Love, violence and transformations: A recap.

30 Day Blog Challenge

March was a great month of endings, beginnings, and transformations in general. I updated this space every day while in the midst of a whirlwind. The high energy and nonstop pace is in full swing for another couple of days, but I wanted to take a breath to share the top posts from last month.

So I just moved. And I don’t know about you, but for me moving is a special process full of resistance, excitement, and everything in between. I was slow to get started, but eventually, I did start packing. I’ve only spent one night in my new place, so no, I’m not settled yet.

I’m always fascinated by narratives and the power of story, and maybe some of you are too? This blog about knowing your family’s narrative, got a lot of attention.

Early in the month I wrote about the importance of telling your own story – if not to others, then at the very least, to yourself. I didn’t know that post and subsequent events in the real world would set the stage for me to share my own story of sexual violence. I’ve been investigating my rape narrative for nearly two years now, and I felt moved to share my side of things with the ex who violated me. Readers and friends asked me what I hoped to gain by all of this. I wrote this in response. I found myself writing so much about sexual violence in March, I added a new category. I’ve been quiet on the topic as of late, but I expect to be writing more about it in the coming months.

Violence of any kind takes place when there is an absence of love. I don’t believe individuals and subsequently, society, can truly be whole without a serious infusion of love

Here’s to healing.

What do you want? #rapeculture #vaw

30 Day Blog Challenge, Personal Narrative, Sexual Violence

NaBloPoMo March 2013People who have witnessed the recent steps on my journey have sent me good wishes and hopes for the outcome I want. Truth be told, the healing, the outcome I wanted for myself, happened long ago. But I’ve started to talk publicly about it. And I recently told my ex my thoughts about our past. This has inspired the following question from many corners:

What do you want?

I want to agitate.
I want to make people feel uncomfortable.
I want to counter rape culture.
I want people to stop blaming victims.
I want to add my voice to the chorus of survivors.
I want partners to question their entitlement over another’s body.
I want people to talk. Especially men to their friends and brothers. To their sons and lovers.

Rape culture is allowed to fester, in part, because of our silence. So I am speaking up, speaking back. I want to speak more often and with more eloquence. I want to help survivors speak, too.

I want to make a difference.

Just asking. #rapeculture #vaw

30 Day Blog Challenge, Sexual Violence

Is it possible he really forgot?

It’s been twenty years. I’m the one who was traumatized. I’m the one who said nothing. Did nothing.

Well, that’s not really accurate.

I buried it. Allegedly got over it and got on with it. Honestly, I tucked it away from sight, but it was never very far. I carried it with me into each new year. Into every new relationship. It colored every subsequent encounter. Every single one.

So it leads me to wonder: is it possible for someone to inflict such harm upon another and not recognize it as such?

Apparently it is.

Justice, conflicted. | #vaw #abolition

30 Day Blog Challenge, Abolition & Justice, Feminist Thought, Sexual Violence

The defendants in the Steubenville rape trial were found guilty yesterday. My initial reaction was elation. Jane Doe was sexually assaulted, then publicly humiliated, and despite the attempt to cast her as consenting to the abuse, her violators did not get away it.

Only that’s not exactly true. The chain of complicity in this case is long and tightly woven with bystanders who refused to intervene, friends and acquaintances who felt the ongoing assault of another human was worthy of laughter and sport, and still others who felt the need to rally against Jane, for the sake of young men who ostensibly had the rest of their lives ahead of them.

These complicated factors aside, two people were found guilty, and for that I was glad.

But I was also conflicted.

They were going to jail. That was the solution, you see. The end of the road. You do the crime, you do the time, and all that. But I felt, in a word, unsatisfied with that outcome. I tweeted:

I shared my earlier musings on alternatives to prison and restorative justice. Then I tweeted this:

I sat with my thoughts and feelings on the matter as others began to engage. For instance:

I am glad there was a trial and guilty parties were found to be so. But I felt the resolution was not a good solution; it solves nothing at all except to remove the offenders from the community. And then what? How does healing begin? Is this truly justice? Does a punitive approach really challenge rape culture? What else can be done?

Prison Culture held these same reservations and offered a thoughtful response. A poignant excerpt:

Do we believe that these two young men are going to unlearn rape culture in prison? How about all of their friends who seem to believe that the young men were unjustly convicted? Who will intervene with them to help them unlearn rape culture? The vast majority of our resources have been diverted to criminal legal approaches while rape crisis centers are being defunded and don’t have the capacity to do any prevention work with young people. Some will say that it isn’t either/or; That we can focus on criminal legal remedies while also doing community-based intervention/prevention work to eradicate rape culture. Yet it’s been decades and we still haven’t found the proper balance. Our primary focus on a criminal legal approach has in fact seemed to crowd out other interventions. More importantly, it has let community members off the hook from taking responsibility to interrupt or intervene in preventing or calling out rape. The social problem becomes the criminal legal system’s responsibility to solve and not ours as community members.

