Pure As the Driven Slush: Heather Corinna's Journal and Diary, Online since 1999

Archive for the 'rape' Category

Monday, July 25th, 2011

(Cross-posted at the Scarleteen blog)

I want to tell you something very personal about me. Not because I want to. I really don’t want to. But I’m going to do it anyway.

It’s one of those things where even though it’s incredibly uncomfortable for me, I feel like sharing despite my discomfort might be able to make a positive difference. And since this has to do with something where I believe others have been making a positive difference in a way I, myself, have not also been able to, it seems the least I can do. I’ve been largely silent around the Slutwalks. There are a few reasons for that, but the biggest one of all is that what inspired them simply struck me much, much to close to home. So, my silence has not been about nonsupport of the walks. In more ways than one, it’s been about my stepping out of the way of them in part based on my own limitations.

If you’re triggered by candid stories about sexual or other forms of assault, this may be triggering for you. I know it still is for me, very much so. Telling this story in this kind of detail remains incredibly difficult for me, despite many years of healing, help with therapy, help and healing found through helping others and a lot of support. It’s not a story I tell often, because even just typing it out or saying it all out loud makes my hands shake and my heart race and turns me into a bit of a mess for a bit of time after I do.

I keep hearing or reading people say things like that no one really gets told the way they were dressed makes them at fault for their assault, despite about a million evidences to the contrary, and knowing far more than one person personally who has had that experience.

Conversely (and oddly enough, sometimes from the same people who say that first thing), I keep reading people stating, despite so much great activism around this lately, that how someone dresses IS what “got them raped.” Or that they were raped because of their sexual history, their economic class, where they live, how they talk, how they do or don’t respond to men, how they identify or present their gender — anything BUT the fact that they were in some kind of proximity to someone who chose to rape them, which is exactly how, and only how, someone winds up being a victim of rape.

A few months ago, I had an apparently politically progressive blogger who would not stop talking to me on Twitter about the “rape outfit” of an 11-year-old girl whose rape case I had linked to. He, without my asking him anything about it personally, expressed he felt she would not have been assaulted had she been dressed differently. He called whatever it was she was wearing a “rape outfit.” Hearing about the fact that I had my own “rape outfit” at 12, or that, when my great-grandmother was raped and murdered in her home at the age of 76, her “rape outfit” was a housecoat, or that the “rape outfit” of young boys sexually abused by priests was often their super-salacious Sunday best; equally not hearing my firm requests to please not keep tweeting me with misogyny which I found deeply upsetting and hurtful seemed to only make him more excited to keep saying what he was. Even reminding him I was a survivor myself didn’t slow him down. Only blocking him worked. I’m quite certain he left the conversation with exactly the same beliefs as when he started it.

These things we read and hear don’t just come from one group of people: some men say them, but so do some women. Social conservatives say them a lot, but progressives say them, too. People who assault people, of course, will often voice things like this or other things to do all they can to avoid responsibility. But even people who have been victimized themselves will sometimes say things like this. Sometimes — and, I’d say, probably most of the time — that’s about internalizing the messages they got. Sometimes it’s about feeling a need to have another victim be at fault for their assault so that they can feel less like they, themselves, were at fault for their assaults, even though no victim is at fault for being victimized. More unfortunately, than I can express, rape culture is one of the most globalized kinds of culture there is.

I keep reading and hearing and seeing people who, so far as I can tell, and intentionally choosing to misrepresent or deny the core issue of what the SlutWalks are about: activism working expressly to try and counter deeply harmful and endangering attitudes expressed about rape and rape victims like those of Constable Michael Sanguinetti, who, in January of this year, speaking on crime prevention at a York University safety forum said, “You know, I think we’re beating around the bush here. I’ve been told I’m not supposed to say this - however, women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimised.” (This is why the word “slut” is so prominently featured in this activism, because it is this comment which directly inspired the first walk.)

I wish I had never heard a police officer say anything like that at all. I also wish that if I was going to hear that, it had been the first time I had.

In seeing so much nonsupport for the walks and people who have participated in them, I started to worry that being silent might be interpreted as being nonsupportive, which is the last message I’d want to send. I’m going to talk a little bit about the walks in this blog post and another in another few days, but I want to start by telling you what I’m about to tell you, if for no other reason than to do what I can do in support, because there are things I can’t do yet, things which others can and have.

When I was 12 years old, I was sexually abused for the second time in my life. The first had been a year before, when I was 11. Then, I was molested by an elderly man who cut our hair in the neighborhood. I didn’t tell anyone. I wasn’t even totally sure what had happened to me, nor what to call it. It was 1981, I was 11, and all I knew was whatever it was felt horrible, scared me intensely, and was not okay. But I also got the message that telling anyone about it wasn’t okay, and seemed to feel some message that because it happened to me, it must have meant there was something not okay about me, too. The home environment I was living in enabled these kinds of messages constantly and was itself abusive in other ways, so I did not feel safe at that point saying much of anything, let alone disclosing something like this.

A year later, I was alone cleaning up the art room of the day camp where I was a junior counselor at he end of the day. Because the building was still open, someone was likely at the front deck, but that was very far away, and otherwise, the place was a ghost town. The only reason I was there so late is that I’d often stretch out those days as long as I could in order to avoid having to go home.

I’m going to tell you what I was wearing now.

What I was wearing wouldn’t matter and wouldn’t have mattered, to anyone, in a much better world then I lived in then and we still live in now. But it did matter to someone at the time, in a way that messed me up just as much as my assault itself did. In our cultural context right now, or perhaps in someone else’s view, it would seem clear that what I was wearing had nothing at all to do with my being assaulted. In fact, now, in our cultural context about what is and isn’t “slutty” dress, what I was wearing may be seen as indisputable proof that I did NOT ask for rape or deserve rape, even though nothing anyone wears or doesn’t wear proves or disproves that in actuality, which is clear when people are rubbing more than two hateful brain cells together in their thinking process.

It was summer in Chicago then. It’s hot in summer in Chicago. I was working at a camp, and I also had to bike back and forth, so I needed to be work-appropriate, even at 12, but also able to move around easily and not pass out from the heat. If it had been totally up to me, I’d probably have been wearing less than I was so I was more comfortable on the ride home.

But as it was, I had on gymshoes. I had a fairly loose white t-shirt on with the sleeves carefully rolled up, my typical uniform of the time (because big t-shirts are more cool if you roll up the sleeves, everyone knew that). I had on red chino-eqsque shorts that ended just above my knee. I was an early bloomer physically, so whatever I was wearing, there wasn’t then, as there isn’t now, any hiding that I’m a person with an hourglass shape and curves. Would that there had been: after what happened the year before and having been teased at home about my development, I often tried to hide parts of my body as I could. I probably had on some lip gloss. I had chin-length feathered hair that year, gone blonde from being out in the sun.

A group of much-older teenage boys, probably in their late teens, came into the art room started talking to me, and asked what I was doing there. I told them, then they asked how I got back and forth from the camp to home. I remember that as I said I rode my bike, I’d wished that I could take it back. I could feel a lack of safety in the air right then. I wished I had said someone picked me up. They asked if I wanted a ride. I said no, thank you. They asked a few more times, making a bit of a game of it, but a very pushy game. I said no a few more times then said I had to go get something and ran out.

I went and hid in a bathroom stall down the hall for what felt like hours but which was probably only minutes. I didn’t go to the front desk and try to ask for help. There are a lot of reasons for that, but the biggest was probably that I had already learned in my life that being in danger was normal and that not being helped in being safe was what I could most typically expect from people. I had also learned already that sometimes telling when I was in danger only got me hurt more.

When I came out of the stall, I went to the bike rack to get my bike, planning to speed away as fast as I could and unlocked it in a hurry. But those boys drove up behind me in the van they had, physically attacked me and dragged me away from my bike and into their car. (Typical perhaps of a tween mind, I remember having a hard time later figuring out if I should be more upset I got hurt — assault or rape were not words I had at the time — or more upset that in the midst of all of this, my bike had been stolen because it was left unlocked.)

I have very hazy memories of what happened next, memories I have never fully either formed or recovered, that only show up in mushy, jagged pieces in night terrors I have had about this over the years. I will honestly say I am glad I have only hazy recall of what happened in that van, and that while parts of my body have always made clear they remember, much of my brain never has. A day later, a big, nasty bump welled up on my head, so I’ve always figured I got knocked out, and the rest of my lack of memory can be attributed to shock.

The next thing I remember was finding myself back on the curb near the bike rack, scruffed up, shirt ripped feeling incredibly sore and strangely soggy in places. I went back inside to the bathroom and was bleeding from my rectum. I think I managed to wash my face, but that was all I could manage. I was incredibly confused, disoriented and still scared to death, not knowing if anywhere was safe,if those boys had left, nothing. I went to the pay phone and called my mother, who also called the police before she came over. All I was able to voice was that I was very scared and hurt and needed someone to come to get me now.

I went back outside and sat on the curb in front of the park where a lot of people were, hoping I’d be safe there and that my mother would find me. She arrived about the same time the police did, who I didn’t know had been called. I know I was completely incoherent, and I don’t believe I was able to express anything anyone could understand. I suspect what I said was something to the effect of, “Guys. Said no, no ride. Hid. Came after me. Grabbed. Van. Scared. Hid in bathroom. Woke up on curb. Are they gone? What? Are they gone?” I know, though, however incomprehensible my words, it could not have been missed that I was in shock, nor that I had clearly been attacked in some way. Over the years, I’ve looked for rationale and reason of why I got so poorly served, but I always give up, knowing all too well how very, very many victims of sexual assault have had the same experience, and that it isn’t something with rhyme or reason part how poorly sexual assault is treated in most of the world.

While my memories of my attack are very hazy, my memories of what came next have never been. I’ve often wished they, too, were hazy.

The police and my mother talked for a while before anyone even talked to me or asked how I was at all. I sat shivering on that curb, holding my knees, watching a crowd form around us, people at the park starting to pay more attention, feeling more and more freaked out. My mother came over and asked if I was just scared, if the van was still there. I looked around. It wasn’t. I said no, I thought it was gone, I hoped it was gone, please let it be gone. For whatever reason, she said more than once “So, nothing happened? You just got scared?” and I remember not being sure how to answer that because it felt confusing, and like there was some kind of cue about a right answer hidden in there. Then two of the police stepped over, and talked with my mother again, instead of me, and I heard one of them say, half-looking at me, half-away, that I really shouldn’t be wearing shorts that short because if I did, I could expect to have trouble with boys.

I also know and remember that with those words, I suddenly got a little more clear, the clarity you get from having just felt unsafe, thinking you might be safe, and then all the more acutely recognizing you are not, and determined to say absolutely nothing to them or my mother about anything. I agreed that okay, sure, yeah, I just got scared, I was fine, please just get me home, fine. You’ll just make a note about the van, and I should call you if I see it again fine (and yeah, right). How on earth could I have felt safe saying to any of them in that space that I was bleeding from my rectum and I didn’t know why, something already incredibly vulnerable for me to share in the first place? How on earth could I say that I think what just happened to me was like what had happened the year before that I’d told no one about? So, I didn’t say anything. Not to anyone, not until a handful of years later when ever so slowly, I started telling people, scared to death every time I did.

That I didn’t say anything at the time and for a long time shouldn’t be surprising. It’s about all the same kind of things that keep most survivors from reporting or disclosing.

Here’s the part where I think it’s very, very important that anyone reading anything like this knows three vital things.

These are not opinions. These are facts. I can’t stop you from denying they are truths and facts, but you have to know that if you do, you do so from a place of bias or ignorance because we have all the evidence in the world that they are true. We have not just the story of someone like myself but mountain of stories from survivors like myself and survivors different than me, from sound studies and research and loads of “rape prevention” tips that made so many people feel like they were safer who learned the hard way that those tips didn’t do a damn thing to protect them. All they did was control them, make them feel more scared of living, more distracted by all the things they felt they needed to think about to be safe and then and they just wound up getting hurt anyway.

