Warning: this story contains graphic descriptions of sexual violence which might be triggering for some readers.
A broken jaw first silenced Kimba Green.
When police raided the Nevada home where Green, along with 11 other young girls, had been held captive, she was literally unable to speak. Her jaw, broken by the men who picked her up off the street of her neighborhood 30 days prior, never healed properly.
Even after she was rescued, treated for her physical injuries — in addition to her jaw, her hip and femur bones were also broken — Green didn't talk. She wasn't sure what had happened, her memories a blur of days spent alone, naked in a small room while strange men came in and raped her.
Sex, rape, and trafficking were not concepts her then-12-year-old self could understand, not topics her family discussed during her California upbringing.
As a teenager, her trauma manifested itself as anger, as a lack of sexual boundaries, easily sliding into the label others gave her of promiscuous. But she still didn't talk about what happened.
As an adult, she understood what her then-adolescent brain was unable to comprehend or put into words. But to utter those words, to relive the trauma and acknowledge the physical and emotional scarring it left her with, was too scary, too painful, too shameful.
She stayed silent.
Until she didn't. She first shared her experience at a networking event in Frederick a few months ago. And then again, for this story.
Sitting inside the second floor conference room of CoWork Frederick on a rainy April afternoon, Green's voice wavered as she recounted the details of the unexpected, brutal violence she endured. It was still difficult for her to voice, even scarier to write on paper, which she has not yet done.
But she wanted to be true to the message: victims deserve to be heard and their experiences of sexual violence, assault, harassment and discrimination can no longer be discredited. That message started a movement that has spread its roots across the country, the world, and now, thanks to Green and a handful of other community leaders, to Frederick.
Leaders of #MeTooFrederick frame their efforts as a way to give voice to victims, offering healing and empowerment for their stories. At the same time, they seek to engage with a wider audience of perpetrators, bystanders and everyday residents on existing cultural norms — as well as the implications of their own actions and words.
In a recent meeting, organizers of #MeTooFrederick worked to identify a mission and vision statement, tossing out words and phrases, copying them to a whiteboard, only to scratch some out and revise them.
As Green astutely noted, "we have no idea what we're doing, how we're going to get there."
It started on a Facebook post — fitting considering the role social media has played in the national movement. Green, who owns her own social media strategy and training company, wrote a post on her personal page asking if any of fellow Frederick residents were interested in talking about the sexual assault and harassment issues unfolding on the national stage.
MaryLynn Hinde, a close friend and community activist in her own right, responded.
Their first meeting focused primarily on what they didn't want their effort to be.
"We didn't want to be a support group," Green said. "We didn't want it to be a bitch session, either."
She continued, "We wanted it to be a conversation ... with men and women ... with more people than those who have been directly affected. Something where, instead of saying 'you're wrong,' we create an environment where people can talk, ask questions, share their experiences."
They reached out to other friends whose expertise they felt was important to include: Inga James, director of Heartly House; Anne Hofmann, a professor in the English department at Frederick Community College who studies women, gender and cultural issues; Kris Fair, chairperson of the board of directors for The Frederick Center — only to name a few.
They created a website and corresponding Facebook page and Twitter account, a platform where community members could share written experiences of being victims or bystanders to sexual injustice, with the option to remain anonymous. Eventually, they plan to convert the written testimonies into a dramatized performance similar to a 2016 production depicting the real stories of Frederick's homeless called "Life Without The Ruby Slippers."
They're now seeking voices and stories that highlight perspectives outside their own: the LGBTQ, black and Hispanic communities chief among them. At the same time, they are considering how to more clearly define their group identity and goals.
"Survivor-led" was a phrase that several members repeated when discussing their mission and vision statement. Not to exclude those who have not been victims of sexual violence, but to emphasize that those with firsthand experience are at the forefront.
Their experiences vary, reflecting that the #MeToo movement encompasses egregious acts of rape and sexual assault and the more subtle instances of harassment and discrimination, the shades of grey.
Green's story is a more extreme example, a gruesome crime with a clear barrier between victim and perpetrator. But so close to its center, she struggles not to question how her own actions could have played a role.
