I was sixteen when she accused me of sexual assault. It was not in a court of law, it was never brought to the police.
It wasn’t true.
I had tried to kiss her – that is true. It was the kind of kiss you see in countless “geek gets the girl” movies that were so popular back then (and still are today). I was sixteen and stupid enough to think the movies told the truth, so while we were talking, I leaned over on the couch we were both on, and kissed her.
For all of a second. I think. I’m pretty sure lips touched, but I can’t swear to that.
It was a dumbass thing to do. You see, the thing that doesn’t happen in movies – the much more likely thing – is that she’ll pull back, ask you what the hell you were doing, and you’ll blush like the time you did when your mother walked in on you taking a bath even though you’re fourteen. In my case, she didn’t slap me – we were friends at the time – and we went home. It was during the cleanup part of a haunted house, and I thought that was the exceedingly lame and exceedingly embarrassing end of it.
Until I found out she had told people that she’d been shoved up against the wall, her hand shoved on my crotch, and my tongue down her throat. None of that had happened. The thought of me being that violent nauseated me. Still does. People who knew me well didn’t believe it for a second. I’ve had the concept of “no means no” embedded so far into my skull that I’ve often been told I’m too gentle, and too meek in too many relationships throughout a lot of years. To put it in perspective, when I heard of Antioch’s sexual consent rules, I thought they were a good idea. If you don’t remember, most people at the time thought they were ridiculous.) Anyhow, those who knew me knew there was no way in hell I’d done anything like she claimed.
I found out that year who my real friends were, and I’m glad to have had them.
There were other effects over the next two years. I got my ass kicked because of it – one of the only two real fights I’ve ever been in. (My wrist got broken in the other.) One girl I’d been going out with for a few weeks heard the story from her friends, and broke up with me right then. Another wouldn’t go out with me at all, expressly because of this story. It seems minor now, but for a teenaged loser geek, it was a huge deal. Finally, I moved away to college.
Years later, the girl I’d kissed for all of a second apologized. She told me she didn’t even remember why she’d told people that story, and I believe her. I accepted her apology, and went on with my life.
I was twenty-one when I was sexually harassed in the military. It was minor, but I brought it up to my supervisor, but the MPs were never involved.
It was true.
He kept playing grab-ass – literally – as I’d walk out of one room into the common area. It started like those stupid football “slap each other on the ass” things, but they got more invasive when I asked him to stop. I got a lot of crap about it, too, especially since I was still a private in training – and he wasn’t.
In 1995, sexual harassment in the Army was yet to be a hot topic; the Aberdeen scandal and biannual mandatory seminars were yet in the future. Reports of men experiencing violent spousal abuse were (literally) met with guffaws and whispered denigrations of manhood by others in my company. You can imagine how seriously a private complaining about his ass being grabbed was taken. He stopped – after my supervisor reluctantly “talked” to him – but it was a difficult several months for me after that until I finally left for Korea.
I was about thirty when my older son hurt himself and claimed that his injuries were from child abuse. He repeated the claim more than once over the course of several years.
It was never true.
No charges were ever pressed, no case ever had any evidence. A few of the times he actually admitted to making it up in front of others. Most of the times, he didn’t. One of those times, I was forced to spend a week in a hotel based solely on his verbal accusation. During that time, he continually threatened my wife. If she didn’t do what he wanted, he threatened to have her sent away too. Eventually, he went too far with his threats and violence and was arrested – but we still deal with both the mental and legal effects of that trauma. The accusations are still in a file somewhere, waiting to be a “pattern” of some kind. Not a pattern of his baseless accusations – but a pattern to provide circumstantial evidence against me. I understand that’s also the case with sexual harassment charges, too.
Regardless of all those things, I still advocate that sexual harassment measures be strong, that child and elder abuse laws be enforced, and that accusers and whistle blowers not face repercussions for coming forward. We must always make sure that we hear all sides of a story, that we take all things into account before jumping to a conclusion – but this is still a sexist, racist, ablest, and ageist world. Harassment and abuse accusations are blunt instruments, but they are a powerful one.
Having been on the wrong side of these things – being falsely accused more than once, and ignored as a victim – it’s all too easy to give up. It’s easy to blame it on a class of people – or even to blame yourself for something you haven’t done. Any accusation, especially one so counter to your ideals and the way you live your life, is fundamentally upsetting.
I wish there was a better way. As I know all too well, it is easy for an unscrupulous person to fabricate complaints. If you know someone who has made up accusations, please speak out. The accused – almost always a person with power and privilege, whether they abuse it or not – cannot really fight back against those attacks. What I ask of you, all you who need the laws against discrimination, who need the sexual harassment lawsuits, who need protection from abuse, is to keep in mind that each false complaint, each person who gets revenge or personal gain by slandering another, weakens one of the few effective tools that those without privilege have.
Those who make a false complaint make it harder for every one of your brothers or sisters – or yourself – who has real problems and faces real harassment.
But until a better way can be devised, it’s the best system we have, and it’s the system we have to stand by.
Your suggestions for improvements are, as always, appreciated.