By: Elcho Stewart
“I think the floodgates have opened for white women,” she told the Times. “I don’t think it’s a coincidence whose pain has been taken seriously. Whose pain we have showed historically and continued to show. Whose pain is tolerable and whose pain is intolerable. And whose pain needs to be addressed now.”
The last time those lonely, painful, vulnerable, feelings and self-doubt, almost suffocated me was during the Clarence Thomas Supreme Court/sexual misconduct hearing. I was glued to the television. I watched Anita Hill being put on the defensive and I cried while breastfeeding my son who was born months before the hearing. In retrospect, I should have avoided such negativity during those intimate moments with my child but the viewing became an obsession.
By the time Mr. Thomas ascended to the Supreme Court of the United States of America, my postnatal hormones must have settled down and/or I simply accepted what is and tried to forget about The Incident.
I have discussed The incident with my late husband, my current one, as well as a few trusted friends. With some I called him by his name and with others I mainly hinted. Various news headlines about women and girls who are violated would set me on a downward spiral, triggering memories of The Incident as well as my experience growing up in Jamaica, starting with my treacherous commute to and from high school.
With no reliable transportation I and many other girls were happy to accept rides from grown men who would do the Trump: “grab them by the pu##y.” I/we would evacuate cars still in motion or slap the s#it out of the driver in what Jamaicans call a “box” across the face, which would force him to stop the vehicle. Either way, the coveted ride would end abruptly. Before long, girls got the reputation of being either “feisty” or “easy”, a victim of someone else’s bad behavior. They dare not tell anyone, not even their parents, why they withdrew or were as “hot” as Scotch Bonnet peppers.
It happened in either the summer of 1981 or 82. I was single and lived alone on Bourret Avenue off Victoria. He and I had reason to be around each other many times. I was his sister’s client and friend. They have many siblings and they are a close family.
One day I was headed downtown via the Cote St. Catherine metro station and he drove by, stopped and we chatted. He offered me a ride but he had a daily ritual before going to his office that required him to make a quick detour. I rode with him to the Oratoire St. Joseph and entered the church building where he lit a candle. Not long after that day, he introduced me to the idea of joining his office. I wrote a profile “test” and a few days after he called to arrange a visit to discuss the result. We met in my apartment.
When he arrived, I offered him a drink. I proceeded to the kitchen to pour the drink and when I came back, drink in hands, I found him standing in the hallway, completely naked and fully erect. I ordered him, who I shall call “Mr. Sonny”, to get dressed and leave. To my great relief, he complied. I was confused as to what signal I, a single woman, a friend of his family, had done to invite his behavior. I did not see it coming. I was left physically unharmed yet I felt dirty, violated and guilty.
I tried to forget about it and maintain my friendship with his sister. I went to another family barbeque at her home where, as I was ascending some stairs from one unit to another, he was behind me and proceeded to touch me on by buttocks without my consent. I did not want to make a scene but I deliberately yelled at him by name to stop touching me on my bum. One of his sisters was a few steps ahead of me and said: “Cutie, just ignore him.”
I was no longer comfortable in his presence. The last time I attended a family gathering was a Christmas party held in the basement of the property that the sisters shared. I was still single, and as I was dancing, I looked up and saw a row of married women with eyes firmly fixed on me… and seemingly not in a good way. I finished that dance and immediately left the party. I still wonder what they were thinking…
Years later, when I chose to join a certain Life Insurance Company, it was a decision based on my least likely to be around him. My career might have gone in a completely different direction.
I attended his mother’s funeral where, in her tribute, his wife thanked her mother-in-law for giving her such a wonderful husband. Right there in the church I vomited in my mouth and prayed that his daughters would not find husbands like him.
I once went to sell insurance to a fellow by the name of “Ward McVey” who lived with his girlfriend in LaSalle. After two visits in which he was there alone, despite my insisting on a joint appointment with his girlfriend, I realized that he was not a serious prospect so I stopped the sales process. Not long after that, a friend told me that “Mr. McVey”, “Mr. Sonny” and he were having a drink when my name came up. “Mr. McVey” allegedly said that I was only successful in my career because I brought a bottle of wine with me to my appointments. The inference was that I got male clients by sleeping with them.
