50 Women Over 50

Over 50 and Finding Meaning in Rape Trauma

Episode Summary

Greta McClain is a former police officer who, in her late 40s, suffered a brutal sexual assault that left her suicidal. The ‘Me Too’ movement of 2017 gave her the inspiration to move forward with her life and her fifties have been an incredible journey from being a victim of crime to becoming a community leader and vocal women and victims advocate

Episode Notes

Host Sherrilynne Starkie welcomes executive director and founder of an organization called Silent No Longer Tennessee, Greta McClain to episode 17 of the 50 Women Over 50 podcast

Greta is a former police officer who, in her late 40s, suffered a brutal sexual assault that left her suicidal. The ‘Me Too’ movement of 2017 gave her the inspiration to move forward with her life and her fifties have been an incredible journey from being a victim of crime to becoming a community leader and vocal women and victims advocate. 

This interview includes references to rape and sexual violence which some listeners may find upsetting. I advise you to use your discretion in listening to this episode and I’ve included links to support services and resources below. 

But overall, Greta’s story is one of courage, empowerment and hope. I’m very glad she accepted my invitation to come on the show because she shares so much wisdom. 

“I should have been able to defend myself and for whatever reason, felt like I had let it happen, even though, I had the battle scars of trying to fight him off, explains Greta McClain. “I was ashamed and became depressed to the point that I was contemplating suicide. The reason why I share my story is because if a social media hashtag can save my life, then maybe me sharing my story can save someone else's life.” 

About Greta McClain: 

Executive Director and Founder Silent No LongerTennessee, Greta McClain is a former police officer, victims of crime coordinator and domestic violence outreach advocate and support group facilitator. She is also a two time survivor of sexual assault.  After being raped in 2017 and having the #metoo movement literally save her life, she decided to give meaning to her trauma by sharing her story with others in hopes of helping them find hope and healing. 

Resources & Contact Information: 

About the 50 Women Over 50 Podcast: 

Sherrilynne Starkie

 started this show as a creative project with the goal of interviewing 50 women past their 50th birthday to learn how they see the world, what lessons they’ve learned and what advice they have for us all. She’s been blogging and podcasting for 18+ years as part of a 

successful marketing and communications career

 and looks forward to learning from the women she will interview. Subscribe to 

50 Women Over 50

 wherever you get your podcasts and please share it with your friends. Get each weekly episode dropped into your inbox by 

subscribing here.

Episode Transcription

Machine Generated Transcript

What follows is a machine generated transcript. It may contain errors and is not a substitute for listening to the podcast.

50 Women Over 50 Episode 17

[00:00:00] Sherrilynne: Hello and welcome to episode 17 of 50 Women Over 50, a podcast for women whose personal confidence is born of experience. I'm your host, Sherrilynne Starkie. The objective of this podcast is to interview 50 women from all walks of life who are over 50 years of age about what they've learned by this decade, so that we can all learn from them too.

Today I'm welcoming to the show, the executive director and founder of an organization called Silent No Longer, Tennessee. Her name is Greta McClain. Greta is a former police officer who in her late forties suffered a brutal sexual assault that left her suicidal. The Me Too movement of 2017 gave her the inspiration to move forward with her life, and her fifties have been an incredible journey from being a victim of crime to becoming a community leader and a vocal women and victim's advocate.

This interview includes references to rape and sexual violence, which some listeners may find upsetting. I advise you to use your discretion in listening to this episode, and I've included links to support, services and resources in the show notes.

But overall, Greta's story is one of courage, empowerment, and hope, and I'm very glad that she accepted my invitation to come on the show because she shares so much.

tell me about your 50th 

[00:01:28] Greta: birthday. I would love to tell you about my 50th birthday, but to be quite honest, I don't remember what I did on my 50th birthday, which is sad. It wasn't because, I went out with the girls and had too much to drink.

I just knowing me being the workaholic I am, I probably worked on my 50th birthday, I imagined. How long ago was it? It was six years ago in November, 

[00:01:59] Sherrilynne: so well before the pandemic then. So, it's not like, Nope. In the midst of the pandemic. 

[00:02:05] Greta: I would like to blame it on that, but, 

[00:02:09] Sherrilynne: So that says to me that you didn't, approach it with the , a frame of mind of celebration or even, the opposite end of it, of like, oh my God, I can't believe I'm going to be 50, I'm going to be over the hill.

You just seems like you didn't really give it too much thought at all. 

