The price we pay in remaining silent about sexual attack: Jennifer Brush (Opinion)

September 28, 2018

The price we pay in remaining silent about sexual attack: Jennifer Brush (Opinion)

SOLON, Ohio -- In 1979 I was a sophomore at Newcomb College of Tulane University, living in a second-floor walkup off campus. I was cooking dinner one evening when I looked up and saw two masked men holding guns signaling for me to go into the bedroom. They both raped me, cut the telephone cords and told me they would kill me if I called the police.

After lying terrified for I don’t know how long, I managed to get to the doors, lock them all and find a phone line that had not been cut to call 911. A third man came to the door, presumably the lookout, and I screamed that the police were on their way. He left.  

When the police arrived, they did a professional job of collecting evidence and canvassing the neighborhood. They brought to my street a couple of terrified kids and asked me to identify them as my assailants. I was pretty sure they were not my attackers.

On the way to the hospital to do the rape kit, my sympathetic police officer tried to console me by saying if the attackers were caught that rape was a capital offense. When I said I was against capital punishment, her response was, “Well I, guess this wasn’t so bad for you.”

Tulane moved me back on campus, provided counseling and I never heard back from the police. Only my closest college friends know about this attack. I called my little sister who was too drunk to get my family involved. I subsequently never even told my ex-husband or even my closest post-college friends. I did not want my identity to be “rape victim.”

Instead, following the attack I graduated Newcomb as the Outstanding Senior, became a U.S. diplomat and rose to the rank of ambassador for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

There were many times when I wanted to share my experience with young women coming up in the career, or with victims of domestic violence, if only to encourage them to overcome hardship.

I never did, I did not want anyone to look at me and think, “rape victim.” By not sharing, though, I have been kept my anger pent up and struggled with going back to New Orleans to see if the police ever even pursued my case.

But now, with so many women coming forward and so many being doubted, and so many enduring judgment for not coming forth sooner, I felt I needed to speak out.

My story is not about sexual harassment, though I have experienced that too. It is about the shame of victimhood and the drive to establish a nonvictim persona.

After all my years in diplomacy, I don’t think anyone would associate me with “victim.” Quite the contrary – brave, courageous, compassionate and driven would be adjectives most would associate with me.

I know sharing my story now will get mixed up with the cacophony of accusations and horrible experiences. I am emboldened by all these women coming forward to share their awful stories and I no longer want to hide behind my self-created myth of invincibility. If it has taken me this long to speak out, imagine the volume of others, like me, who remain silent, preferring an alternative identity to that of “victim.”

Mothers, talk to your sons. Tell them that the true sign of a real man is respect for women. Political institutions, businesses and school systems, create an environment of zero tolerance for violence against women.

Have I ever recovered from my rape? No, it has haunted me my entire life. There is no recovery from sexual violence. Since 1979, I have been deluding myself that I am more than just a “rape victim,” but that is sadly, truly, who I am.

Ambassador (retired) Jennifer Brush served with the U.S. Foreign Service, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and U.N. Peacekeeping for 28 years, receiving numerous awards for courage, bravery and defense of human rights. After retiring in 2014, she unsuccessfully ran for mayor of Solon last year.


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