Break The Silence Sunday is now three years old. There has always been some push back, people who don’t think that this work needs to be done, or shouldn’t be done in church. That push-back has increased lately. Part of it is, I think, a general world weariness. The news is overwhelming, and folks get tired of being constantly on alert, waiting for the next crisis to respond to. It’s tempting to give in, to give up, to go back to bed, pull the covers over our heads, eat ice cream, pet the cat, and ignore the world.
I’ve been in a bit of that place the past few days. Some of it had to do with dealing with a major adult challenge (buying a new car when my old one gave up), but there was also just this overwhelming sense that BTSS wasn’t enough. The tape that plays in my brain got stuck – this isn’t enough; it’s just a drop in the ocean considering the scope of the problem of sexual violence; that people in positions of power and influence were against it (if not openly opposing it at least quietly going about saying it wasn’t important). My brain got stuck thinking that the work would never be enough, that it would barely make a dent, that people like Dr Mukwege are doing so much better and more important work (please … check out his foundation http://mukwegefoundation.org and the incredible things they’re doing for survivors of sexual violence in conflict/wars). The dream of having the church truly be a place where survivors would be heard, and respected, and supported in their journey seemed too big, too far away.
This is not a plea for you to tell me that BTSS does make a difference, but rather some thoughts about how we sustain and find the energy to keep going in the work for justice. When I get to this place (and it happens rather often), I have a set of movies that I watch to remind me that the struggle is long, but as Dr King said in a 1964 commencement address at Wesleyan University (Middleton, CT), “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” The movies are a reminder for me that the work worth doing will take my whole life.
So tonight, to encourage myself, I rewatched “Iron Jawed Angels” about the movement to get women the right to vote in the United States. There’s a scene, after Inez Milholland has died on a speaking tour supporting suffrage, when Alice Paul has fled the work, taking refuge at her family’s farm. Alice can’t face the cost of the work, that someone should die she says in a fight that shouldn’t even have to be fought. Alice’s mother, a deeply rooted Quaker, says to Alice, “you put your hand to the plow, you finish the row.” If it’s the work you’re called to, you finish it, whatever it takes. You can take a break, but you don’t put it down for good.
I wish, in so many ways, that this wasn’t the work I was called to, that I could put it down, or as someone recently told me “let it go”. But this isn’t “Frozen” and I can’t. This is my life. Being a rape survivor defines a huge part of who I am, and it surely affects how I look at, and live in the world every minute of every day.
And lately, I’m not entirely sure I want to put it down – not while my sisters and brothers are suffering; not while churches are still pouring out toxic and abusive theologies about purity, and suffering, and God’s will; not while survivors are afraid to tell their pastors about their experiences for fear of judgement; not while our culture still encourages men to violence as their default emotion; not while someone is sexually assaulted in the U.S. every 98 seconds (National Sexual Violence Resource Center); not while churches are screamingly silent, so incredibly silent about the suffering and struggles of people in their pews.
Later in the film, when Alice is struggling while other suffragists are in jail, Ben Weissman (a fictional Washington Post reporter) says to Alice, “You couldn’t fold if your life depended on it. You don’t know how.”
I’ve decided, at least for tonight, that it’s a virtue to not know how to give in, or give up. Call it stubborn, or illogical. Tell me I’m an unrealistic optimist, or an idealist with no idea how things actually work (both things people have said to me lately about the work of BTSS).
Go ahead. I’ve heard it all. And I’ve heard far worse. Nothing folks can throw at me about this work will compare to the words the men who raped me used to try to destroy my sense of self.
Guess what – it didn’t work. Against all the odds, I’m still here, and so are lots and lots and lots of other survivors. And I will work for them today, and tomorrow, and every day until the church universal gets its act together and supports survivors with theologies of love, and grace.
So, as my pastor growing up always said, a reminder that we look ever forward to the fullness of time when justice will prevail … ONWARD!