[00:02:23] Greta: I didn't. Most of most birthdays are that way. I'm pretty much. Cool. I made it another year now, I got work to do. So that's pretty much been my mentality. For as long as I can remember, it's, it's a day to celebrate the fact that I'm still here, but it's doesn't really upset me that I'm a year.

Older. To me, in my mind it's, how you, how you feel. If you think you're old, you're going to start acting old. So how do you feel? It's just the number. Then you just keep plugging along and do what you do. 

[00:03:07] Sherrilynne: And has anything changed for you during this decade?

[00:03:12] Greta: I started a non-profit, which was not something that I intended to do.

I was Assaulted, raped when 2017, was something that I never thought would happen to me. I had spent 12 years as a police officer. Had been able to take care of myself, the vast majority of the time. When I had to, and of course going through the academy, had the experience of taking defensive tactics and all that stuff.

And I didn't. He was just too big and too strong, and it hadn't occurred to me that okay, yes, I left the department in 2000. So, it's only been 17 years since I've had to use the defensive tactics, but I had always just assumed that I would still be able to defend myself, and was very shocked and felt very ashamed that I couldn't.

But there's only so much we can do and no matter how good you are at what you do, there's always going to be somebody unfortunately that can come along and be better than you. Now was this someone you knew? No, it was a total stranger. I had stopped at a truck stop to grab something to eat and use the restroom.

And as I was walking through the park after parking, walking, to go inside, he grabbed me from behind. And it was late at night, so there weren't a whole lot of people out. And about, 

[00:04:54] Sherrilynne: my God, that must have been the worst day of your life. 

[00:04:58] Greta: It was, it was, part of it just because obviously of, just being raped in general, but then like so many victims do I blame myself because again, being former law enforcement, I felt like.

I should have been able to defend myself and for whatever reason, felt like I had let it happen, even though, I, I had the battle scars of, trying to fight him off, and was ashamed and didn't want to tell anybody. So I tried my best to keep it a secret. We all know that, not talking about things does not help. 

I just wanted to go away and became very, very depressed to the point that I was contemplating suicide. 

[00:05:45] Sherrilynne: Oh my God. So, you didn't tell anyone about it ever? Like you didn't make a police complaint or anything? 

[00:05:54] Greta: I didn't make a police complaint despite being former law enforcement. I had worked as a detective in the sexual assault unit when I was with the department. Right. And the vast majority of detectives were good, but there were also some who automatically did not. They were making something up, that, they were a prostitute or that they got, they were afraid their husband's going to find out that they're stepping out on 'em. Something like that. And me never thinking that it could happen. I pretty much assumed that they wouldn't believe it could happen, and knowing, how some of them acted.

I was convinced that they would blame me or not believe me, and I didn't. I didn't want to have to go through that. 

[00:06:50] Sherrilynne: Jeepers. That's heavy because you would think of all people, someone like you would trust the police to be able to help you more so than jane Doe in the street that doesn't actually have relationships within the 

[00:07:08] Greta: department.

Right, right. And I wish I could say that I did have that much trust in him. So, I was staffing a case with my lieutenant and he stopped me basically in mid-sentence and said, okay. She said no and took, let him take off her blouse. So, she was saying no, but she really meant yes. So, you need to close the case and. I didn't, I had no idea how to react to that. I was furious, but I knew I couldn't just start, , screaming and yelling and cursing my lieutenant.

Mm-hmm. So I just looked at him for a minute and I walked out and I was like, this isn't why I became a police officer. , I want to help people. I want to try to protect people, keep, keep the community safe. It took me probably six, seven months or so, maybe a little more, and I realize, , my heart just isn't in the job anymore.

And it was a job that I wanted to do since I was a child. But I was like, I, I can't do this. And that's when I left and started working for different non-profits. 

[00:08:36] Sherrilynne: Right. And then how long between the, when that occurred and you were assaulted yourself? 

[00:08:45] Greta: I left the department in 2000 and I was raped in 2017.

So, it was 17 years later. Yeah, this was a long 

[00:08:54] Sherrilynne: time later. And so, they've never caught your rapist? No, never any, no. Sought any prosecution at all? 

[00:09:06] Greta: Okay. No, the tags on the truck were from Florida, so I'm assuming he was, , passing through. , and it was pretty dark. So, I can still sometimes, , See his face, but , if I had to pick him out of a lineup, I don't know that I could, to be honest with you.

Well, they say that, , when you go through trauma that your mind really plays tricks on you about who you saw and the details because you just, you're not seeing things through your right mind. 

Exactly they, there's, because of the adrenaline rush, there are several different physiological things that go on, and one is time is distorted.

