Last week, while I served as the designated driver for my mom and her two best friends, one of those two friends — a self-proclaimed football fanatic — apropos of zilch, brought up the statement Jamie Naughright made on Inside Edition back in October recounting a 1996 incident in which Peyton Manning sexually assaulted her. My mom’s friend was incredulous, wondering aloud, “Why would you bring up an incident from twenty years ago? Why didn’t she report it back then?” She was clearly under the impression that no such assault had ever occurred.
My initial mental response was, “Bruh, are you fucking serious right now?” But I played it cool and informed her that, not only had Naughtright reported the assault immediately after it occurred, but she was also awarded a settlement from the University of Tennessee over the incident because it actually happened. I also regaled her with eye-witness tales of Manning’s behavior during his stint as the King of UT; he made a habit of attending frat parties with a posse of members of the UT defensive line, where he would approach women who were with their boyfriends, grab them by the crotch, and then turn to those boyfriends (he apparently didn’t bother to address the female victims’ reactions) and say, “What are you gonna do about it, faggot?” and walk away laughing. (Sue me, bro.)
This is all a bit of a digression. I mean, it’s obvious that Peyton Manning is a psychopath — if for no other reason than the fact that he bros down with Papa John Schnatter, who is clearly a serial killer — but Shaun King has already addressed that fact and this case at length. What struck me was this woman’s baseline assumption that the victim was a liar, an assumption based on the incorrect and irrelevant belief that a significant chunk of time had elapsed between the “alleged” assault and Naughtright’s decision to report it, when in reality she had simply decided to revisit it in the context of the accusations against Harvey Weinstein and the nascent #metoo movement.
This lady ain’t no outlier. Though things have improved slightly with the emergence of the ubiquity of sexual harassment and assault as a topic in mainstream discourse, it remains the case that victims of assault can and should expect to be met with suspicion at a minimum — and more likely with overt hostility — even from other women who have almost certainly had similar experiences. The barriers to reporting are all still firmly in place, and they include far more subtle and disappointing discouragements than the cop who shames a victim for not wearing a burqa or having had the temerity to drink in public, or the attorney who defends his client by framing the victim for the crime of trollopdom.
I could make a bullet-point list of those forms of discouragement, but that would make for boring reading, so I’ll go with another bit of gruesome personal experience instead. In part 1 of what is apparently going to become a stream of trauma vomit, I described a series of incidents that were a “four on the ‘most fucked up things that happened between the time I grew boobs and turned 22’ scale.” The following is maybe an eight, so if you’re squeamish, stop reading now and go watch this instead.
In the late spring of my sophomore year, just as the flood of bullshit I recounted in the prior post had begun to recede, I went on a Memorial Day weekend camping trip with my best friend, Randy (his real name) and his older sister, Molly (not her real name), who was eighteen. It took some serious maneuvering to convince my parents to let me go, maneuvering that included Molly coming over to the house to assure my parents that she would watch over us fifteen-year-olds with the vigilance of a horse charged with the care of a dog. What she didn’t mention was that there would be three more campers in attendance — friends of hers who were all dudes aged eighteen to twenty — by the names of Danny (not his real name), Mike (not his real name), and Justin O’Brien (his full real name, which I’ll go ahead and use since he’s dead now — details to follow).
I didn’t mention these three either, naturally, as I knew it would be an instant deal-breaker and I had no plans to hang out with any of them anyway. My only plans included Mickey’s Fine Malt Liquor and tubing in a river with my BFF, but it didn’t quite turn out that way.
Molly had recently been spending less of her time with the usual carousel of surf bros I encountered when I was at Randy’s house and had taken up with Justin, a wigger who dabbled in Chicano culture by means of calling other white guys “guetto.” She had a huge crush on him, which she had confided to me on multiple occasions and which I didn’t really get. He brought Mike, another guetto who fancied himself a cholo, which he at least had a slight claim to by dint of dating the only chola in town whose bangs were teased and lacquered so high that they had to back her up a foot for her yearbook photo. Let’s call her Daniela. The third member of their crew, Danny, was one of about five black guys in town and was the older brother of my best friend from junior high, so I knew and liked him, unlike these other two clownish strangers.
Justin, as wiggers/poser cholos are wont to do when in the presence of a black guy or a Chicano, spent about half of his time making racist jokes to prove to someone that he was so down that he could insult people to their faces without getting his ass kicked. It was real clever crossover shit, too, like calling Danny “La Beno,” which he repeatedly explained was Spanish for “Uncle Ben,” the rice brand with a photo of a black guy on the box. I doubt he realized he was tacitly calling Danny a faggot by using the feminine article, given that he didn’t even know the Spanish word for “uncle,” but I’m sure he would’ve been jubilant had he known that he was being permitted that offense as well.
So, one Saturday morning, we all set off in Molly’s car for an Indian reservation about an hour from home. We had to stop along the way to fill two coolers with various malt liquors, of course. Despite the fact that I was only fifteen, I was the only person in the car with a reliable liquor store hook-up, so they sent me into Sami’s Liquor with all their money and orders to spend every dime of it, and to make sure I bought a twelver of Coors Banquet and at least six 22s of Cool Colt, a short-lived menthol-flavored variation on Colt 45 released in the early 90s.
