toxic masculinity, this idea that predatory talk and behavior make a guy not hurtful, but a man. Each time someone deems it “every guy” behavior, they are admitting to their own contributions to rape culture.
If you’re in the camp of “everyone” or “every guy” talks and acts this way, and I say this with compassion, you are part of the problem. If in reading that, you feel defensive, please think about this:
What if you are contributing to rape culture? Wouldn’t you want to make changes? (Unless you’re a dangerous sociopath, I’m almost sure the answer would be YES.) What harm is there is considering another way?
I share all of this because I don’t think the problem is merely Trump, but the darkness prevalent in our culture. It can be minimized, with comprehensive sex ed from early childhood on, more conversations about consent, sexual violence and toxic masculinity, encouraging all genders to see vulnerability, sensitivity and respect as strengths, not weakness, and never, ever blaming victims and survivors of rape and assault. We’d all benefit from a more compassionate, respectful world. I believe it’s possible.
In response to the Trump tapes, many people have been sharing their stories of surviving assault. If you’d like to share one below, please feel free. If you’ve changed your own stance on what defines sexual assault, or have other respectful thoughts or questions to share, I’d love to hear from you. Sending love and light all around.