TRIGGER WARNING: DISCUSSION OF SEXUAL ABUSE
Maria Menounos recently opened up about being sexually abused by two doctors, and while most fans were supportive, there were a few people out there who criticized her for not reporting the incidents to the authorities.
How could she look herself in the mirror after refusing to report the abuse? How could she let it happen to her twice? Well, I know how it feels, since I was also sexually abused by two doctors and never spoke up about it, until now.
The first incident happened at a hospital near my home in Brooklyn. I was sent to the ER after I started to feel excruciating pains in my lower abdomen. A doctor in the ER thought it may have been linked my uterus, so he brought in a gynecologist to examine me in a private room. The gyno looked but he said he couldn’t see any issues.
After the doctor was done examining me, he told me stay in the stirrups and proceeded to put his fingers inside me. My whole body froze and I immediately looked up at the ceiling. Was this part of the examination? Were we not really done? I was feeling something that was truly indescribable.
I was nervous and I felt a rush of hot anxiety sweep over me as I lay, exposed, on the examination table. I felt like my entire body was shaking, but I wasn’t moving. My wrists were tingling with feeling but I couldn’t lift them. I felt like someone had pulled all the veins and nerves out of my body and let them spill out on the dirty floor. I glanced down at the doctor and I met his eyes, and noticed that he was grinning up at me. I stared back up at the ceiling.
The second time was within a few months of the first incident. The hospital had suggested that I meet with a different doctor to try to pinpoint my issue. I found the doctor simply by Googling my New York neighborhood + gynecologist. When I called to make an appointment, they told me that all the female gynecologists were booked for the next few months, and that the only doctors available immediately were male.
I felt uneasy about it, but pushed my concerns to the back of my mind. The previous incident was an anomaly and something that wouldn’t happen again. Or at least that’s what I told myself, since I was desperate for an answer to my medical issue. I made the appointment.
My doctor was a quiet man who looked like he was only a few years older than me. I talked to him about my issues and he instructed me to lie down on the examination table. As I put my feet into the stirrups, the doctor ran a single finger down the length of my leg, from my ankle all the way to my genitals, where he began to touch me. I felt a lump form in my throat and felt that same hot, helpless feeling take me over again.
In both of these incidents I never said anything, never told the doctor to stop, never reported their actions to anyone. I didn’t exchange any words with them about it, and after it was over I changed back into my clothes and left their hospitals like nothing had happened.
Mostly I tried to forget about them. I never told my mother about them, I never told my friends, and I certainly never told my boyfriend. Instead, I shoved them down into the secret recesses of my body where I just hoped they would be forgotten.
However, I never really forgot about what happened and instead I started to feel increasingly guilty about my non-action. I was not a child or a shy teenager anymore, I was an adult woman (at the time I was 22) who had the mental capacity to know that what these men did to me was wrong.
Adding to the shame, at the time, I was working at Jezebel, a lifestyle site for women with a feminist slant. What kind of feminist was I if I didn’t report what happened to me? How could I write for smart, strong women, when I was too dumb, too shy, to speak up when these doctors hurt me? The longer I waited to speak up about what happened, the more I felt like I was going against my lady-feminist duty to fight sexual abusers.
There was nobody in my life who would have shamed me for not speaking out or, even worse, shamed me for what had happened to me. The reaction was all imagined, a constant conversation I was having with myself in my head. When I thought about the incident or was reminded of it somehow, I still felt that exposed nerve feeling. It was all too — for the lack of a better word — icky.
It’s easier to keep things hidden and secret than to speak out and lay out all your skeletons out there for the world to see. Maybe my biggest fear was that I would be viewed a victim.
How could I be the silly, goofy person that I was if I was labeled a “survivor” by society? How could I goof off with my friends about “Real Housewives,” watch trashy period pieces on Netflix Instant, and inexplicably click through dozens of photo galleries of celebrities wearing bikinis for no reason? (CoCo is my spirit animal, in case you’re wondering.) Now I know that being a victim of sexual abuse doesn’t mean you become a full-time morose pity-machine.
Nor did my fear of being seen as a victim mean that I could erase the feelings that would naturally take place. Somehow, I really thought I was special enough to be able to “fight” the emotions that take you over after you were abused. I could hide it all, I thought. No one would know about what happened or what I didn’t do.
Of course, I’m not special, and my attitude following the abuse read like it was ripped out of a textbook. I became lazy with my work, often fighting back fits of distraction. I was irritable and overly emotional, torturing my poor boyfriend with my ups and downs. At the time, I credited this all with just daily stress, but looking back I can see how a lot of it stemmed from the sexual abuse, and my dumb idea to shove it all into a secret pit in my stomach.
It isn’t that I spent all this time since the abuse huddled up on my couch, recoiling from everyone’s touch. Eventually the incidents became just things that happened to me. My mind still shuts off sometimes when I think about what happened, and I shook as I read about Maria Menounos and her experiences.
But, I’m not afraid to talk about what happened anymore.
As much as it goes against every feminist should-know-better bone in my body, I still don’t really regret that I never reported the doctors, only that I never opened up about what had happened to my friends and family. I would have gotten no closure from going through the nightmare of a trial or of filing a report with the police. It’s hard enough even typing out what happened.
The only thing that I do regret is that these men may still be abusing women. All I can do is hope that there are women out there who know better than I did.