How I Survived Decades Of Sexual Harassment (And A Brutal Rape Attempt) In Hollywood

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I Dreamed Of Telling The Men Who Harassed Me To F-Off!
Self

How growing older has helped me find peace.

In 1983, at the tender age of 20, I was an aspiring actress living in Hollywood.

I had moved from my hometown, a suburb of Seattle, green as a clover, with stars in my eyes. Even though I had to share my studio apartment on Sunset Blvd with cockroaches, I still felt so incredibly lucky to be living in The City Of Angels.

As far as acting was concerned, I had a good dose of beginner’s luck booking a few national TV commercials and I supplemented my income working as a hostess in a trendy West Hollywood restaurant.

I was a real "looker" back then and encounters with men who pretended to be interested in my acting abilities, only to actually want to get me on the "casting couch" or to be more exact, in bed, were frequent.


RELATED: This Is What Happens When You Go To HR With A Sexual Harassment Claim


Even though I was somewhat naïve, I remember feeling pretty savvy after navigating a certain sticky situation.

A certain B level casting director called Bob took a liking to me. We met at an acting workshop, and he called me in for a "general" which was common back then. It was like a meet and greet at the casting director’s office so that they could get to know you.

I was beyond excited! One day Bob gave me a call and told me that he thought I would be perfect for a role in an Al Pacino film. "Come down to my office tomorrow at noon, and hey, bring some lingerie to change into so I can see how you look for the role."

My stomach felt queasy. "Bring some lingerie? Well… Okaaay… I guess…"

I shared my uneasiness with Yvette my forty-something, overly protective neighbor. 

"Ah, he wants to play that game huh? Okay, let’s get some sexy nightgowns together; you can borrow some of mine. You’re going to show up, but I’m going with you," she said with a smirk.

When Yvette and I waltzed into Bob’s office, I had several sheer negligees dangling from a padded hanger.

"Hi Bob, I’m so excited to be considered for the film. This is my friend, Yvette."

Panic flashed across his face as he shuffled around some papers on his desk, and then glanced at his watch. "Oh, uh…well, listen, Marla, I completely forgot…I have a tennis match that I’m late for. So, I’m sorry, but I don’t have time for you today. I’ll have to call to reschedule."

Slimy snake!

THANK YOU, YVETTE!

Over the years, I had many more experiences with "creeps" such as Bob, approaching me in parking lots, the grocery store, post office, nightclubs, you name it; attempting to lure me into compromising situations by the false hope of being given an acting role or modeling gig.

It was maddening, unfair, and infuriating, to say the least!

Luckily, I kept my wits about me and managed to avoid sexual assault until the fall of 1993.

My husband Bruno and I lived in the Miracle Mile district near the LA County Museum. I was thrilled that we had snagged a fabulous two-bedroom ground floor apartment in an 8-plex right across the street from where we were living. The building resembled a French chateau and the landlords who lived upstairs were actually French!

Since I was so excited, I told Bruno, who worked as a sous chef at a nearby Italian restaurant, that I would start moving things over by myself and then we could continue together the next day, which was his day off.

"Marla, just wait," he said. "I don’t like the idea of you moving things by yourself."

The apartment was freshly painted and I was so excited, so I didn't listen. In the late afternoon, I started taking over boxes and unpacking the kitchen stuff. My little three-pound Yorkie, Daphne, watched me going back and forth across the street. 

I remember seeing an old van parked in front of the building. Strangely, I pictured a man popping open the back doors of the van, grabbing me, and pulling me inside. I also thought thieves could be watching. I told myself I was just spooked because I’d been watching one of those unsolved mysteries where someone was murdered.

At about 9:00 P.M., I trudged across the street with the last load for the night and set it on the floor. I turned to close the door behind me, but an ominous looking Latino man stood at the door. I immediately tried to close it, but he pushed it open and charged in, another man right behind him who shut the door. 

I assumed they were robbers, so I screamed, "Take what you want and leave!"

Ignoring my words, the first man knocked me to the floor and held me down. I was lying on my back and I could see the second man standing at my feet and undoing his belt. All I could think was, "Oh my God, I’m going to be raped!"

The man at my feet grabbed my pant legs and pulled. My tennis shoes came off in his hands. 

I screamed like a wild animal, screeching and squirming and kicking like crazy to get away, ending up turned over on my stomach still crying for help. One man held my shoulders and the other my feet. The man at my shoulders slapped his hand over my mouth and covered my nose as well. Deliberately.