I’m dilly-dallying here, aren’t I? We got to the campsite, didn’t set up a fucking thing, and started drinking at around 1 PM. Being a teenage lightweight, I was absolutely wrecked by 3, my tubing plans scuttled by my inability to walk. All I could do was sit at the picnic table, smoke cigarettes, and slosh my head back and forth to convey my unwillingness to pull my shirt up each time the request was made by Justin or Mike. (Danny didn’t make any such requests, but I can’t say why definitively.) I’m not sure where Randy was, but I announced that I had to find a place to pee, and Mike offered to escort me to the bushes about a hundred yards away and act as a lookout. That ain’t what happened. The details are hazy, so that’s all I’ll say on the matter.
I stumbled back to the picnic table and told Randy I wanted to go somewhere else, so we went and sat on a rock and continued to drink. I didn’t say anything about what had just occurred, and he didn’t ask. (I wasn’t privy to the conversation that occurred ’round the picnic table until I heard tidbits later third-hand, but I’m sure I could recreate it with about 99% accuracy without having to ask anyone who was there.) When the sun went down, we wandered back to the area where we were ostensibly to sleep and attempted to figure out how to set up a tent while drunk in the dark. I gave up quickly and slumped at the picnic table, leaving everyone else around a fire someone had built about 75 feet away while Randy and I were gone.
A few minutes later, Justin wandered up to me at the picnic table, pulled his dick out, and stuck it in my face, making a verbal demand I don’t suppose I need to quote. I put my hand up to shield my face, started crying, and told him to get the fuck away from me. Instead, he pulled the side of his hoodie out so as to obscure the finer visual details of what was happening and began a pantomime designed to make it appear to everyone sitting around the campfire that I had acquiesced to his demand, while I continued to sit there, cry, and shield my face. I was too afraid to look, much less get up and walk away. He eventually went back to the campfire, and I went and hid in the car for the rest of the night.
The next morning, Randy told me Molly was incensed that I had “stolen” Justin. I had spent the prior day drinking, hadn’t slept for one second, and was in such shock that I couldn’t speak. I just went to the cooler, took out all of the remaining Mickey’s, and returned to the rock I had been sitting on with Randy the prior afternoon. He followed, we drank ourselves stupid, and we woke up the next morning to get back into the car with these four to go home. Once I got there, I was still completely befuddled and couldn’t handle being alone in my room, so I went over to Randy’s house to try to talk to him about what had happened.
Molly was home, but her three escorts had since departed. Molly and her friends, all girls 3-5 years older than I was, had — due to my red hair — called me Pippy since I was twelve. That’s not terribly clever, but it was better than what Molly came up with when she saw me that afternoon: Pimpy. This goddamned fool was under the impression that I — not the two dudes who were three and five years older than I was — had been the instigator of two incidents of sexual assault. She was sure my plan had been to blow her crush all along, and she was fucking furious and vicious about it. I stayed in Randy’s room.
Later that night, Justin came back over and joined her in calling me Pimpy. I nearly lost my fucking mind. Randy went into Molly’s room and asked them both politely to stop, to no avail. I continued to hear calls of “Pimpy” through the wall that separated Randy’s room from Molly’s until I got up, went into the room, and screamed at Justin that, if he didn’t tell Molly the truth about what had happened at the picnic table — that I had not, in fact, sucked his dick in front of five other people — that I would go into the kitchen and find an instrument with which to murder him. Miraculously, he did, but it didn’t matter. That was the least of my problems.
School resumed the next day, and I walked into a class I attended with Daniela, Mike’s girlfriend and younger sister to one of my best friends, who was also in the class. Before I saw her, that friend came over, sat down next to me, and quietly told me that Mike had told Daniela that he had “cheated on her” with me and that it was all my fault. I couldn’t fucking believe it. I mean, I guess Mike had to know that Justin and Molly weren’t going to keep their mouths shut, so he did what any rapist with a sense of self-preservation would do, but I was gobsmacked.
I didn’t get much time to process my confusion, however, because Daniela was already striding across the room toward me, her right arm raised in the air. I knew what was coming, so I got up and prepared to defend myself, though I sucked at fighting due to lack of experience. All I knew how to do was grab her by the hair and duck her blows. I have no idea how long it went on for, but by the time our illustrious teacher, Mr. Toma (his real name), bothered to stop laughing and get up to separate us, I had a lock of her hair in each of my hands and we were both bleeding from the face.
The principal asked us what had catalyzed the fight. I refused to speak, naturally, and, to my shock, so did Daniela. We both got suspended for the remaining week of school, the principal and our parents convinced this was just another fight between a chola and a guetta. (It was a common occurrence. My friends in the class told me that Mr. Toma hung Daniela’s hair that I had pulled out over a trophy in the classroom, which didn’t surprise me as he was known for using the word “beaner” in a class chiefly populated by Mexican-American students.)
Despite having been suspended, both Daniela and I were permitted to submit our yearbook quotes. That year’s prompt was “last will and testament.” Daniela’s quote: “I leave my leftovers to ______ _______.” I don’t remember mine, and I don’t have a copy, but her sentiment was preserved for posterity in any case. There are copies of it in the basements of lord knows how many of my friends and acquaintances.
