Trump remarks strike chord for Valley women

  • Jessica Leeds arrives at her apartment building, Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2016, in New York. Leeds was one of two women who told the New York Times that Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump touched her inappropriately. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson) Julie Jacobson

  • Supporters of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump cheer during a campaign rally at the South Florida Fairgrounds and Convention Center, Thursday, Oct. 13, 2016, in West Palm Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci) Evan Vucci

  • FILE - In this Feb. 12, 2015 file photo, writer Kelly Oxford arrives at the Los Angeles Fan Screening of "THE DUFF" in Los Angeles. On Facebook and Twitter, on the phone and on the job, from living rooms to hair salons, Donald Trump’s latest comment on manhandling women's bodies has unleashed a tsunami of stories from women sharing painful memories of sexual assaults. Oxford unleashed thousands of sex assault stories from women over the weekend by asking women to tweet her their assaults. (Photo by John Salangsang/Invision/AP, File) John Salangsang—AP

Gazette Staff
Friday, October 14, 2016

Public outcry on sexual assault has flooded the internet after audio was released of Donald Trump making lewd comments about women in 2005, saying he could force himself on them because he was “a star.”

That was just “locker room talk,” Trump said. But for writer Kelly Oxford, his vulgar words were “not OK.” She shared her experience of sexual assault on Twitter, and asked other women to share theirs.

The response was in the thousands. On Oct. 8, 14 hours after the post, Oxford tweeted that she was getting 50 stories per minute.

After Trump’s words and Oxford’s tweet, University of Massachusetts journalism professor Shaheen Pasha, 39, said something just snapped for her. She tweeted her story of an assault, a story she had never before spoken of, not even to her husband.

She was a 20-year-old college student walking through one of the housing units when a resident assistant, whom she had thought of as friendly, grabbed her arm and pulled her into a dark hallway, forcing his lips onto hers.

She pushed him off and ran away.

“I tried to figure out what I had done ... what I had said ... a conversation that would’ve encouraged this,” she said. “It never occurred to me that that was sexual assault.”

In the heat of the nationwide discussion, Michelle Ryan, 50, owner of Ashtanga Yoga Northampton, made a Facebook post to her friends, telling the story of her traumatic experience.

At just 16, Ryan was raped by a man in his 40s. He was someone she trusted and respected.

Ryan never spoke of it during her youth. She talked about the incident with her psychiatrist and told her husband a couple of years ago, but never made it public.

After the post, she said, about 20 people, men and women, messaged her privately about their experience with sexual assault.

Liz Friedman, 49, program director of Mother Woman in Hadley, made a Facebook post about an assault in college involving her professor.

She remembers she did well in the class and the professor used to compliment her. One day, Friedman said, her professor invited her to meet him at the college pub. As they were chatting, he leaned in and grabbed her breasts.

“I was startled, shocked, disgusted, frightened,” she said.

Friedman said she had discovered other women who were assaulted or harassed by the professor. They filed complaints with the school, but nothing happened.

However, those were not the only moments of harassment for Pasha, Ryan and Friedman, who have all experienced verbal harassment on the street.

Pasha said she has often experienced catcalling, men following her and, in one instance, a random man picking her up at a festival and walking off with her. He found it funny, she said.

“It makes you feel uncomfortable,” Pasha said about verbal harassment on the street. Some men who offer unwanted comments get angry when confronted, while others take offense if they're ignored, she said.

Demand for services

From harassment on the street to rape, the Center for Women and Community at the University of Massachusetts has services for people in Hampshire County.

Rebecca Lockwood has been associate director of counseling and rape crisis services at the center for 15 years. Lockwood said over the years she has seen an increase in women coming forward for support and using the center's services.

However, Lockwood said, a rise in service use does not mean there has been an increase in sexual assault. More likely, she said, people feel more comfortable about reaching out for help and asking for support.

The center offers a 24-hour hotline for anyone who has experienced sexual violence as well as counseling service, support groups and educational workshops for the community on bystander intervention and sexual violence prevention.

For the culture to change, Lockwood said, sexual assault is an issue that “takes a community to address.”

Caitlin Ashworth can be reached at cashworth@gazettenet.com.