The night after Anita Hill testified during a 1991 nationally televised hearing that then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas "did not respect my having said 'no,'" Sue sat down at the dinner table and told her husband about how her ex-supervisor sexually assaulted her 12 years earlier.
She was 27 when the attacks began — the man would call her into his office, ask her to close the door, and repeat his unwanted advances. Sue, who asked that the Inquirer and Daily News withhold her last name because she still works in the same field, left that job after another higher-up told her that her abuser was "just a really friendly guy."
And she kept the story close for years, until she watched Hill testify, and finally felt the guilt and shame start to fall away.
"I made a great leap in 1991," said Sue, 66, of Cherry Hill. "But it's all back."
The allegations of sexual assault leveled against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh have thrown his confirmation into unexpected doubt while dividing the nation over how to handle accusations over decades-old behavior. On Friday morning, President Trump reiterated his support for the nominee, tweeting: "I have no doubt that, if the attack on Dr. Ford was as bad as she says, charges would have been immediately filed with local Law Enforcement Authorities by either her or her loving parents."
The tweet led to thousands of survivors of sexual violence using the hashtag #WhyIDidntReport and sharing their stories of sexual violence.
Among them was Amy Feld of Conshohocken, who on social media shared several messages about why she didn't report sexual abuse she experienced when she was younger, including that "he was a doctor, and I thought it was an examination." Feld said that in a separate incident that took place when she was 15, an older male coworker pinned her on a desk — she said no repeatedly, fought him off, and got out of the situation.
At the time, she thought he was just "making a pass" and didn't report the incident. Today, she's 54, and feels differently.
"There's so many reasons why I didn't tell," she said. "I didn't realize what was going on. I didn't think it counted. There's just so many reasons that women of my generation didn't tell."
But she said she feels optimistic that moments like #WhyIDidntReport will help future generations of victims of sexual violence understand that they're not alone.
"Abuse and rape victims, we have nothing to be sorry about," she said. "What happened to us is the entire fault of the abuser. Any shame that we feel is their shame."
Kavanaugh, 53, has strenuously denied allegations by Christine Blasey Ford, a 51-year-old California psychology professor who told the Washington Post that he attacked her in the early 1980s when they were teenagers attending prep schools in Maryland. Ford told the Post that while he was "stumbling drunk" at a house party, Kavanaugh forced her onto a bed, groped her, tried to remove her clothes, and covered her mouth when she tried to scream, leading her to worry that "he might inadvertently kill" her.
The conversations taking place online and on the airwaves — Why did she wait so long to report this? Are we sure she wasn't confused? Why does she feel traumatized by something that happened so long ago? — have reopened old, deep wounds for some victims of sexual violence while underscoring the notion that while survivors often find ways to cope, the trauma, in one way or another, can last a lifetime.
One in six American women and one in 33 American men have been the victim of an attempted or completed rape, according to the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network. Only about 30 percent of rapes are reported to police, experts say, and about one in six of those reports leads to an arrest.
Kristen Houser, a Pennsylvania-based spokesperson for the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, said there are a variety of reasons why victims of sexual violence don't report what happened or wait years to do so, including fear, shame, and concern that the person they tell may not understand or may blame them. More than 90 percent of women who are raped experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder in the two weeks following the incident, while a third of women report symptoms of PTSD nine months later, according to RAINN.
While reading about the allegations against Kavanaugh can trigger long-buried feelings of fear, it can also give victims a sense that they're not alone, Houser said.
Some survivors of sexual violence experienced a similar feeling when the #MeToo movement began nearly a year ago. While many felt satisfied that bad behavior was being called out publicly, the never-ending drumbeat of news about sexual assault was a painful reminder for some who had attempted to forget their attacks or had developed strategies to think about them less frequently.
"Social media is largely responsible for the breakdown of the shame and stigma that has been around for centuries," Houser said. "When you hear the same stories and see other people are reacting with compassion, and you realize you're not alone, it feels suddenly like such a relief to be able to speak the truth."
Mylisa Kesselman, a Center City-based therapist who specializes in counseling victims of sexual violence, said sexual violence is an "isolating crime" that often happens in secrecy and causes women to feel a sense of guilt, but added that she's had an influx of clients since the #MeToo movement began, many of whom say they finally feel like they can talk about a traumatic experience that may have happened years ago.
She said every victim experiences the aftermath of an attack differently, and many didn't realize that something that had happened to them was an assault until many years later — after they heard someone else describe something similar.