Why Didn’t You?

You guys, I am exhausted.

It has been three years since I wrote Tales from the Diner.

Hardly a day goes by now that I don’t see someone new accused of harassment, assault, or rape. Sometimes it’s a celebrity. Sometimes it’s your friend. And with each new allegation comes a flurry of defenses and demands: why are we only hearing about this now?

It took me two years to come forward with my story. My silence didn’t make my experience any less real.

So let me tell you– again— why I didn’t speak sooner:

When I began working at the Route 9 Diner I was eighteen. I came from a poor, broken family and had learned to be fiercely independent. I was willing to work long overnight shifts and endure the difficulties of my job because I considered my ability to do so a virtue.  My grit was what kept a roof over my head and compromising that could have had devastating consequences.

Because I was new to this industry, I took my cues from the veterans. Harassment and assault were commonplace and as such, long-term restaurant employees softened their responses. I learned to do the same. The daily whistles and sexualized comments became white noise. After I left, I found myself telling and retelling my stories to people outside the industry to gauge their reactions.  This became my litmus test and it was through these interactions that I began to regain my horror and realize the severity of the conditions of my former workplace.

Still, for a long time I also felt like I owed the diner’s owners and even managers my loyalty. They had drilled into all of our heads that we were nothing more than expendable labor. For those of us who stayed, it felt like a point of pride: We had proven ourselves good enough. We were the new veterans. We were valuable. We lived off the crumbs they threw us: a seemingly affectionate mori from one of the owners, a drink bought by one of the managers, a smile while others got a scowl. In the end, I felt like I owed them.

Additionally, I had no idea what could happen if I went public with my experiences. I couldn’t stomach the idea of being responsible for someone losing their job or being caught and punished as an undocumented worker.  I wasn’t willing to risk the livelihoods of people I loved.

There are still plenty of people who think I should’ve chosen differently. They say I should’ve gone to the police while I was there and that it doesn’t make sense for me to have stayed. But when you exist in a culture where this mistreatment and injustice is deemed acceptable, challenging that status quo and speaking out can be downright terrifying.

And you know what? It was.

I’ve hesitated to write the next part for a long time. I am afraid of deterring the next person who could call out an abuser and inspire others to do the same. I am afraid of accidentally throwing a wrench in the gears of a movement -even on a microscopic scale- that is contributing to an enormous conversation, if not yet a cultural shift. I am afraid of changing the mind of someone who is on the brink of shouting their story and kicking open the floodgates of their own community.

So those of you who have a story to tell: scream it. We need you.

And to those of you who still wonder why we don’t speak sooner or louder or at all: listen.

Here is what happened after I, and many others, spoke:

The first few days after posting our blogs were exhilarating. They spread like wildfire and supporters popped up everywhere. We received media attention and dozens of people reached out to share their own experiences with us. People lauded our bravery and thanked us for the attention we called to a rampant issue in our industry.

Employees who still worked at the diner were quick to try to discredit and insult us. Once we received the attention of the local media, our workload increased sharply. Our social media accounts suddenly required nearly 24/7 moderation and we spent over a week fielding comments and emails from reporters, supporters, and apparent adversaries of “the bloggers.”

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I don’t think I slept more than 12 hours in the week that followed.

 

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To be honest, the backlash we received is unfortunately par for the course in these instances. Still, knowing that there would be recoil to absorb, we cocked our pens and tried to brace ourselves for the kickback.

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People I had never met relished in their attempts to vilify me and the other women who had stepped forward. Whether or not our accounts were accurate became irrelevant and they sought to damn us simply for venturing into the court of public opinion.

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Eventually the publicity died down and business at the diner continued as usual. A new group of students flooded the area and knowledge of the misconduct was diluted and forgotten. Still, behind the scenes, litigation pursued by both the ACLU and the Massachusetts Attorney General pushed forward. I must have told my story 50 more times, paring it down into short, jargon-filled paragraphs, neat and numbered. Meanwhile, the diner’s owners and lawyers avoided cooperating, even deleting the years of footage taken by the 15+ cameras around the restaurant.

Five months after I first posted Tales from the Diner the AGO announced that they had filed a complaint against the Route 9 Diner’s owners and two managers. The next day, the doors were abruptly shuttered with less than a day’s warning to the staff. For those of us on the other side, it was clear that this was a way to quickly stem their cash flow. It was a smart and sinister way to avoid a larger figure demanded of them in what was becoming an inevitable monetary settlement. Their sole objective was to avoid honoring our deserved reparations. As such, they turned their backs on their current staff, allegedly refusing to do so much as offer them a letter of recommendation.