In case you’re interested, some of my other films for encouragement are:
Amazing Grace, Spotlight, Selma, Wonder Woman, Harry Potter (particularly Prisoner of Azkaban), Restoration, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Kingdom Of Heaven, Dead Poets Society, and True Believer
I keep thinking that as the years of doing this work go on it will get easier, but it seems just the opposite is happening. This is a process of continually opening myself up to the stories and struggles of survivors; listening to stories that haven’t been told in decades (if ever); hearing the pain and heartbreak, but also the relief of finally finding a listening heart.
Add to that the world we are living in, the reality that the occupant of the White House is a sexual predator, the #metoo movement, and daily stories of abuse, rape, sexual assault, harassment, and more. It’s enough to overwhelm even the strongest of souls.
But truthfully, the biggest challenge is the silence of the institutional church, a place where survivors should feel safe to share their stories, and where healing and hope should be found in abundance. It’s disheartening on a good day that the church (across denominations) is unable and unwilling to do the work to support survivors in their healing church.
However, Break The Silence Sunday is ultimately a movement of hope, a movement where communities of many sizes stand together with survivors in worship, in Bible study, in prayer to say that our God is present with us in the struggle, our God hears and remembers, our God offers companionship on the long journey of healing from sexual violence.
It is in that spirit of hope that I offer you the 2018 worship materials and resources for Break The Silence Sunday. You will find a complete liturgy. Feel free to change and modify it so that it best fits the needs of your community. You’ll also find additional liturgical suggestions, sermon ideas, a complete sample sermon on consent, and more.
Please do read the introduction and notes for worship planners so that you can prepare yourself, and your community for this important work. The suggested date for 2018 is April 22nd. I know that this is Earth Day and many communities have long-standing commitments to this important day. Please feel free to choose another day that works with your community’s calendar.
Finally, at the end you’ll find a feedback form. You don’t have to use the form (an email will be fine), but if you and your community observe BTSS in any way I would appreciate knowing.
The second year of Break The Silence Sunday (BTSS) has now been observed in several congregations, though I’ve learned that others will be remembering it in the next couple of weeks because of their parish schedule. I find myself, as I did last year, a bit spent after the work (physical, emotional, spiritual, liturgical) of preparing the materials, distributing them, and then leading the service in our parish. It surely didn’t help this year that BTSS was just a week after work of Holy Week, and Easter.
The observation of BTSS in our parish was good, and Spirit filled (I’m including my reflection/sermon from the service at the end of this post). After the services three people shared their stories with me, things they hadn’t ever told before, and for that I am deeply honored, and grateful, a reminder that this work is important regardless of the number of congregations and communities participating. If even one person has the courage to break their silence, to speak their truth, then BTSS has achieved its goal.
But still I find myself disappointed, and angry. At least two churches that participated in 2016 didn’t this year because, as one of the pastor’s said, they “dealt with that once and they don’t need to do it again.” Other communities didn’t participate because they say there are more important issues, that they can’t talk about things that will upset their parishioners, that it doesn’t affect anyone they know, that it’s too complicated, that it’s private … and the excuses go on, all things I’ve heard before. I try to be patient, remembering that everyone comes to the work of justice and love at a different time, from a different place, with their own experiences, fears, doubts, and more. But my patience is wearing thin at the moment. I’m sure I’ll get it back with some more time in the garden, and another couple weeks to remember why this work matters.
The bigger part of my disappointment and anger, though, comes from my denomination, the United Church of Christ (UCC). They were good enough to include the materials for BTSS on their Worship Ways website (though it might have been nice if they’d told me directly that they were going to do so). However, in watching the UCC’s e-mails, justice alerts, and Facebook pages we have a sum total of THREE posts that are marginally about rape and sexual assault. One was an infographic about what consent is, one was a reposting of an animated video about consent, and the final one was a picture on the personal page of our general minister & president of UCC folks with our partners from the United Church of Canada observing Thursdays in Black (a project to bring awareness to sexualized violence … FYI, the Canadians are amazing at posting a picture of their staff every Thursday throughout the year to bring attention to rape and violence). None of the UCC’s posts ever mentioned Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and only the picture actually used the word rape. For a denomination with such strong ties and commitment to justice for all creation, for all people, we are collectively doing a terrible job standing with survivors, speaking up about changing the culture, and creating new theologies that challenge ideas of redemptive pain and suffering. I wish I could say I was surprised. My experience with trying to get BTSS going, to find a listening heart in the national leadership has been full of this same silence, and disappointment.
