Speak Up, Ladies. It is Your Moral Obligation.

This article is with regard to Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, Bill Shine, Bill O’Reilly, and the many other predatory men like them.

It is a harsh reality that (some) men with power, feel they have the right to abuse women, be it sexual or otherwise. The many actresses who are speaking out against Weinstein is just another example of this. Sadly, it’s merely the tip of the iceberg. There are far too many men who were, and are, guilty of this heinous conduct. Each day another story comes out about such predatory, powerful men who feel it is their right to harass, assault, worse yet, rape women.

It would be nearly impossible for me to speak so forthcoming, to give advice, to, hopefully, empower other women, if I hadn’t experienced such abuse in my own life. And so, in brief, and terribly personal, I share…

When I was 12, I was assaulted by Rex, a 32 old neighbor, as I was swimming in the lake. I kicked him in the groin and swam away. He never bothered me again.

When I was 14, I was assaulted by Rex’s friend, James, as I was coming in from horseback riding. He threw me up against the garage wall and assaulted me. I somehow pushed him off me and ran into the kitchen. I grabbed the largest knife I could find. I waved the blade with such intensity, all the while, I screamed at him, telling him to back off or I would cut him! He thought I was toying with him. Trust me, I was not! He eventually backed away. James never bothered me again. (An equally disturbing aspect of this story was that the 35 year old woman who owned the house, was in the other room, laughing at me, while prodding James on.)

Unfortunately, I was too young and too naive to know that I could even report these men. Furthermore, my step-mother would’ve blamed me—and her wrath was more frightening to me than those men. Hence, why I stayed quiet. I regret it to this day.

When it comes to the Weinstein’s, I experienced this type of sexual abuse throughout my early 20s when I lived in Palm Beach and Miami. I was going on modeling and acting auditions weekly. One of the most brazen incidents was when a respected TV producer called me into a meeting under the ruse of offering me a major role, only to come into the room with nothing on, but a sleazy red robe. Within minutes, he pulled out his cock and started to masterbate, slowly and deliberately, as he casually gave his pitch, as well as, what would be “required” of me to get the part.

Needless to say, I did not stay quiet. I jumped up and told him exactly what I felt about his disgustingly offensive behavior and his attempt to manipulate me into having sex with him. I stormed out. I also encouraged all the other young ladies in the other room to follow me. They did gladly. Once again, I regret that I did not report this man. As I reflect on why I didn’t, well, it was, because things like this happened all the damn time. It was the shameful norm. It was simply how the industry worked. I ultimately left the modeling industry for exactly this reason. I was tired of feeling like I would never succeed unless I gave some fat slob a blowjob or allowed him to bend me over his desk for a 30-second thrill.

For the men who attempted to take more from me than I was ready to give, and all because they bought me dinner, I never gave in, nor did I ever allow them to make me feel like I “owed” them a damn thing. I stood my ground. I refused their aggressive, guilt-driven advances and left their whining, shameful ass.

As I grew older, I would like to believe I grew wiser. Two final examples of what speaking up can do for you— and other women:

At age 19, I was sexually assaulted by a FL police officer. I reported him to the Internal Affairs within 48 hrs. He, of course, denied the assault. However, the evidence was impossible to ignore. My testimony, on behalf of the State of FL, helped convict that cop on numerous charges. He was also fired. Better yet, the courts assured me he would never work, as a police officer ever again. Anywhere. Although his sexual attack on me was frightening and humiliating, my primary goal was to make sure he could never do it to another woman. The reality is, though, that police officer was able to assault me, because the women he had done this to prior, were too afraid to speak up.

Now, 36, and living in southern CA. It’s 4:30am. I’m headed to work at CNN. I was involved in a five-car accident on the 405. As my car was in flames alongside the highway, the CHP officer was oblivious to my state of shock, as he arrogantly asked me out. Sorry, I wasn’t interested. Later that same day, he contacted me, saying he needed to meet to go over the details of the accident. The officer came to my home. He was polite at first. Suddenly, he started to tell me all the things he wanted to do to me sexually. He became aggressive. Vulgar. When I told him to leave, he refused. He held me hostage for several hours in my home. Although I eventually got him to leave without bodily harm to myself, because this cop repeatedly told me he would be watching for me out on the roads, and he lived just a few miles from me, I’m ashamed to admit I stayed quiet for almost a year. After all, this wasn’t about getting some frivolous modeling job, rather, I actually feared for my life. But no matter my fear, I knew I had to report him, because I knew I’d bear some responsibility if he did this to another woman.

Therefore, I took his taped apology (he was dumb enough to have left it, and in great detail, on my answering machine) and filed a report with Internal Affairs. The attending officer taking my initial complaint treated me like I was a lying bitch out to “unjustly get” one of their own. His attitude changed dramatically when I told him I had a taped confession from the officer in question.

We eventually went to court. I was a witness on behalf of the State of CA. The officer was found guilty of various charges, and he, too, lost his job. Once again, the courts assured me, this man would never be a police officer again. I was so proud of this accomplishment. Another frightening, sexually abusive cop off the streets! However, years later, I saw him working as a security officer at an outdoor mall in Newport Beach. I was horrified, because of the many unsuspecting women he had access to on any given day. (BTW: During the trial, the DA told me this officer had assaulted a number of other women. One, was a CHP officer, a co-worker. But she was so scared of him, she quit her job and moved out of CA. Good for her. Bad for me—and every other woman he went on to assault.)

Unfortunately, my stories are not at all unique. Most women over the age of 12 have, to some degree or another, been sexually degraded, assaulted, and/or raped by a man of a certain position. These sexual predators, who often have a position of wealth and power, prey on women to suit their own sexual desires. However, it is up to us, as women, to not let this happen. Scream! Hit! Kick! Bite! Run! Learn self-defense! Buy a gun! Learn to protect yourself! If something does happen, it is then up to us to SPEAK UP, to report that man. If we are too scared to report him, or we take a cash settlement to quiet us, we allow the Weinstein’s, Cosby’s, O’Reilly’s, etc., of the world to continue to prey on other women. We have to stand up for ourselves—and for all the other women who will be subjected to this same abuse, if we do not hold them accountable.

In closing, ladies, speak up for yourself. If you are young, too scared, or have no idea who to go to, tell your parents. Tell a teacher. Tell your Priest. Tell someone. Do not allow anyone to abuse you. Do not accept a monetary settlement to make you go away. On the other hand, you can’t agree to their sexual propositions in exchange for a raise, promotion, acting role, etc., only to then cry abuse/rape years later. You are both adults. Unless he held you at gunpoint, you can typically say no and get the hell out of that situation. Nevertheless, you have to hold these men accountable then, not decades later. Do it for yourself—and for all the females who will certainly be assaulted after you, if you choose to stay quiet. Speaking up, after all, is our moral obligation.

With Empathy,

Phoenix Gilman