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Douglas, Alaska, United States
I have lived in Alaska since 1978, having come to Juneau as a Jesuit Volunteer. I fell in love with Alaska and now live on Douglas Island with my husband and two dogs.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Flashback

Last night, while scrolling through my Facebook feed, I came upon this article about PSAs produced by David Schwimmer ("Friends", "Band Of Brothers", "American Crime Story:The People Vs. O.J. Simpson") about sexual harassment.  I watched them and was increasingly uncomfortable, until I got to the last one, which produced a full blown anxiety attack. 

The final video depicted a woman who goes to the doctor for a sinus infection.  He diagnoses her problem and then starts talking about something that he notices about her breast (a "depression") that he tells her should be checked out.  While watching it, I started hyperventilating and sweating and went into panic mode.  It brought back a memory of an incident that occurred when I was a young mother.

I had a doctor in town who was very nice and who Charles and I happened to be friends with.  We socialized with him and his wife and family, visited their home, etc.  I had an annual exam scheduled at his office, which, as the female readers of this piece know, consisted of a Pap smear and bimanual exam.  The usual standard of practice is that health practitioners will always have a chaperone in the room when they do these procedures, both to protect the patient and the clinician.  At this visit, there was no chaperone in the room.

A bit of history: I had recently disclosed to Charles that I had been molested by a family "friend", a seminarian,  when I was 11 years old.  I had started counseling and was in pretty bad shape emotionally.  I had confided in my doctor friend about my difficulties, both emotional and sexual, that were the result of the abuse.

So, during the bimanual exam, with one hand on the inside, and one hand on the outside, the doctor began giving me a running commentary on what he was doing.  He palpated my abdomen ("there's your uterus, no masses on your ovaries", etc.).  Then, he felt my cervix and said: "And here is your cervix", and withdrew his fingers a little bit and then bumped them against it twice and said: "Bonk bonk!".

Because of my fragile emotional state, I was confused and wondered if I had done something to cause his behavior.  I didn't say anything about it as he casually took off his gloves and told me that I could expect the results of my Pap smear in a week or so, and he left the exam room.

I never reported it, and didn't even tell Charles about it, except to tell him that I felt uncomfortable during the exam (I always was uncomfortable during an annual exam in the best of circumstances). 

Watching the video about the doctor in this series of PSAs brought this memory flooding back.  I know I didn't do or say anything at the time because of my history of being sexually abused as a child,  However, if I hadn't had that history, would I have been able to report his behavior?  Did he do it because of my history, because I had already been a victim and was therefore more vulnerable?

Most women are conditioned from childhood to not say anything about harassment.  We are told that "boys will be boys", that men are ravening sexual beasts and we can expect this sort of leering, uncouth, sexually aggressive behavior.  We are told not to dress in a way that will invite men to approach us, to abuse us, to rape us.  We are told that we have to be careful to avoid dangerous situations.  We are told that when the man who is running for President of the United States says on tape that when you are a star, a woman will "let you do anything, even grab them by the pussy", it is just "locker room talk", and therefore forgivable.  And then that man wins the election.

After the election, when millions of women and their allies marched in the street to protest this sort of mindset, they were described as shrill sore losers.

This makes me angry.  This memory, from almost 30 years ago, makes me angry.  It is too late for me to do anything about this incident now.  This doctor no longer lives in town, Charles and I lost contact with him and his family and it is probably long past the statute of limitations.  Regardless of his intentions (grooming me for future molestation, a crude attempt at humor, a breach of ethical boundaries), what he did was wrong.  It was wrong.  And over 30 years later, I am suffering because of it.  I am still suffering 50 years after being molested in exactly the same way by the seminarian when I was a little girl.  It has affected me in every aspect of my life.  And now, this.  I had not forgotten this incident, or blocked it out.  I remembered it, but really didn't think about it as what it was, which was sexual assault, until last night.

So, watch the PSAs, share them with your friends, both men and women.  And if you are a survivor of sexual harassment or child sexual abuse or sexual assault, be aware that it may trigger a flashback, like it did to me.


2 comments:

  1. That is truly awful. Truly truly awful. I am sorry about what happened to you when you were 11 and years later. What are you doing now to process these stories coming together for you?

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    Replies
    1. Thanks! I'm back in counseling, dealing with some pretty major anxiety.

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