She was a naive, rather pretty 16-year-old doing the dishes on a hot summer day. Her mother was on a trip with her younger sister, so she was in charge of the house while her father was at work at the lumber yard. The outside noise came from the construction workers repairing the old wooden bridge over Plum Creek, but she was used to it. And it was so warm that she had all the windows and doors open to admit what little breeze the maple tree in the front yard could muster.
When one of the workers, a burly red-faced, gray-haired man, called out at the porch door and asked for a glass of water, she went to the refrigerator to get a cold drink. Before she could turn around, he had come into the house and put his arms around her from behind. He tried to kiss her. She screamed and pushed him away. “Get out of here,” she begged, crying uncontrollably, and he made a hasty retreat. The frightened young teenager called the neighbor whose children she baby-sat. The young mother came and picked her up and took her to her safe house. She brought her home when the girl’s father returned from work and together they told him what happened.
That was 60 years ago. And I remember what happened exactly. I remember exactly what he looked like. He had a glass eye. He had on a greasy plaid shirt with rolled-up sleeves. And he smelled bad. Yes, I remember what happened exactly.
My father was at the bridge waiting for Joe (that was his name) the next morning. He didn’t tell me what he said to him; he probably did not threaten to kill him, but he did get him fired. (My father was a township trustee who had hired the crew to repair the bridge.)
Sixty years later, I have gotten beyond it. But I will never forget it. The incident left a small scar on my psyche. It made me wary for years of any old man who got too close to me, friend or stranger.
So for Donald Trump, when excusing Senate candidate Roy Moore’s assaults of teenage girls by saying it happened 40 years ago, and so diminishing the experiences felt by the young women, is insulting on its face. They have not forgotten the assaults. The women who have come out to share their assault (and sometimes rape) encounters with Harvey Weinstein, Al Franken, and, yes, Donald Trump, remember exactly what happened.
A Democratic president, Bill Clinton, survived rape allegations by Juanita Broderick, and settled a sexual harassment suit brought by Paula Jones for $850,000. He was impeached (but not convicted) on one charge of perjury and one charge of obstruction of justice. He got away with lewd, boorish and violent assaults against women. For the Trumpers who believe or don’t care what Donald Trump says or does, the “he said, she said” argument is always won by men. And so Bill Clinton is respected in the world today, hormones be damned.
Now we have a Republican president who is wreaking havoc in America and around the world with his infantile, narcissistic, psychopathic rantings being held in high esteem by most of the Congress that we have sent to Washington to preserve and uphold the Constitution. Our elected officials are becoming as big an embarrassment to the world as Donald Trump is, because they ignore or accept his tweets, unconstitutional executive orders and threats to North Korea. And they ignore the stories of thirteen women who were assaulted by our president.
Meanwhile, more and more women are telling their stories (“Me, Too!”) and being heard by a world that has long endured and tolerated the demeaning of the female sex.
Sexual abuse of women has gone on since before Jacob’s young daughter Dinah was raped by a powerful prince of the land, Shechem (Genesis 34), and will probably continue far beyond the current societal structure of today. (It must be noted that Shechem fell in love with Dinah and married her, but he and his whole tribe were wiped out in a vengeful attack by Dinah’s brothers. But still...he did assault her against her will.)
A tsunami almost drowned the Catholic church when more and more young men related their sexual assaults by priests, some from years earlier. I believe that the church has survived because reforms and prosecutions were implemented to restore its reputation.
We’re experiencing a tsunami now, with powerful men being thrown into the ocean of public disgust, washing up on the shore of a country of mostly decent men and women that finally, hopefully, is saying, “Enough is enough.”
That is, for most of the exposed predators. We still have a leader who will probably not suffer the consequences of his actions. But at least now other powerful men who might have thought, “Hey, if the Donald can get away with it, why not I?” will think twice about imposing their lewd desires on unsuspecting teens and other young women. The House of Representatives will vote next week on a resolution requiring all lawmakers and staff to complete anti-sexual harassment training, a new mandate following a flood of sexual harassment accusations against members of Congress. That is a start.
But more, as an enlightened society, we must not forgive the dirty old men who think it is their right to satisfy their sexual cravings by hitting on vulnerable females.
And do not suppose that what happened 40 years ago, or 60 years ago, is ever forgotten by the girls and women who were preyed upon.