She can't help but wonder how things might have ended differently had she been wearing more than a bathing suit as she limped home from the pool, broken flip-flop in hand. What if, rather than throw her towel out in front of her, creating a barrier between her bare feet and the scalding sidewalk, she wrapped herself in it?
"I know it probably makes no sense, but I feel guilty," she confessed.
Hinde responded quickly, "it makes perfect sense."
She, too, has struggled with guilt and shame over the blurred sexual boundaries that characterized her own childhood. The memories come back to Hinde in flashes: her father coming into her room at night and pulling up her shirt to rub her chest while Hinde pretended she was asleep.
Worse was watching her parents pry her 6-year-old sister free from the dining room table leg to which she clung, forcing her out the door and into the hands of the older man she went away with on weekends. Though Hinde's sister returned with gifts and toys, she begged not to go.
In another flash, Hinde recalled watching her father French kiss her sister. She was envious, rather than repulsed.
"I remember thinking, 'What was wrong with me that he didn't want to French kiss me?'" Hinde said.
The story Hinde shared on the #MeTooFrederick website detailed her experience of losing her virginity. She was 17, flattered by the interest of a cooler, older guy and eager to fit in with a crowd that made casual sex a regular part of their interactions.
But when Hinde's time came, her confident exterior disintegrated, leaving her scared and in pain, pleading with him to stop.
"It was over pretty quickly as I remember," she wrote, "however it does not take long to allow something so harmful and traumatic to happen, especially when you are participating in the process."
She questioned why she let it happen, and ultimately labeled herself "weak."
But as she concluded in the post, "When you are taught at an early age that your body and soul are to be shared by those who dare to take what they want from you for their own satisfaction, what do you expect?"
A different perspective
Steve Berryman, a downtown Frederick resident, also emphasized the importance of expectations.
Accusations made by multiple actresses against Harvey Weinstein, for example, might be true but the "mainstream media coverage" fails to consider that these women already knew what to expect from a "casting couch" culture, according to Berryman.
Other prominent cases have relied on what Berryman framed as exaggerations or even "outright lies."
He compared the #MeToo movement's callout culture to communist blacklisting under the McCarthy era.
"It can definitely be overkill," he said.
While he acknowledged that sexual harassment occurs, he also said he thinks it's been abused, particularly in the workplace environment.
"It's easy to take a sexual harassment claim and use it to get revenge, get even or even use it to propel your career," he said.
He added that there is an inherent sexual element that underlines a male-female manager-subordinate dynamic, which, from his perspective as a manager, made it "very easy to get entrapped in a situation that can be used against you."
He's experienced those situations many times over the course of his career working in management positions for large companies, including conducting sexual harassment training for employees.
He was actually fired from a position as a general manager at a Sports Authority for a statement which was, in his words, "misconstrued" as sexual harassment.
As Berryman recalled it, the cashiers in the store were having a fake orgasm contest, moaning into the walkie talkies that were linked to the store intercom system. He stepped in, told his workers to stop, and the words "fake orgasm contest" became the subject a a sexual harassment complaint.
"They literally said I was the bad guy," he said, his tone indignant as he recalled the 15-year-old injustice.
While misrepresentation was to blame for his firing, Berryman refused to acknowledge that he misunderstood implied sexual offerings when recalling a different example of the workplace male-female dynamic.
He was interviewing a group of mostly women candidates for a position, several of whom said they would do "anything" to get the job, Berryman said.
"The implication was very obvious ... they were trying to use their sexuality to get a job," he said.
Asked if it was possible he misunderstood or even misheard these women's words, Berryman answered "people aren't stupid."
Berryman similarly opposed the idea that he had ever harassed or discriminated against someone, even unknowingly.
"I would like to think not," Berryman said. "You don't have the kind of career success [I did] if you do that stuff."
Historically, the acceptance of workplace harassment as a cultural norm has made it difficult, if not impossible, for victims to find recourse.
In her post on the #MeTooFrederick website, James recounted an example from a previous job as a parole officer several decades earlier. She was sitting in her supervisor's office, talking, when another male supervisor came in. He commented on what James wore and then approached, standing right in front of her, his crotch at her eye level.
James looked to her supervisor to stop him, to reprimand him, but he was met with laughter, she said.
