It's time to end the deafening silence

A month shy of her 20th birthday, the college junior was getting ready for her first waitressing shift at the campus bar.

Since the gigs were hard to come by — it was almost an honor to be chosen — she wanted to impress. So she took extra care in choosing her mini-skirted outfit.

It had been a good week. She’d gotten an “A” and high praise from her professor for a paper she’d written for his “Women in America” course.

She loved the class and it was a real eye-opener as she learned about trailblazing women she’d never even heard of. Women who didn’t get a mention in the history books.

The oversight made her angry and fueled her burgeoning feminism. “I’m glad I’m living in a time when women can speak out,” she thought, as she headed off to the bar.

Things went fine the first hour or so as she served beers and cleared away empties. But as the night wore on, people got drunker and drunker and one table was especially rowdy.

She didn’t travel in their circle but she knew who they were: some of the biggest jocks on campus, the guys who, thanks to their athletic prowess, pretty much owned the place.

She’d just delivered them a couple of pitchers when one of them called her back over. “Gotta tell you somethin’,” he said, gesturing her to come closer.

When she did, he stuck his hand up her skirt and grabbed her crotch. As his friends laughed uproariously.

She couldn’t believe what was happening but she was too stunned to say anything. So she pulled away as fast as she could. And prayed she could stay away from that table.

But at least twice more that night, he waved her over. Not wanting to make a scene, she thought she had no choice but to go. And each time he repeated the Same Awful Act. Each time she was mortified. Each time she stayed silent. Because who could she tell?

Somehow, she made it through the shift. And somehow, she kept her composure. If anybody else saw what happened, they didn’t let on.

Or maybe they’d seen it before and figured it was just “Boys being boys.”

Throughout the rest of college — and for years after that — the woman kept her silence. It was decades, in fact, before she Told Anyone.

And when she finally first spoke of it, testing the waters, she made it sound like it happened to someone else. Because she was ashamed it had happened to her and more ashamed she hadn’t stopped it.

But no more. Not now. No more blaming herself. No more wondering #WhyIDidntReport.

My silence is over. Because in the 45 years since that terrible night, I’ve realized that it wasn’t my fault.

I’ve realized that what happened to me has a name: it’s called sexual assault.