As a rape survivor decades ago — and as a lecturer in Political Science, who concentrates on global affairs — to me the most remarkable development of 2017, is not the ascendance of Vladimir Putin to the most powerful men in the world, the North Korean or Syrian debacles, or Donald Trump’s alarming isolationist doctrine. Surely, these are important issues, which I do not minimize. But no development this year impressed me as mush as the expansion of the #MeToo movement and its success: No longer will powerful men in any industry will use their authority to sexually abuse their subordinates without thinking about the consequences of their deeds.
And yet, in spite of the movement’s accomplishments people will continue to ask, as they have been doing from Anita Hill to the #MeToo accusers: why has a victim of rape or another act of sexual misconduct waited for years or decades to tell her or his story? By posing this question they are deliberately raising doubt about the accuracy of the accusation or the character of the accuser. Worse yet, in many cases the victim is afraid to be blamed for her or his own rape. This is why they may still hesitate to come forward. I know that from my own experience:
Aaron, a high-ranking military man, had been my fallen husband’s best friend. He and his wife, Rachel, became my trusted friends too, and I saw in our closeness the stuff that makes everlasting friendships. After my husband was killed in the Arab-Israeli Six Day war, short of my sister and her husband, Aaron and Rachel were the couple closest to me.
Nearly two-and-a-half years into my widowhood I was living in New York City, working for the Israeli government. Just then, invigorated with my determination to rebuild my life, I was numbed by another blow.
Aaron arrived in New York, part of a group that accompanied then Israel’s Defense Minister Moshe Dayan. Assigned to be Aaron’s interpreter on a trip to upstate New York, arranged for him by a well-known Jewish organization, I found it natural to accept Aaron’s suggestion that I sleep in a spare room in his spacious suite at the Carlyle Hotel. The following morning we were to be picked up early, and doing so would save time.
After spending part of the evening in an official outing with the group I arrived alone at the hotel and went to sleep in one of the bedrooms. But at two in the morning I was awakened by Aaron’s banging on the suite’s door. He was supposed to have his own key. When I opened the door after changing back into my day cloths, Aaron was angered by the long time it took me to open the door. Had that happened years later, with my acquired experience I would have left the hotel right then. Better yet, I would have never agreed to sleep there. But I had trusted Aaron as if he were my brother.
When I went back to my room, he followed close behind me and stopped the door with his foot. There was a strange smile on his face, of a sort I had never seen before.
“Aaron, what are you doing?” I asked, pretending to be calm, though my heart was pounding with fear.
“I’m coming to your bed to sleep with you,” he said. He pushed me into the room and then onto the bed and started to kiss me.
He did not pay heed to my pleas or my screams, and I tried to push him off with all the strength I had. But he fought back like a vicious animal. He was a tall, strong man who weighed twice as much as I, and my violent struggle seemed only to arouse him more. Cruel and terrifying, he was a rapist like all other rapists, whether in hotel rooms or in dark alleys.
“Rachel — what about Rachel?” I cried frantically when none of my tactics worked.
“She said that with you it was all right.”
“Yigal, remember Yigal. He was your best friend!” I pleaded, as if my departed husband were in the next room. As if I were calling him to save me from his friend, who had turned into a beast.
“He’s dead,” I heard the devil say.
My husband was dead, and I was a piece of meat, no longer his widow but merchandise that exchanged hands. Beastly hands. Inhuman hands.
I did consider charging Aaron with rape but refrained from doing so, fearing that I would be accused of provoking my own rape. No one would believe me, I thought in panic. What was I doing in his hotel room to begin with, they would ask.
I was also concern that the publicity of the case would crush my parents, and that they would not survive the knowledge of what had happened to me after the unimaginable losses I had suffered already. Not only was I widowed, but traumatized by seeing my husband burnt beyond recognition and hearing his deafening last breaths, I lost our unborn baby.
I was also certain that Aaron, holding a high position in the military and defense establishments in Israel, would abuse his power even further. Nothing was beneath him, I assumed, my mind running wild imagining an army of false witnesses he would be able to recruit, who would assassinate my character in court.
Only my sister and her husband and a handful of close friends knew about the rape. It took me nearly thirty years to be able to talk openly and publicly about that experience. When I was finally ready to acquire whether I could still press charges against Aaron, he was dying of a dreadful disease.
Because of changes in the attitudes toward rape and other sexual harassment, thanks to brave women and men who did not hesitate to openly declare, “We have been victimized and we will be wronged no more,” survivors are speaking up. But many more still fear what I had dreaded: Being blamed for my own rape and being smeared.