I couldn’t breathe. I tried to claw his face, but I couldn’t reach. The men were completely silent in the process of snuffing out my life. By bucking and twisting, I was able to get a small gulp of air at the side of his hand, but I could feel the left side of my brain getting heavy. I was passing out. I was sure I was a dead woman.

Didn’t anyone hear me? Why weren’t my landlords coming to rescue me?

I knew our new landlords were an elderly couple, but not deaf. Yvette and Leon lived upstairs, yet they had to have heard me. I could imagine my name on the news as a rape and murder victim. Was it really my turn?

At least Daphne isn’t here, I thought. She’d be barking and going nuts, and one swift kick from these brutes would kill her.

A sudden glassy crash and some voices made that terrible hand let go. Air! I could breathe.

They hadn’t raped me. The men let go of me and I gasped for air, the fresh paint smell stinging my nose. I couldn’t move, other than to scream. Then, I felt myself being dragged up a flight of stairs; clunk, clunk, clunk.  


RELATED: The Actual Definitions Of Sexual Abuse & Sexual Harassment For People Who Think The Rules Have Changed


I was brought inside an apartment where I collapsed in the entryway, still screaming. It was Leon’s and Yvette’s son, Derrick, who was visiting from Washington D.C., who had rescued me. He shattered the window just in time.

I finally calmed down enough to be brought to the sofa where I lay down.

Leon brought me a glass of whiskey straight up which I downed in one shot. I managed to tell them what happened, and Yvette called 911, but it was a Saturday night and there was so much crime going on in L.A., that they were told the response would be slow.

In the meantime, the paramedics came and checked me out. Since I was basically okay, Bruno didn’t want to leave the restaurant without a chef, so I waited for him at the landlords’ apartment.

I put my hand out to Derrick. "Thanks for saving me. I thought I was dead."

Yvette leaned over the sofa. "At first we thought, well, you know, a young couple, they must be fighting."

"You were screaming so loudly that people were coming out into the streets to see what was going on," Derrick said. "I finally grabbed a broom and came down, and I broke the window with it. The guys ran out so fast, they almost knocked me down."

Leon brought me another shot of whiskey. Bruno came for me at 11:30 and I literally slept with half of my body on top of him that night. I was completely traumatized and afraid to even go to the bathroom alone.

For months after the attack, I was certain that those men were going to come back and finish me off. I started working the lunch shift at a closer restaurant. When I came home in the afternoons, I checked all the closets, shower, under the bed, and behind every door. I triple-checked the locks on the doors as I waited for Bruno to get home.

Whenever I heard a noise or Daphne's bark, I rechecked the locks. When Daphne needed to go out, I carried a kitchen knife up the sleeve of my jacket and some pepper spray that a policeman gave me.

The main thing that got me through all this was that my dad called from Seattle to chat calmly with me for about an hour every evening to distract me from my fears. I still tear up, remembering his patient, caring conversations.

For years, the smell of fresh paint flooded me with the memory of my attack and traumatized me all over again.

For the next twenty years, the sexual harassment continued, in the restaurant business as well, but in other forms. I will never forget working in several places with French or Italian all male employees — managers, chefs, and waiters.

They were "old school" and NOT thrilled with the fact that a woman was hired, so their retaliation was to assign me the lousy sections, giving me a smaller cut out of the pooled tips, and forcing me to stay after midnight to close up alone.

The treatment was hurtful and confusing. I remember feeling angry with myself for not being more responsible and saving more money over the years; after all, if I had a big bank account, I could have told them all to F-Off!

Now in my 50's, I can honestly say that I feel strong and in control of my own destiny. I’ve managed to become an entrepreneur, I’ve stashed some "F-You" money in the bank and I’m finally pulling my own strings. I know that I am worthy, deserving and powerful!

The #MeToo movement is shining a light on just how often women in our society are subjected to sexual harassment, assault, and actual threats to their lives on an ongoing basis, and I think that is a very good thing!


RELATED: Why It's Still Sexual Harassment — Even If You're Married To Him


Marla Martenson is a matchmaker, author, Reiki practitioner and radio show host. She helps people connect with their soulmate through self-love and healing. To join like-minded people and discover how to truly love yourself, the real secret to finding love, join Marla’s Facebook group, Love Yourself, Love Your Life. And read more about Marla’s spiritual adventures in her memoir, The Buddha Made Me Do It, A Field Guide To EnLITEnment.

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