At this point, it’s important for me to once again thank our Wisconsin Conference UCC minister, the Rev Franz Rigert for his support, encouragement, and help with all things BTSS. He has been, and continues to be, a tremendous ally and I am grateful beyond words for his help. Yeah Franz!
I’m not entirely sure what to do with the disappointment, and anger, other than to keep at it, to keep producing BTSS materials, to keep speaking out, to keep writing, to keep listening to stories, to keep breaking the silence. I suppose I just need to sit with these feelings, to continue to hear the stories of where BTSS made a difference this year, and to think about what more might yet be done. I welcome your thoughts and ideas, and it’s never too early to start writing something for next year’s materials – a prayer, a plea, a song, a poem, a sermon, a survivor reflection on a scripture.
In the meantime, I give thanks for the people of the Tri-Jo Parish UCC, my parish, who allow me the privilege of being their pastor, and of bringing this quest (passion? obsession?) of mine to them. They are more amazing than they will ever know.
Moira’s reflection/sermon from BTSS 2017
Luke 8.42b-48 (from the New Revised Standard Version)
As Jesus went out, the crowds pressed in on him. Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years; and though she had spent all she had on physicians, no one could cure her. She came up behind Jesus and touched the fringe of his clothes, and immediately her hemorrhage stopped. Then Jesus asked, “Who touched me?” When all denied it, Peter said, “Master, the crowds surround you and press in on you.” But Jesus said, “Someone touched me; for I noticed that power had gone out from me.” When the woman saw that she could not remain hidden, she came trembling; and falling down before Jesus, she declared in the presence of all the people why she had touched him, and how she had been immediately healed. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.”
Last year, as we first observed Break The Silence Sunday, I said that I desperately wished we didn’t have to, that there was no need for the church to have a day set aside to demonstrate our support of survivors of sexual violence; no need to have this day to be reminded of our call, our obligation, to speak up and work for change.
But, of course, there is a great need for a day like today, a day to listen to hard stories and statistics; a day to remember that people we know – our friends, family, coworkers, classmates, and people who sit next to us in these pews – carry the violence of rape and sexual assault in their hearts, and minds, and bodies every day.
There is a great need for today because the suffering continues, the fear of reporting continues, the unwillingness of prosecuting attorneys to take cases to court continues, the lack of convictions continues, and in the few cases that get that far, the short sentences handed out continue. And the victim blaming and shaming continue, the questions about what they were wearing, why they were out after dark, why they were at someone else’s house alone – all of that continues too.
In the year since we last gathered to observe Break The Silence Sunday there have been several cases that have made national news, a high school in Texas where sexual violence was routinely used by the football team to haze new members, and most recently in the last week with Bill O’Reilly being fired from his television show because of repeated sexual harassment, inappropriate touching, and more.
There has been more coverage in all kinds of media of sexual assault, rape, and abuse. More and more people are talking about it, and that is, I believe a good thing. It’s hard, surely, and sometimes we want to turn the television off, walk away from the newspaper, and think that it simply isn’t happening, that it’s not in our towns, not in our schools, not in our churches.
I understand. I pay a lot of attention to the cases in the news, for both personal and pastoral reasons, and even I want to turn away, to hide from it all, sometimes. But I believe our call as Christ’s disciples requires us to pay attention, to the cases that make the national news, and maybe even more to the ones that don’t, the ones that only make it to page six of the local paper, to that two minutes after the sports report on the nightly news.
Our gospel reading this morning may seem like a strange choice for today. There was a woman who had suffered for twelve years with something no doctor seemed able to do anything about. Then, as Jesus is walking by, she reaches out and touches his cloak and is healed. But that’s not the end of the story. Jesus knows that somehow power has left him, been transferred to someone else, and so he looks around, and questions the crowd.
