SAAM Days 13 & 14 – Rape Culture

A few days ago I got into a discussion with someone about rape culture. That’s a phrase used to describe the ways in which society blames victims of rape and sexual violence, and normalizes that violence (particularly male violence against women). It comes through reporting and discussion on rape cases, through jokes that perpetuate the idea that women should learn to expect violence, and through anything that sexualizes women to the point where they don’t exist as human beings, and that which makes coercion seem acceptable.

The person I was talking with (online) about rape culture denies that it exists, or at least not in the United States and other, in her words, developed countries. It might be, she conceded, a reality in the third world, or in places where women aren’t valued, and don’t have equality. (Again, all this person’s words, not mine.)

Eventually, tired of beating my head against a wall, I gave up trying to persuade this person that rape culture is real. I had more efficient ways to spend my time, like trying to persuade my kitten that she doesn’t need to knock everything off the dresser at night.

Meanwhile I offer you these two amazing spoken word poets on the question of rape culture & consent.

First, “I’m Sorry Poem” by FreeQuency

 

And then, “Word Choice” by Imani Cezanne

 

And if you would like to read more about the reality of rape culture you can start here:
What Is Rape Culture – Women Against Violence Against Women

 

SAAM Days 10 to 12 – Weary

I’ve been feeling a little off these past few days. Some of it is a lingering cold, and now the fun of allergies since spring is really (maybe, hopefully) coming to northern Wisconsin.

But there’s also a feeling of vulnerability with having my story out there in the world, out of my hands where others can read it, and analyze it, and criticise it without consulting me. That’s something every survivor who tells their story faces – letting go of control of their story; and if there’s one thing all the survivors I know hate it’s not being in control because once, when we were raped, we had no control. It’s a scary thing, and at least to me, a necessary thing, but it does leave me feeling like a turtle without a shell sometimes.

And then there’s the sense that I’m not doing enough. If I don’t post here every day, I’m letting my survivor sisters and brothers down. If I don’t speak up about every case of rape and sexual assault that comes across my news feed, I’m not doing enough to advocate for change. If I let a joke go by, or don’t correct someone’s language, or … it goes on and on, the sense that there is never enough I can do.

So I’m going to go and do some painting, and watch “Iron Jawed Angels” about the women’s suffrage movement (most appropriate today because President Obama announced a national women’s equality monument at Belmont-Paul House … if you don’t know about it, please go look up Alice Paul, and Alva Belmont, and Inez Milholland, and Ida Wells, and so many more).

I’m going to leave you with two pictures that sum up my current mood. The first is an unknown man I found on the internet. I know this might be tiring to some of you who aren’t survivors, but this is my every day…

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And this is a reminder to myself, and to every other survivor out there…we matter, our stories, our lives, our fears, our hopes all matter, and we are worth the “trouble” we cause the world by speaking up.

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SAAM Days 7 to 9 – Math

Apologies for the lack of posts the last couple of days. I needed a bit of a break for my own heart, and soul, and then I managed to get the cold that’s going around and needed a break so I could stop coughing and snuffling.

Today I’d like us to think about numbers, and do some math. I know, it’s not the most exciting bit, and indeed some dread the math, but it’s important that we get a picture of the scope of the problem of rape & sexual violence. So take a breath…

In the U.S. there are an average of 296,066 victims (age 12 and older) of rape and sexual assault each year.

There are 31,536,000 seconds per year in a non leap year. Dividing that by the number of victims (296,066) we reach an average of one assault every 107 seconds.

Think about that … someone is assaulted every 107 seconds.
Set your timer for 107 seconds (1 minute 47 seconds) and think about it.

17.7 million women (1 out of every 6) in the U.S. have been victims of attempted or completed rapes in their lifetimes.

2.78 million men (1 out of every 33) in the U.S. have been victims of attempted or completed rapes in their lifetimes.

93% of juvenile sexual assault victims know their attacker.
Approximately 80% of adult victims know their attacker.

For every 100 rapes in the U.S.

  • 46 will be reported
  • 12 will result in an arrest
  • 9 will be prosecuted
  • 5 will result in conviction
  • 3 will serve more than one day in jail

Less than 2% of reported rapes are found to be false allegations.

