It was a gorgeous morning in Malibu and I was in a state of bliss. I was in my mid-twenties, just out of college working as a personal assistant for a Hollywood screenwriter and director while I figured out the rest of my life.
Life was good.
I was getting paid to walk my boss’s dog on a particular beach where the tide was lower. Despite the fact it was winter, it felt like a summer day, so I stripped down to a bikini top and shorts to get some sun.
As soon as we started our daily stroll down the picturesque beach, I saw a man sunning himself on the expansive deck of his home. I recognized him from movies and television; he had been famous a long time. He saw me, too, and decided to move from his perch and walk down to the ocean to talk to me.
He asked if he could walk with us; I said yes.
At first, things were friendly. He asked about my dog. I told him she belonged to my boss. He asked who I worked for, claiming, “Oh, he’s a friend of mine,” when I revealed his name.
We laughed and he flirted with me. I was flattered. I wondered if he was going to ask for my number.
But instead, he invited me into his house. He wanted to show me his “amazing new sauna.”
I suddenly felt uncomfortable. I told him I couldn’t. I had the dog, and my boss expected me back.
“We can tie the dog up outside,” he said. “Come on, you’ll love my sauna. And don’t worry about your boss. Just tell him you were with me and he will be totally cool with it. He’s my boy.”
That’s when the situation started to feel really inappropriate. How naïve was I? He didn’t want to date me, he just wanted to sleep with me. And was he right? Did my boss consider me a tradable commodity? Would he be OK paying me to spend time in this guy’s sauna? Is that how things “worked” in Hollywood?
I politely declined his offer, but the actor kept pressuring me, begging me to stay. He finally suggested I return later after work so we could “have some fun.”
On the drive back to my boss’s house I felt dirty, but I couldn’t figure out why. This actor hadn’t technically done anything wrong. He hit on me, like men hit on women they think are interested in them, right?
When I walked in, I told my boss what happened, sort of laughing the whole encounter off. His reaction was honorable: he was disgusted. He explained that man was no friend of his, and no, it wouldn’t have been OK for me to go inside of his house.
I never returned to the actor’s house after work, so I’ll never know what would have happened.
A few weeks later, my boss and the actor ran into each other at a party, where my boss told him to “stay away from his assistant.”
I’m sure he laughed, brushed the whole thing off, and went on with his evening. But shortly thereafter, I saw the actor at a club where I was celebrating my birthday with friends. I said hi. Unsurprisingly, he pretty much ignored me.
And that was that.
I filed the actor-who-tried-to-solicit-me-on-the-beach-in-Malibu encounter under “Crazy Things That Happened When I Was Living in Hollywood,” occasionally bringing it up with a laugh during dinner party conversation. It didn’t seem like that big of a deal … until now.
I am now a wife and mother reading reports about this actor sexually assaulting various women. He denies the allegations, of course, but I don’t believe him. There was something that didn’t feel right about him back then. These accounts only confirm what my intuition was telling me.
What would have happened if I walked into his house that morning?
Maybe he would have been really nice, kissed me, and asked me to go on a date with him? Or perhaps he would have put the moves on me and backed off if I wasn’t comfortable? It’s possible he really did just want to show me his sauna. Or, would he have exposed himself to me, or forced me to do things I didn’t want to do? Would I have told anyone? Would they have believed me?
I can already imagine what the world would say:
“She’s an alcoholic and drug addict; she probably wasn’t really sober.”
“She’s just accusing him to get attention.”
“He was famous and she was … nobody.”
And people wonder why women and men don’t come forward sooner.
I praise the brave souls who are finally coming clean about their experiences with sexual assault. I want you all to know that I believe you.
I don’t care if you were drunk or high. I don’t care if you were wearing a short skirt or whether you willingly walked into a room with an aggressor.
You flirted with him, so what? Maybe you slept around a lot. Who cares? You shouldn’t have “known better.”
You didn’t bring this on yourself. And it’s not your fault. You aren’t lying. In fact, according to research, only 2 to 10 percent of sexual assault reports are false — meaning most people who come forward are telling the truth.
I’m not sharing my experience to get attention. I wasn’t sexually assaulted by this man and he did nothing wrong … to me.
But it’s like driving down a street and seeing a car accident I may have narrowly missed in my rearview mirror. I can’t help but wonder.
What if I made a different decision and walked into that gorgeous house? What would have happened?
I could have been you. It could have happened to me. It could have happened to any of us.