Eventually the woman stands up and confesses that it was her, that she was the one who touched Jesus’ cloak. And it’s really at that moment I believe she is healed, when she tells her story, owns what has happened to her. In front of the crowd, and the disciples, and Jesus himself she tells of her experience without shame, or guilt.
There is incredible power in being heard, in having someone listen to us, to what we have experienced, and even more power when that listening, and hearing takes place within our community of faith, in the midst of people who share this journey with us, who trust in the same G-d who has named and claimed each of us, who keeps our lives.
Because I am a bit outspoken about this, I am honored to hear a great many stories, from people I know and love, from people who reach out over the internet, from strangers at the grocery who see me wearing my This Is What A Rape Survivor Looks Like button. The stories are all different, but they share one thing – almost always the survivor has never told their story, has carried the pain of their experience in silence.
Whether it’s the man at the church supply store who was abused by his neighbor when he was a child, or the woman at the grocery who was raped by her husband, or the shop clerk who was assaulted during college, they’ve all carried their stories in silence because they were afraid of the judgement, and shame that would be thrown at them. They’ve lived in fear of telling their stories, particularly in the church, because of how people respond, with bad theology, and with guilt.
I have no doubt that I will continue to be on the receiving end of people breaking their own silence, sharing their stories, but we all need to be in one way or another. We all need to be paying attention, opening our hearts, and minds, and spirits to change the culture we live in, to create spaces in society, and in our church, where people can share the pain of their experience, and receive the healing love of G-d.
Earlier this year, just after the worship materials I had prepared for today were sent out to the churches, with a pastor who called and asked why we were doing this again, why did we need to have another Break The Silence Sunday. They wanted to know if we couldn’t leave it alone. They said we had done it once and that should be enough.
I wanted to cry, and to scream, at the same time, but what I said is that the process of breaking the silence isn’t something that we can do once and think we have done all that needs to be done. It is a continual process, and that the church needs to continue listening, hearing, standing up, speaking out, until all of G-d’s children are free from the pain, shame, and misplaced guilt of rape and sexual violence.
So today I congratulate all of you for being here, for witnessing to what is difficult, and heartbreaking, for participating in the work of mending the tears in the fabric of society, and I remind you that we will keep doing it, year after year, day after day, until rape and sexual violence are no more. Amen.
This morning, before my brain had been adequately caffeinated, and while I was thinking about the list ahead of me for the Tuesday of Holy Week, I ended up in an internet conversation with another UCC pastor about Sexual Assault Awareness Mont (SAAM) and my work with Break The Silence Sunday (BTSS). I asked this other pastor if they would be observing BTSS in their parish this year. Here’s how the conversation went:
Other pastor (OP): Well, no, it won’t do any good would it. We’re never going to change things, and it doesn’t affect anyone I know anyway.
Me: Yeah, I guess you don’t really know me do you?
OP: What? Oh yeah, but that happened a long time ago, you must be over it by now.
OP: Plus, it couldn’t have been that bad. Look at everything you’ve accomplished.
Me: Well, I’ve got to go. Food Pantry board meeting this morning. Bye.
I wish I could say that I were surprised, but I’m not, and I don’t think I’m even disappointed either. I’ve come, sadly, to expect reactions like this from people who are otherwise reasonably self-aware. My heart hurts, and I’m angry, but not because these words were said to me, but because they might (and probably are) said to other survivors who don’t have the support systems to help them understand what kind of nonsense (B.S.) this is.
I’m also angry, sad, mad, disappointed, frustrated, and exhausted because this kind of thinking is part of the public narrative about rape and sexual assault. A good rape victim will have tried to fight back, will have resisted and screamed, and will have documentable physical injuries. And then, of course, the good victim will put it all behind them, move on with their lives, put the past in the past, and become delightful, productive members of society who don’t remind anyone that they were ever assaulted.
Sometimes it works that way, and sometimes it doesn’t. Some survivors fight back, and others don’t. Some aren’t able to resist for a lot of reasons. Some have physical injuries, and some don’t. For some survivors their experiences become the defining moment in their lives forever, and for others it works differently. Some of us become advocates for survivors, others heal quietly on their own, and still others hide their story because it’s not safe to tell anyone, sometimes not even themselves.