I give you these statistics to help us understand that the problem is huge. It affects people we know, we work with, we go to school with, we sit in church with. And these are conservative statistics from the U.S. Bureau of Justice. More realistically, because rape is the most underreported crime, it’s probably 1 in 3 women in the U.S. and 1 in 2 women worldwide who have been raped or sexually assaulted.

So my friends, I beg you to do something about it. Stand up for survivors. Support them. Listen to them. Make them a cup of tea and speak those most important words, “I believe you”.

And then work to change the culture we live in – don’t let rape and sexualized jokes go unchallenged; don’t allow power, prestige, sports status, or other things absolve people from responsibility for their actions; work to lobby for better support of those who do report, and for education for police officers, and attorneys who work with survivors; teach everyone about affirmative consent (about actually saying yes, and that no never, ever means yes).

(Statistics compiled from U.S. Department of Justice National Crime Victimization Survey 2000-2013; National Institute of Justice & Centers for Disease Control Prevalence Incidence, and Consequences of Violence Against Women Survey (1989); U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics 2000 Sexual Assault of Young Children As Reported to Law Enforcement)

 

SAAM Day Six – why bother?

The “On This Day” feature on Facebook tells you what you were posting on a given day in previous years. Today (April 6), I was reminded that last year someone I didn’t know (met through an online conversation) took offense at my speaking out about rape & sexual assault likened me to a Nazi, and said that the men who raped me should have killed me. I wish I could say that this was the only time this kind of thing has happened, but it’s not. I get far fewer actual threats than some folks I know, but I do often come up against a question that just baffles me … why do I bother sharing my story and speaking up?

Some of the people who ask are genuinely concerned for my safety, and my mental and physical health. Most of them, however, would just like me to be quiet, to keep things to myself, to not disturb their view of the universe. They’re afraid of what survivors face each day. They’re afraid that people they know, their friends and family, have been the victims of such horrible crimes. And they particularly afraid to admit that someone they know might well have been a perpetrator. They cloak their fears in kindness, asking if it wouldn’t be better for me if I just “put it all behind you” or “move on”.

They have a point, I suppose. It is hard work, all this speaking out and advocating. As many of those closest to me will attest, it requires a lot of crying, and praying, and worrying, a fair amount of chocolate (and coffee and wine), and sometimes hiding under a blanket until I can face it all again.

But, at least for me, what is worse is the silence, bearing the story inside of me, alone. At least spoken my story can be shared, carried together with those who love and care for me. And perhaps spoken my story can change something – one person’s view of the world, one  congregation’s ability to understand and support other survivors, one community’s efforts to end rape & sexual violence.

I leave you today with these words and images below from the amazing Audre Lorde (and if you don’t know who Audre is, please go forth immediately and learn about her here … Audre Lorde – Poetry Foundation … go now, seriously, she’s epic!).

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SAAM Day Five – Memories

When I was in high school there was an innovation in television technology called picture in picture TV. The idea was that there would be the usual picture taking up most of the screen, and then in the upper right corner you could have another smaller picture from a different channel playing. The marketing was mostly to people who wanted to be able to watch two different sporting events at the same time.

I’m not sure it ever really caught on, and then the internet came and changed how we watch TV, but the idea of picture in picture has always been a helpful way for me to describe what it’s like inside my head as a rape survivor.

Please understand that this is MY experience, and every survivor is different.

The present moment – me sitting at my computer surrounded by napping kittens, drinking coffee, thinking about worship things for Sunday, wondering if I should make oatmeal cookies, wishing I hadn’t forgotten to get tater tots at the grocery – that’s all the main picture, the big screen of the TV inside my head.

But there is always that smaller picture playing in the background. It plays on a constant loop, reliving and remembering – the events leading up to my rape, the events of the rape, and the aftermath as well.

On good days (which are most), it works with the memories quietly playing on the side while I go about my life, but there are days…

There are days, and moments, when the screens switch, when the memories are the bigger picture, and the present moment is shoved off to the side. All kinds of things can trigger the switch – stress, the weather, a particular smell or taste, having to go somewhere unfamiliar, certain days and times of the year, a song on the radio, not getting enough sleep or the right foods. And sometimes I’m not even aware of what the trigger is.