Everything seems to be going in slow motion and is distorted And another thing called auditory exclusion where you don't hear things or it sounds. Somebody, almost like somebody's talking in slow motion. and I've experienced that a couple times. That, and then of course during my sexual assault, then I experienced the same thing.

All I could think about was trying to get away and wasn't even really paying that close attention to details as far as what he looked like. 

[00:10:43] Sherrilynne: Yeah, I can imagine. And were you injured in any physical way? 

[00:10:50] Greta:, I had a black eye, , bruises on my wrist, especially my right wrist., pretty good where when we were. Fell to the ground and landed not only with my weight, but with most of his weight on me as well, on my right knee. , so it pretty much swelled up like a basketball. , and then some other, , scratches , from the pavement.

Oh my God. 

[00:11:15] Sherrilynne: And how did you get away in the. . 

[00:11:17] Greta: After he was finished, he just calmly got up and walked away like nothing had happened. And I was so angry and was like, now you're walking away. Maybe I can get you now. And I tried to jump up and. From I, I'm guessing from where I landed on my knee, it just, it was not going to cooperate and it just,, gave out and I pretty much collapsed.

[00:11:50] Sherrilynne: So, tell me then about your journey from being a victim into being an activist on this subject. What, what journey have you taken up to this day? Since then? I 

[00:12:07] Greta: really got inspired by, , the Me Too hashtag that October 15th. , seeing that on social media and seeing people that I knew personally and I had no idea that they had gone through something at least somewhat similar as me having the courage to, , say, yeah, it happened to me. That really inspired me and I've always been somebody who loves writing., somebody who loves storytelling and.

It dawned on me that a simple little social media hashtag was a form of storytelling, and it reached millions of people and literally kept me from taking my own life that, what? There's a reason why I'm still here. There's a reason why I was given this second chance and. I need to use this instead of just saying, oh, this horrible thing happened to me and leave it at that.

I need to find a way to turn it around into something positive as, as best as you can. So I ended up reaching out to Women's March here in Tennessee and. Knew, found out that they were having a me too caucus and was asked to facilitate the caucus, , which was going to happen before the actual march. And before I realized what I was saying, I'm like, sure., it went well and decided. Well, let me start, , doing this a little more, doing some workshops to help educate others, and it just started growing and in 2020 I had some, , women from the police department that I had worked for. Come to me saying that they were being sexually harassed and sexually assaulted by command staff level within the department.

Okay. And what could I do to help? And was like, oh, great. I get to go against my former employer. But I spoke with,, the other volunteers and, and people who helped me get it started. We wanted to be different than most sexual assault centers that provide amazing services, so we didn't, we felt that there wasn't a reason to replicate that.

So, We decided, okay, we're going to be their voice and did press conferences and, and , accompanied them to interviews with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and, and things like that.

And thankfully some things have changed. Not enough, but some things have, and it's always a slow process., but it taught me that, what this. Horrible thing that I wish had never happened to me, has helped me help others, and I, I don't know of anything better that anyone can do than to be at least a glimmer of hope, and I feel honored to be able to help 

[00:15:39] Sherrilynne: them.

Well, I want to say thank you very much for picking up the mantle on that because it is important work and, and what you say about what you were saying about the Me too thing when that first came up on social media. I agree with you about feeling surprised. Well, in some ways surprised in other ways, not that surprised about how wide widespread it was.

And I remember thinking to myself at that time and, and that, , my business is in social media, so I'm a hundred percent social media a hundred percent of the time. And, and it was actually the exception. Of people that didn't post that day., yes. I mean, everybody posted. I don't know if it was just one day or over, over the course of a couple of days.

I can't really remember now, but, what struck me was that the exception to the rule were the ones who didn't post. And that's how widespread this whole issue is for women. Very few women , of anyone's acquaintance has not at some time felt vulnerable, been made to feel vulnerable, been assaulted, had a dirty, nasty pass made at them.

Something totally like it is absolutely pervasive across society, all walks of life. And so thank you and your organization for picking up this mantle and, and helping ordinary women try to navigate this very sensitive and,, upsetting and private sometimes too private issues. So, thank you for. 

[00:17:32] Greta: No, thank you for, for the compliment.

I appreciate it. I wish that it was work that I did not have to do. , but sadly, , most of us in this field, , talk about ending sexual violence and I wish with everything I have that we could do that. , but I'm also realistic and realize that we will never have a utopian society where everything is perfect.

But if we can do what we can to better educate the public and give them the opportunities that they want to share their stories. Whether it's in front of a microphone or through painting or drawing or poetry, then that's what, that's what I want to do is to give them opportunities and I'm just feel blessed that I'm still here and able to do.