The only factual part of disputes to what I am about to say is that it is absolutely a fact that we still have a long, long way to go when it comes to the way most of our world and many of the people in it treat rape and those of us who have been assaulted and abused.

1) I was not assaulted because of how I was dressed. Those long red shorts and sneakers were not why I was assaulted. But. The person who was wearing a short skirt and heels when she was assaulted wasn’t assaulted because of how she was dressed, either. Even if I had been wearing something else entirely — like the housecoat my great-grandmother was, a burqua, a nun’s habit, overalls, skinny jeans or business attire; even if I was not a woman with a vulva, but a woman with a penis dressing in the clothing I felt was representative of my gender as a woman, but some of the world disagreed with me, and felt I was cross-dressing, how I was dressed would not have been why I was assaulted, nor would my assault have been prevented had I just dressed differently. That’s not because there is one way to dress that “gets you raped” and one way to dress that doesn’t. That’s because the thing that “gets someone raped” isn’t a thing, it’s a person who chooses to rape you and what you do and don’t wear is something we know does not matter and have loads of hard data that has made that clear fro a long time now. People have been raped wearing everything in the world people can wear, and the vast majority of the time people are raped, they aren’t wearing what those who blame them consider “provocative” clothing in the first place.

The idea or statement that how a victim was dressed had anything to do with their being raped does not reflect the realities of rape and rape perpetration, only the realities of victim blaming and rape culture.

2) My rape was a “real” rape. It was not a “real” rape just because my attackers were strangers to me, because there was physical violence involved, because I was so young and had not yet chosen to have any kind of sex yet outside of furtive kisses and some clueless dry-humping with a girl friend at 10, because I struggled and probably yelled no, because I was a girl, because I managed to be assaulted in ways that now, at this point in time, most people recognize as “real rape.” It was a real rape because people really did something sexual to me without my consent and against my will because they wanted to do it and either didn’t care I didn’t, or wanted to do it because I didn’t want to. That is why my rape is a “real” rape, and is also why someone who is raped by their husband at home after church has experienced a “real” rape; why someone who is out at a party in clubbing gear, drinking cocktails, who says yes to something sexual, but no to something else but whose no is ignored has experienced a “real” rape; why someone who is worn down by verbal coercion and finally gives in to sex they do not want has experienced a “real” rape; why a man who is sexually assaulted, whatever the gender of his perpetrator, has also experienced “real” rape.

Rapes are real in all the ways rape can happen, not just in the ways that some people are most comfortable acknowledging, or the ways which do not challenge people to have to consider that rape culture is not only real, but more pervasive, widespread and more a part of anyone’s life, ongoing relationships, and perhaps even personal behavior than anyone would ever like to have to acknowledge.

3) All I have said here has a whole lot to do with Slutwalks and the aim of slutwalks. All I have said here has a whole lot to do with who gets impacted by the kinds of statements and attitudes the walks aim to call out and challenge, how deeply we can be impacted and how those statements and attitudes not only do not help people protect themselves from being victimized, but how they hurt victims and can even put people in greater danger.

All I have said here is exactly about telling women that if they dress a certain way, like sluts (or hos, or harlots or loose women, or whatever word du jour of similar sentiment fits your era, culture or community) they deserve to be raped or are asking to be assaulted. All I have said here is not some kind of strange exception where the woman involved was treated that way but wasn’t dressed “like a slut,” because all I have said here is a textbook example of the fact that the idea of what “asking for it” is is completely arbitrary except for the part where so incredibly often, the mere fact of having been raped means, to someone, if not a lot of someone’s, that a victim must have been asking for it.

I want to finish today by saying one more thing I think is critically important, and another big part of why I’m sharing what I have with you here, despite it all being so difficult for me to say so visibly.

I didn’t attend any of the Slutwalks. I probably won’t. I’m nearest to Seattle, and had some personal issues with some of ours here that were part of what kept me from it, issues I really think are personal and individual enough not to be relevant or important to anyone but me, especially with the bigger picture in mind. I also have some more political issues, but that’s something I’ll talk about more in my second post about this.

What I want to mention now is the one big thing that kept me from attending any of the walks, and that is a lack of courage and resiliency. I need to acknowledge that I have lacked a level of courage and resiliency around this which some other people who have attended these walks have had, and which I cannot possibly express my great admiration and respect for. When I see photos of them, read their words, think about them — survivors like me, who probably have similar or even the same wounds, but went all the same, some even wearing what they wore when assaulted, I am overcome with awe and humility and gratitude.

I know: I have talked about being a survivor very publicly before. In many ways, I am very strong around this, especially since my most harrowing assaults are hardly fresh: they happened a long time ago, and I’ve had a lot of time to heal. But in some ways, I am not strong around this. In some ways, I am still broken in places that haven’t yet become strong or whole. In some ways, I am not brave around this in ways that others have been or can be — or heck, know they aren’t but are so amazing, they do it anyway.

I thought about attending a walk wearing something as similar as I could find to what I was wearing that day when I was 12. And I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I just couldn’t open myself up to even one person, saying or writing in a place I could hear anything at all about the way I was dressed and my assault, whether the statement would be that I deserved to be raped because of what I was wearing, or that I didn’t, but some other woman did. I am just not that strong, mostly because hearing what I did, when I did, how I did wounded me just that deeply, that almost 30 years later, I can’t even put on a damn pair of shorts to wear in public without a meltdown, even though I can easily get naked in front of, well, pretty much anyone, or wear almost anything else I might want to with emotional comfort.

I need to say this twice: there are women who attended Slutwalks who DID wear exactly what they were wearing when they were assaulted; who did wear what someone told them made their rape their fault, despite it undoubtedly being scary and painful, because they recognized how powerful it could be for them and for others.

I had to stop for a few minutes after I typed that again, because the bravery and integrity of that action literally makes me breathless. There are survivors who did what I could not do, cannot do, because they know how important it is, to them, to people like me, to everyone. There are those who did what I could not do, who I firmly believe have done something that might seem small, but which is, I think, major. Something that will make it less and less likely a 12-year-old girl, wearing whatever it is she is wearing, who already has been done the grave injustice of rape, will never, ever hear anyone say that their clothing — that ANYTHING — made being raped their fault.

Any of us can have whatever options or ideas or feelings about this activism that we like. We can disagree about some of it, or the way a given person has or hasn’t executed it, but I just don’t know how it’s possible not to recognize the potential power of what so many people have been part of with these walks, nor to ignore how much participating must have required of some of the speakers and other attendees.

So, if there is anyone out there who organized or attended a walk who interpreted my silence as nonsupport, I hope you know now that it wasn’t. If there is anyone out there who feels worn down or unappreciated by the critiques or the resistance, know there is someone right here whose s/hero you are, in a way that someone who usually has no shortage of words has a hard time even articulating the depth of. If there is anyone out there who was brave in a way I couldn’t be, and who got torn down for it or spoken to in exactly the ways that I feared I would, I can’t tell you how sorry I am that after all the courage you probably had to muster up, anyone around you couldn’t manage to have just a fraction of the integrity and care and inner strength you do.

But know, too, there is someone sitting right here who believes that while you should not have ever had to take yet one more hit around this, I believe that in taking the risk you did, you’ve done something that not only will help make it less likely others have to, but you’ve humbled someone who sometimes arrogantly thought she was as brave around this as someone could be by raising the bar.

(P.S. I ask that you please tread gently in the comments on this, if you’re going to leave one, and in whatever you might say if you’re going to blog about my story at all. Like I said, this is something where I feel incredibly vulnerable. I think it’s safe to say it’s something where anyone would, so I’d hope anyone addressing any candid story from any survivor would be sensitive, cautious and thoughtful. I hate to even have to ask something like that at all, because, you know, we shouldn’t have to. But like all too many survivors, especially those who tell their stories and speak up, and as someone who has been burned before when being visible and vocal about her rapes, I know that we do have to ask, and that even then, sometimes even just asking winds up resulting in harassment. I sincerely hope that doesn’t happen this time around, but feel the need to make that ask. Thank you.)

Friday, August 1st, 2008

I’ve a question for the group.

What the hell do or would you say to women (or men, but I almost always only get this from women) who are thoroughly convinced that when they say no to a boyfriend (again, usually a boyfriend or some other guy), about any kind of sex, and he keeps doing or trying to do what he is doing anyway, it is because he just doesn’t understand what no means or is certain these women are kidding while clamping their legs together and saying no or playing a cute little game? To impart that he UNDERSTANDS she is saying no, that she does not want him to continue, and misunderstanding he is doing something against her will is not the problem?

Seriously, I need some new perspectives here, some fresh brain-juice.

Because in a recent incidence of this, no other logic of any kind having gotten through to the girl in question certain her new boyfriend just doesn’t know what the word no means (and feeling this is simply a basic given for men in general), I was left with only “Is he stupid?” which I don’t feel is particularly productive.

This has been one of those weeks, man. Every now and then, it just seems like The Bad & The Ugly (without The Good) becomes the predominant theme in user queries for a handful of days, and it so burns me out.

(By the by, I’ll be in San Francisco next weekend, and at the Center for Sex and Culture both next Friday evening and the following Sunday afternoon. details soonest.)

Saturday, May 10th, 2008

My lone wish for tomorrow is that it ends on a better note than this.

Wednesday, April 16th, 2008

(Heads-up: parts of this post are fairly explicit when it comes to detailing rape and abuse.)

One of the more interesting (and by interesting, I mean ridiculously ignorant) responses I have seen in a few places discussing the I Was Raped project and my input was my statement on the news that the first time I was assaulted — at the age of 11 — I did not know what had happened to me and was without any language to even express it.

This is being met with some measure of disbelief by a few folks, or the assumption I was on drugs or had been drugged or that I was simply stupid. My personal favorite was that I’m a young girl who only called my rapes rape after being brainwashed by Jennifer and feminism, a newfangled notion she apparently just clued me into. Who knew I was such a late bloomer, and that I was somehow able to grow up in the 70’s in a progressive Chicago neighborhood with a single mother, an activist father, and managed to never hear about feminism? Wowza.

I think people forget that in the early 80’s and before, we were without SO much awareness about rape and all other kinds of abuse. (And other things: I also had attraction to women before then, and a girlfriend before I knew bisexuality was a term for what I was. I was actively dating both men and women for a few years before, as detailed in one of my teenage journals, there was an entry that simply says, “Huh. It seems that I’m bisexual.”) That’s hardly to say we’re living in an acutely aware world now, but that things really have changed pretty substantially in a relatively short period of time. I was an exceptionally intelligent child, in many ways precocious, and also being a compulsive reader, I knew a whole lot about a whole lot, including having some knowledge and understanding about sex.

However, even for plenty of people who know something about sex, who are smart and relatively informed, figuring out what sex is and what rape is aren’t so easy, particularly when you’re raised female. Even if we look at classical literature - much of Greek mythology, all sorts of folktales, Tess of the D’Urbervilles, the Bronte Sisters, you name it, and this was the kind of reading I did as a kid — it doesn’t take a genius to notice that usually, when rape happens, it’s often presented as sex or, at best, “sex by force.” It’s rarely, if ever, called rape. In that literature, in religion, in common parlance, in romance novels, in films, in family gossip young women have for eons been taught, more than not, that we are passive sexually, that sex for us is something a person “takes” or we “give” (rather than as something shared), and that often enough our sexual awakening is supposed to be about men deciding to indoctrinate us. Many of us were, have been and still are taught, overtly or covertly, that rape is only rape — and even then may not be — if we’re screaming no at the top of our lungs, if there is a knife at our throat, a scary-looking stranger who is scowling (not getting off and smiling or laughing), a dirty alleyway. Even then, we hear about what women in that situation did to deserve it, ask for it, incite it. As I’ve said before, with my rape that came closest to that, at the age of 12, I heard that kind of backlash from the mouths of the police.