Green recalled asking to switch seats on a plane while en route to Miami for a work trip with her boss, desperate to escape his roving hands that kept finding their way up her skirt even as she pushed him away.
"The flight attendant was like, 'Oh honey, you should be honored,'" Green recalled.
The rest of the trip continued in a similar manner, her boss asking her to learn to make Cuban coffee for him rather than accompany him on the business meetings for which they had traveled there.
"I thought I was brought on the trip because of what I could bring to the table [professionally] ... I was told I was let in because I had nice legs," Green said.
She continued, "you don't go running to HR because HR was not supportive. You don't go running to the boss because your boss would tell you, 'This is what you get.'"
Workplace discrimination is not just a relic of a bygone era. It still happens today, from the corporate offices to the Broadway stage. The latter was where Elizabeth Lucas, a producer and artistic director now living in Frederick, endured gender-based discrimination.
The New York theater scene is billed as a place of inclusivity, "friendly to multiple kinds of horses," as Lucas put it. But she found little acceptance for women looking to break into the male-dominated artistic producing and directing world.
It wasn't as obvious as being groped in a corner, although that happened to her, too. Instead, Lucas named more subtle examples: pitching her project idea only to have it handed off, in front of her, to a man; asking men in the field out for coffee, hoping to gain their perspectives as mentors, only to have them react as if she were asking them on dates.
The theater world's subjectivity — projects and producers are commonly picked at the whim of individual directors — made it difficult for Lucas to fight back, she said.
But in the eyes of the law, gender-based discrimination and workplace harassment is much more clear cut. Matt Johnston, a Frederick lawyer who advises local businesses on sexual harassment cases, emphasized the black-and-white nature of legal ramifications for workplace harassment.
Local residents also have the opportunity to document and seek recourse for gender-based discrimination in the workplace, housing or other public accommodations through Frederick County's Human Relations Department or at the state level via the Maryland Commission on Civil Rights.
Of the 1,147 complaints made to the state civil rights commission in fiscal 2017, 212 were related to sex, 18 to sexual orientation and 3 to gender identity, according to the commission's annual report.
The county received 74 calls for discrimination in the first nine months of fiscal 2017, but only four of those calls resulted in filed complaints, according to information provided previously by Miles Ward, the county's human relations director.
These statistics likely fail to capture the extent of the problem which goes largely underreported, local and national advocates and service providers agree. Shedding light on the prevalence of sexual violence has been a primary focus of leaders of #MeToo nationally and worldwide.
A 2018 study prompted in part by the lack of recent and reliable data on the prevalence of sexual violence suggested that 81 percent of women and 43 percent of men experience some form of sexual harassment or assault in their lifetime. The findings were heralded as by various news outlets and #MeToo supporters as a break-through, although the report also acknowledges the constraints of the information gathered via a 2,000-person study.
Because of his work, Johnston was unsurprised by the prevalence of sexual assault and harassment uncovered in the #MeToo movement. However, he continues to be stuck by how often people speak without thinking, unaware of how their words could be twisted.
"I always use the example of the difference between saying, 'you look good in that suit' versus 'that is a good-looking suit,'" Johnston said.
Fair experienced a similar instance of unintentional discrimination during a doctor's visit a few months back. A nurse discussing his cholesterol advised Fair to tell his wife not to feed him too much dessert.
Fair corrected her that it was his husband to whom he would relay the advice. The nurse again repeated, "wife."
"And at that point I'm thinking, 'did that person not hear me, or did they choose not to affirm what I said?'" Fair recalled. "For 15 minutes I sat there going, 'what should I do?'"
He eventually decided to strategically incorporate the word "husband" multiple times in his next few sentences, hammering home the gender of his spouse. And finally, the nurse responded using the same word.
In situations where harassment or discrimination is unintentional, the point is not to vilify the perpetrator, Green explained. Rather, it's about making people take ownership of their words and actions.
"We're not man haters," Green said. "All we're trying to do is say, 'what you said had an impact on me.'"
And to give those who feel uncomfortable the strength to speak up, to say something, Hinde added.
