How My Migraines Led to My #MeToo Moment
Content Note: This article describes the experience of a community member who would prefer to remain anonymous and contains themes of sexual assault. If you or a loved one are struggling, consider reading our mental health resources page or contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673).
I put on the terrycloth robe and carried my stack of clothes to the massage room. The massage therapist was smiling from behind thick-framed hipster glasses. I told him about my chronic pain: daily migraine attacks turned my neck into steel ropes, which then triggered the next migraine, and the next.
The massage began. With every stroke he asked me to breathe deeply, and I fell into a state of calm, almost falling asleep.
When did the massage become inappropriate?
Halfway through the massage, he had me flip onto my back. His hands went up my legs to my inner thigh. I felt uncomfortable but figured this was normal (it is not). Still sleepy, I felt buried under a pile of sand. His hand went under the blanket that had been draped over me, moved to my pubic area and started to stroke. I knew this was not normal. The alarm I felt was fighting with the deep calm he’d induced earlier.
“I prefer you not touch me there…” I managed.
There are stronger words I rehearse years later, as if I’m prepping for a repeat encounter. The memory forms a clenching at my pelvic muscles and fists at my hands.
How did the massage therapist respond?
He stopped, said a quick, “sorry,” in the tone of someone who’d bumped into you and spilled some coffee, and moved to my neck. “There, is that better?” he asked softly. In shock, I let him finish the massage, but I was stiffer than ever. Even if my mind hadn’t caught up to what happened, my body knew. My body knew.
He handed me a business card on my way out with a hand-drawn picture of a tree. It gave the impression of a friend who’d misread my level of interest, rather than a professional who’d crossed a boundary.
How did the spa respond to the incident?
The next day, after I’d processed what happened, I wrote an email detailing the events to the spa owner. She called me a liar and said if I didn’t retract my statements, she’d sue for libel. I was backed into a corner. So I buried the events in a mental trash can, but they surfaced when things triggered the memory: hipster glasses, certain touches, perfectly-fine-massage-appointments, other #MeToo stories. I wasn’t only upset about the assault, but the owner’s response.
What has happened to the spa since then?
A few years later, I saw online that the spa had closed. I read an old review that described an identical experience. The inner leg rubbing. The inappropriate touching. The spa owner commented, calling it a lie.
I mentally connected to that other person out there, who felt the same: unheard and wronged. I wondered if they’d also suffered chronic pain.
How are disability and sexual assault related?
In a book called, “Sitting Pretty: The View from my Ordinary Resilient Disabled Body,” author Rebekah Taussig writes, “The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence reports that disabled women are three times more likely to be sexually assaulted than their nondisabled peers and estimates that 80 percent of women with disabilities have survived sexual assault.”
I’m not the only one left vulnerable because of disability. When I was first seeking pain relief, I didn’t realize someone could take advantage of me. The reality is, we all have moments where we’re left vulnerable and those are the moments you hope for support and care. But sometimes we get the opposite. Maybe we can’t stop all incidents of assault, but we can talk about them and make them known. We can say, “Me, too.”
Maybe you’ve had a similar or worse situation. Perhaps someone took advantage of your pain, disability, or moment of vulnerability. I’m here to give you as hug and say I know how you feel and I’m sorry that happened to you. And thank you. Thank you for reading my story. I feel heard. Finally.
Have you taken our In America Survey yet?