My first assault happened with a man I trusted — my family trusted — the man who cut our hair for years. When he asked me to go back into that shampoo room with him, I earnestly thought nothing of it. When he told me how pretty I was getting, I was marginally uncomfortable, but then I always had been with compliments. When he started getting closer and closer to me as he said this, then started talking about my breasts and my legs as he backed me up against the wall, I became very quickly and acutely uncomfortable, but I was taught by one of my parents and all of her family that you trust adults, and that’s just that: that when you feel uncomfortable around them, you don’t yell out or tell them to get out of your face, or tell them how much their breath in your face makes you want to throw up. I was taught that it was more likely I would misunderstand the well-meaning actions of adults than be correct in knowing when they were doing something wrong. When his hands went everywhere he could possibly put them, I was in such a state of shock that this was happening to me. Part of that was that while I had developed a bit early, for the most part, I did still feel pretty childlike, and what was going on very much did not feel like what happened between an adult and a child. Another part of that was that from everything I knew, this was not unlike how, when sex happened, it was described. I didn’t want it, I didn’t feel aroused — I felt incredibly repulsed and before I walked home, wound up throwing up in the alley several times — and yet, it’s not like anyone had ever talked to me about how sex was supposed to feel, emotionally, or like I hadn’t seen enough representations of sex where it clearly was not about the woman’s wants, initiation or boundaries. What I was looking for, later that day and for years afterwards, was a rationale of why that happened to me, how, somehow, something I said, did or wore would have given the impression I wanted that or was available for that. For a couple years, I blamed my developing body: pulled hair out of it that had grown in, tried to make it go back to my childhood body, cut it up with a razor.

I did not tell a soul what had happened to me then. I was cut off from my dad at the time, and I was living in a household with a stepparent who was verbally and emotionally abusive, and who, since I had started puberty, had used that to humiliate and torment me. One of his favorite taunts during those years was to tell me, in lurid detail, how he might cut my breasts off. I think it’s also entirely possible — remember, these are memories which are now 27 years old and which are also made murky by a lot of trauma in a short time - I was worried that having my stepparent know this man had done this to me would give him or any other man the feeling they could do the same. Telling my mother would have meant he was told — my privacy was never respected in that home (the only place I could assure that was a closet I rigged to lock from the inside, where I spent a whole lot of time for a few years), and I was often treated as the interloper to what would have been, apparently, an otherwise idyllic existence. I had no idea what telling anyone else would mean, but I didn’t think it would be helpful. I was already a bit of a misfit at school and we had just moved, so all my friends were very new friends — and didn’t want to say anything which would cement my status as a freak further.

Again, there wasn’t any precedent for this back then, when it comes to telling. There were no talk-TV shows, no magazines, no books, not hotlines, no PSAs telling you to tell, or letting you know that telling could be a big help. There were only an onslaught of messages telling you to shut your trap and pretend nothing happened. My clear assumption at the time was that I must have done something to deserve this or make this man think I wanted this: I was often blamed for so much I did not do in my childhood that I had no reason to think otherwise. I was used to being found at fault. I wasn’t about to tel anyone about this thing which felt so wrong and get sorely punished for whatever I did.

There’s something else people seem to forget. I was more educated in many ways than a lot of girls my age, but I work in sex education right now, not in 1981. And every single day we get questions from people of a wide range of ages, from a wide range of nations, who very clearly would not — or do not - know, either. We hear from people who do not know the names of their own body parts, or do not know what the most “basic” forms of sex are. We hear from people all over the globe in their teens and twenties who do not know the basics of reproduction, or when sex has even happened. We work with a population who is frequently told that ANY sex is wrong for them, and so they tend to expect sex — wanted sex, sex of any kind — to feel wrong. We hear from people all the time who have been forced into sex or other kinds of abuse and do not know what happened to them; know that it was rape or abuse and it was not something they asked for or are responsible for. In other words, things have improved, but we still have a loooong way to go, and there are lots of things which inhibit people from knowing they have been abused which have little or nothing to do with rape at all.

Back when I was running my alternative pre-kindergarten and teaching in other classrooms, the few times I had a student I discovered was being abused in some way, figuring it all out was very tough, because children normalize whatever their normal is, and they are also very easily manipulated by abusive adults into believing that when they say a given thing is okay, that it is okay, even if it hurts, even if it doesn’t feel right, even if every part of them initially — in time that intuition is often worn down to nothing — knows it isn’t okay. I had a student once with a babysitter who, as it turned out, had a husband who punished the children they cared for by burning their mouths with a lighter (you can guess, sadly, when this all played out, how little happened to this man — as I understand it, the only consequence of all of this was that the woman doing home daycare got a limit placed on how many kinds she could have, and stupid DCFS told them who made the report, so the child and his mother were harassed by phone at their home for weeks by these people). I only found this out after my young student had told me all day his mouth and throat were sore. I had given him water and juice, and finally took him in the bathroom to look back in his throat… and saw that the roof of his mouth was literally charred black. I knew well enough by then that you have to be careful how you talk to kids about this stuff — again, it’s very easy to lead or influence them — so it took everything I had to try and ask questions cool as a cucumber when I was mortified and heartbroken, knowing something awful had happened to this child. In asking where he’d been lately, what he’d done over the last few days, he finally volunteered, with a shrug, that “Maybe that happened when Mike put his lighter in my mouth. He does that sometimes.” He said it as if he were saying, “Maybe I’ll have eggs for breakfast this morning.” Mike put a lighter in his mouth, sure, and it later came out that Mike liked to physically “discipline” him in other ways, but Mike also played ball with him, told jokes, was his friend. These kinds of situations are confusing for children, confusing for teens, confusing for adults.

See, sometimes we don’t know we’ve been abused because the person who raped (or otherwise abused) us isn’t supposed to be someone who can harm you: a boyfriend, a teacher, a parent, a clergyperson, a friend. If people who are supposed to care about you, who say they care about you, who others you trust invest trust in assaults you it surely must have been something else, because people you love aren’t supposed to do you harm. Sometimes we don’t know because the person who is assaulting us tells us, quite plainly, while they are doing so that we like what they are doing, that everything feels so good, that we are so special, that they are our friend and would never hurt us. They’re smiling, the way we see them smile all the time, not looking scary or yelling or calling us bitches or sluts. Sometimes we don’t know because what we are told or shown in sex and what we are told or shown is rape so closely resemble each other: my personal feeling over the years is that one thing that makes healing so hard for a lot of survivors is that so much of the consensual sex they are having is still pretty rape-y in a lot of ways. Sometimes we don’t know rape was rape because we have heard so much more about how women are temptresses (or, for male survivors, how men and boys always want any kind of sex from anyone) who lead men into the things they do to us, who cause men to lose self-control — this kind of talk loomed large among my mother’s Irish Catholic parents, for instance — or we hear about how dirty and filthy and bad we are from birth, no mater what we do or don’t do, no matter what is or is not done to us by others.

Let’s also not forget that often, our psyches do us a profound favor with traumatic events where they can kind of turn off and tune out our minds so that our memories of a traumatic event are murky and even nonexistent. This is not some kooky idea people came up with in order to prove imaginary traumas, it’s something very well documented, and one very typical aspect of PTSD. In my case, while I remember much of my first assault very clearly, my second is one where a whole chunk starting where I was forcibly grabbed and pulled into the van and ending where I somehow had gotten myself back into the bathroom of the ice rink where I started, shivering and shaking and bruised, is just missing. I’m very well versed in this point of therapies for missing memories, things like RMT, and of the big flaws in them. Before I even knew how flawed approaches like that could be, I had no interest in trying them (and the one therapist I had who I stuck with in my teens was very down-to-earth and never suggested them): I never wanted those acute memories, nor did I, personally, need them to know what happened to me and to work through it. All the same, when you have memory loss with trauma, it can make figuring out what happened right at or around the time it did a challenge, especially when you factor in the very typical desire for denial of trauma.

One of the biggest bummers of the last couple of weeks is that I wish so many of these conversations could have been had only with rape survivors, in spaces that felt safe, where survivors could really talk and where those who were not could just freaking listen. Every time I read one of these bouts of en masse ignorance, it was usually dovetailed by comments about how we don’t need rape awareness, how everyone knows all they need to know, and how anyone who wants to talk about their rape can with no problems and full support, which is an obvious and sad irony. If we didn’t need that awareness, survivors would feel and earnestly be safe to share their stories and all the prototypical myths — like the idea that everyone knows when they have been raped and knows that’s what to call it — wouldn’t be anything we still had to counter. If people could just listen to survivors — and put aside that sometimes, what we have to say is going to make people feel uncomfortable and is going to challenge certain worldviews profoundly — we’d have come a lot farther by now both in reducing rape and in having a better environment for survivors to heal in. It’s really tough sometimes to even figure out which is more traumatic: a rape itself, or the aftermath of rape, living with rape, trying to work through it all in a culture which is so hell-bent on enabling rape and blaming or silencing survivors.

So, no: I didn’t know that two of my rapes were rapes for the first few years after them, or even when they happened. I wasn’t drugged for any of my assaults, nor was I on drugs or any other substance. I have never been stupid a day in my life. They were not wanted, consensual sex which I only decided to call rape when a bunch of feminist women brainwashed me. I was not atypical in this respect, even though my not-knowing isn’t universal, either. The biggest reason I didn’t know is that, like many, many people then and many now — including some getting the message loud and clear from some of the discussions which have happened over the last couple of weeks — I was taught in a million different ways not to know.

Monday, April 7th, 2008

My plans for last weekend were pretty mellow: I was going to work on my taxes, do a little housecleaning, maybe get started on my garden now that the sun is back out, hang out with my sweetheart, finish some writing, practice piano and play some Scrabble. I was going to tend to myself, for the most part.

The weekend I would up having was quite a bit different.

Last Wednesday, I raced against the clock — I had to go work at the clinic the next day — to get everything up for our focus this month on sexual assault and abuse as part of Sexual Assault Awareness Month. That included getting together a page and other materials for the “I Was Raped” shirts which months back, I’d agreed to help Jennifer Baumgardner distribute as part of a project to increase rape awareness, both through these t-shirts and the conversation we’d hoped they’d start, as well as through her developing film of the same name, which will focus on first-person stories from survivors.

The New York Times first covered the project, using a photo of Jennifer — which was appropriate, since this is her project. Then Gawker and Jezebel hit on it, using a photo of me in the shirt without my permission or even a request for it (and still have yet to respond to my requests to remove a copyrighted image they have no permission to use). A few more sites followed suit. Later on Friday, KOMO-4 news contacted me, telling me they were doing a story on it that night and asking for my participation. As is my general practice with television, I declined to be filmed, but did finally agree to have a phone interview.

Before that interview, the reporter and I had a discussion about using my image where I explained why I was not comfortable with my face being put on the television as a survivor. I explained that when I went to get coffee this weekend, I needed it to be up to me if I was “that woman who is dairy allergic, so don’t forget, soy only,” or “that woman who was raped.” I explained that as a counselor for an abortion clinic half the week, I didn’t want to make anything of my personal life so broadly visible that any of my clients might recognize me and doubt that it was their issues which were of the utmost importance in my office. I explained that choosing to show my face with this in one context is not permission for anyone to make that choice for me in others, and that I’m the expert on how much exposure I can handle and want. I was told they don’t show rape “victims” faces on television, anyway (and then wondered, if that was so, why we were even having that conversation in the first place).

Apparently, they do, because my face was indeed shown on the news, coupled with the reporter saying I’d requested they did not show it. My words were edited massively — as is to be expected — and no information on the project was even given. The “I Was Raped” t-shirt was compared to t-shirts reading “Yankees Suck,” and “Boys are stupid — throw rocks at them.” The story spread — the tone of it intact — and the video made its way to other stations, and eventually to CNN (which I only found out about after the fact: CNN never contacted me). The story has spread very largely through the blogosphere, and with some notable exceptions, an awful lot of what’s out there is full of a lot of misinformation about me and the project, and in some cases, some really inflammatory accusations. As of today, I’m about one for one between positive emails and negative ones, and while the positives are very positive, the negatives are really negative and many have been incredibly threatening and disturbing.

