When “Julie” was 4 years old, living in western Maine, her uncle heard her mother say over a CB radio that she’d be heading to the bar that night, leaving her young children home alone.
As soon as her mother left, Julie’s uncle came over to the house, put a pillow over her face and sexually assaulted her.
She didn’t tell anyone for 10 years.
This week on Facebook, she posted #MeToo.
Emmilee Wilcox-Ames was in college when a friend told her he felt alone and suicidal. She went to his house, and as they watched a movie, he held her down, ripped off her pants and raped her.
When the now-25-year-old Lewiston woman later confided to a man she was dating, he told her, “You let it happen.”
On Facebook, she posted #MeToo.
When Dora Anne Mills, Maine’s former top public health official, was 15, a teenage boy rushed her in the stairwell of an upscale hotel in the middle of the afternoon, forced her into his room and started clawing at her clothes. She screamed and kicked and got out of there. Her father, then-U.S. Attorney for Maine, and Pennsylvania police decided it was best not to press charges.
She’s always wondered who he went on to rape.
Ten years later, while Mills was in medical school, a prestigious doctor twice her age took an academic interest in her during an internship. He was strictly professional for weeks, until he took her for a drive to show her something. That something was his cabin in the woods, a half-hour from the hospital.
He put his hand on her leg and had everything unprofessional in mind.
On Facebook, she posted #MeToo.
Millions of people took to social media this week with a hashtag saying they’d been sexually harassed or assaulted sometime in their lives. It’s part of a backlash that’s risen up in the two weeks since the New York Times broke the news of movie mogul Harvey Weinstein’s decades of alleged sexual abuse.
This newest #MeToo — there have been others — started a week ago with actress Alyssa Milano, who told The Associated Press she wanted to convey the scope of how often sexual harassment and assault happens and let people know they aren’t alone.
For those sharing, it’s been empowering and sometimes stinging, depending on the reception from strangers and friends.
Marty McIntyre is glad people are sharing, if they want to, glad they’re being part of the moment. But watching from the sidelines, she said, has been frustrating.
“It’s always interesting to me when something big happens in the world, in the country, and there’s all of a sudden a lot of attention focused on it,” said McIntyre, executive director of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Services in Lewiston. “My reaction is always, ‘This goes on every day. Why aren’t we focusing attention on it every day?’
“The hope is always maybe now we’ll pay attention. But experience tells me, we don’t.”
Numbers in Maine have been consistent over the years, McIntyre said. Repeated studies have shown one in five Maine adults — 36 percent of women and 10 percent of men — report having been a victim of rape or attempted rape.
It’s vastly underreported to authorities: crime statistics released this week from Maine State Police showed 383 rapes reported in 2016, up 10 from last year, but close to the number counted by police annually for the past decade.
The number of sexual harassment claims to the Maine Human Rights Commission more than doubled last year.
Executive Director Amy Sneirson said roughly half of sex discrimination claims made to the commission involve sexual harassment.
In 2015, the commission received 171 sex discrimination complaints, then last year, suddenly, 427. She’s not sure of a reason behind the spike.
The number for 2017 — they count from September to September — holds steady at 414.
Amy Blackstone, a professor of sociology at the Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center at the University of Maine, said in research she and colleagues have found up to 70 percent of women have experienced a hostile work environment with sexual joking, invasion of personal space and unwanted touching. Fifty-eight percent of men said the same.
“I can’t recall a time in my lifetime when I’ve seen this many women speaking up this publicly about their experiences,” Blackstone said.
In 1991, Maine had a first-in-the-nation law requiring employers to post notices and hold training on preventing sexual harassment at work.
“That’s 26 years ago, and clearly notices and training are not enough,” said Eliza Townsend, executive director of the Maine Women’s Lobby.
She shared McIntyre’s frustration in talking about the issue only during outrage spikes.
“(#MeToo) has happened on the anniversary of a similar conversation that took place a year ago,” she said, referring to the aftermath of the revelation that now-President Donald Trump told an entertainment reporter on a hot mic, “When you’re a star they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab them by the p****.”
“There was on Twitter and Facebook a movement a year ago as women revealed, in some cases fairly personal and painful stories, of things that happened to them, and yet, here we are a year later going through it all over again,” Townsend said. “What would be pathetic would be if we just go ahead and have the same conversation a year from now.”
Weinstein’s story, she said, demonstrates the array of reasons people don’t come forward more: Not being believed. Fearing for a job. Feeling embarrassed. Enduring “what did you do to bring this on?” Blaming themselves. Feeling powerless.
“The social media movement is saying, ‘This is pervasive; it is widespread,'” Townsend said. “There is not a woman in the world who hasn’t experienced some level of unwanted sexual attention, often in a situation where they didn’t feel they had the power to handle it as they would otherwise.”
Several years ago, Marian Le Doux accepted a co-worker’s friendly invitation to split a bottle of wine after a long day, with the understanding she’d crash on a couch or a chair so she wouldn’t drive drunk.
She hadn’t eaten much. Quickly woozy, Le Doux asked where she’d be sleeping. He told her, “With me.”
She threw up several times after he raped her, passing out on the bathroom floor. He cleaned her up, walked her back to the bed and assaulted her again.