And here’s the thing … all of those ways of being a survivor are OK. There isn’t a right or wrong way to do it. Whatever you did, and do, to survive is fine. The important thing is that you are still here, that you did survive, and you continue to do so. That’s the message we need to be giving to survivors, one of acceptance, and love, rather than judgement and denial.
Late last week I posted on my personal Facebook page wondering where my allies were, where the people who aren’t survivors, who haven’t experienced the abuse and violence are who are willing to speak up, to stand with us, to do the work that needs to be done in changing the culture we live in. Not surprisingly, a fair number of survivors spoke up , but thankfully some good non-survivors did too, thanking me for the reminder that they have work to do. And then a couple of other people sent me messages asking what they could do. They were afraid of saying the wrong thing, of saying something that would cause more harm than good, that would trigger, or offend a survivor. So I thought maybe it would be good to start a list of ways allies and advocates can speak up about changing rape culture. These are my thoughts, and I welcome your ideas & input.
Ways To Be A Good Ally In Changing Rape Culture:
(1) Believe survivors. Seriously, just believe us. Somewhere around 2% of reported rapes are determined to be false, and considering that 2 out of 3 rapes are unreported, the false reports are statistically tiny. So if someone tells you they were raped or assaulted, believe them. Tell them you believe them. Say the words, “I believe you.” Really, say it. They need to hear it.
(2) Challenge your own assumptions. When you think about a rape what do you think of – a stranger jumping out from a dark alley? In reality, seven out of ten rapes are committed by someone the victim knows. What are your ideas about how a victim should behave, if they should physically fight back, what and how they need to say or do in order to express that what is happening is not consensual? When you hear about a rape case on the news, do you ask yourself what the victim was wearing, why they were walking where they were, why they had so much to drink, or other things that pass judgement on the victim rather than the perpetrator? Think about where you got these ideas – movies, TV, your family home, media coverage of high profile cases, your own experiences. Think about how you got your ideas about victims, and perpetrators, and how you might challenge yourself to think differently.
(3) Start noticing rape culture around you. When you open your eyes to it, you’ll start to see it everywhere. There’s a terrific list of twenty-five everyday examples of it here http://everydayfeminism.com/2014/03/examples-of-rape-culture/ … it’s things like songs that talk about blurred lines when people say that no means yes; school dress codes that focus only on what young women are wearing that causes distractions to young men; politicians talking about “legitimate rape”; thinking that rape is about sex when it’s really a crime of violence and power; rape prevention that focuses entirely on the actions someone can take to prevent themselves from being raped rather than teaching people not to rape; rape jokes of any kind; coverage of rape cases that lament the lost futures of perpetrators; advertising that objectively uses women’s bodies (and to a different degree men’s bodies); and so much more. You can read more here about it at this link: http://www.wavaw.ca/what-is-rape-culture/
(4) Educate yourself. Learn about the scope of the problem. Visit some websites and discover how rape affects survivors. Here are a few to try out:
Rape Abuse Incest National Network (RAINN)
National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC)
It’s On Us
Men Can Stop Rape
Joyful Heart Foundation (with links to the No More campaign)
Just don’t forget to look critically at the websites you visit to make sure that you’re learning from an organization that supports and empowers survivors. RAINN will also help you find an organization in your area that works with survivors.
(5) Speak up. Use your voice. If someone makes a rape joke in front of you, stop them and ask them to explain why it’s funny. If they use derogative words to describe so
meone, or say “she was asking for it”, interrupt, and ask them questions to find out why they’re saying what they’re saying. Make yourself heard on social media – Twitter, Facebook, Instagram. Write a post saying that you stand with survivors, you believe them, and you want to change the culture that contributes to rape and sexual violence. Go to the pastor of your faith community and ask them if they’re participating in Break The Silence Sunday.
As I said, these are just a few of my ideas of ways that non-survivors can be good allies in the work of supporting survivors & changing our culture. Let’s generate a huge list of ways we can all work together to end rape & sexual violence forever.