I’ve been accused of exploiting myself and other assault survivors just to make money, which would almost be comical if it weren’t so vile. Scarleteen gets five dollars from any shirt sold. Five dollars, which to make, means not only my processing the order, packing it to ship, walking to ship them as well as doing all I’ve done to set things up to sell them, the crazy amount of extra bandwidth all the press has brought on (none of which I courted or chose), and all of this causing technical problems with the site, but also includes putting up with all of the crap which I have over the last handful of days. You’d think it’d be pretty easy for a person of any intelligence to realize that if it was about the money, I could do better by setting up a lemonade stand on the sidewalk, make the same dough, and do so without any sort of emotional stress or difficulty. And flatly, if someone doesn’t want $5 to go to Scarleteen, I have no trouble sending it to a different organization which helps with rape prevention, awareness and healing. But since I’m also the one paying the bandwidth bills for all of this, doing a lot of the work, taking care of all the orders and shipping AND being the whipping boy of choice AND since Scarleteen does advocacy work in this area, I’m not sure what the big problem is.

I’ve gotten letters in my email box from those who came to Scarleteen and read some of our rape content, and felt the need to write me and explain to me all of the ways in which any given kind of sexual abuse was not actually sexual abuse at all, be it because the victim asked for it, because the victim apparently really wanted it but was just ashamed of their own desires, because when the victim is male they always really want it; how for “horny” teenage boys, raping is just something they do naturally, how all survivors need to do is find out what we did to get raped, make sure we don’t do that thing again and move on, how in doing what we do at Scarleteen in the first place, we’re setting girls up to be raped by encouraging them to be promiscuous sluts, or enabling rape somehow by educating youth on homosexuality.

I’ve had the great privilege of being patronized, with other victims, by non-survivors, “experts” on rape, or even other survivors letting us know what they think we need to be doing “for our own good,” how they think we don’t know how to protect ourselves, physically or emotionally, how much more it would scar us to take something “private” and make it in any way public…and how all of these concerns are OF COURSE about us, not about them. I have been told what my personal problems are, by people who know nothing about me, and about how I could do a lot more good if I did more meaningful things with my life than I do, or how, if I stopped doing the work I do now, went and took a corporate job, was able to buy a house and car, and then give money to an organization like…oh, the one I run, I could do more for other “victims.” I have been told outright that while a given letter-writer cares for all other rape survivors, they do not care for survivors like me, and feel that it is perfectly appropriate — nay, quite called for — to shower me with abusive invective.

(Might there be some truth in some of them saying this could be traumatic for survivors because of what I’m dealing with myself and how I’m feeling right now? Maybe, save when you realize that most of this is coming from my being shown wearing the shirt in places that were not of my choosing, and where, following the choice they made for me, I have asked not to be shown. In fact, I think how I’m feeling says a whole lot more about how rape survivors are often seen as everyone’s property — since we’ve already been spoiled, see, already ruined — than it does about how my choices to be public have resulted in my getting upset.)

I’ve read about how any survivor who wears this is being a terrible person to other abuse or rape survivors who might be triggered by it. However, I never see the same concerns voiced about, oh, many media representations of sex or romance, people verbally abusing their children in grocery stores, people who enforce ideas that sex is a duty people owe one another in certain social contexts, people using the word “rape” applied in scenarios like “The IRS just raped me,” or… hey, wait! People deciding to verbally abuse a survivor because she breaks silence in a way they don’t like or wouldn’t choose for themselves. Just a word on that? I feel pretty confident saying that many of us who are survivors will not be triggered by another survivor saying he or she was raped, or having that voiced in a pretty sensitive way on a piece of clothing. More to the point, if you think this is the only way in any given day we might be reminded of our rapes, you’ve got to be kidding. The most benign aspects of daily life are often triggers: groups of men crowding close to us in a bus, the street we have to walk down to get home which was the one we were raped on, being quickly grabbed by the shoulder from someone who had no idea that was a trigger, a chair, a doorknob, a broom handle, someone’s hand, a belt, a given way the light looks at a certain time of day, the smell of a cologne, the very skin we inhabit, or someone, perchance, saying something about rape to us like “Don’t tell a soul.”

I have, of course, had to deal with the nasty kinds of feedback we always get any time we talk about rape. I have gotten email which informs me that women are property and that women are raped because men are superior. I have gotten email that told me I am sexist because we largely address rape at the site of men and women which is perpetrated by men, not which is perpetrated by women (which is only because it is perpetrated by women so infrequently, and because we can only respond, in advice queries, to the questions which are asked: I assure you, I have not deleted or purposefully not published any questions about a person surviving a rape by a woman — I simply have not yet gotten any such questions). I have gotten email informing me that I am making a “disgusting display” to get attention and pity for myself — and to help young women, I am told, make false rape accusations — by choosing to put my face all over the news (which again, was very much not my choice, but one made for me against my express wishes). I have gotten email which informs me that if I was raped, I clearly deserved it for being the terrible, horrible waste of breathable air which I am. Of course, I also got letters from people said they would have supported the work that I do and this project until they found out that not only was I, and the site pro-choice, but that I also am a baby killer who works at an abortion clinic (one such letter also informed me that having an abortion would only add to the trauma of a rape survivor, but going through pregnancy or becoming a parent before a person was ready would somehow be in no way difficult or traumatic). I read a thread discussing if I was “hot, for a rape survivor” or not.

For the record, the gender of those with those responses is mixed. These kinds of sentiments by no means only come from men (and when it comes to supportive responses, we’ve had just as many from men as from women). They come from every kind of person you could possibly imagine. This is one of the many reasons why those who have been raped often stay silent: we never know who is going to react to our rapes like this, and are well aware that it’s possible the people we expect it from least may be the ones who react just like this. I can assure you, for the record, that of the people who have sent me the worst of this vitriol, around one of every two is someone who those who know them wouldn’t even suspect the malice they usually keep hidden, save for people like me.

We’ve had server troubles all day which I’ve had to stay on top of when I still have things I need to do which I had planned to do this weekend, but could not do because I have had to spend most of it on damage control, sending requests to people to please stop stealing my face without asking me, correcting tons of misinformation about all of this flooding my mailbox, having to read through piles of hate to find emails from Scarleteen users we need to tend to, and having to try all I can not to have all of this wear on my relationships with people glad to support me, but who also have needs of their own, and things they need from me. Suffice it to say, since we have had many positive responses, many people want the short, and I wasn’t prepared to have to be processing orders all weekend. I have also been reading the positive mails, which are great, but many of them also contain the writer’s personal rape experience. That’s not to say I am not open to being the person someone chooses to share with, and that I am not very glad if I can provide a way for someone to disclose, but obviously, reading those letters is not pleasant or cheerful.

Obviously, this wasn’t my best weekend ever. Many of these responses and results obviously disappoint and distress me.

But what they don’t do is surprise me. I’ve lived as a survivor for almost 27 years now, and I’ve worked in sex education, including in advocacy for survivors and efforts for prevention, for a decade. When I was a teacher, more than once I had to deal with the travesty that was the justice system for a student of mine who was being abused. I am used to people excusing away all manner of abuses, resenting the hell out of those of us who do our damndest to protest that, and am well aware that denial of abuse, and the amount of abuse which exists in the world, is alive and well and living…well, everywhere.

I am used to statements which start with, “If I was a woman and had been raped…” (as if men never get raped: but really, statements like this start that way because they’re about how women should behave, period), or “If I was a rape victim….” or “If I had been raped…” and with the uselessness that follows all of them. Maybe it’s time for me to start talking about how I might feel and behave were I a woman of color, were I a heterosexual person, were I a person of means, had I survived the Holocaust. Because, obviously, my ideas on how I might feel and behave in those situations would be so very useful, especially to those people who actually are members of those groups.

I am used to hearing that if I want to talk about my rape, if I make it important in any way, even for a limited time, that I haven’t “moved on.” I am used to hearing about how I deserved it, asked for it; I heard it from one of my rapists (and had I been fully conscious for one of my rapes, I am sure I would have heard it from more), I heard it from friends and family, I’ve heard it from others who are oh-so-certain they and my rapists have nothing in common. I am used to hearing that the difference between strong survivors and perpetual victims is this: if you never say a word about it, if no one around you even has to know you were raped, you’re a strong survivor. But if you’re upset, if you want to talk about rape or your rape, if anyone around you has to know what happened, then you’re looking to stay a perpetual victim so that you can live a sweet life where everyone feels sorry for you. I am used to hearing that if I want to speak out about my rape, publicly or privately, that anyone who hears me is entitled to react however they would like, even if that means speaking to me in a way which is abusive, threatening, callous or cruel.

I am used to hearing about how any given thing about me is so awful or distasteful that nothing about me or what I do deserves any sympathy or, — and more important to me, since I don’t really need sympathy — any kind of basic common courtesy or respect. Sometimes that’s been because I’m queer, other times because I do sex ed, other times because I’ve had an abortion (and now, because I also work where they are provided), because I’m Buddhist, because I’m this age or that one, this gender or that, because I look this way or I don’t look that way, because I don’t have issues with nudity, because I’m sympathetic to a given group of people, because I’m loud, because I’m independent, because I have sex I enjoy, because I’m still alive. I am used to every kind of excuse imaginable at this point for why I don’t deserve the same courtesies I have always extended to others.

None of these things are new to me, nor are they much different from what I have dealt with simply in my personal life when it comes to my rapes.

And I am used to hearing all of this so much, that while it never stops being hurtful, what it has long since stopped being for me is particularly powerful. Don’t get me wrong: I have spent a lot of the past few days somewhat shellshocked, but that has more to do with the en masse onslaught and a lack of sleep than it does with any particular thing anyone has said or done. I know the place the craptastic stuff comes from, and I know that that place is one of fear, resentment, guilt, ignorance, violence or self-loathing. As much as I revile those things, as much as I want them gone, and as bad as they make me feel, I can at least identify them, and I know very acutely where my own bad feelings come from and, for the most part, how to deal with them. I can even look them dead in the eye: again, that’s a survivor skill, too — to survive, we all have to learn to do that expertly.

I’m also used to the fact that all rape survivors are different. We are not all the same, our rapes were not all the same, how we’ve processed them or reacted to them has not all been the same. I have had plenty of thanks for other survivors in my email box over the weekend, but I have also gotten emails like this:

“You are a sick fuck… and if in fact you were truely raped you would not be so fucking stupid to even want to do something so damn outrageous on wearing a shirt. And I wonder why you dont want to show your face. You are a sick individual and I am a rape victim and now a survivor but you appaul me on such a horrible suggestion on someone wanting to wear such a dumb remark shirt. If in fact you were raped, you are as sick as i could ever imagine. Of how you want to make money on it… this is not fame this is a sick person like you it saddness me to think there are people in this world like you . Playing on what horrific act of rape , how it kills a person day in and day out. We have to live with that horrible thought of it happening to us. And then we have people like you… SICK.. how do you get up and look in the mirror? May god bless your sick soul.”

By all means, I feel the way that person chose to spoke to me was insensitive and cruel. However, I think that it’s really important to remember that none of us lives in a culture conducive to healing, or in a culture which makes it comfortable to live as a survivor. We can’t even trust each other, as fellow survivors (and when we’re addressing a survivor who is same-gender, be we male or female, an awful lot of same-gender learned distrust is tossed in the mix, something often even more difficult for male survivors since their rapists were usually male as well), in our motives, in how our healing differs, in the different places we’re at in it. Survivors are, justifiably, angry — and also all sorts of people — and can often enough direct that anger just about anywhere: that’s how it is when you’re so angry and so hurt and given so little support. I directed mine inward after I was assaulted, and doing that, on top of having my rape be a thread that wound through other trauma I was living with and trying to survive, nearly killed me and also set me up for challenges in my life — as well as more risks of danger — all of which could have been, if not avoided, strongly mitigated by being able to talk about my abuses, at all, and finding some kind of support. I don’t like getting emails like that, to say the least, but at the same time, I have to take a breath, stop, and recognize that at the very least, someone just got some release of all of that anger, and while I don’t think I’m the right person to direct it to, that that person was able to direct it anywhere — to open up that pressure valve — is a likely positive for that person.