I’m no Gwyneth Paltrow, but Harvey Weinstein is alleged to have used her name in the same way. That’s another form of harassment. I believe her. I remember running into “Mr. McVey” a short while after hearing what he had allegedly said about me and I took the opportunity to “apologize” to him for not following up on my meetings with him because of some preposterous talk about wine and seduction in exchange for sales. His jaw dropped and I hastily walked away. Apparently, though, “Mr. Sonny” had, at the time, empathically defended my honor by telling “Mr. McVey” that he did not believe him because “Elcho is a very serious person.”
When men behave badly, it is never without casualty, and it has taken years for me to recognize and admit how “Mr. Sonny’s” action has affected me:
1) The Black Community in Montreal is a small one. I became conscious of my every move and protective of my character and reputation by ensuring that I do not give the wrong cues. In other words, I continued to question and blame myself.
2) I stopped being his sister’s client.
3) I gradually “ghosted” his sister which left me feeling like a disloyal friend. We deserved better. She was invited to and attended my wedding and we had a few other interactions that eventually petered out. Maintaining a friendship that would involve being around her brother was just too suffocating.
4) Each time I hear about a woman being violated, the memory comes back. When the tape of President Trump feeling entitled to “grab them by the pu**y” surfaced, I felt violated again.
When the #MeToo Movement took off, I was transported back to jumping out of moving cars in 1970s Jamaica through to reliving The Incident of the early 1980s Canada. #MeToo. The feeling does not go away.
5) I have a heightened sense of the possibility of being physically raped even though he did not physically touch me.
6) Last, but by no means least, it has affected my relationship with my daughter. I had an irrational reaction to her normal, teenaged sexual curiosity and mistakes. She had to be perfect. Anything less, I thought, was an open invitation for the “Mr. Sonnys” and “McVeys” of this world to violate her. She and I deserve better.
Not so long ago, I joined a Facebook group called Jamaicans United Against Domestic Violence and Child Sex Abuse (JUDVCSA). There too I was constantly triggered. I left the group. The reports were too close to home.
Despite the fact that Black women and girls are sexually violated from an early age at an alarming rate by close family members and friends, disproportionately more so than their white counterparts, there is a code of silence in the Black community. Bill Cosby
was fiercely defended in the African American community blurring the line between the accused and the victim. It is rare that a Black man resigns because of alleged sexual impropriety, as did the long-serving, Black U.S. Representative, John Conyers. Closer to home, former Senator Meredith finally resigned if he wanted to see what was left of a pension. He, too, has his defenders, but I KNOW that Don is not the only Black, public figure, father figure, community leader, who had behaved badly. That wretched code though. Eh?
I will not discuss my history of dating Black men, but it is worth mentioning that “Ward McVey” never was and never could have been my lover. I have a son. He was raised right. I hope that he behaves better. I also have many brothers, nephews, male cousins, friends and acquaintances. I hope that they, too, behave better.
I suspect that “Mr. Sonny” would have refuted my account had I not used an alias. Given the men whom I have married, I anticipate that some people would see this as a “high tech lynching,” to quote Clarence Thomas. I speak truth to power.
I KNOW that this account will finally liberate me. Given that I have chosen not to reveal “Mr. Sonny’s” identity, the question my husband posed was: What do you hope to gain from joining the “#MeToo chorus” now, Elcho? The answer is: Peace.
I have spent a good part of my life advocating, promoting and volunteering in the Black Community, the Jamaican Community and empowering women. Before now, my and all the other #MeToo revelations would have been dismissed as frivolous or spiteful and my character would have been held up for scrutiny.
There are other women and girls in the Black Community who might have had the same experience with this man or other sexual predators and they need to know that what they have been subjected to is not their fault. They might not come forward with their #MeToo story, but I KNOW that THEY will believe me and I hope that they gain some strength from this.
We are not alone. It might be futile to expect an apology, but I also hope that the man who violated me and all other men like him will recognize the harm that they have inflicted on women.
That is enough!
Elcho Stewart is the married mother of a 28 year old daughter and a 26 year old son. She is a Financial Security Advisor and a former Community Contact financial columnist. She now writes for several publications in Canada and elsewhere.
Elcho volunteers and fund raises for various Black community organizations in Canada, Jamaica and Africa. She empowers women in the areas of financial literacy, sex assault and self esteem. She is the founder of the Network of Black Business & Professional Women (www.nb2pw.org), a not-for-profit organization that is committed to develop and support business and professionals women and accepts paid membership worldwide.