Whatever your opinion of “trigger warnings,” I can tell you — as a survivor of sexual abuse, assault and harassment — that everything about the Republican nominee for president should come with a warning.
Many have spoken about finding this election season so uncivilized and vicious that they have been staying away from social media and news reports. It’s upsetting to many people that someone so disrespectful, angry, hateful and ignorant is being taken seriously as a candidate for the highest office in our country. Because I am a survivor of sexual assault myself, the Republican nominee’s presence in every area of public life has hit me hard in some very personal ways.
Because I spent years recovering from the effects of the harms perpetrated against me, I have tools to cope; I know how to take care of myself when the abuse effects are triggered. That said, I’m sure there are other women with similar hurtful experiences who may be suffering quite seriously. And, to those women, I want to say this column might be triggering.
In the eighth grade, for several days or perhaps even a few weeks, a boy on my bus would follow me wherever I sat. He would sit behind me or across the aisle and whisper and growl disgusting and violent sexual filth at me. The things he said were so vile, I still cringe. I didn’t even know what a lot of it meant, but I knew it was gross. I look back at those days and know it’s likely that poor child had suffered trauma himself. Regardless of the reasons for his abusive behavior, the fact is that he created a seriously hostile environment. It was a form of sexual harassment; it was abuse. I still remember not understanding why it was happening, feeling I must have done something to deserve it and feeling so much shame I didn’t tell anyone it was happening.
Skipping ahead past other traumatic experiences, the Republican nominee’s repulsive behavior brought to mind a time in the early 1990s, when I worked in a small graphic design firm in Washington, D.C. The owner would come up to my desk and stand very, very close to me. Whether I was sitting or standing, he would press his body up against mine and talk to me as if nothing strange was happening. I couldn’t get away without causing a scene. I was too shocked and scared to say anything. The disbelief that this was actually happening was overpowering. And of course, I couldn’t quit; I had bills to pay.
There was a tweet circulating after some of the Republican nominee’s victims came forward that led me to want to write this column: “Weird how all these women waited to come forward until they realized they weren’t alone, it wasn’t their fault, and we might believe them,” the tweet read. The perpetrators of abuse know that we who survive it will probably be so devastated we won’t risk the frequently shaming beams of the public spotlight. We probably won’t get them in trouble. But, when one of us is brave enough to say “this happened to me,” then other survivors will know, just as the tweet said, that they are not alone. That they aren’t crazy and that it wasn’t their fault.
I’m writing this today for those people, presumably white men, who are supporting the Republican nominee. I’m writing this to tell you that if you vote for him, you are effectively saying you condone violence against women and girls.
If you vote for him, it will be like a punch in the gut, a slap in the face or a middle finger in the air to all of us who are survivors of sexual abuse, assault and harassment. Please, don’t do it.
Heather Denkmire is a writer and artist who lives in Portland with her two young daughters. After a few challenging years, she is growing her small business, where her team helps nonprofit organizations win grants. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her columns appear monthly.