It may well also be — and pardon any pop psychology on my part — that as much as I don’t want this kind of visibility, that survivor does, and resents me for having what she wants. That’s also valid, since we are made intensely invisible as a group of people, particularly if we become survivors, rather than remain victims. While if our rapes were in some way found horrific, we might get some media-based ambulance-chasing, once they’re over, we’re non-issues, and if there is nothing particularly noteworthy about our rapes (and for most of them, the general population will find nothing noteworthy about them), we’ll rarely see address at all. In any case, victims trump survivors, and victims who arouse a pithy kind of pity trump all.

Or, this one: “No body in there right mind would believe that you’re truly doing this to help other people. I’m a real survivor because I’d never broadcast or announce the horrible things that have happened to me. the only people who would wear that shirt are full of shit. NO BODY would wear that who’s really been raped. But I’m sure a bunch of girls will buy it who want attention and want people to feel sorry for them. I do think this should be taken away from you and all the bullshitting bitches who pretend this has happened to them. Millions of women have suffered and worked very hard to over come what you are now trying to profit from. You should NOT be allowed to capitalize on other people’s pain. And even if you were raped that shouldn’t give you the right to profit from it. Did you know when you were raped that you were going to get paid for it? Or did that idea come later?”

What I hear in this — once more, forgive me for being armchair — is that this person needs to be validated in surviving, and needs to have someone let her know that however she speaks out of silence is okay, is brave, is laudable, even if it doesn’t look like someone else’s way. My impression is that she needs for her rape to be made important, because if it already really felt that way, I’m not sure why she’d put so much energy (I got three different emails from this woman before I blocked her address) into telling me how no one’s story is true but her own or those which resemble hers. I hear that she is suffering, and I hear that she is tremendously, and probably righteously, angry. That doesn’t mean I’m going to say she’s not responsible for misdirecting her anger at me, because she is, and I’ve directed no such things at her or anyone else, but it is to say that I can only get so angry back at someone in this space. I know that space: been there, done that, and — literally — have the t-shirt.

Here’s what we don’t often see and hear in the various peanut galleries of the Internet: we don’t see many survivors sharing the stories they have also shared with me both in my email box over the weekend and in other avenues I’ve had them shared with me in my life, both with work, and with the people who have personally disclosed to me over the years. I even got stories in my email box from survivors who were at sites talking about this, where so many people incessantly talked about how they were not silencing anyone, and yet, these people didn’t feel able to tell their stories, or perhaps even share the mere fact of being survivors. people who send me email like the above aren’t posting it in the forums or on the blogs: through the resentment, they also know I’m safe, or else I’d not be hearing this. Everyone else would.

Some survivors do want something like this. It’s okay to want it, and it’s okay not to, and wanting it or not doesn’t determine who was and who was not raped. It’s having been raped, only, which determines that. The two women above were raped. The man who wanted one of these and told me it was because of being brutally raped during time he spent in jail over a misdemeanor was raped. The woman who bought one because she was molested as a child was raped. The person who bought it for their partner who is working on acceptance of their rape was raped.

Saturday morning, I literally overheard my neighbors talking about the news story on the porch (and clearly not knowing it was their neighbor, who could hear them, they were talking about: Seattleites don’t tend to be very familiar neighbors)

So, why would a survivor wear something like this? Obviously, I can’t speak for anyone other than myself and for those who have talked about why they would. I’ve also already said a little bit about why I would here. One of the emails above asks how I look at myself in the mirror.

When the t-shirts got here, and I put one on to take a quick photo, checking in the mirror to make sure that despite the fact that I was two days late on washing my hair, I wasn’t too disheveled, it was an interesting experience. It was like myself was telling myself a hard truth directly, but gently. With a quiet, but clear, understanding. Rape is something that those of us who are raped are told at every turn to doubt happened to us, to explain away with a rapist’s “misinterpretation” of our nonconsent, to do our best to rid our memories of the experience, to the point that even someone like me, who also works with other survivors, who has done an epic amount of personal processing for over a very long period of time can have days and times where I, too, wonder if somehow, in some way, I managed to imagine what happened to me. Maybe that blood was from something else: maybe I just had hemmorhoids I didn’t know about. Maybe that soreness is from falling off my bike and I just don’t remember when. Maybe the reason I don’t remember all of that assault isn’t because I got knocked on the head, but because nothing actually happened. Maybe no one wants to believe me because I’m crazy, and this is all some sort of delusion. Maybe all of those body image issues, that overdose, all that poetry I wrote in my teens was about all that OTHER stuff, and that other stuff caused me to believe I was raped. Maybe when he shoved my head in his crotch, he mistook it for his own hand: maybe while I was choking on what he wanted and I didn’t, he just didn’t know I couldn’t breathe. Surviving rape is a whole world of maybe, but maybe nots.

So, sitting there, looking myself in the eye in the mirror with that t-shirt on did cause me to cry, and even if I never wear it anywhere else, even though I have, at other times, been able to acknowledge and accept what happened to me, that moment was powerful for me. I deeply could look at myself in the mirror and accept the woman who is there and everything that made her who she is, even when some of those things are incredibly difficult and not things I wished for. I was proud of her, and she made me feel strong and able, both for myself and for the work I do where I need to help others find strength and resilience. I can do that at other times, too, but I’m always grateful for any new tool to help me do that, because some days, the ones I have don’t work or don’t take me to a new place.

Over the weekend, when I was talking to an old friend on the phone providing support, he said to me, “You know, you can take this. I know it doesn’t feel good, and you don’t want to, but the fact is, you can handle this.” It might sound hollow, that, but the truth of the matter is that yes, I can. That woman looking back at me in the mirror could. If taking it wasn’t something I thought might carry any benefits for anyone, not only would it all be even more upsetting than it already is, I wouldn’t have had anything to do with this in the first place, or even have been public about surviving rape as I have been over the years. I didn’t need to be as public as I have for myself: just telling people close to me and being able to sometimes speak through my art, for me, has been enough. I’ve been more public in the hope that my doing so will help other people be able to break silence, find strength, and be able to find whatever way is their way to healing.

The biggest bummer with things like this is that unfortunately, one very strong message the backlash sends to other survivors is that it is absolutely best they stay silent: because if they don’t, see, if they speak up like I do, speak up in any way, this, too, is what will happen to them. Some who silence with ignorance, fear or guilt probably have no idea that this is a likely result: others, of course, very much are aware that they are silencing and very much intend to silence.

But here’s the thing: something like this shirt isn’t for every survivor, nor for any given survivor in every environment, on every day. I do a lot with my life, and my rape is not often at the forefront of any of it, but sometimes it is, and sometimes, it’s helpful to others if I let it be, as much as I’d prefer not to. Being able to even just say — even just to oneself — “I was raped,” is rarely easy, even though it does get easier over time. It still always hurts, it always infuriates, it always confuses, it always saddens, especially in a world which makes it so very hard to speak just that simple fact and to have it merely acknowledged. It is never easy, and it will never be easy. Saying it out loud, in any way, to anyone, is almost always scary, almost always risky. But for ourselves, and for others, when we can do it, when we are able — and it’s always okay when we’re not — it’s usually, in my opinion, a worthwhile risk. While it means that we might open ourselves up to all kinds of garbage, it also means we might open ourselves up to the good stuff, too, to connections which are rare and unfathomably meaningful, to us or to others.

I won’t be dishonest: I still want that other weekend that I was going to have back. I’d have preferred that weekend, and I really needed that weekend for myself. I spent a lot of time this weekend very deeply resenting feeling like I was pushed into the spotlight in a way I did not choose and I did not want: up until now, I’ve felt like the level of public I have been has been enough to make things better for enough people that something like this level of visibility wasn’t anything anyone needed me to do. And yet, seeing all that I have seen over the last few days, I can only assume that I was wrong in that, since if things like this were not needed, I can’t imagine I’d be seeing so much of what I had. We’d be past all of this by now, wouldn’t we? So, if that’s what needed to happen, and it did or could net anything at all positive, I can live with that. I can have that weekend I needed another time. I can move past my anger and resentment. I can make time up to my partner next weekend. I can have my life go back to being about all the other things it’s about shortly. Again, I can take this: I may not want to, but I can.

There’s no perfect note to end this on. I’m massively grateful for the support myself and the project have been shown by some. I’m deeply moved by the other survivors who have trusted me to share their stories, and to those who also have offered their care and compassion, and not just because you let me help you heal, but you helped heal some hidden parts of me I didn’t even realize still needed healing. I’m deeply saddened, frustrated, shellshocked and worn the hell right out from all of the backlash — and some of that is surprise in that I was more vulnerable than I thought myself to be and at the same time stronger, but also not as over my rapes as I have long thought — but I’m just hoping that maybe at least some of it will result in something positive, either for survivors, or for the world that we live in when it comes to how survivors are treated, how rape is viewed and in terms of anything and everything which might keep it from happening to anyone at all.

And if, from a Buddhist perspective, there truly is no separation between the self and others, and I am seeing and hearing from so many people who clearly need to work through all of this chaos, who have all of this inside and around them — and if the way I, myself, have been feeling has anything to do with anything — then all of these last few days hasn’t really just been about or for other people: it’s been about and for me, as well.

So, as it turned out, and for as much as it sure hasn’t felt like it, it seems I spent the weekend tending to myself, after all.

It seems appropriate to link this to Carly Milne’s blogging project to benefit RAINN, and I’ll write for that project a few more times before month’s end. We’ve linked to RAINN and its services for years at Scarleteen, so it shouldn’t be new to anyone, but to say it is a worthy place to support is a serious understatement. RAINN has made, and continues to make, great efforts for both rape prevention and survivor support, and if you have some extra cash — especially for many of you who get tax refunds — it’s a fantastic place to put it. I know I certainly could have used what it provides, and many other survivors do as well.

Sunday, April 6th, 2008

Yesterday, I got a wonderful phone call from one of my co-workers at the clinic, who overheard my voice on her television (people who only know of me online tend not to know that in person, people will usually say my voice is the most distinctive thing about me) during a replay of Friday night’s news segment on the I Was Raped t-shirt.

She noted that she thought it was really passive-aggressive and strange that right as the reporter said I did not want my face shown, they made a point of panning down a screenshot very precisely to my face and staying there. Glad, at least, to see that crapitude got noticed: I’m still reeling from it, honestly. I have had two more news stations contact me, and expect to have to again argue for the same rights to privacy other survivors are given; expect to have to explain that making oneself visible in one context does not mean anyone else is entitled to make me visible in others as they choose, not me.

She also just had some wonderful things to say about how she really appreciated having the opportunity to work with someone like me, how I make her think about things, how passionately I advocate for others. It was really cool of her to call me and also ask if I was taking care of myself, doing okay. Mind, I’m not thrilled that obviously, this is going to be something I’ll be dealing with at work. It’s not that my being a survivor isn’t a secret there among my co-workers: when I taught the self-defense segment, I made a point of telling the staff that I had both survived rape and assaults and also evaded assaults in my life, something I think is important to share when doing self-defense training. Rather, when I’m at work at the clinic, the clients are my focus, they’re all of our focus, and I don’t want to talk about me, there. I want to talk about them. I’m also really hoping I don’t wind up with a client who saw that segment and makes the connection: when they’re in my office, it’s their issues which should be in the forefront of their mind, not mine.