I’ve spent lots of time working with my psychiatrist at getting control of the switch, of learning how to navigate the triggers in an unpredictable world, and how to calm myself down and get my brain to bring the present back to the big picture.

IMG_0030It’s a daily practice. Some days it works, and some days it doesn’t. Some days the memories are overwhelming. Overall, I think I do it well, but I know what that kind of mental energy costs me.

Perhaps this will go a bit of the way towards helping people who aren’t survivors understand the kind of internal gymnastics that are required to go out into the world, to get the groceries, go to work, meet people, go out to eat, attend concerts and classes, and all kinds of things that a “normal” (neurotypical) brain takes for granted.

SAAM Days Three & Four – Support

There’s a lot in the news these days about survivors who didn’t report, or who waited to report, their assaults to the authorities (police). Much of what’s written comes with a heaping portion of judgement – if you didn’t report it wasn’t that bad, or you wanted it, or you’re trying to cover something else up (like underage drinking, or drug use, or the like).

I’ve heard survivors told that they HAVE to report in order to prevent someone else from being a victim, in order to end rape culture, in order to bring themselves some kind of closure. I’ve heard people say that anyone who doesn’t report their rape isn’t really a victim since they didn’t take it seriously enough to wade into the legal system.

NONE of that helps. I’m going to say that again in case you weren’t listening … NONE of that helps.

Survivors don’t need your judgement, your critique, your commentary on whether or not they’re really survivors. They don’t need your advice, from a place of relative safety, or your back seat “help” with what would be best for them. They surely don’t need anyone telling them about how much better they will feel when they report and prosecute (as someone who did report, and went through the nightmare that is our legal system’s prosecution of rapists, I understand why someone wouldn’t ever want to do that – it reopens all kinds of wounds, and the victim is often put on trial themselves … more about that in another post).

What survivors do need is your nonjudgemental support. They need to know that you’re there for them, walking with them whatever the darkness brings. They need to know that you aren’t going to run away when the going gets tough, when the memories are a living nightmare. They need to know they aren’t a burden to you, because they feel like they are, all the time, that their story is too much for you to bear, that you don’t want to know why they’re really struggling with.

What survivors need …

  • to be reminded that they are not alone;
  • that you believe them (say these words … “I believe you”, it matters more than you can possibly imagine);
  • that it isn’t their fault (say these words, “it’s not your fault”, say them more than once, trust me, the survivors won’t be able to believe you the first time);
  • that you support them whatever choices they make (about reporting, counseling, medical care, and well everything);
  • and for you to be there for them, to listen, to help with the laundry, to drive them to their appointments, to cry with them, and to listen (yes, I said it again, it’s the most important thing you can do).

For some other ideas, and ways you can support survivors, check out these resources:

Help Someone You Care About from RAIIN

A survivor’s advice for supporting someone who has been assaulted by Alison Safran

#saam

#breakthesilencesunday

SAAM Day Two – Somebody

It’s Saturday, and I’m a working pastor who has to lead worship twice tomorrow, so today’s notes shall be a bit brief…

Often, when we talk about rape & sexual violence there’s this strange thing that happens. People tell you to think about what would you would feel like if it happened to someone you love – your mother, your sister, your wife, your daughter.

I know they mean well by trying to personalize the issue, but it means that we, as survivors, are defined by our relationships to other people (very often as women who are somehow attached/connected to men).

It irritates me. Yes, I am someone’s daughter, and sister, and mother, and aunt, but I am somebody without all those categories. I am me, a human being, deserving of respect, and decency, and kindness, and compassion even if I weren’t someone’s daughter, sister, mother, or whatever.

That I am human should be reason enough to not hurt me. That someone, anyone, is human should be reason for them to not have to fear the violence of rape and sexual assault.

So the next time you see one of those signs or memes that invites you to think about how it would affect your sister, or brother, or some other relation, remember that we are all sisters and brothers and when any one of us suffers, we all suffer together; when any one of us is not free from violence and fear, none of us are free; when one of us is raped, all of us are raped.