Across the state, I felt the results of this collateral damage in the pit of my stomach. I had wanted to set justice in motion, if only to add to a greater societal conversation. In doing so, I had negatively changed the lives of people I loved.

They were quick to echo and solidify my fears.

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It would be untruthful to say that on some level, I didn’t understand their desire to lash out at us. Despite the dissimilarities presented by no longer working at the diner, a lot of their anguish mirrored my own. I had my own wounds to tend regarding the diner’s closing and the endless strain that is civil litigation. I was nursing the crumbling of once-robust friendships with women whose abuses and pain I had understood and shared. As the weeks and months went on and the time commitment and load of required emotional labor in moving forward with a formal case never eased or subsided, we became resentful of each other and the time we kept for ourselves away from lawyers and press.

As our fortitude waned, the diner’s former staff amplified their cruelty.

 

 

 

 

I don’t believe these situations are ever easy or free from any complexity. That is simply what is offered to us through human experience and our relationships. To think that one could speak of a community staple and its people in a way that so challenges the public’s perceived truth without being prepared to engage in serious labor thereafter was naive. Still, we had no idea just how much work would be required of us, nor just how far the results would reach.

I would like to say that our allies in the legal field were endlessly trustworthy and supportive. Initially, that was true. But after our case changed hands within the Attorney General’s office, so too did our sense of security. We were introduced to a new woman who made us feel as though we were tedious tasks for her to complete; a stark contrast to the previous attorney who had expressed horror at our circumstances and had worked passionately in the name of justice. Our phone calls and emails went unanswered. Despite our persistence, many of us were left in the dark regarding the status of our own case.

Less than six months after agreeing upon a settlement to be paid out to the women involved in the case, one of the  diner’s former owners filed for bankruptcy, relieving him of any further financial requirement to the women he had allowed to be assaulted. The Attorney General’s office appeared disinterested and waited over six months to notify us. They seemed surprised at our upset, and perhaps more so to learn that bankruptcy had been threatened multiple times throughout the initial mediation between the diner and the state attorneys.

In the following months, the Attorney General’s Office continued to ignore our attenot a to contact them. Even calls from even the ACLU were ignored. When we did finally get in touch, the AGO expressed only surprise at the level of public torment we had underwent. Months earlier, we had sent emails full of screenshots, depicting such behavior.

Last spring the recipients of the Route 9 Diner settlement received an email from the Attorney General’s Office. In a final show of poor judgement and unprofessionalism, the contact list was cc’d rather than bcc’d. I now know everyone who is receiving a check in the wake of this litigation. Some of the names surprised me. Some of the names were people who had publicly mocked, discredited, and insulted me and the other women who dared to speak candidly of our time at the diner.

 

 

 

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I don’t doubt for a single moment that the women who slid under the radar to seek their restitution also shared our experiences at the hands of the diner’s management. I unwaveringly support their right to justice in whatever form by which they feel satisfied and vindicated. Nevertheless, I am left feeling conflicted. The work I, and the other bloggers, put into this case was very real. We suffered publicly, endured sleepless nights, missed work, and lost friendships. It is difficult for me to stomach the idea that someone could willfully add to our distress and workload while quietly profiting in the background. We were forced to relive the pain of our time at the diner and we were left bruised. Meanwhile, the Attorney General’s office enjoyed their victory march without so much as a thought to our continued suffering.

These days, I am uncertain exactly how I think justice should look. It would be dishonest to say that I am disheartened at the prospect of the diner’s owner’s bankruptcy, knowing that I will never receive my share of the settlement. Although it was never about the money, I learned to be satisfied with the shallow prize of an abuser’s dollar.

When I originally wrote Tales from the Diner, I ended it with a nod to my sister, saying, “I am shouting now that I have the strength to shout… for god’s sake, the lesson I teach her is not going to be one of silence.” I am afraid that through her witnessing the backlash of my actions, I unwittingly taught her exactly that.

The truth is that despite my once-powerful call to action, I have grown weary of what often feels like minimal results. I have ripped my scabs open time and again and sometimes the only shouts I can muster are closer to defeated, hopeless cries. There is no triumph in my scars.

So now, in a sea of #metoo, I again see the rise of #whydidntyou? Coming forward is bleak and without sanctuary or reprieve. Please try to understand.

 

 

Note: The inclusion of these screenshots is incredibly important to me as a means to illustrate what I and others faced as a result of bringing our experiences to light. I have tried my hardest to protect anyone from unintentional revictimization by editing these pictures as necessary. Jane Dover is a fake name and as such I left those images unedited. 

 

 

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