I had a dream last year that I would write a post here every day during the month, but then reality snuck in, and that didn’t quite happen. So this year I decided not to even try to make a daily post. Instead I’m working on twenty or so posts for this month. It might be more, or less, depending on the news, whether or not I’m really ready for Easter in our parish, and my own strength (physical and emotional).
Last Friday (March 31st), President Trump made did something that presidents do – he made an official pronouncement declaring April as Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
SAAM was first observed in 2001, and President Obama was the first to make a formal declaration of this month seeking to support survivors, and change the culture that contributes to rape and sexual violence.
There is, however, a tragic and painful irony in this year’s proclamation. That is, of course, the man making it. Mr Trump’s history as a sexual predator is long, stretching back to the 1990s, and varied, with complaints from the well publicised Billy Bush interview about grabbing women by the pussy, to innumerable counts of groping and unwanted touching, to sexual harassment, to voyeurism (walking in on the dressing rooms of Miss Teen USA contestants), to the rape of a twelve year old, and the rape of his ex-wife Ivanka.
In the days since Mr Trump’s election, every survivor I know has struggled with what it means that our country elected him, how so many of our fellow compatriots could ignore or deny his history, putting behind the desk in the Oval Office a man who has shown such disrespect for women. It’s been, and continues to be, difficult to look at Mr Trump and not see the faces of the men who raped me, to see in the face of the man who’s job is to see to our common welfare the face of someone who has used his power to control, victimise, and violate so many.
And it stretches, of course, far beyond the White House, to every part of our society, and indeed our world:
- A judge in Mexico cleared a man of sexually assaulting a 17 year old girl because the man didn’t enjoy it;
- Reports from the Sudan, South Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo are that, amid the famine and war, cases of rape are increasing with young boys being the newest victims;
- News of systemic long-term sexual abuse within the U.S. Olympic women’s gymnastics program
- More and more colleges with high level athletic programs are being investigated for ignoring, and actively covering up sexual violence perpetrated by their athletes;
- The settlement of a set of sexual harassment lawsuits against Mr Tim Lynn, director of the U.S. Interior Department’s Office of Law Enforcement & Security, who defended himself by saying it was “in his nature” to harass female employees (Mr Lynn continues to hold his job);
- News from LaVernia, Texas where at least ten current and former high school students have been arrested in an ongoing investigation into sexual violence and hazing in their athletic department;
- The National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC) estimating that the average lifetime costs associated with being a rape survivor – including criminal justice costs, properly loss and damage, lost work and productivity, and ongoing physical and mental health treatment – comes to $122,461 per person.
It’s enough to make me want to scream, throw things, pull the covers up over my head, eat all the cake in the universe, and never leave my house again.
But instead, dear reader, I sit here at a coffee shop in Appleton, wearing my “this is what a rape survivor looks like” button, fielding the strange looks, the pity, and the idiotic comments because eventually it happens that the button makes a difference.
Today it was a woman and her small son, maybe age five. Watching him pick out his juice, she said, holding back tears, “someday I’m going to have to tell him, I mean where he came from.”
I invited her to sit down and share my table, and we set her son up at the next table with some crayons. She told me her story, and I told her mine. And I said that yes, someday she would need to tell her son where he came from and that when the time was right she should say that he came from the deepest, strongest part of her soul that nothing could ever destroy.
I wonder some days if this work is worth it – worth the long uphill climb against what feels like insurmountable odds; worth the frustration, the fear, and the utterly baffling resistance to change of my fellow humans; worth the heartache, the sleepless nights, the continually breaking open of memories.
But when I see a momma who has long carried a story she thought no one would listen to look over at her little boy, conceived in violence, and see in him hope big enough for the both of them because someone finally cared enough to listen, to remind her that she is not alone, that she is a survivor, stronger than anything that happened to her, that’s when I know this work matters.
That’s when I know Break The Silence Sunday makes a difference, and when I am reminded that we can indeed create a world free from rape and sexual violence. As my momma taught me, it will take everything we have, but we have everything we need.