[00:18:36] Sherrilynne: And how long has it been since you started your organization? 

[00:18:41] Greta: I started it in February of 2018. So 

[00:18:46] Sherrilynne: this has been your focus for almost five years? Yes. Do you feel like you're making a dent?

[00:18:54] Greta: I think so. Yes. and I say that because with some of the creative expression programs we provide, like I said, the, the painting, the drawing, poetry, monologues, things like that, I've watched clients really begin to bloom and find their voice, 

[00:19:14] Sherrilynne: My goodness.

[00:19:17] Greta: Amazing to me just to watch them on their journey, and that helps me continue my journey as well. And one of the best things for me, well, they're all great, but I've had four clients say we want to share our stories in front of a camera so that others can see it, and that we can help people.

And watching these women who, two of 'em are survivors of childhood abuse, one adult sexual assault, and the other one is a victim of or survivor of human trafficking. And to hear. Their stories and to know somewhat, the emotions of, of what they went through and how hard it is to tell your story.

It just, I'm like a proud mama. I really am. It's, it's seeing them find their strength and find their voice and say,, this, this happened to me, but I'm okay. And I want to let other people know that they can be okay. And it, I'm so honored to, to be in their company and to have them trust me with, with this project and to be able to share their stories.

[00:20:43] Sherrilynne: Sounds like very important work that you're doing. That's for sure 

So, I wanted to switch tracks here a little bit and go back to, when you were a police officer, were you in your thirties when you were a police officer? 

[00:20:54] Greta: I was 24 when I joined the department.

[00:20:56] Sherrilynne: Okay. And what were you doing in your thirties 

[00:20:59] Greta: then? I was still with the police department.

Okay., until, I think 30, 35, 36. And when I left the department, and I worked as the victims of crime Coordinator, which meant I provided training to law enforcement to advocates, to other service providers, to different local organizations and statewide organizations about a variety of topics.

Some of it was domestic violence, some of it was sexual violence. We also did, trainings on violence within the LGBTQ plus communities, elder abuse, things like that. And thoroughly enjoyed it. 

[00:21:48] Sherrilynne: Yes. I could tell that public service has been a, a real motivator for you, for your whole career, right? Yes, 

[00:21:55] Greta: ma'am.


[00:21:58] Sherrilynne: You said you were really enjoyed doing that in your thirties. Would where you are now in your life and what you're doing and everything that you've experienced since that time? If you could go back and give your 30 year old self some advice, what would it?

[00:22:12] Greta: Well, besides of don't stop at that truck, stop. Although, I say that, but I think that there was a reason why I had to go through that, and now I have the opportunity to help more people. So actually, that wouldn't be my advice. My advice would just be not to give up and to understand that you can't help everybody, but do the best you can.

[00:22:48] Sherrilynne: That's really good advice, because I feel like sometimes, well, at any age you can feel overwhelmed. I mean, just that story I was relating to you about the Me Too movement when I, when it. 

Almost every single person I know who is coming out on social media saying that the, something like this had happened to them.

It's easy to get overwhelmed by the size of the problem, but you are right. As long as you're making a dent, right? As long as you're, you're pushing things forward a little bit, that's good. It's good enough. I feel 

[00:23:19] Greta: like if I can keep one person from being a victim of myths and stereotypes and so that their family and friends support them, that's, that's a good day's work. Yeah., to keep one, if it's just one person from having to experience that. That's a good day's work and. I feel like the reason, well, the reason why I share my story is because if a social media hashtag can save my life, then maybe me sharing my story can save someone else's life.

And again, I wish it hadn't happened, but it has. And , Being able to save a life to me is more important than having not experienced being raped. 

[00:24:21] Sherrilynne: Wow. So where, where do you see yourself in 10 years? What's, what do you think's in your future? 

[00:24:28] Greta: Still going to be at silent, no longer Tennessee. God willing.

What are you most 

[00:24:32] Sherrilynne: hopeful about for the future?

[00:24:35] Greta: I'm hopeful that we can get the message out that helps people understand sexual assault better, and. that we can start reducing the numbers instead of it continuing to go up. Just last year a woman in the United States was sexually assaulted every 73 seconds. Now it's every 68 seconds, so it's becoming even more prevalent instead of getting better despite the Me Too movement.

So, My hope is that we can find ways to better educate people so that we can, again, we will never eliminate it totally, but if we can reduce it and if we can provide services that treat the whole person,, physical, mental, emotional, through creativity and, and other therapeutic forms than.