I am a proponent of restorative and transformative justice because I believe that they offer the best prospects to eradicate violence. I believe that survivors of violence should be centered in all interventions. Let’s focus on listening to survivors and on really engaging their claims. I want spaces for authentic and survivor-directed healing. I believe that our communities often enable harm and that therefore they must be engaged in addressing these harms. I believe that prisons are constitutive of violence in and of themselves and therefore are not viable anti-violence tools. I believe that perpetrators of violent acts must understand the impact of the harms they cause. Let’s create a context within which we encourage perpetrators to assume actual responsibility for harm. Let’s provide them an opportunity to be transformed if they will accept it. Finally, perpetrators should be expected to actively participate in repairing the harm that they have caused to their victims and by extension to our communities.


Read the whole piece here.

Yes, yes, yes. | #vaw #fem2

30 Day Blog Challenge, Sexual Violence

In rape culture, “no” is not always honored as “no.” No was an important aspect of my experience of sexual violence, because I had initially given consent. I said yes. The problem came when I changed my mind, and my “yes” became a “no.” I was alert, angry, and unambiguously vocal in my “no.” Sometimes the situation isn’t as clear.

In Steubenville, OH, two high school football stars were convicted of raping a teenage girl too drunk to give consent. She was too drunk to say yes or no. By taking advantage of her inability to respond, the perpetrators broke the law. This case and the discussion around it, has broadened the national discourse on sexual violence and rape culture. One idea getting more expansive coverage is the importance of “yes,” in sexual encounters rather than simply the absence or presence of “no.” Jessica Valenti asks,

If a woman doesn’t say “no” to sex—is that the same thing as saying “yes”?

She elaborates with more pointed questions:

Are all women really to be considered willing sexual participants unless otherwise stated? If we flirt with someone, or even kiss them, does that give them permission to do whatever else they want to our bodies until we strenuously object? 

With this framing, it’s clear that women are not in a perpetual state of consent. Therefore, assuming “yes” in absence of “no” is inadequate. Coercion is a very real part of rape culture. Sometimes partners acquiesce:

But acquiescence is not the same as active consent:

Writes Jessica,

The only way to know that sex is consensual is if there’s a freely and clearly given “yes.” This may sound radical to the uninitiated, but don’t we all want to make sure we’re only having sex with people who are actually interested? Ensuring enthusiastic consent requires only the most basic respect we all owe our partners in the first place: paying attention to how they’re doing, and asking them if we can’t tell.

In other words, only yes means yes.

NaBloPoMo March 2013

No means no* #NaBloPoMo #vaw #fem2

30 Day Blog Challenge, Sexual Violence

NaBloPoMo March 2013At times boundaries are rendered ambiguous, when in actuality, they’re sharply drawn. In rape culture, this means no is sometimes given an asterisk: No means no* when your partner says it three times. Or no means no* when your partner hits you in protest. No means no* when (fill in the blank).

No means no. It means no when it’s a stranger. It means no when it’s an acquaintance. It means no when it’s a family member. If it’s your spouse, significant other or otherwise longterm partner, it still means no.

Rape culture perpetuates the myth that perpetrators of sexual assault are always scary men with ski-masks and guns, hiding in the bushes for the easiest target. Or maybe they’re burglars who break in to steal your electronics and get the woman of the house as well. And on it goes. People who commit sexual assault come in all shapes, sizes, ages and circumstances. Statistics show that 73% of sexual assaults are committed by non-strangers.

Today I’m sharing an episode of The Cosby Show spinoff, A Different World. In it, Freddie falls for the handsome star athlete, Garth. Dwayne, who has reason to question Garth’s intentions, seeks guidance from a trusted mentor and tries to protect Freddie from Garth’s attempt at sexual assault. Media portrayals like this show that men can counter narratives of masculinity that imply potential partners must be coerced or forced into changing their no into a yes.*

Stories of Sexual Violence #NaBloPoMo #vaw #fem2

30 Day Blog Challenge, Personal Narrative, Sexual Violence

NaBloPoMo March 2013I am a survivor of sexual violence.

I’ve never stated it publicly, but I’ve hinted about it here and there. I’m tired of hinting.

It’s risky, claiming survivor status out loud. It’s old wounds ripped open and sprinkled with salt. Once-dried tears, bubbling up, spilling over. Heart racing. Doubts. Anger. It’s triggering. Digging into that history, thinking about it, remembering it, and sharing it is triggering.

One could reasonably wonder why do it?

I’ll tell you why: to counter rape culture.

Telling my story gives other survivors permission to tell theirs. It opens a channel for dialogue, healing and transformation. It creates a space for would-be perpetrators to see the effect of sexual violence and potentially make more loving choices. It adds to the public discourse about sexual violence, masculinity and shame. It gives survivors a face and a voice, when so often we are silent. And invisible…

Sexual assault happens over there, to other people. To someone. In reality, it’s probably happened to someone you know. It happened to me.