Three months later, when she told a nurse, “the nurse looked at me and said, ‘Well, who made the decision to be there?’ As if I hadn’t already blamed myself a million times over,” said Le Doux, 36, of South Paris. “It felt like everyone I turned to thought I had fabricated the story, or I was further minimized, blamed and shamed. Or worse, that I wanted it.”
She said she’s done with being quiet and any part of that night being on her.
This week she posted #MeToo on Facebook.
“‘It doesn’t happen to people I know; it doesn’t happen around here.’ Yes, it does,” she said.
After “Julie,” 43, of Bath, was molested by her uncle as a child, she had a stepfather who touched her daily for six years as a teen.
“My friends and I used to kinda, sorta joke about this, that when you’re victimized once sexually, it seems almost like a bee leaving a pheromone marker in your skin — it calls out the other bees,” she said. “Predators seem to zoom in on you because you have this vulnerability. I studied this stuff in college and I did my internship on sexual violence. It was kind of a cathartic, full-circle thing, and the only thing that healed me was working with people that had the same experience.”
As a kid, she kept quiet, and then again as a teen. She didn’t tell her mother until years into the abuse.
“I was fearful. I was terrified,” Julie said. “(Her stepfather) would say, ‘If you ever told her, this would kill her. She would probably kill herself,’ and I believed that. In the end, she didn’t do anything to him. She convinced herself it wasn’t really true, I made it up and I’m crazy, even though I confronted her and him together and he admitted what he did.”
Julie cut off contact years ago.
The past two weeks and #MeToos have been powerful, she said.
“I thought people were being very brave; the courage that it’s got to take to have 400 of your not-so-closest friends see that,” Julie said. “I was in tears reading them. I was showing my husband, ‘Oh my god, her, and her! I thought she had a white-picket-fence life.’ It really is everybody, it’s so common.”
“Jane,” a Lewiston woman in her 30s with a very public job, asked not to use her name — not out of shame, she said, but because she didn’t want people to feel bad for her.
When she was 22, she said, she broke up with a boyfriend of two years and made plans to get her things from his apartment. When she pulled up, his car wasn’t in the driveway.
“He told me he wasn’t going to be there. Well, he was,” she said. “He surprised me and didn’t let me leave and told me that nobody would believe me anyway if I said something, and, ‘What’s the big deal?’ It’s not like a person who jumped out of the bushes and attacked me. I didn’t say anything at the time because I didn’t really know what to say.”
It took years of counseling to know it wasn’t her fault. Now she thinks about her young daughter and keeping her safe.
“I want her to know she needs to be strong and take care of herself. I think about that with all of these women who are being harassed and attacked. It takes a long time to recover from that, to find your strength again,” Jane said. “I want people to be aware they’re not alone and it’s OK.”
‘I CAN’T, I CAN’T, I CAN’T’
Mills posted her #MeToo without specifics, just the hashtag and a definition of sexual harassment and sexual assault. When she was 15 and rushed in the stairwell, she said her first thought was that he must be going for her purse; he couldn’t have been coming for her.
“This happened so fast. You have to remember, he planned this out. I hadn’t,” she said. Once dragged into his room, “I realized, ‘Oh my God, I’m going to be raped or killed.’ I started screaming bloody murder and fighting back.”
It turned out he was 18, at the resort for a wedding with his parents, and was a “troubled” kid.
“The parents were horrified,” Mills said. “They were very cooperative and that was one thing my parents felt good about (in deciding not to press charges), that they would try to get him more help. Years later, you kind of wonder, how many women did he do this to before he stopped?”
As a medical student, when the prestigious doctor wanted to give her a ride, her instincts told her not to get in the car, but she reasoned herself into it: “He’s such a nice man and he’s married. He’s got such a national reputation. I thought, ‘Stop it, Dora, I’m sure it’s fine.'”
“He started talking to me differently and put his hand on my leg,” Mills said. “I’m here in the middle of nowhere. I felt so stupid. I just said, ‘I can’t, I can’t, I can’t.’ I really started panicking and he saw that.”
Back at the hospital, she told no one.
“I felt powerless to speak up,” she said. “He was the one responsible for my grade and he was so well-respected; no one will ever believe me. I hope that by more of us speaking up, even telling stories where we didn’t speak out before, my hope is that women will feel more empowered to speak up at the time.”
Mills, who works now as the vice president for clinical affairs at the University of New England, has a teenage daughter. They’re taking a self-defense course together this winter. She’d recommend that to anyone.
McIntyre, at Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Services, would like to see many things come out of #MeToo. Let’s keep raising awareness, she said. Let’s talk about those committing these crimes. Let’s start early with messages about respecting personal space. (Her organization’s programs start in kindergarten, with students walking around in hula-hoops, asking permission to get closer than hula-hoop length from friends.)
Let’s keep the conversation going, she urged.
“This is what I hear: ‘I would never treat somebody that way, and so there’s really nothing I can do about it because I can only control my own behavior,’ which is true,” McIntyre said.
“But, you can tell somebody that their behavior isn’t cool,” she said. “You can tell somebody that they’re being disrespectful. You can speak up when you hear someone using derogatory language. You can tell the guy who’s moving in on a woman who’s had too much to drink that that’s not cool and that they should back off. There are many, many things that people can do, individually.
“We’re not going to make any changes if we can’t keep talking about it. And it’s going to be a struggle, but, my god, isn’t it worth it?”
Dr. Dora Anne Mills