No one would ever suspect that Tanya McKay was the victim of a sexual predator. She is not wounded and shy – she is the prototypical “strong” woman. Even after the incident, she is very obviously candid and outspoken. She is confident and happy, with a witty and self-deprecating sense of humor. Who would have the guts to cross such a pistol?
She admits herself, “Friends would all describe me as a pretty strong, assertive person,” but she can attest that it’s “not just the meek and mild” that can be victimized by predators. She believes that people, especially women, need to know that predators aren’t anonymous monsters that jump out of bushes at night. Predators, in fact, can be ordinary people and because of this are oftentimes never suspected. Most importantly, she wants people to know what to do if they should ever have doubts about the actions of someone they trust. And while she didn’t do it for herself, until it was too late, Tanya is now speaking up – and out.
On May 26, 2006, Tanya McKay was sexually abused by her long-time friend and dentist Mark Anderson. While fixing a chipped tooth, he put his bare hands down her shirt, beneath her bra, and cupped her breasts, telling her how “nice” they were. While Tanya believed she was fully capable of standing up for herself – on this particular day those defenses were penetrated. She lay silent, in humiliation, shock and fear while Mark finished fixing her tooth and then returned to work not really sure of what to do.
Initially, she was afraid to speak out against him, “Who’s going to believe me?” Tanya recalled thinking. “It’s his word against mine [and] he’s the one who’s had the established dental practice for 20 years,” she said. “I just didn’t feel comfortable going to the police at that time.”
A few days after the incident, she wrote him a letter admonishing his actions and advising him never to speak to her again or violate another woman in that way. She warned that if she were to hear of him doing this to another woman, she would report him to the police. After sending the letter, she never returned to his office.
Eighteen months later, Tanya heard the unthinkable – that Mark Anderson had been arrested for violating another woman. “I thought I was the only one. How silly, how naïve,” she said. “I thought I was the only person he had ever done this to, which is why I didn’t go to the police right away because I just couldn’t imagine that he …” she trailed off – still in shock at the behavior of someone she thought she knew so well.
As promised, she reported her incident to authorities and in the spring of 2009. Mark Anderson was convicted on 11 counts of sexual battery and sentenced to six years in prison. And while the probation department recommended the lesser sentence of only four years, the judge insisted on a longer sentence of six years because of Tanya’s letter. After she had warned him to never molest another woman, he did, despite the fact that he apologized, practically admitting wrongdoing in a written response back to her.
Though her letter and testimony during the trial were instrumental in Mark’s conviction, Tanya was angry with herself for not reporting Mark and stopping him before he victimized someone else. Looking back, Tanya can now pinpoint other times when she could have stopped Mark in his tracks. For a number of reasons, however, Tanya ignored her feelings and the questionable actions of the doctor. It’s these signs and these feelings that Tanya wants people – especially women – to be aware of.
“I think that we are conditioned – mostly women, I think -to just accept authority and not question it and just trust. We’re very trusting,” said Tanya. It’s this conditioning, she believes, that made her ignore what was so obviously in front of her. It’s this conditioning that she wants people to be aware of and mitigate.
When Mark began giving Tanya “jaw massages” to treat her TMJ, she wasn’t alarmed. But when the massages continued after her TMJ abated and slowly progressed from her jaws to the top of her breasts, she became uncomfortable. But because of Mark’s public face and his insistence that the breast muscles were connected to the jaw muscles, she trusted him and suppressed her intuition.
When in Doubt
Tanya accepted Mark’s insistence on the massages as his medical authority and didn’t challenge it because of his position as not only a friend and doctor, but also as a respected member as the community. She wrote her initial feelings off as overreaction on her part. She doubted herself over and over again because of Mark’s position, his medical authority and their friendship which had been 10 years in the making.
She cautions people – particularly women – against being complacent because a person appears to be “good” and “trustworthy.” If you feel uncomfortable, challenge the situation and don’t let it go. “Anyone is capable of doing anything,” she went on. Tanya never would have expected her dentist to be a sexual predator. To her, the caricature was all wrong. He was a married family man, deeply invested in the Woodland community and local Mormon Church. He had a successful dentistry practice for 20 years, but beneath all of this was a sick man.
In retrospect, Tanya feels that suppressing her intuition and discounting those feelings because of the position of her perpetrator was a mistake. She would encourages people to trust their intuition and gut instinct, no matter who the person is, what they do or what they look like. In fact, studies show that seven out of 10 rape and sexual assault victims know their attacker prior to the assault. This trust provides the violator with ample opportunities for assault. This was completely the case with Tanya. Mark used Tanya’s trust against her, slowly working up to the May 26 incident. Furthermore, Tanya encourages people to, instead of ignoring ill feelings, to ignore fear of criticism and accusation because of their violators persona or public position.
