Content Warning: Sexual assault, harassment, gaslighting, emotional abuse, rape
Everyone keeps telling me that things are finally starting to change and that women are finally being believed when it comes to accounts of sexual harassment and assault. Everyone keeps saying that things are better than they were five years or ten years ago, but then I look at the man who is the sitting in the White House and I have to stop and ask “Really?!”
While there has certainly been a positive shift in our society around believing women, we haven’t come as far as we’d like to believe. Yes, some powerful white men have finally gotten what’s been coming to them, but it doesn’t mean we have created a safe space for those who have been abused to come forward.
Despite all our “progress,” women who come forward are still ridiculed, accused of lying, or told that they need to present proof of their stories. It doesn’t require deep research to understand why many women fear backlash against themselves, their families, or their businesses when they consider speaking out about abuse. Often women who come forward aren’t looking for legal justice. They are looking to be believed.
All of this takes me back to Carly’s and my time organizing Take Back the Night at The University of Virginia. It was always a difficult event. Hundreds of us would spend an evening gathered in the amphitheater listening to dozens come forward to share their own personal stories of harassment and abuse, sometimes physical, sometimes sexual, sometimes emotional. The event was never about naming names or seeking legal justice, but about giving those who had been abused a platform to share their stories without shame and without judgment, and most importantly, a platform where they would be believed, unquestioned, and supported. Telling your story has a way of setting yourself free; and in turn, telling your story can set others free. To the people reading these words and finally knowing that other people have gone through what you have been through and have survived — that is powerful. That is what creates change.
So when accusations began to circulate during the last few weeks surrounding sexual harassment and assault in the wedding industry, we at Catalyst created a platform where individuals could anonymously submit their stories without fear of backlash. We don’t know the names of the parties involved, and we don’t need to. You don’t need to know a person’s identity to hear their story. And if you are someone who has been abused, you don’t need to see a person testify in a court of law to feel like you’re less alone.
So to everyone that shared your story with us, thank you. And to those who have not felt able to share their story yet, please know you are not alone.
These are their stories:
“I was only looking to go to a party with all the other student athletes. I didn’t think this would happen. I didn’t think this would happen and that my ‘friends’ would tell me otherwise. Tell me that ‘he’s the best basketball player we have, we need him this season and he wouldn’t do that to you’ even though I knew he did.
I don’t know why no one believed me, maybe because I was so broken after that — I didn’t know if I even believed in myself.
Him and his friends said I could get a ride back to the dorms with them. I was drunk. I remember laying on the couch alone and watching TV, thinking ‘they must have gone somewhere else, I’m okay here, they’re so nice for letting me pass out.’ Then the next thing I knew I was naked in his bed, HIS bed and I was squirming and couldn’t breathe or think and I looked at him going in me and it was just disgusting. He had totally betrayed every bone in my body. I screamed at him and kicked him off of me, threw a shoe at him and ran away.
I don’t know why no one believed me, maybe because I was so broken after that — I didn’t know if I even believed in myself. Even though he left school shortly after, I felt like another person for about a year. I let his act of rape take over my life and consume me until I hated myself, even though none of it was me. I did nothing to deserve that and if I ever get the chance to talk to him again, I want to tell him every single thing he did to me and make him sit, in silence while looking at me — this strong beautiful and independent woman I have become — and tell him that his selfish act, almost killed me.”
“I have been a model on and off for about 10 years. When I moved I was hit with finance issues and couldn't feed myself despite working 40 hour weeks and living modestly. I was contacted by a couple of photographers in my area. Only one offered cash despite years of experience and agency modeling on my part. We discussed boudoir style shots but I quickly realized that's not what he had in mind and wouldn’t pay unless I was fully naked. He told me he wanted to see me get excited while working and I wrapped myself in borrowed sheets that had other women's secretion stains all over them. I put in my agreed upon two hours of work and remained silent, professional and distanced myself. All precautions were taken beforehand with someone knowing my location and who I was with. While nothing explicit happened and I stated it wasn't what we agreed upon, this man used his power to put me in an uncomfortable place. I no longer model for people I've never worked with before…”
“I’d met up with another photographer as a collaboration to go out and explore (my first time ever) and he wanted to use me in some of his photos. As the shoot went on, he would get very touchy and told me how much I was turning him on, how sexy I was and how much he liked my body. As his advances weren’t being reciprocated, he died down with the comments and continued to tell me how many models he’d fucked. Although nothing physical or traumatic happened, it scared me into steering clear from collaborations.”
“He essentially lured me away from my boyfriend while we were traveling together by ordering me an Uber and making me feel bad if I didn't take it. He claimed he really wanted to see me as a friend. He said he missed me and that he wanted to catch up. But he wouldn't come to me, and I was confused as to why. He had multiple opportunities to, but refused. At 2AM in the fucking morning, he ordered me an Uber. Due to chronic pain I struggle with, I had taken medicinal marijuana at the time so I could sleep (legal in the state we were in). So, he ordered me the Uber, and feeling manipulated and strange, I got in.
Everyone I could have called for help was asleep, and I felt alone in a terrible situation.
The second I got there, he was all over me. Making advance after advance, I became more and more uncomfortable. He was INCREDIBLY pushy, and I felt so much pressure to be polite and kind because "we were friends". I had never been in that circumstance before, and I was at a complete loss of what to do. Everyone I could have called for help was asleep, and I felt alone in a terrible situation. I told him I didn't feel comfortable multiple times, but he only pushed harder. I told him no multiple times, and again, he only pursued more. So, feeling defeated, confused, and terrified, I complied. He ordered me an Uber, and I left and went back to my hotel in tears.