It’s barely Tuesday afternoon and it’s already been a hell of a week.
As many (all?) of you know in the small hours of Sunday morning a man walked into Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, FL. Armed with guns with ridiculous power, designed only to kill and maim, an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle and a 9mm semi-automatic pistol, he began shooting. He took aim at some of the most vulnerable members of our society, our lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, asexual, and intersex (LGBTQQAI) family and friends.
Forty-nine people who had gone out to have a good time, to dance, and laugh, and celebrate with their friends lost their lives. (Many media reports list fatalities at 50, but that number includes the shooter.) Incredible numbers of people were injured: physically in the shooting; emotionally by being one of the police officers or paramedics or fire fighters who responded to the tragedy to tend the wounded; by learning of their loved one’s deaths; and by being a part of the LGBTQQAI community, in Orlando, and around the world, reminded of their connection, and their vulnerability.
The number of vigils has been amazing, and the hands that have reached out to help, and the voices that have spoken up about love has been helpful to tired, and weary hearts. I am most moved by scenes of Muslims, who are in the midst of their Ramadan fast, and who are sadly called upon once again to defend their faith, lining up to donate blood, and offer water and food to others waiting to do so. And I am grateful for the voice of churches like mine, the United Church of Christ, and their witness of love, justice, and inclusion of all God’s children.
But even amid that, there’s been a lot of awfulness – media outlets attempting to ignore that the victims were LGBTQQAI, hypocrites who in recent weeks had been spewing hate and bigotry now praying for the very communities they were condemning, politicians turning these deaths into talking points for their own agendas, and folks who just can’t seem to understand the scope of gun violence in our country. A lot of my friends are hurting, grieving the loss of what had been safe places, and mourning for people they never met, but with whom they shared their lives. This is probably already too many words from me on the subject, so I stand with them, and listen, awaiting their instructions and ideas about how I can be of help.
Meanwhile, my own community of survivors of rape and sexual violence are reeling.
Stanford has slipped off the radar for most people, gone to wherever viral internet things go when they aren’t viral anymore, but I promise you survivors are paying attention, still reading the articles now moved to page six, listening in the silence for a commitment to change.
And then there’s Vanderbilt University, back in the news with a case from 2013 that caused considerable public outcry, but has since been largely forgotten.
In June of 2013, four members of the Vanderbilt football team – Corey Batey, Brandon Banks, Jaborian “Tip” McKenzie, and Brandon Vandenburg – took a woman back to the dorms after a party. There they proceeded to rape her, and videotape the rape, distributing it across various social networks.
Mr Batey and Mr Vandenburg were convicted in January of 2015, but then because of some issues with a juror, a mistrial was declared. Mr Batey was retried and convicted in April of this year and is awaiting sentencing this summer. (Mr Banks and Mr McKenzie are still awaiting trial, and Mr McKenzie is expected to be the prosecution’s lead witness in the trial against Mr Vandeburg.)
Mr Vandenburg is on trial again now. After a difficult process of empaneling an out of town jury which will be sequestered in Nashville during the trial, the trial began on Monday of this week. The defense’s argument on why Mr Vandenburg should not be convicted might sound a bit familiar:
He was a good kid with a promising future who got in over his head, his family was 2000 miles away in California, he looked to the other players as his brothers, his role models, and in the words of his attorney, “he didn’t know that that’s the way these guys did things at Vanderbilt.”
My community – survivors of rape, abuse, and sexual violence – are grieving. And every day 808 more people join us (there is an average of one rape or sexual assault in the U.S. every 107 seconds). Every now and again there’s a vigil, when a big case like Stanford or Vanderbilt break. Sure, there are vigils, and walks, and such in April during Sexual Assault Awareness Month, but not for the almost 34 people an hour, each and every day, who are violently, and intimately violated in this country (much less the 1 in 2 women around the world who will be raped, abused, or assaulted in their lifetime).
I don’t mean this to turn in to a competition, some sort of grief and oppression olympics of who is more or less deserving of a rally or a vigil, and if I have offended I do hope you’ll comment here with compassion rather than vitriol.