“It was a very gradual process first of all,” said Tanya, of what led up to the major incident, “and I don’t know that many people understand that.” She said that many people, particularly the media, asked why she, along with the other victims, kept going back.
“It wasn’t like he put his hands down my top and then I went back to him,” explained Tanya, “It was very, very gradual. He really had a lot of patience in getting to the point to where he got to the limit … and I guess that’s why I kept convincing myself, ’No, why would he do that? Why would he jeopardize our relationship, our friendship? I’m just being sensitive’.”
Mark’s subtle actions made it even more difficult for Tanya to come to a definitive conclusion on whether the “jaw massages” were appropriate or not.
“His massages … started at the jaw and then the next visit he’d go down right at the top of my chest – like my collarbone area – and he’d say, ’You know those muscles are connected to your neck and your jaw.’ It’s true – I did carry a lot of my stress in my shoulders and jaw – so I could understand that,” Tanya explained.
She went on, “Then the next visit he’d go just a little bit lower under my shirt, and that’s when I started feeling a little uncomfortable, but at that point I convinced myself that ’I’m just being silly, there was no ill intent.’ He was just doing what he felt was necessary, and I was just overreacting.”
It took a very long time for him to work up to the actual incident, but looking back, the signs were very clear. Despite the fact that nothing led Tanya to believe what was going on was inappropriate, the feeling she got in her stomach told her otherwise. Tanya wants people to know that they should and have a right to ask questions if they feel uncomfortable. And, again, people should not ignore their discomfort if they are feeling any. She also wants people to know that trust is earned on an ongoing basis. “You have to earn it,” said Tanya. “A person has to earn it, and you also have to continue to earn it.”
For Tanya, not speaking up when she first began to feel uncomfortable was her biggest regret. “I want women to be able to, at that first feeling, trust your instinct, trust your gut and just say something, just ask.” She went on, “If it puts them on the spot like that – chances are it’s going to stop, but I just kept pushing those feelings down, thinking, ’I trust him, he’s a friend, colleague, authority, expert in his field and he’s been treating me and my kids for 10 years, why would he do anything like that?’”
But “why” really isn’t the issue. The issue is that these predators exist, for whatever reason, and they are living among everyday people. The real issue is people’s inability to open their minds to the fact that these predators look like us and blend into the crowd. People’s own stereotypes of what a sexual offender looks like make them even more vulnerable and susceptible to being preyed upon. “They’re not lurking in the bushes, jumping out with a ski mask on their face,” said Tanya. “These predators are our friends, they’re our co-workers, they’re our family sometimes – they look like us – they’re normal people that gain our trust and then abuse it.”
Stroke of Luck
While Tanya was “angry” and “disappointed” with herself for not initially reporting Mark, she now knows that had she reported him, things may have turned out differently. Her letter was key in Mark’s prosecution and, ultimately, his sentencing. “If I had come forward in the very beginning, I don’t think it would have turned out the same way,” said Tanya. And while Tanya’s decision to not immediately report Mark led to her writing the letter that played a huge role in the trial and his six-year conviction, she would advise victims in this type of situation to speak up immediately.
After the trial was over, she took several opportunities to speak out about what happened to educate others and, most importantly, speak on behalf of those women who’d been victimized by Mark and couldn’t find it in themselves to talk about it. “I could see that some of them were very, very damaged by this experience,” said Tanya. “One of the women commented that she still hasn’t gone back to the dentist, and it was two and a half years ago … So I’m speaking about it on behalf of those women that can’t … because it is so traumatic and emotional for them.”
She wants victims and the public to know that this isn’t taboo or anything to be ashamed of. It’s happening to people – everyday – and the only way to fight against it is to first recognize it. “A lot of the women, I think, feel shame about what happened,” said Tanya. “Although I feel regretful that I didn’t put a stop to it earlier, I don’t feel shameful for it. I don’t think it’s my fault.” Tanya went on, “This isn’t something that’s shameful that we shouldn’t talk about. I feel that we should talk about this.”
Overall, she’s found that people were initially disbelieving and very negative, but public sentiment has completely turned around. People are now more aware and sympathetic but, sadly, Tanya has heard more stories about Mark and his “massages” from victims who didn’t come forward.
For those women and potential victims, she wants to share what she’s learned. Trust yourself, ask questions, don’t be complacent in identifying perpetrators, and ignore fear – not your instincts. More than anything, Tanya has learned, and wants others to learn as well, is to be cautious in giving trust, “I will never again take at face value what a health care provider or anybody says or does to me if it makes me uncomfortable. I’m going to go ahead and stand up for myself right away.” She wants people to know if they are ever in this situation, they should stand up, too.