The school year was over, so I assumed I would at least be spared the indignity of being called a whore in public for several months, but no dice. Daniela had my phone number and my parents’ phone number, and she made liberal use of both at all hours of the night. I told her brother what had happened, and he believed me and tried to intervene, but what teenage girl is willing to believe her boyfriend is a rapist? She came over to the house one night and destroyed about $5000-worth of headlights, tires, fenders, and windows on my mom’s car. The following morning, my parents came into my room to angrily ask me what the fuck I had done to bring all of this on myself.
I was so stuffed with shame and fear that I couldn’t speak. I wasn’t indignant. I had begun to think that, had I not gone, had I not gotten drunk, had I asked Molly to take me to pee, had I known the difference between chivalry and predation, had I resisted more, had I been a fucking taekwon-do master, none of this would have happened.
Mike wouldn’t have been bragging to Justin and Danny that he had ejaculated in me, putting me at risk of disease and pregnancy, Justin wouldn’t have been emboldened to approach me at a picnic table and stick his dick in my face in front of a crowd, Molly wouldn’t hate me, I wouldn’t have gotten into a fist fight and been suspended from school, my social life and reputation wouldn’t have been destroyed, my parents wouldn’t have received hundreds of phone calls’ worth of inchoate and profane screaming, my mom’s car would be intact, my parents wouldn’t suspect me of having done something so terrible that it warranted the kind of retaliation one usually only sees in response to a fucking murder, and everything would be as relatively cool as it had been once the furor over the last goddamn time this happened to me had died down.
If the object can’t see the subject, how the fuck can anyone else? The only common thread I saw in any of the misery of the preceding six months was myself, which is exactly what social conditioning had taught me to do. I wasn’t particularly easily cowed as a teenager, but I still started to think that — if people kept doing things like this to me — maybe I wasn’t worth better treatment, and maybe I couldn’t expect any better. Maybe this was just how shit was. From whence would I have gathered the fortitude and certainty to report any of this to my parents or the police?
I suppose I could saunter into a police department today and report Mike for rape, but I’m not going to because it would be 100% pointless. As a joke, let’s say I did. First of all, the statute of limitations on rape in California is ten years, and this happened in 1993, so they would tell me to piss up a rope. Even if that weren’t the case, can you imagine the questions I’d be asked?
Cop: Why are you reporting this now, as opposed to right after it happened?
Me: Well, when it happened, I was a teenager, and I was afraid and didn’t understand what had happened to me. I was also afraid my parents would find out I had lied about who was going camping and that I had been drinking.
Cop: Oh, so you were drunk. Are you sure you didn’t just have consensual sex you regretted later?
Me: I’m sure. He had a girlfriend and I was friends with her brother. I also didn’t like him.
Cop: Are you sure you aren’t just saying he raped you because you are ashamed that you slept with your friend’s boyfriend?
Me: She wasn’t my friend, her brother was. I didn’t sleep with him, he assaulted me. I was fifteen and wasted and he was twenty and close to sober. Isn’t there a law about intoxication and consent? Aren’t there statutory rape laws?
Cop: Was there a struggle? Do you have photos or evidence of bodily damage?
Me: There was, and there was damage, but I didn’t have the clarity of mind to document them because I was a scared child, not an SVU detective.
Cop: Well, this will be a hard one to prove. Also, this guy may have a career and family now. [Wrong. He’s still a fucking loser. But who cares?] Are you sure you want to disrupt all of that?
You get the point.
Twelve years later, at Randy’s wedding, I asked Molly what the fuck she had been thinking, and she apologized and responded that she had been in love with Justin and that she was angry that he “chose me” over her. I responded with a barrage of incredulous recriminations, aghast that she would be angry that he chose to assault me instead of her, that she continued to believe the story he propagated despite the fact that I had forced him to tell her the truth. It was easier for her to blame me than confront the idea that she was in love with a cretinous monster, and she probably continued to believe it until he did something similar to someone else and her boyfriend stabbed him to death nine years after he did it to me.
The demand that women — and teenage girls especially — report sexual assaults despite the socially-inculcated certainty that they are always somehow at fault and won’t be believed by anyone is a cruel and calculatedly dishonest trap set by men who benefit from under-reporting and by women for whom the recognition of what men think of us and the ubiquity of what they do to us is simply too much to bear. It’s such a juggernaut of psychological violence and intimidation that I’m flabbergasted when anyone actually does report an assault.
The task of raising girls with the self-esteem and self-assurance required to recognize mistreatment for what it is seems impossible given the systemic misogyny of a society that refuses to acknowledge or confront the depravity it foments in boys and men, but that’s not the whole of it. When women absorb the idea that other women are untrustworthy foes in the contest for male attention and approval, who are girls supposed to turn to for help when men hurt them? When the whole of a society operates under the assumption that all girls and women are manipulative and dishonest and that men are straightforward and reliable, there is no safe harbor.
“Believe women” is a cool slogan and all, but how the fuck are we supposed to make it happen?