Last month, the ACLU’s Louise Melling blogged about how street harassment shames and humiliates women, and is underreported because of the stigma attached to it. While that blog was making the editing rounds here at the office, I shared my own story of how I dealt with a particularly obnoxious harasser, and my esteemed colleagues suggested I share it. Since April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, after all, here it is. And there’s gonna be swearing. I’m really sorry in advance (Mom).
In 2006 I was sexually assaulted. I never expected to blog about it.
One evening in DC, a stranger grabbed me as I walked from the metro stop to my apartment after work. I wish I could say I screamed or fought back, but I was too horrified. Instead I could only stare in disbelief at the jackass holding me down. This can’t be happening. In a desperate scramble I somehow managed to break away before it escalated to rape and ran inside my building. He winked and blew a kiss from behind the glass door, as if to say ‘oh well, next time‘. I was the third women in the neighborhood to report a similar story to police in two weeks–also the luckiest. The experience forever shattered a false sense of security, knowing that to monsters like this man, I’m nothing more than conquest, having no identity beyond what I can potentially provide for them. The reward isn’t about sex–but subjugation and power. And I will not be a silent witness to rape.
TRIGGER WARNING Rape, Rape Culture, Sexual Assault, Abuse
Rape is only four letters, one small syllable, and yet it is one of the hardest words to coax from your lips when you need it most.
Entering our teenage years in the sex saturated ’90s, my friends and I knew tons about rape. We knew to always be aware while walking, to hold your keys out as a possible weapon against an attack. We knew that we shouldn’t walk alone at night, and if we absolutely had to, we were to avoid shortcuts, dark paths, or alleyways. We even learned ways to combat date rape, even though none of us were old enough to have friends that drove, or to be invited to parties with alcohol. We memorized the mantras, chanting them like a yogic sutra, crafting our words into a protective charm with which to ward off potential rapists: do not walk alone at night. Put a napkin over your drink at parties. Don’t get into cars with strange men. If someone tries to abduct you, scream loudly and try to attack them because a rapist tries to pick women who are easy targets.
Yes, we learned a lot about rape.
What we were not prepared for was everything else. Rape was something we could identify, an act with a strict definition and two distinct scenarios. Not rape was something else entirely.
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. During this time, and all year, our attitudes toward sexual assault as a community are measured not by the compassionate or irate words of single individuals. They are measured by the respect we as a community extend and the services we provide to victims, potential victims, and their loved ones.
Our respect is measured by our understanding that no individuals regardless of age, gender, race, religion, regardless of manner of dress, past actions, marital status, level of intoxication, sexual experience or any other factor deserves or encourages sexual assault. Our understanding that all individuals can be victims. Victims created not by the circumstances of their own actions, but the criminal acts of individuals seeking power and control by inflicting violence and pain upon others.
This understanding is what allows us to rise above our society’s attitude of victim blame, and beyond long years of silent and ashamed survivors who believed that theirs was a burden to be carried alone. As a community we must life these individuals out of the darkness and support them as they step into the light of healing and hope for a brighter future.
As a community we must pledge to create a world free of sexual violence and removed from the social norms that support aggression and the abuse and oppression of victims. A world that teaches better, safer, more loving interactions between individuals. A world that encourages and expects its young people to treat one another with kindness, tolerance, and respect.
Imagine a world without rape. Imagine a world without sexual assault or abuse. What kind of world would that be? A world where no one is afraid to walk through parking lots alone, of being drugged when they go to a bar. Where no one is ever forced to do something against their will because they consented to a date, or drink, or were in a relationship with their abuser. A world where rape is never a weapon, or a punch line, or something that is ever ‘asked for.’
Imagine a world where heterosexual women, gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender individuals aren’t made targets by simply existing. Where male victims do not live in fear of reporting their assaults for fear of being judged or of perceived implications about their masculinity.
Imaging a world where being a ‘man’ doesn’t have to mean violent, tough, powerful and in ‘control.’ Where emotions are respected and aggression is not. A world where people are seen not as victims or potential victims, but as whole autonomous individuals with control over their own bodies and the power to give or withdraw consent. Consent which is not only listened to but respected and granted.
