Like most in America, I have been following the ever increasing allegations against Harvey Weinstein. At the blinded best, you could say its gross sexual misconduct, worse statuary rape and classifying him as a sexual predator. All the allegations seem to have the same circumstances: someone in a position of power taking advantage of a woman and getting away with it because they do hold the power. It may seem unreal that in todays age predatory behavior still occurs in all scenarios of those more powerful over others. Movie producers with hopeful stars, bosses with employers, or, like in my case, physical therapists with patients.
I’m writing this because I am tired of reading articles accusing—and shaming—the victims for not going foreword until there is a plethora of other victims. Sadly there were people in the Harvey Weinstein case, or in the Bill Cosby case, who had come forward earlier and the story never went viral. But is that the point? I don’t think so. Is it fair that we victims simply want to get out of the situation and not have it be our defining factor? I would count as one of those, and am not sure if the answer is yes or no.
Like so many victims, I felt utterly powerless in my situation. I was 18 and an in-patient at a premiere physical rehabilitation center, trying to recover my muscular strength from a debilitating unknown illness. At the time the doctors didn’t have a clue as to why I could not move my limbs or as to the cause of my long list of complicated symptoms, and so were suspicious that perhaps it was all psychosomatic. Why only suspicion? Because my complete mental evaluations proved me sane with only mild situational depression. Vindication in the form of diagnosis of a life threatening illness that would explain some of the symptoms was a mere months away. Yet during that period, it seemed it would be in another life time. I already had multiple black marks in my file for changing therapists for more egregious offensives (yes, they do exist), and I knew if I accused my physical therapist or PT of sexual molestation, that not only would the chief doctors not believe me, but would be fuel for increased hell.
My “sentence” under his care was only for a few more months, I simply planned to endure it. The first time the abuse occurred was when he directed to me to do therapy in a private room and not in the main gym. Afterwards, I knew I couldn’t change therapists but I thought I could ensure it would never happen again by demanding I always have therapy in the gym. To my horror, his misconduct didn’t stop, and instead I endured it every day until I was discharged from the center. Do I know some of the other male PTs knew? A few did, I am certain.
If you’re thinking I possibly might have misconstrued some movements because I had never worked with a male, you are mistaken. I not only worked with several male physical therapists at that specific center, I also had many male nurses, doctors performing invasive procedures, etc, and never once I had experienced any sexual abuse. In fact, I often preferred working with the men because they had stronger hands and were able to move and transfer me with greater ease (and less pain) than many of the females who were not always as strong.
My course of action was to keep quiet, to do everything in my power to will my body better. I chose not to tell a single soul. I also tried to make myself the least attractive possible, (not that I had even remotely cared about my appearance before) but that didn’t change anything either. The only thing that changed was years later, when I finally told someone, and felt their fury on my behalf, that I finally began to let go of the shame or self-blame that I had somehow caused it, (though countless hours of self analysis prior had already exonerated me; I just never trusted my own verdict).
I would like to believe my circumstances were extreme, if not unique. I would like to believe that not everyone feels like they can’t stand up, and call a perpetrator out for what they are. Yet, if anything as in today’s social media culture, we are seeing this is more and more the case.
Do I regret the way I handled the situation back then? My mother, my primary care giver and health advocate, does. To this day, over a decade later, she has not forgiven me for not telling her what was going on, for not believing she was Samson and strong enough to fight every battle-as she was already daily fighting for my life and well being.
Do I think it’s right that patients with complicated illnesses can be so taken advantage of because they are desperate to not loose their doctors belief that they are trying to recover? (Which is what was at stake for me). Absolutely not. In fact, it is only after years of those closest to me, have constantly re-enforced that I am not in a position of victim, and that I do have the power of choice and a say in my medical care.
This article will come to a shock to almost anyone who knows me, as it’s not a subject matter either my mother or I have shared. When I left that rehabilitation center, I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, commonly known as PTSD. Interestingly, the psychologist who diagnosed me never heard about the molestation. It never advanced to rape, and the mental and other physical abuse was so much more damaging to me, I never felt the need to discuss it. I had “handled” it as best I could and just wanted to move on. Only years later did I realize how much it did matter.
Does that make me as much as a perpetrator as victim as some of the accusing articles have implied, following the Weinstein scandal? I would like to think not, but that’s something you will have to decide. I can tell you that had I spoken up at the time, I believe it not only would have resulted in poorer care, as my doctors would have increased their pressure on me to improve, but the therapist involved would never have been investigated or reprimanded. And, I suspect, similarly in all of the other cases many women feel the same way.
How does this change? How do we end the perpetuity of this cycle of the vulnerable be abused by the powerful? I don’t know, but I believe and hope that this sharing of the stories will be an empowerment to those currently in the awful situation to speak up, find support, find help, and end the deplorable behavior.