It’s also seeming like when my Dad comes in on Tuesday, Wednesday I am probably going to have to finally sit down and disclose all of this, not just the press stuff, but the initial rapes themselves. My father and I are and always have been so, so close, but this is one of the few things he doesn’t really know about me, save very vaguely. The reason I’ve never sat down and told him about my assaults wasn’t shame. Rather, the first two that happened happened during a rare period of time where we were not talking or seeing each other, first due to my mother not allowing us contact, then, due to my being very hurt that my father had broken up with a woman he was dating who I loved immensely. I’ve avoided telling him about all of this because I know that he is going to feel guilty, like this was his fault — most of my father’s dreams for what he wanted to do with his life and the world were not realized, and he’s very low about that. Being a good parent to me is pretty much what he considers his lone achievement, and he already beats himself up enough for not being able to protect me from my stepparent. In many ways, a lot of the tough stuff I have battled in my life has been so much harder than anything my father ever wanted me to have to go through, and I know he’ll also just be really sad. I know he’ll be amazingly supportive of me — he always is, no matter what — but he’s also going to be hurt, including hurt I didn’t tell him (even though I know he’ll also understand), and this just really wasn’t somewhere I wanted to go with my father yet, for a handful of reasons. To say that I resent being somewhat pushed into this position is an understatement.

Yesterday morning, I woke up, ready to have a new — better — day. While I was sitting on the couch checking email on my laptop, I heard snippets of conversation from the women on the porch next door that sounded remarkably like discussion about the news segment. I checked myself for a minute, thinking I was being a narcissistic arse, but then heard more clearly that yes, in fact, that is exactly what was being discussed. “I don’t want to have to know that about anybody if I don’t ask them,” was the last bit I got, after a good deal of “Who would broadcast they were raped?” So, I was a big baby about the whole thing yesterday and stayed totally in the house, having Mark get me my daily essentials (coffee, smokes, Mighty-O donuts), having a brief stop-by with Ben and Joriel, a long, cathartic phone conversation with my ex, boxing myself into a corner of my office behind piles of receipts for my taxes, and a mellow evening of hugs, movies and Scrabble with my sweetheart.

I’m not surprised about all of this backlash (and no, I still have yet to get a response from anywhere using my copyrighted image without my permission). I wish I could say that I was: really tired, really frustrated, and unprepared for how much of this I’d have to deal with, but not surprised. My favorite part are sites talking about it where you get to read people talking about what a sensitive group they are when, in fact, they’re about as Joe Average on this issue as it gets. It’s also pretty annoying that no one can freaking well read: the shirts neither profit Jennifer nor myself: most of the money paid for them will go to cover the costs of making them and making more, if people want them, and a very small percentage goes to support Scarleteen, which both supports and counsels survivors, and also works to do what we can to aid in prevention efforts, be that by talking expressly about how to prevent rape or by talking about what consent and real desire for partnered sex are, and how to communicate and interpret consent and desire. Suffice it to say, I’ll never stop wishing some people could hear themselves and recognize that talking about what “appropriate” responses are for anyone who has survived any sort of trauma has a whole lot to do with why rape is treated the way that it is, and also realize that being told in any number of ways to be quiet is something we have all heard before, not just from family, community, even friends and partners, but often from our rapists.

There’s a reason that I agreed with Jennifer that something like this t-shirt and the whole project could be valuable, and this is a big part of why. Yesterday’s email box was… well, it was something. I got called stupid any number of times, told I should be ashamed of myself at least once. I got messages making clear — again, this is nothing new to any survivor — that it would really be best if women like me would just shut the hell up and stay quiet. I also got a number of emails from other survivors with their personal stories in them, and thanks for doing what we are. Obviously, those weren’t things that cheered me up, as those stories are so painful to hear, but the fact that anything I do could allow someone who hasn’t disclosed to feel able to disclose in any way — even if it’s just to a stranger in email — is a good thing. Perhaps selfishly, I’m just really disappointed that when it comes to me, thus far, this hasn’t been, overall, a good thing. That may change in time, to be certain, but as of right now, I’m just feeling overexposed, very raw, and in some ways, very deeply angry. I’m okay with that to some degree if it does good: after all, I can take this stuff, and I have in other ways, other contexts before. I have made choices to be public about things like this in the ways I chose to, myself, both knowing that I can only control context so much and knowing that to help to good stuff happen, you do often have to put up with a whole lot of crap. I’m also aware that my expectations of sensitivity from others are often higher than is realistic: that’s very much not a new issue.

Not sure what today will hold, save more piles of receipts, another donut, some yoga and a lot more coffee. I’m also giving serious consideration to going back upstairs and climbing back into bed with Mr. Price who is still sleeping to grab a few snuggles and give a few back. And all of that is sounding quite lovely. Hell, any situation that has made doing taxes seem like a vacation rather than a chore can only be so bad, right?

Saturday, April 5th, 2008

So, the television news segment basically just validated all of why I don’t ever agree to do TV, and why I won’t ever even try again to half-do TV like I agreed to last night.

It was earnestly idiotic. It compared the “I Was Raped” shirts to two other visuals of t-shirts: “Yankees Suck,” and “Boys are stupid — let’s throw rocks at them.” It sliced and diced my words to its liking: when asked if I thought people might not get positive reactions to the shirt, I had said that is certainly possible, and a wearer might be met with embarrassment or scorn…but that she or he also might be might with connection with other survivors, with sensitivity and understanding, and that even a negative reaction could be an opportunity for discussion and getting people to reconsider what they think about rape. They edited that statement down to end with “a wearer might be met with embarrassment or scorn, and left it at that. On the phone, the reporter also asked me if I wasn’t worried about survivors (though she said victims) choosing to wear it before they were ready, which may go down in history as one of the most ridiculous things I have ever heard. I told her that for most, even just telling the closest person to you is something you might go back and forth about doing for days, months, weeks, years, and the idea that someone would just be all, “Let’s just put this shirt on and see what happens,” without any considerable thought was moronic and seriously uninformed. Apparently, being assaulted not only traumatizes us, it also inhibits our ability to think things through for ourselves anymore or know what we are and aren’t ready for. Of course, that didn’t make the cut.

They clearly resented my not being interested in going on TV or being seen — even though they told me it wasn’t their policy to show rape survivors’ (they used the word victim — as they did through most of the news story) faces, they made a point of saying, while showing my face that I had asked not to have a visual. This after an extensive conversation about how I would prefer not having to worry about going to get coffee in my neighborhood for the next week or so and have to be “that girl who was raped,” and would prefer not having to risk a potential clinic client seeing that segment then having me as a counselor and then feel like her issues were not as important as mine. Thanks.

They had a sexual assault counselor on as their expert (pity they didn’t pull in the part about how one of the big deals of Jennifer’s documentary is to have the only “experts” on surviving be survivors)who was seriously patronizing, talking about nothing but what delicate flowers we all are and how wearing something which identified that we had been raped could “scar” us… but for all I know, they edited her stupidly, too. They also didn’t talk, at all, about WHY the t-shirts were around, what the whole of the project was, et cetera.  It also sure would have been interesting if they had pulled this event yesterday into the piece, but I suppose that would have grossly interfered with the presentation they were going for.
In a word, it was just dumb. Nothing horrendous, but mightily stupid. The online version isn’t great, to say the least, but it does at least mention the project in the midst of misspelling my name the whole time. I got a thank you note from the reporter, saying she’d keep my contact information for future reference and did manage to resist the urge to write back telling her to shove it up her bum. I count this as a victory.

Yesterday? Not a good day. Mark was amazing about it, though, even letting me know that it was 100% okay that I couldn’t find the kind of understanding in him that I needed at the moment, and even though who I really wanted to talk to was my ex I’ve been talking to, since abuse issues were one place we had a common background. He actually said something very quotable, my sweetie did, which is that he isn’t “swiss army boyfriend,” and that the fact that he can’t meet all my needs at times like that isn’t something I should feel bad about. Normally I wouldn’t, but last night, I did, and that helped. He had a friend of his — my favorite friend of his, too — who might come by and asked if he should tell him not to, or what to tell him, and totally got it when I said I was fine with him coming by, but just did not want to tell the whole tale of my day again to someone who wasn’t going to get it. Per usual, I have a good sweetie, and it’s a hell of a thing.

I also got some pretty amazing survivor stories, including two from male survivors, sent to me in my email yesterday. Obviously, that didn’t help me calm down any emotionally, but it was really touching and it did help me feel a little bit more connected to people who get it.

Still no response from the sites using my image without permission, so for now, until I hear back from my lawyer pal, I’m just going to try and let it go. Today is what yesterday was supposed to be: a day of sitting with all my boxes of receipts and getting them into sections to do taxes, so I don’t have to go be out and about at all post-news segment, which is good. And today, I am going to call my ex (we really need a better word for the friendship we’ve been forming, but we haven’t found it yet), because weird as that still is after so many years of disconnection, it is exactly who I need right now.

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2008

I am physically and emotionally exhausted. This front page and everything on it is why.

And now I seriously have to go to bed since I need to get up in just over five hours. Bloody hell.

Friday, September 22nd, 2006

If you’re going to reach out to support rape survivors voluntarily, we need to be supported no matter how we feel about our rapes; no matter at what stage we are at in our unique healing process. Not just when it makes you feel good about yourself.

A couple weeks ago, we had something happen at no consequences for the men, for instance. Or, when a rape was described, but not expressly called rape. The numbers ranged, given the study sample (its size, the particular group/class of men, the age of the men queried, blah blah blah), anywhere from 20% to 60%.

I’ve seen studies like this before: most of us have. These numbers don’t surprise me, nor do I generally leap to the assumption that they’re flawed studies because they show a high number. After all, an awful lot of us have been raped, sexually assaulted, coerced. Even just in my own life and work, I know a high number of rape surviviors. Generally, anywhere from 30% to 70% of us have been raped or sexually assaulted, sometimes higher depending on how you classify these things and organize your data. Surviviors know the sex of the person who raped us. It is no mystery to us, it isn’t a question. In the vast, vast majority of cases, men have raped us, whether we are female or male surviviors. That a lot of men do rape or would rape is not a surprise to us. It is terribly distressing — per our safety, our relationships with men, how sons are being reared, the toxic aspects of the culture men and women alike grow up and live in, toxic approaches to masculinity and femininity, the works — and it is painful and uncomfortable to know, but a surprise it is not.

The men — including an older parent of two adult children — who engaged in this discussion (and in discussions on rape states about perps I have read elsewhere) could NOT stop quibbling about the percentages and anything else quibble-able. It could NOT be 60% of all men, they said. And no, some of us said, it very likely is not, 60% came from X study, with X age group and this scenario. *I* would never ever rape someone, they’d say. No man *I* know would rape someone. Who’d have sex with a woman screaming at you to stop! (As if this described rape as a whole, or how most women respond when a rape is taking place.) Nice men don’t rape people, and we’re nice! they’d say. All the men I know are nice!

The quibbling went on, with those quibbling knowing full well (even if they didn’t care to be mindful about it) that survivors were reading, given we have a good deal of them at the forums, given they know the editor of the whole site is herself a survivor (one who, however, does not incite their pity, as I’ll discuss in a bit). Likely, they are not as acutely aware, if aware at all, that we’re used to this sort of quibbling, this sort of denial of our reality. That we’re used to hearing that men as a whole CANNOT be doing this: that something must be wrong with these facts, and generally, that something always boils down to us as victims in the end. We’re calling consensual sex rape, or we’re wearing the wrong thing, walking the wrong place, dating the wrong kind of guy (because, you see, all rapists are evil monsters recognizable to all of us in some magical way), not saying no loud enough, often enough, with enough conviction. Or, it’s someone else’s fault entirely, not the rapists. It’s our mothers fault for not modeling right or giving us too much independence. It’s our fathers fault for not protecting us. It’s the criminal justice system’s fault. Somebody’s fault, anybody’s fault, just not the rapists fault, because that might mean it’s the fault of an awful lot of men, or men as a class, or men as a dominant power. And that, for obvious reasons, isn’t so great to know as a man, even a man who doesn’t rape and has no desire to rape.

