By Howard Kurtz
Published October 02, 2018
The stories come tumbling out, day after day, painful and personal, from women who are prominent and women who dwell far outside the public eye.
Some journalists have joined this disclosure movement in the furor over the Brett Kavanaugh nomination. Many of the women say they are going public with their past trauma for the first time.
Karen Tumulty, a national political reporter for the Washington Post, revealed a secret she had carefully hidden for decades. "My own brother was quite shocked to read it on Twitter," she told me.
What Tumulty tweeted was this: "I was 9 years old. A man took me away from everyone else at a birthday party and stuck his hand down my pants. He asked me if I liked it. I thought I had done something wrong. #WhyIDidntReport"
Tumulty also addressed the question of memory: "I don't remember whose birthday party it was. I don't remember the man's name. It was at a stable. He ran the stable. Little girls love to hang around horses. I cringe at how many little girls he may have done this to."
In the interview yesterday, Tumulty said: "I grew up in a household where my mother warned, if anybody does anything to you, you come and tell us. I didn't tell her. I was just so afraid I had done something wrong. I knew there'd be a gigantic furor.
"Over the years, as I matured, I became more disturbed by my own silence."
The veteran journalist stressed that her tweets were "not directly related to whether Brett Kavanaugh is innocent or guilty. It was why don't women speak up. I didn't want to make it a big deal or become a crusader, but this is part of the lives of a lot more women than people realize."
A number of the women feel compelled to explain why they haven't spoken out before. The spread of a Twitter hashtag (#WhyIDidntReport) was in part a response to President Trump questioning why Christine Blasey Ford didn’t report her alleged sexual assault to the police when she was 15.
What happened to individual women, no matter how wrenching, can't be tied to whether the sexual misconduct allegations against Kavanaugh are true or false. But the nominee aside, this movement has become something of a wildfire. Tumulty told me she’s been "astonished" by how many women responded to her tweets with their own very raw stories — some from when they were in their twenties, some in their teens, some as young as 5.
The phenomenon has even reached inside the White House, with Kellyanne Conway choking up for a moment and telling CNN's Jake Tapper: "I'm a victim of sexual assault."
But moments later, when asked about the harassment allegations against President Trump, the White House counselor said: "Don't conflate that with this, and certainly don't conflate that with what happened to me."
And Ronald Reagan's daughter, Patti Davis, describes in the Post how a prominent music executive raped her in his office roughly 40 years ago:
"I felt alone, ashamed and disgusted with myself. Why didn't I get out of there? Why didn't I push him off? Why did I freeze?
"I don't remember what month it was. I dontt remember whether his assistant was still there when I arrived. I don't remember whether we said anything to each other when I left his office. I never told anyone for decades — not a friend, not a boyfriend, not a therapist, not my husband when I got married years later."
There are, to be sure, political insinuations in some of the pieces.
Mara Gay, a New York Times editorial board member, just published a column headlined "Make My Sexual Assault Count."
She said she was recently at her local bar when "the boy who raped me came over to say hello and give me a kiss on the cheek ... But this is what it is to be a woman: You smile politely through thousands of life's indignities in a body that sometimes feels as though it isn't your own."
Gay writes that "I never felt compelled to share my story before, because it is so unremarkable, so common, because so many women have been through worse. I dated him afterward. Part of the encounter was consensual. We had both been drinking, him far more than me. I thought maybe he didn't know what he was doing, and later didn't remember (an idea the men in my life whom I've told, and whom I love and trust, have dismissed). And so I didn't think there was anything to report.”
Padma Lakshimi, an author and host and executive producer of "Top Chef," writes from the perspective of a teenage victim. Her Times column is titled "I Was Raped at 16 and I Kept Silent."
Lakshimi says that she woke up to find her boyfriend penetrating her and asked him to stop, to no avail.
"I didn't report it. Not to my mother, not to my friends and certainly not to the police. At first I was in shock. That evening, I let my mother know when I was home, then went to sleep, hoping to forget that night.
"Soon I began to feel that it was my fault. We had no language in the 1980s for date rape. I imagined that adults would say: 'What the hell were you doing in his apartment? Why were you dating someone so much older?'"
That is a running theme through many of these stories, trying to help people in 2018 understand what the culture was like for women in the 1960s, 1970s or 1980s.
Beth Jacob, a freelance writer and consultant, wrestles with whether to tell "My Rapist's Wife."
She writes in the Post that her attacker was "my friend's boyfriend, and I told no one after it happened. Because my friend was out of the country and I could not face telling her by phone. Because I had been drinking. Because I had not spoken up during the previous months while he harassed me: passing too close and leaning down for a vile whisper or a pinch.
"But most of all, because I remembered only flashes of before and after ...
"So there, now I've reported it. Please do not call me brave, because the shame of this story is his, not mine."
And there is a tint of revenge in certain pieces. Writer Talia Lavin, who disclosed her sexual assault four years ago, now writes in the Huffington Post:
"I Googled my rapist this week. I looked through his Instagram photos ... By all appearances, he's doing fine.
"I do not want him to be doing fine. I would like him to be afraid. If I must live with my pain, I would like him to live with the fear, just under the surface, that what my body remembers so vividly can come disrupt his life, as it disrupts mine daily."
Obviously we are hearing one side of these stories, since the men are not named, but the pain is palpable. Just as obviously, the Kavanaugh confirmation is what has opened the door to some women revisiting and sharing long-buried nightmares.
Again, their past tragedies tell us nothing about the specific allegations against the judge. But they may help us to better understand the nature of such attacks and why they are so difficult to talk about many years later.