Rather I would hope that this might be a moment for us to understand just how interconnected all these forms of oppression, and discrimination, and bigotry are. The social structures that led to the violence in Orlando, are connected to those that see our young black (and brown and native American) men killed by those who should protect them, and those are connected to the religious bigotry that condemn all Muslims for the actions of one, and those are connected to rape culture which teaches men like Mr Vandenburg that they have a right to use a woman for whatever they want without consequence.
Heterosexism, racism, Islamaphobia, gun culture, and sexism – they’re all tied up together. To solve these problems, to create a better tomorrow, we’re going to have to work together, to recognize the particularities of our own struggles, and the places where those struggles connect with others. It’s going to be hard, and messy, and painful. It’s going to scare us, and shake us to the depths of who we think we are, but it’s all we’ve got. There is no them, there is only us, one people who all desperately deserve to be free to live, and love, and dance, and run, and celebrate, and walk their dogs after dark, and be themselves – at home, at work, at the night club, at church, at the grocery store, everywhere.
I could keep writing, there are so many words, and emotions swirling in my head, a jumble of sad and angry, confused and scared. Instead I’ll leave you with some words about how we might translate our internet outrage and grief (which is wonderful and important) into something more. Kia Groom writes, in an article called “Want To Show Your Solidarity With Victims? Then Actually Take Action”:
Stop waiting until the story breaks. Stop waiting until you feel safe to stand up. Expressing solidarity is not supposed to be easy. It is challenging. It is terrifying. It calls upon us to make difficult decisions, to risk our alliances, our careers, our reputations—perhaps even our bodies—on behalf of others. Not because we have something to gain, but because it is the right thing to do. … The actions you take in your day to day lives matter. Whether you speak up or stay silent. Whether you step in. Whether you take a stand. Don’t wait for a body count. You can make a difference—even if you don’t make the headlines.
For the rest of the article, click here.
My hope and prayer friends, is that the tragedy, the grief, the heartache of this week might move and change us, might bring us together, might unite us to strive together for a more perfect world.
For more information about the Vanderbilt case, click here, and look for the link at the bottom of that page to follow updates.
The world, or at least the internet, is up in arms about the paltry sentence given out by a judge in Santa Clara county, California last week. We could call it the Stanford University Swimmer case in which Brock Turner, age 20, raped an unconscious 23 year old woman behind a dumpster. The judge, Aaron Persky, sentenced Mr Turner to 6 months in jail (not prison) and three years of probation (which could be three months based on good behavior). The survivor wrote a stunning victim impact statement and authorized its release to the media. You can find it here, but be prepared as the statement has graphic descriptions of rape and medical procedures. To make the situation all the more complicated, Mr Turner’s father wrote a pre-sentencing report to the judge in which he laments, not his son’s actions, but that “these verdicts have broken and shattered him and our family in so many ways. His life will never be the one that he dreamed about and worked so hard to achieve. That is a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action out of his 20 plus years of life. … He has no prior criminal history and has never been violent to anyone including his actions on the night of Jan 17th 2015.”
The internet’s comment sections are not places for the faint of heart on a slow news day, and that is doubly true with anything revolving around the Stanford case. While many people are outraged, others are taking Mr Turner and his father’s side arguing that since alcohol was a factor it should mitigate responsibility, and that this promising young man’s life is forever ruined by what the survivor accused him of (not what he did). Still worse are the people hoping that Mr Turner will be raped in prison so that he can experience first hand what he did to someone else. Let me be perfectly clear … that is NOT ok. It is never, ever, ever acceptable to advocate anyone being raped, ever. It’s not a joke, it’s not a punishment, and acting as if it is perpetuates rape culture just as much as anything the judge, or Mr Turner’s father have said in this case.
Meanwhile, over in Texas there’s another storm brewing at Baylor University. Several players, and at least one coach, of the university’s championship winning football team have been accused of violence, and sexual assault. The allegations are that the university knew about what was going on, and covered it up, silencing victims, and working with the Waco, TX police department to make sure nothing was “leaked”. You can read a summary of the case from the Dallas News here.