Another woman, who chose to remain anonymous because of implications for her job, relayed a story about the positive outcome that came from her speaking up when a male coworker made her feel uncomfortable. He asked her out, an invitation she declined. He persisted to the point where she began to question, "is this harassment?"
Eventually, she sent him a message that his continued romantic pursuit made her uncomfortable. He apologized, said that was not his intention, and backed off, she said.
Asked if he ever, even unintentionally, did or said something that made another person uncomfortable, Johnston could not recall a specific instance but was "100 percent sure" he had.
"I can't go back and fix it, but I can apologize and try to do better," he said. "If I do something, I hope people call me on it."
The emotions and empowerment of calling it out
Despite the positive outcomes some have seen from calling out current experiences of assault or discrimination, dredging up past traumas is not so easy.
Hinde said she opted to post about losing her virginity, rather than other experiences, because it was safer, more relatable. But even hitting "send" on that narrative took its toll.
"It took me hours to finally post it," Hinde said. "It still makes me emotional, brings up this feeling of shame. Very few people knew all of that."
"These are things we don't go around telling people," Green agreed.
Green has not yet written a #MeToo post, though not for a lack of trying. Every time she attempted, she couldn't move past what she described as the "raw, heart-stabbing pain."
"Mine is so damn dirty," she said of her story.
Hinde empathized, but added that for her, putting into words what has haunted her mind and heart felt freeing.
"For me, it has that sense of reclaiming your sense of self," she said. "I didn't even really know it affected me until I wrote it."
Hofmann also framed writing her experiences, with her name attached, as a way of owning her story. Retelling the story of the groping she endured at the hands of a male teammate on her high school water polo team was not as traumatic as it was empowering.
She knew even then, as a teenager, that his advances were wrong, felt uneasy every time they wrestled for the ball during a match, knowing the above-water contact was often accompanied by a violating grab or poke hidden below the water's surface.
"I knew it wasn't right but I didn't have the language around it," Hofmann said in a recent interview.
It wasn't until the national #MeToo movement took hold last year that she recognized the assault for what it was.
Fair similarly discounted his own experience, which happened more than a decade ago, until he shared it with other leaders of #MeTooFrederick a few weeks ago, he said.
Compared with horrific experiences shared by Frederick Center clients, Fair always considered himself uniquely lucky to have escaped such harm. It was strange for Fair to consider that when the stranger he'd met at a bar in downtown Frederick cornered him and grabbed his crotch and shoved his tongue down Fair's throat, he was being assaulted.
Fair, then 22, having only come out about his sexual identity a few years prior, laughed it off as he pushed the man away.
"It's a weird realization," he said in a recent interview. "I don't beat myself up for it. I find it more fascinating."
Asked if he would react the same way now, he said no.
"I would be much more stern, tell him to 'get the eff off me,'" Fair said.
Changing words, changing behavior
Putting a name to the actions and words that have long gone unlabeled has inspired changes in Hinde's behavior and attitude, too.
"I'm trying to stop being such a great performer now for the public," she said. "What's more beautiful than a broken person who can share that and make other people feel like it's OK to share."
Lucas, meanwhile, has taken a more aggressive stand against perceived harassment and discrimination, though she framed it more as a function of advancing in her career rather than a byproduct of the #MeToo movement.
"You work so hard just to go along when you're up and coming," she said. "Now, I'm at the point where I don't care what people think. I've gotten unapologetic about getting at the conversation."
She acknowledged that calling someone out, particularly those set in ingrained behaviors, might not immediately yield a positive response. But maybe next time, they'll think before they repeat those words or actions.
Johnston said he has become more aware of his words. And Fair, a self-described "hugger," has reevaluated whether what he intended to be a friendly greeting could make the recipient uncomfortable. Now, he's more careful to consider whether that embrace would actually be welcomed.
Spreading that conscientiousness to a wider audience, though, will take time.
Fair compared it with the fight for marriage equality, though he quickly added that it was a "gross comparison."
"Slowly people come to the realization, get woke, have that moment," he said. "In order for bystanders and perpetrators to finally come to terms ... it takes time and stories, that critical mass."
Hinde emphasized the need for continued conversation as part of that progressive realization.
"Like any social issue, you begin by talking about it," she said. "Once you understand something, you can't not know it."