When I was a 13-year-old freshman in high school, I joined the basketball team. I had always stood out, which I tried to convince myself was a great trait that made me unique and an individual.
However, when I played sports, I felt alive. I had a coach that year who was a nerdy middle-aged man. During long bus rides, he would call me to the front of the bus to sit with him. He would sit and rub my legs during the trips. The girls on the team said little, but one of my girlfriends would make fun of me for being the favorite.
As I got older, I started to become more involved in politics. At 17, I joined a club and raised money to go to Washington D.C. to learn about creating policy. I was able to walk the halls of the capitol and legislative buildings.
We took tours, talked to members of Congress, and learned about leadership challenges. During one of our meet-and-greets, we walked into this large office. I looked at the plaque on the door before walking in: a prominent U.S. senator. Our group took turns assembling for pictures, and I stood next to him for a quick photo. I felt his hand grab my waist tight to his body and then felt his hand grab my butt.
I was irritated that no one cared about what men did. I immediately checked myself in the mirror. Almost instinctively, I realized if I said anything, I wouldn’t be believed, and in fact, would be blamed. I was wearing business attire, my shirt buttoned to my neck, I wasn’t wearing makeup, and my hair was down. I was making an attempt to blend in with the crowd.
As the months went on, I continued to work on political campaigns and realized how malignant they could be for women. My mother was running for a state legislative seat, so we had to attend every event, fundraiser, and outing. We knocked on doors, we made calls, and we ran around with a smile on our faces so we didn’t reflect badly on her.
It wasn’t until I was sexually assaulted that I realized just how the political culture works. When I told my mother, she immediately minimized the experience and blamed me. There would be questions about why I was left alone or why I was in these situations. My sexual assault was never reported; I couldn’t reflect poorly on her political career.
Now, as a woman in her 30s, with a daughter of my own, I can see this all clearly. I am an OB-GYN, a women’s rights advocate and a fierce protector of justice for women. I have grown tired of the victim-blaming and the shame women carry after an assault or harassment. I am emotionally exhausted from the stories I hear from physicians around the country of how they were abused in their training programs.
I am devastated that people in power, in 2021, across this globe, can still assault, murder, and think they have no consequences. I am sad that Sarah Everard couldn’t walk home alone at 9:00 at night and was murdered by an officer. I am horrified that Brittany Higgins was assaulted, and there was a cover-up, and complicity that ran deep.
Women don’t know who they can trust. They have been betrayed by coaches, teachers, friends, mentors, police officers, military battle buddies, governors and parents. This is about power over women and a reminder that we have a long way to go to be considered equal.
Kellie Lease Stecher is an obstetrician-gynecologist, M Health Fairview Center for Women, Edina and Eden Prairie, MN, and co-founder and president, Patient Care Heroes. She can be reached on LinkedIn, Facebook, and on Medium @kellie.stecher.
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