All of this, plus the case against Mr Cosby, the brutal gang rape of a young woman in Brazil, and more, can leave you sick to your soul. It has made me want to scream, and cry (both of which I’ve done), and resort to some violence of my own (which I haven’t done and won’t do). And more than anything it has made me wonder a bit why I bother with all this Break The Silence Sunday work. The problem is so overwhelming, so big, that my little drop in the bucket seems utterly pointless against the ocean of rape culture, and violence.
But then, there’s the gentle, unexpected moment that reminds me what you can do with a bit of compassion, and one voice.
I have a friend who runs for fun which is something I do not understand at all, but she runs in all kinds of charitable events, and I go along to cheer her own, hold her jacket, time her races, and make sure she eats her pre-race banana.
On Saturday last, in the midst of a drizzly rain, we went off to one such race in Green Bay to benefit the Tourette’s Foundation. After my friend and the other runners set out I sat on a bench with another woman who was there to support her family members who were running. When the drizzle intensified we took to the nearby shelter where they had the pre-race bananas, and coffee, and rather delicious rice krispy treats. We talked about a whole range of things, and discovered that we knew several people in common, and then it was time to go to the finish line to cheer on the returning racers.
After the race we were standing around talking – the woman and her family, my friend, and I – and that’s when the woman noticed my “This is what a rape survivor looks like” button.
She was visibly stunned and said, “I’ve never met a rape survivor before.”
A slew of responses ran through my head, from frustration, to outrage, to anger, to laughter. A huge part of me wanted to shake her and scream.
Instead, as calmly and evenly as I could, I said, “yes you have.”
It wasn’t a moment to rail at her in outrage. It wouldn’t have accomplished anything.
It wasn’t the time to scream statistics at her. She wouldn’t have been able to listen just yet.
Instead, it was a time for one calm, even voice offering her the truth in a way she might be able to hear. “Yes you have.”
You’ve met a rape survivor because we sit next to you at church, and work in the next cubicle, and shop at the same grocery store. We’re on the PTA, the soccer dads, and the moms who bake cookies for the little league.
As we stood there, after the race, this woman and I, something in her heart changed. I don’t know where it will lead her, or what she will do with her new information (she was eventually open to the most basic statistic … one in six women in the U.S. in their lifetime will be raped or assaulted). But I do know that something changed in her. She has had an invitation to open her heart, and her mind to an entirely new way of looking at the world, and the people around her. She has my card, and the link to this blog, and I imagine some challenging days ahead of her as she re-evaluates what she used to believe.
Sometimes I wish that BTSS was moving faster, making a bigger change, ending the universally damaging system of patriarchy and rape culture overnight. But I am enough of a student of history, and just enough of a realist, to understand that’s not how lasting, true social change happens. It’s the relentless persistence of one conversation, and then another, of one heart being opened, and then another, that eventually moves mountains.
One of the most amazing things about the survivor’s statement is the final paragraph which I quote here. She writes to girls, but I would remind us all that men and boys are victims as well…
And finally, to girls everywhere, I am with you. On nights when you feel alone, I am with you. When people doubt you or dismiss you, I am with you. I fought everyday for you. So never stop fighting, I believe you. Lighthouses don’t go running all over an island looking for boats dos ave; they just stand there shining. Although I can’t save every boat, I hope that by speaking today, you absorbed a small amount of light, a small knowing that you can’t be silenced, a small satisfaction that justice was served, a small assurance that we are getting somewhere, and a big, big knowing that you are important, unquestionably, you are untouchable, you are beautiful, you are to be valued, respected, undeniably, every minute of every day, you are powerful and nobody can take that away from you. To girls everywhere, I am with you.
Her courage, and her solidarity to stand with all survivors, is what BTSS is about. And yes, this work is agonizingly slow at times, but it is the only way, to stand with my feet firmly on the ground, trusting in the hesed (unfailing love of G-d) that I cannot see, and saying:
“Yes you have, you have met a rape survivor, because I am one.
Yes you have, you have met a rape survivor,
now let’s do something together so no one else ever has to wear this button.
Yes, you have.”