At this point, myself included, a couple survivors and bonafide supporters entered into the discussion (most stayed out, emailing me privately to express upset with the thread’s direction). I tried, calmly, cooly, to explain that no one was accusing the men there of being rapists or potential rapists. That while it was UNlikely any of them would NEVER know a man who did, would or could rape, that the men they felt they could trust in that regard were possibly trustworthy in that regard. But that actually, someone’s “nice” husband, “nice” neighbor or co-worker, “nice” dad or brother often enough DOES or WOULD rape. That some of us have been raped by a man who was “nice” in other respects, or who would rape us, but not his sister, daughter, wife, neighbor, friend. That some of us have, in fact, been unable to have anything done about our rapes, because we were disbelieved in being raped by this or that “nice” man.

In due course, I started to feel the anger leveled at us. (And it got to the point where I closed the thread, after getting a wave of nausea, after the older man went so far as to state that women could fix rape — and stop, in his mind, being rape enablers — by partnering with “nice” men like him, and breeding good sons who thus, genetically, would not be likely to become rapists, I kid you not.) I noticed what I often notice. All too often, as rape survivors, if we are pitiable; if we are depressed, sad, downtrodden, emotional wrecks, lonely, isolated, fearful, silenced: if we are in a phase of being — or have effectively be made entire — successfully subordinate by our rapist, by the aspects of rape culture we live in, then we can realistically expect a certain level of support from the men around us (though I don’t think this is as much of a given with male survivors).

This, too, should not be a surprise. Subordinated people are objects of pity, and subordinate women, especially, are to some degree celebrated for being such when our subordination is in line with the status quo, or it is sexual subordination of a variety which meets the needs of men. We do not threaten anyone, or their sense of power. We’re as gentle as kittens. No one is concerned about being harmed by us or losing priviliege because of us. We may rise to every small crumb of compassion or care. A Hallmark card, a hug and a “you poor dear” might be viewed as great tokens, and telling us we’re not ruined, spoiled, or sullied or that it isn’t our fault a gift of incredible magnitude.

But what about when we’re not “poor dears” anymore? What about when we want to take the proverbial Hallmark card, the pat on the head, and the so-sorry coos and shove them where the sun don’t shine? What about when we’re past that point: when we know it’s not our fault, we know we’re okay, we know we’re not lesser beings?

What about when we become angry? What about when we call — or your Dad, or your brother, or your best friend — out? What about when we start to catch on to the fact that you telling us we’re not “ruined” by some other man is still you, as a man, dictating what the bounds of our sexual or physical sovereignty are?

What about when we want to start to look at WHY this has happened to us, why it could happen again, why it could happen to our sisters, and some of our brothers, why we have to live in fear of this at all? What about when we’re ready to lay the blame on WHO has done this to us: who individually, who culturally, who as a group, and not be obtuse about their sex or gender (especially since, lord knows, they weren’t about ours)? What about when we feel utterly crazy because we’re eating post-traumatic stress for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and try as we might, it is infecting every aspect of our lives, and being told it’s okay is infuriating because we are NOT okay? What about when we want to talk about how effing pissed off we are to have to try and get back our hijacked sexuality, when we want one damn night without being woken by flashbacks or nightmares, to be free of being triggered by simple daily things, to not have to live among our rapists, to not have to be careful of how we talk about our rapes or our feelings to every bloody person we know because it might upset THEM?

When we get to THAT place, see, we no longer seem so harmless. (Because we aren’t.) If someone was supporting us to feel better about themselves, to feel like a good person, to amp their esteem, in this stage of the game, it stops being a feel-good endeavor. We are not cute, fluffy bunnies who have lost their mama to be stroked, who will snuggle back with a sad, but slightly contented sigh. We’ve had enough self-pity and self-blame for three lifetimes. We’ve had enough of people giving us permission to feel things when we should not need anyone’s permission in the first place. We may be far more critical, far more watchful, far more wary. We may even seem feral, fuming, volatile at times. If we didn’t report our rape at the time, we now might, and we might be reporting your best friend or another man you liked and respected, who you cannot believe would rape us. If we were silenced before, we refuse to be silent now. We may not want to take you at your word about how “nice” you are: we may even question why you need to keep telling us how nice you are in the first place, rather than allowing us our own judgment of your character and safety. We may want you to just leave us the fuck alone for a little while.

We may want to start investigating WHY it is that men perpetrate rape and in the volume they do: this is not an abstract for rape survivors (as often it is not abstract as to HOW many have been raped by men: when you’re a survivor who isn’t silent, suffice it to say, you tend to know more surviviors then most because they’re more inclined to confide in you as to being raped), or a maybe, since around 98% of our rapists were/are male, and we know this. Some of us would very much LIKE to forget this fact, but we cannot, even if we try. We are reminded in our dreams, we are reminded in our triggers and flashbacks, we are reminded in our bones and blood. We are reminded in your language, or the language of the men you and we both know. We are reminded in the way some men pass us in the street and evaluate us as they pass. We are reminded when any level of dismay or surprise is expressed when we decline sexual invitation or innuendo. We are reminded in aspects of male-dominated culture, and the behaviour of men and women alike under that paradigm. We are reminded every time someone makes a “funny” joke about rape, and we hear that undertone which acknowledges there is a power even in saying the word in our presence; in feeling able to even play with rape as a joke, because it has not been your harsh reality to be on the receiving end or live in fear of it.

When a person is traumatized, attacked, assaulted (or has those they are close to have been such), eventually, a person processing it, wanting to know the truth of it, is going to want to look into the big why of it, to start to look critically, to engage the issue intellectually, not just emotionally, or not just in a reactionary way. Of course, when we’re talking rape, that need can be even larger because all too often, we are told covertly and overtly that we were raped because of something WE did.

* * *

Some weeks ago, one of the AGA bloggers wrote a piece about how much she loves the freedom she feels in wearing short shorts. I ended up over here weeping unexpectedly, because — odd as it sounds, given my age and the fact that in many contexts I’m comfortable being seen nude — it finally sank in for me that the reason I do not and have never own a single pair of shorts higher than my knees in the last thirty years is not because they’re physically uncomfortable, nor is it because I have big legs I feel are unappealing in some way.

It’s because when I was 12 years old, after being stalked and then assaulted by a group of teenage boys on a hot August day in Chicago where I was a junior camp counselor, the police officer called to the scene told me, verbatim, that I really should not be walking around in “shorts that short.” Shorts I (obviously) remember quite succinctly, which were mid-thigh on me; perhaps a little tighter than I’d have liked, but I was in a growth spurt, and in my family, we wore clothes out until they just couldn’t be worn anymore. Shorts of the same type, fit and size which men and women wear on any given day. Shorts which did not have “fuck me” or “rape me” printed on their backside.

I was sitting on a curb, every part of my body sore and shaking, I didn’t even know WHAT had happened to me, because I just didn’t have the context for it, and I was in an absolute state of shock. No report was filed. No one offered me healthcare, and I was not given a contact to come back into when the shock wore off and I could figure out what exactly had happened. Instead, I was told, outrightly, that I needed to dress differently, and off they went. I was 12 years old, it was 1982, and a hundred years or so from me, other kids my same age flew up and down on the swings, feeling free.

I did not talk to anyone about that attack for at least another four years. I didn’t say a word about it, I didn’t write a word about it. Only one member of my family has any real awareness of what happened to me, and even then, since I felt unable to talk about it or ask questions — even to ask why it hurt so much to use the toilet — and wasn’t asked to talk about it or invited to ask questions, that awareness is profoundly limited. Even when I did start talking to one or two people about it, including my therapist at the time, it would be in vaguries or the most timid of suggestion (and it goes without saying that I am hardly a timid person). Often, that is still how I talk about it, even with those closest to me. There’s this feeling a lot of survivors have which is that everyone knows what happened to you, even if you tell know one; like your rape is written on your face in indelible ink. Some of that is projection: but over the years the conclusion I’ve come to is that some of that feeling comes out of the fact that so many people around you often DO know or DO suspect, but wish to enable your silence.

Even though at this point, I know full well it was not the shorts I was wearing, the fact that I, a young woman in the world, was unescorted in an empty room, nor that I didn’t scream enough, fight enough, look mean enough, say this thing or that one, look this way or that, there’s a 12-year-old girl that still inhabits part of my body and she totally believed that police officer, especially since his words echoed others she had heard about herself, her sex, her gender in her world.

Obviously, at this point, 24 years later, I passed that stage of subordination, as much as one can, anyway. But part of me was deep and unknowingly in it for a LONG time, and it had some effects that only by sheer luck were not absolutely disastrous for me. Obviously, I got to the pissed-off point and then some: obviously, I’ve done a good bit of healing for myself, sometimes with the help of others.

Obviously, my life is hardly ruined because I can’t wear a given style of clothing: however, my life is irreparably changed because I cannot even put on a given style of pants without feeling a very visceral fear, and without being reminded of that day and all the various ways it — and my other sexual assaults — have altered my life because other people have purposefully stolen my ownership of parts of my life and my body. My life was irreparably changed in creating a scenario in which aspects of what happened to me and my exploring them were so off-limits that even as someone who talks about rape almost daily, I could be unaware of something so obvious and simple for so bleeding long.

* * *

I think what gets overlooked is the hard truth that if a person, and for obvious reasons, especially a man, can ONLY be supportive of rape survivors when they are subordinated — when, effectively, they are not yet survivors at all, but absolute victims, for a rape never stops when the attack itself does — then he is, effectively, not supportive of that person so much as he is supportive of his or her subordination. This does not, in my mind, make him complicit in that rape, mind, but it DOES make him complicit in enabling rape culture. And it does not make him supportive of that person’s healing and survival, for it has thus been made plain he or she is preferred subordinate.

We have a long cultural history of women voluntarily tending to men who have been wounded in wars, as veterans, as civilians. While this is not an identical issue (as a class, it is men who have waged war, even if this is not the case for individual veterans: the same cannot be said of women per rape), in many ways, we survivors are those wounded in war, a war in which we are resisters rather than participants, in which we are civilian casualties, in which we are the spoils of war. When we care for those wounded by war, it is not, ideally, out of obligation or because it is required duty — we may even care for the wounded when we strongly protest or abhor war; we may do so while we too, lie bleeding, scarred, raped. It is not — when we’re doing it right, in my eyes — about our ego, or about being viewed as a nice person. We have done so, when we do so, genuinely, it is out of empathy and compassion, out of love and care for our brothers, as their sisters.

A bit of the trouble I see in some men dealing with survivors (whether they be female or male, in either case, a rape victim is generally seen/experienced as feminized) is the inability to see women as sister, but instead, to see them as daughters. In other words, there can be a certain paternalism which I feel really inhibits empathy and compassion. However fine a father-figure a man may be or consider himself, if he is father and we daughter, we are not generally on equal footing, but viewed and treated as something to take care of, out of a certain feeling of duty and even ownership, rather than as someone to care for as you would a brother. (And obviously, ownership is a big issue when it comes to rape; a big issue for a survivor and a perpetrator.) I think that this dynamic is part of men feeling betrayed when discussion of men-as-rapists is brought to the table, feeling women have disrupted or sought to disband their brotherhood by identifying their brothers — literally or generally — as rapists. It is thought, sometimes, that we cannot understand brotherhood, and yet, I feel quite certain we can and do: it strikes me that perhaps a reason it is thought we cannot is because so many men cannot or do not feel we are sisters, but daughters.

Point is, I understand — I really do — it being hard as hell to gain awareness of how many men rape. I know that it hurts like hell, I know that not a one of us does NOT want the truth to be what it is.