The person who violated me was someone I trusted. More than that, really. I loved him. He was a long-time intimate partner who did not respect my decision to say no.

I never expressed to him how broken that experience left me. And for a very long time – years – I didn’t realize the extent of the trauma. But over the past two years, I’ve been getting clear on why my story of sexual violence needs to be told. Through telling, I’ve learned about love and intimacy, most importantly, I’ve learned about myself.

I want to help other women and teenagers learn about love and intimacy and self through their stories as well. I’ll share more when the time is right.

Nuance and Gray Areas

Politics, News & Notable, Sexual Violence

I appreciate this piece from Linda on The Feminist Wire. Especially this section where she rejects the rape/not rape binary to make room for complexity:

Dear President Obama,

I appreciate your statement that rape is rape. I really do. Your intent, I am sure, is to reject the idea that there might be legitimate rapes and illegitimate rapes. But, alas, there are complexities to rape, just as there are complexities to life. There are (sometimes) gradations, ambiguities, complications, and varied amounts and forms of culpability. My boyfriend was not a monster. I know what monsters are, having unfortunately been trapped and caught by one when I was nine. That sort of thing changes your sense of humanity, the world, your future, your life. But at 16, I was not attracted to monsters. Alas, I was attracted to assholes. My boyfriend at the time was an asshole. He might have initiated sex with me when I was awake, after all. He could have tried for a two-way encounter, an embrace, the physical correlate to a conversation between equals, but that is not what he desired, apparently. He wanted to have sex with a jellyfish. I have never understood the attraction of this.

But I would not actually call it a rape, straight up.

While I personally would not categorize perpetrators as assholes vs. monsters, I think it’s important for survivors of sexual assault to decide if their experience merits one label (rape) or another (something else).  And as she goes on to explain, this decision does not then make space to call some rapes legitimate and others illegitimate. It does make space to investigate the behavior of all parties, to understand intent, culpability, consent, or lack thereof.

So I am not suggesting we reintroduce the word “legitimate” in order to be able to characterize such complex forms of sexual violations.  That word adds nothing useful to our comprehension of coercion, manipulation, or the many forms that violation can take. But in order to begin to bring forward the experiences of sexual violence as victims experience them, we will need to allow for variable, even uncertain and ambiguous, formulations, and judgments that may not rise to the level of courtroom adjudication of guilt. If we want to listen to survivors, we will need to  prepare ourselves to hear about the gray areas.

Read the rest here.

It Counts (Trigger Warning) | #30in30 #WriteLikeCrazy

30 Day Blog Challenge, Politics, News & Notable, Sexual Violence

So this happened:

And aside from the fact the man sounds ignorant – he wants to enact laws about pregnancy when he doesn’t know how it works – he qualifies rape. If there is legitimate rape, it must follow there’s such a thing as illegitimate rape. And one wonders what that might be, exactly?

Akin has issued an apology video, trying to make amends for his word choice, yet one wonders if he still believes that some rapes are real, while others, are somehow fake? If only he could express the concept more artfully?

Jezebel documents and simultaneously mocks this dangerous discourse here. Tanehisi unpacks the power and privilege underlying the claims here.

Rape is rape. Full stop.

It becomes a stranger invading. It becomes a thief stealing. That is not intimacy any more. You have changed it. It is something else. It is something brutal and violent and mean…

This is from a much longer work-in-progress. In it, I recount a dysfunctional relationship, echoes of which still reverberate in my consciousness decades later. It’s appalling, really. The idea that such an assault is subject to scrutiny – not on whether it happened, but on whether it was legitimate. Whether it matters. Whether it counts.

It counts.

It counts even though it was not with a stranger. It counts even though the perpetrator was my boyfriend, whom I loved at the time. It counts even though I only show up in the “underreported” statistics because I never reported him. I was too busy trying to convince myself that my feelings were legitimate. That I mattered. That I counted.

And I do.

Wounding. A 20-year lesson.

Personal Narrative, Sexual Violence

A thief made off with a prized possession
Snatched from sacred promises of love everlasting
Held hostage
A cage of my own hand
by hurt invisible,
choking out life, love

Twenty years I spent
Captive to that pain
Yet blind
Ignorant of my own walls

Wondering why you couldn’t reach me
Wouldn’t reach out to me
Feel me
Know me

None had eyes for well-hidden pain
And I with it
Cowering behind a guarded heart
From you

Wishes escaped on wings of prayers
Floating beyond boundaries
of consciousness
Sneaking through cracks
Disguised as discarded hopes
Rising above barriers
Taking flight
A call
A song
in my key
Imprisoned heart unlocked
Wishes as balm
As pathway to freedom
Story as star
Illuminating the road home