When I spoke to him about my concerns of what happened to both of us, he said that he saw the green light and went for it, and that it was BOTH of our faults because I had 'flirted' with him. I've never felt so much shame, and now I'm completely scarred sexually. Even during current sexual activities, I have flashbacks and anxiety attacks. It's not easy to heal from that.”
“I became close to him and considered him one of my best friends. I did everything for him. I worked underneath him as his assistant, and did anything and everything he asked me to do, even if it was shady as fuck. I wanted to badly to make him happy and make him proud of me.
I watched him constantly hurt, demean, abuse, and destroy other strong women in our community, but I listened to his manipulation tactics whenever I brought up concerns to him. I was completely fooled, and I hate myself for it. He kept making excuses as to why he wasn't paying me for all this work I was doing, blaming it on his office manager, and eventually, he owed me THOUSANDS upon THOUSANDS of dollars.
I was stuck in a place with no service to call home and get help.
Eventually, we worked on a huge project together — a workshop. I put my heart and soul into this, and I was never given credit for working my ass off. He stole credit from me, and claimed it was all his doing that brought this workshop to life. DURING the actual workshop, he suddenly showed his true colors. He cut me out of all communication, and wouldn't speak to me unless he was barking orders, screaming and swearing at me. He wouldn't even look at me, he lied to all his friends about me, blamed everything that went wrong on me, and essentially talked shit on me the entire workshop. He forced me to PAY for this workshop, even though I was working the entire time, and he refused to let me participate in any of the shoots.
It was one of the worst weeks of my life. I was stuck in a place with no service to call home and get help. I was in the worst state I've ever been in emotionally, and I had a mental breakdown on the last day when he screamed at me. I locked myself in a closet for four hours, snuck out and packed up my stuff, and left. I had to find help with friends at the workshop who had been paying attention and watching his treatment of me. They fortunately let me stay with them that night, and then I had to find a ride home. He never checked up on me, and I never got to say goodbye to all my friends.
After the workshop, he cut me out of his life. He blocked me on everything, and never paid me. I lost thousands of dollars and hours of work I poured into it. I only received a minuscule amount of money because I worked with his assistant for MONTHS to get any money out of him. He continued to hurt my business, and all of our mutual friends believed him. I lost so many friends, and I never felt so alone.”
“I want to start this by clearly stating that everything sexual I write here was consensual. I experienced no form of sexual assault or rape, every sexual act that happened was 100% consensual by both parties.
The nature of my complaint goes deeper than that. I was manipulated, lied to, taken advantage of, gaslighted, and then slandered by a prominent figure in the photography industry. I met him online, where most photographers meet others. I barely knew him at all, but we chatted every so often, joked around, we were friends. One evening he called me at 11pm crying and telling me that a bunch of vile women were talking shit about him. Were telling lies about him. Were accusing him of things he hadn't done. He told me who the women were, and told me they were vile, evil women that were just out to get him.
He was my friend. I believed what he said. I believed that they were exaggerating. It was only after he did the exact same thing to me that I realized that he had played me and manipulated me from the very beginning.
We went to the same workshop, and after he begged me to spend money and change all of my flights, literally begged me, I stayed. We had consensual sex. Everything was fine, I was scheduled to stay 4 days after I had originally intended. The day after we had sex he left me at his apartment for the entire day to go on a date with another girl. Did the same thing the next day and the next. Slept with the other girl. After he had convinced me to spend money to stay there. I had heard of him doing this exact same thing to another girl before me, and I believed him when he told me she was crazy. She wasn't.
He slandered me and my name, calling me 'crazy' and a 'slut' to multiple people in our industry, all in an effort to trash my reputation.
He apologized. He apologized profusely. He admitted guilt and said he was an idiot and would never treat me like that again. We maintained our friendship, or whatever you would call it. I drove 17 hours straight to go and visit him again. I planned to stay a week, he had invited me to stay with him for that week. I planned lunches and dinners and meet-ups with other friends in the area for that week. I arrived, we slept together the first night, and he barely said a word to me for the rest of the week. Didn't touch me, barely looked at me, didn't talk to me. Did the same thing he did the first time. He went out on dates with other people while I was there, treated me like a pariah, despite having admitting fault and apologizing for doing this same thing prior, KNOWING that it was unacceptable behaviour by any standard.
After leaving two days early, driving 17 hours back home through a damn snow storm I had a chance to reflect on all that had happened. I logged on to find he deleted me from Facebook. When I approached him and asked him why he said he did it as a joke. When I pushed a little further and said 'you hurt me' his response was 'I don't have time for this shit'.
I severed all contact. I was chalking it up to bad decisions on my part, I told myself I should have been smarter.
In the subsequent months this man removed me from multiple groups on Facebook, some which were directly beneficial to my business. He slandered me and my name, calling me 'crazy' and a 'slut' to multiple people in our industry, all in an effort to trash my reputation. He turned many of my friends and colleagues against me and told them countless lies about what had happened.”
So if you are one of the assholes responsible for these acts, I hope you're somewhere praying.
Jen Siomacco is the CEO and Creative Director of Catalyst Wedding Co. She works to mesh together her love of feminism, love stories, equality and design into the layout and brand of Catalyst while she sits on her couch and snuggles up with her SUPER lazy cats.