Mark and I had a big discussion on this issue some time back. Before being with me, he really didn’t have any real rape awareness, so suffice it to say, as it tends to be for anyone, gleaning that awareness was neither a fun nor an easy process. We had a talk one night in which his brain clicked stuff together as tends to happen, and he asked the proverbial question: if one on every three or four women have been raped, that means one out of every three or four men have raped, right? And you know, I argued that that wasn’t really accurate, but shaking that from his mind wasn’t (and sometimes still isn’t) easy. He has three brothers. Sparing me, all of his closest friends are male. So, he’s sitting there, in part angry with with me — and you know, it happens: we all know about killing the messenger, but some measure of anger with them is still normal. (Some.) He’s angry with me because he does not want to think any of his brothers or friends have or would rape, and I have brought that up for consideration, by virtue of them being male. I talked (and have since) about recidivism, about how rates often differ in different communities, age groups, what have you. However, recidivism and greater incidence in certain communities/groups doesn’t change that fact that while one out of every four men might not be rapists, even when we’re talking all men (rather than in this group of friends or that), the fact of the matter is that there are a LOT of men who have raped, do rape or consider raping.

(I really appreciate Ampersand’s — who is male, and it’s odd to me that I have to point that out a lot — approach to this, by the way. For the curious on what it would mean if one study done, in which 4.5% of several thousand college men in the U.S. reported they had raped a woman, was the accurate number, take a look. Even if in the U.S. alone, rapists were were *only* that 4.5% of men…

“4.5% of the men in the United States… translates into over six million men.

If you added up every US citizen who was officially unemployed or looking for work in 2001, that would be less than the total number of rapists.
If you added up every US citizen who is Jewish, that would still be less than the total number of rapists.

If you added up every teenage boy who had any sort of job - an afterschool job, a summer job, working full-time after dropping out, including all of those - you’d still have over a million fewer people then the total number of rapists.
There are twice as many rapists in the USA as there are single mothers.

For every drunk driver who is in a fatal accident this year, there are over 500 rapists.

If you take every doctor and nurse in the United States; and you added them to every librarian, every cashier, every cop, every postal clerk, and every bank teller in the whole country; you still wouldn’t have as many people as the number of rapists in the United States.

(Think of that a second - think of how often, in your daily life, you’ve seen cops and cashiers and all those other folks. Odds are, you’ve run into rapists more often than that).

To paraphrase Tim Wise: In short, “only” 4.5% of the male population is a lot of people, so that even by the most optimistic assessment of how many men are rapists, there are literally millions out there who not only would but have raped a woman. When combined with those who are less vicious - those who haven’t raped, but would be willing to in the right circumstances, and those who would make excuses for why other men rape, it becomes clear just how real a widespread a problem rape and rape-supportive attitudes are among men today.”)

But see, eventually *I* started to get mad (and do still) at even having to have that conversation in that way, with anyone, where I have to talk about all the men who aren’t rapists when I want to talk about the men who are. I explain that I too, feel angry and betrayed by how many men rape, and since I’ve not only BEEN raped, more than once, but am at a vastly greater risk of being raped again than a man is of ever being raped (especially if he’s unlikely to do time in prison, he isn’t trans or gay, nor is he often feminized: and all of those are the case with the majority of men in the world), it makes me feel all the more crappy to have this awareness because it’s also about my personal safety, on TOP of being about the same emotional betrayal., especially when you consider that the vast majority of those of us who have been raped have not been raped by a stranger, but by someone we knew, and usually had some measure of trust in.

I love the men in my life, too. I trust the men I care for, too, and I hate the idea that there are some I perhaps should not give as much trust to as I do. While I don’t have a brother-by-blood, I have had and do have brothers in spirit, whom I have loved and trusted ferociously. Who, if they raped me or anyone else, would crush my heart, and make me question everything about the people I love and trust. During the years I was teaching, I had tiny boys I cared for and cherished every day, who I loved dearly, and who I never want to imagine could become rapists (or be raped, for that matter). I do not love men less than another man does because of my sex, or because some men have hurt me. It’s ridiculous to me that that is something I even have to say to anyone at all: that I have to defend my love for men, individually and as a whole, in order to be given any credibility or patience when discussing the great harm some of them do. (As if, if I did NOT love them, that would in any way change the reality than some do that harm? Love them or not, some of them rape. Again, I feel sure that there are women out there who did love or have since loved the men who have raped me. No doubt, some of those women would likely say that don’t know any rapists, even though they climb into bed with one every night.)

(For the record, Mr. Price and I have made an awful lot of headway with this issue: most of those conversations we had a year ago, and given they were conversations he never had, it’s really pretty amazing and seriously awesome how quickly he’s processed a lot of this. He’s even gotten to be a pro per memorizing rape and abuse triggers with me and warning me in advance if we’re in situations or settings in which he thinks or knows one might come up. He doesn’t seem to get angry with me anymore for discussing this stuff: if he’s not up for the discussion, he’s gotten to the point where unless it’s clear I just HAVE to get it out there, he’ll ask to opt out.)

And really — pardon my rambling — this is the sort of thing I feel the need to call out and address. Men: it’s understandable to feel hurt, angry, even guilty-by-association to a degree, at men who rape, at the culture which enables that. I get that. We get that. And I hate that any of us have to feel that way. I wish none of us — you, me, or anyone else — did.

But to be selectively compassionate towards survivors (or even those disseminating this sort of information), to attempt to negate our realities because you don’t like them or can’t wrap your heads around them, to find us more acceptable when we are less aware, less able to work towards our own survival, is NOT OKAY. Especially if you are telling us you’re being supportive of US. More than once, for instance I have heard men complain that a given rape crisis center did not hire male help, and that complaint generally ends with, “But *I* want to help!”

Hear that “I”? That I should be the big red flag that this is about you, not about victims or survivors. That I should be your hint that you’re probably looking for something that helps YOU, not someone else, especially when the someone else’s are asking you NOT to help right now. That I should tell you all you need to know about your ability to be supportive of someone else.

(FYI, I do get the why of most rape crisis centers not having men on staff. It’s pretty obvious, especially when you recognize these are women generally calling in immediately after a rape. On the other hand, I do have a bit an issue with not having transwomen on staff. That one I don’t get.)

Nobody ever said being supportive of rape (or other trauma) survivors was easy. We KNOW it’s not easy: we’re doing most of the work, after all, and we know how much it sucks, how troubling it is, how frustrating it is, how much you want to bash your head through a wall sometimes because you’d just really like a time to come in some conceivable future where you don’t have to keep working through this damn shit you didn’t ask for in the first place. We know how difficult our awareness of these things, emotionally and intellectually, can make some of our interpersonal relationships. We are keenly aware of all of this. And you — as supporters, as partners, as friends, brothers — are either up for it, or you’re not. But if you are up for it, if you want to be, if you need to be, if you’re telling us you are, you’ve got to be up for the whole deal, not just the parts that are easiest because we are most vulnerable and at our weakest. Not just the parts where we’re victims. Also the part where we survive, and eventually — hopefully — thrive.

During some of that, you’re going to have to back the hell off. During some of that, we don’t want to be hugged, and we don’t feel like “poor dears.” During some of that, we may call you out on some of your behaviours which we feel may or do enable rape or rape culture, or which are a blockade to our healing and dealing. During some of that, you’re not going to be able to get what you might want or need from us; you might need to adapt some of your own behaviours that you don’t really want to. During some of that, or at any point, we may even ask you to reconsider friendships or alliances with other men in your life who have raped, probably would rape, set off our radars, think rape is funny in any context or who act in such a way that we feels enables rape. During some of that, you’re going to need to do your own processing without us, and not put your anger, betrayal, sadness or confusion on us.

We survivors do, and usually have done, most of our processing on our own. Maybe we have had or currently have the help of therapists, counselors, formal or informal support groups. Maybe we’ve got wonderful friends or partners, and maybe you’re one of those. But our processing is still a largely solitary activity, and you’ll probably never have any idea how much of it we do or have done.

You need to process a lot of this on your own too, or with the help of people other than us. You need to become aware of your anger and upset when it comes to our rapes, rape in general, rape culture and your feelings about rape and you, and work at putting that in the right place. You need to be aware of when something is about your needs, and when it’s about ours, and do your level best to act in accordance with both, especially when you have the lighter burden. When our healing or processing creates issues or problems in our relationships with you, you need to be committed to jointly and individually exploring and helping to manage those issues soundly and maturely, treating us as equals, while also recognizing our limitations, just as we try and stay cognizant and respectful of yours.

You need to be aware, before you offer us help and support, if that offer is about helping us, or if it’s really about helping yourself. Some of us are, for the record, happy to help you deal with some of this: just not under the guise of it being about US, and generally, not when we are in the thick of a crisis ourselves. It is advisable, however, to ASK us if we’re up to that: we do not owe it to you or anyone else to help you process or make sense of rape because we have been raped.

One of the things survivors are victimized by in rape is a total lack of boundaries. In order to help us — and not victimize us further — you need to be sure not to some of the difficulty some of us have with enforcing/having boundaries for granted (when your boundaries have been profoundly violated, rebuilding often takes a long time); you need to create and respect limits and boundaries, ours and yours.

And we will thank you for your support, and generally be very grateful for it. However, you will not receive a medal for giving it to us, nor will we think you amazingly special for getting an A because the grading curve is so low. While we recognize that that support can be incredibly difficult to give, especially during the tougher bits, we also know it to be optional, and do not want to accept it out of any spirit other than your earnest care for us and our care for you. If you have the expectation of being celebrated or seen as some sort of saint for dealing with the likes of us, I suggest you bring with that the expectation of being told to sod off when we catch on to your real motives and don’t particularly appreciate them.

* * *

To those of you men out there who have done, currently or will do the whole enchilada when it comes to support, who are willing to look at the hard stuff, and help survivors manage it; who are even willing to self-evaluate honestly in this respect, including looking at how our subordination via rape and rape culture nets privilege to you as a class, thank you. For those of you who have stood by a woman in your life for all the aspects of her healing — even the stuff that made your life far more difficult or inconvenient, thank you. For those of you who support female survivors in their sadness, anger and evaluation and are also survivors yourselves, a double-thank you. That’s no small feat. For those of you who do work to promote awareness of rape and rapists, even if your personal safety isn’t at risk, thank you, especially those of you who have to deal with other men’s disdain or resentment towards you for doing so. For those of you who help surviviors in the way THEY want to be heped, and step back from the ways they do not, even if it’s painful for you to do so, thank you.

For those of you who are trying in this respect, but not quite there yet, thank you for your continued efforts. For those of you who know you just can’t do any of this or even some of it, and know when to step back, stay out of the way, and/or voice your limitations as needed, acknowledging them as exactly that, thank you. We can’t get it all right off the bat: I sure don’t expect you to.

No matter where you’re at in this spectrum, for those of you who even took the time to read this, even if I’ve made you angry or upset, even if you don’t like hearing my words and feelings on this (and doubly, if you questioned why it was me you were feeling angry or upset with), thank you for taking the time.

* * *

(For the record, some of this stuff is also applicable to women. However, I’d have a separate letter to write to women regarding dealing with rape survivors, especially since I’ve noticed some different issues that come up there, like feelings of being “left out,” like aiding in the protection of rapists, etc. and to boot, I simply do not see the same sort of fair-weather support among women anything close to as often as I see/have experienced it with men. But the letter for women is a letter for another day. Not for today.)

P.S. M., some of this is for you, and arose out of parts of our conversation the other night. Your recent trauma was not a rape, given, but it is comparable, to say the least. I said it last night, but I’ll say it again: cut yourself a break. Healing from this stuff can take an insane amount of time and energy, and that is tiresome and maddening as hell. I’m glad you were able to get a little mad last night. I’m here if you need to get mad again, even if it’s a million times more mad than last night. I love you, and I’m here whenever you need me to be, just ask, even for the ugly, painful stuff.

(The original comments for this post are here.)