That, that's my goal and that's my hope. I agree with you that 

[00:25:45] Sherrilynne: that's, that's something to hope for. And I think, and Lord knows, you know more about this than me, but just based on my own anecdotal experience, that the, the younger women coming up these days, those that,, we call them Gen Zs and millennials.

Like they seem a lot less likely to put up with any of this kind of behavior. They're ready to call people out. Yes. And they're not afraid to point the finger in the workplace or something if things, if something's not right. And that fills me with hope because I feel like if they're going to be more vocal about it and advocate for themselves, surely that is going to impact the would be abusers , and maybe help them to understand that they can't behave this way. 

[00:26:41] Greta: Exactly. Exactly. And that is definitely my hope. I mean, we, we saw it, or I saw it first, at least with the Parkland shooting and those students standing up and organizing March for our Lives. And then so many of more of that generation have taken on the Black Lives Matter cause free and fair elections and all kinds of different, different things and I think that with their leadership and their passion that we will get a lot better, and I'm looking forward to eventually being able to, I'll still work. I just, that's who I am, but maybe cut it back to part-time, at least and, and just sit back and watch the wonderful things that they do.

And, and just marvel at their, their energy and their imagination and their passion. I look forward to that. So, do I. 

[00:27:51] Sherrilynne: Now we have a few minutes still and I wanted to move if, if you're okay with it, onto the quick round of questions. So, what are you reading? What are you binging? What are you watching? Is there any, any recommendations for entertainment that you'd like to make for our listeners? 

[00:28:10] Greta: Why to be honest, what I'm reading right now is a book about the Civil War in El Salvador,

Interesting. What's it called? Hidden Voices, I believe. Okay. And it's talks about just what precipitated it how the farmers were just like, we're not trying to overthrow the government, we just want fair prices for our produce. It just seeing what, or reading what they have endured it is just really inspiring. 

[00:28:47] Sherrilynne: to me. How did you find this book? Did someone recommend it to you or? 

[00:28:52] Greta: No, it's something that I've been interested in since I was in high school., being an eighties kid it was the height of all that, and I remember seeing it. On the news.

I've always been a nerd. a big nerd, a news junkie, and, I've just developed, an interest in it. Yeah. And., I found this book and I'm like, I've got to read that. Yeah, I 

[00:29:22] Sherrilynne: remember. And The Clash had that whole album about it, right? Yes. Sandinista!

Yes, all right. Okay. We'll see if I can find it and I'll put a link to it in the show notes.

Good. Is there an app you couldn't live 

[00:29:34] Greta: without that I couldn't live without? Oh gosh. Well, lately I would say that it is Lyft. All right. So many things are going on in Tennessee right now, and we're trying to, we're all trying to support each other regardless of the cause. We have a really good statewide coalition and a lot of things are happening downtown Nashville where there's not a whole lot of good parking, so, It's, it's Lyft and I would be lost if it wasn't for that app right now.

[00:30:15] Sherrilynne: Is there an over 50 life hack that you'd be willing to share? Ooh, 

[00:30:23] Greta: I don't know that it, if it's really considered a hack. Don't think that you can't do just because of a number. Until my body says, wait a minute, you're not as young as you used to be, that I'm going to still do it. I'm still going to Ski. I'm still going to go hiking and I'm hoping to, once the weather gets bad, get back into repelling. So that's my hack is just ignore a number

[00:30:58] Sherrilynne: I think that's a good positive place to stop. So, I'm going to stop the recording now.

this has been 50 women over 50, a podcast for women whose personal confidence is born of experience. I want to thank my guest advocate and activist Greta McClain, whose important work with women who are victims of rape and sexual assault is making a real difference in their lives. If you or someone you know has been affected by any of the issues covered in this interview, please see the show notes for information about where you can get some help and support. It was my privilege to interview Greta and I appreciate her candor and her courage in talking about her personal experiences of sexual violence.

I feel inspired by her story. Thanks to Greta and others like her, things might change for future generations of women. See the show notes to find out. More about Silent No Longer Tennessee and where you can connect with Greta online. I've included links to her websites and her socials along with ones to some of the other items and resources that we discussed on the show.

Join me again for next week's show when my guest will be author and business coach Julie Ellis, who works exclusively with women entrepreneurs, and whose new book, Big Gorgeous Goals, is a feminist manifesto of opportunity and possibility. That's next week.

In the meantime, please drop me a rating or a review on Apple or wherever you get your podcasts. Let's connect and create a whole community of Wise Women over 50 by sharing a link to the show with your friends and connections. See you next time on 50 Women Over 50. I'm your host, Sherrilynne Starkie.