This is a world that we can help to create. It will not happen overnight but will come at the end of a long and exhausting journey. It will come with coordinated and cooperative response by medical professionals, law enforcement, prosecutors, and victims’ advocates. It will come with a community wide outcry that we must support victims and hold offenders responsible. That we must find consistent and effective ways to teach our children about violence, how to prevent it, how to choose different behaviors, and have positive and loving relationships. An outcry that we must become responsible for our own treatment or others. That we must stop forcing others into molds of masculine and feminine, aggressive and submissive, violent and timid, but be a society of self assured, unique individuals, who contribute to a peaceful world.
A world where there is no rape.
only then did i realize that i can change things. i have the power to raise awareness about this subject, and my voice can make a difference.
each time i write this, i realize something new. this time, i realized that i’ve stopped letting my experience define me. i’ve stopped letting him win, and realized that only i can take control of my life.
Yesterday was the fourth anniversary of the day that a stranger appeared suddenly in my life and changed the trajectory of my future. He and I are not celebrating this anniversary with a romantic dinner, a getaway weekend, or love-making. He and I do not even know each other. He probably doesn’t commemorate the first and last time we met like I do. I’m sure he has not lost sleep over thinking about me, is not haunted by my memory – I may even just have been one of many for him, but I will never know.
Yesterday was the fourth anniversary of the day that a stranger raped me.
Alcohol and drugs do not cause sexual abuse and that’s probably one of the most controversial things I feel like I have said in all of this. People’s basic values don’t change when they’re high or drunk. That I may drink and sing karaoke in a bar, but I don’t drink and hit my child, I don’t drink and kick my dog. That I may do some things that I don’t have the courage to do such as, you know, singing karaoke, that I don’t otherwise, but I’m not going to go out and roll down my window and yell racial epithets when I’m drunk. To say that people suddenly have a completely different value system on what is right or wrong, we have to be really careful about that.
On April 4, Vice President Joe Biden addressed Sexual Violence in a speech at the University of New Hampshire. Biden shared the experiences of Jenny (not her real name), a college freshman who was raped last year, New Hampshire Public Radio reported:
He said she’d been drinking at a party. And when she sought justice through the school, she was asked what she was wearing, how she was dancing, and whether she was sober.
“The student judicial panel said they didn’t find Jenny credible because she had been drinking. They decided her rapist was a nice kid and didn’t deserve the punishment under the circumstances,” Biden said….
But whether someone is drunk or sober doesn’t matter. As Biden put it, “Look folks – rape is rape is rape.”..
That’s one message that Biden hit hard: “Look guys – no matter what a girl does, no matter how she’s dressed, no matter how much she’s had to drink, it’s never, never, never, never OK to touch her without her consent. This doesn’t make you a man. It makes you a coward.”
(bolded for emphasis) I know we’ve already discussed Biden’s talk and linked to more info, but we just can’t get over how good it was. “This doesn’t make you a man. It makes you a coward.” Preach.
For those who would like to create their own Satellite SlutWalk— from the Toronto SlutWalk site
SlutWalk Toronto started from a position of feeling like we’d had enough – enough of being angry, wanting better education, awareness and treatment and not seeing more about it; it was out of frustration with police services continuing myths and stereotypes about who is sexually assaulted and why. In organizing SlutWalk Toronto we worked on uniting people across diverse populations; contacted several organizations that we felt could be our allies; we contacted media to get attention and spread the word; we asked for volunteers and worked on making t-shirts, buttons and posters. To say the least we planned ahead for our April 3rd event.
Toronto attendance is not feasible for everyone. So we’ve set up some basic guidelines for Satellite SlutWalks, and if we think that a good match has been made, we will promote your event on our site. We would prefer that Satellite SlutWalks occur after the date of our main event on April 3rd in order to have as many supporters as possible, but understand if that is not possible.
Click through for more guidelines and ideas
Some know it immediately; for others, it takes time — lots of time.
Five local women related their life-altering and often graphic accounts of the moment they first experienced acts of sexual assault and the moment they realized how much those experiences had changed them. Often, it took months or even years for these women to come to terms with what they had been through.
“I never told anybody,” said Linda, a victim of rape. “I stayed silent. … It wasn’t until recently that I realized I hadn’t been living life fully.”
Full Article The Diamondback Online