I wasn’t a fledgling entertainer looking to catch a break in the tough worlds of Hollywood or the media when it happened to me in Louisville, KY. I was just a skinny 17-year old working my first full time job. I was a $63-a-week clerk/stenographer for the United Presbyterian Church’s Board of National Missions. My harasser wasn’t some Hollywood mogul like Bill Cosby or Harvey Wienstein. No. I was the victim of a predator who wore respectability as a presumed “Man of God.” He was a minister.
I kept the incident secret for years; so long, in fact, that I really don’t remember that preacher’s name. He was African American and probably had kids my age. I’m sure I would remember his name had he worked where I did, in New York City at 475 Riverside Drive. The building was affectionately called “The God Box” because so many faith groups had offices there. Most likely I was familiar with this pig because he worked in the field for one of the entities that the denomination provided clerical support to through the Office of Synods and Presbyteries.
In any event, he was an authority figure in my eyes. The ruse he used for coming to my room at the old Sheraton Hotel was his claim that he needed me to take dictation for a document that was to be presented to the entire General Asembly the next day or the day after. I was glad to help him out.
It never occurred to me that a PREACHER would try to have sex with me. I didn’t ASK for it. Ultimately, he came to my room and I took down what he dictated, but when it came to leave, he hesitated. Out of nowhere, he jumped me. He was groping and kissing me. I was disgusted and scared. I cried and I begged him to stop. But I didn’t scream, believing that, though I was the victim, everybody would blame me and I would lose my job. I fought him off, but don’t doubt that he could have overpowered me, but didn’t because something in his Big head finally took control of his Little head. I have a recollection of pushing him out the door and smashing the heel of one of his feet in the process.
He never said a word to me. There was no apology, and when I saw him several more times during the General Assembly, he didn’t speak to me. He acted as if nothing had happened.
It was early 60s. I didn’t have language for what had happened to me. When I called my Mom, the fountain of all wisdom as far as I was concerned, she was upset and cried with me, but she didn’t have the language either other than to warn me to stay away from that man. “Don’t even look at him,” she counseled. Mom, who was back home in New York, must have felt as powerless I did. It was not just the matter of the distance, but the tenor of the times. I believe her response would have been totally difference if he had succeeded in full out raping me.
I had one hell of an introduction to the world of work. I survived, but I’ve never forgotten what that awful preacher man did to me. I’m just saying that sexual harassers and predators come in all forms. We shouldn’t be paralyzed by their status, their titles, their celebrity or their money. There is language and there are the means today to bring predatory pigs to justice. There are people who’ve been falsely accused, but having once been a victim, I will not add insult to injury by making my first response be to attack the accusers.