Recently I shared the story of my assault. I waited until I was functioning somewhat better, until I felt like I had it under control, to open the scars up for the world to see. In reality, I was not ready for the repercussions from sharing my story: in a lot of ways, holding my heart out for you to see the cracks my assault had left brought a lot of the initial side effects back. It made an already overwhelming thing even more overwhelming, and I initially didn’t know how to handle it. I’m not sure that I do now, but I am willing to recognize that I think it was worth it. I think it was important, and amongst the general over-all kindness in comments and messages, I was also asked how people could help me.
I am just one victim in a sea of many, I don’t see any way you can help me without also helping them. Our stories make us one. Our experiences make us the same. As victims, we bear the same weight of being a woman in a society built to cater to the needs of the other.
I realize that a lot of what I have to say may make you angry, that isn’t my intention: my intention is to get the ball rolling. We’re all sitting stagnant when there’s work to be done. I’m sorry if this steps on your toes, but I think that maybe they need to be stepped on.
1. This is going to upset a lot of people but it’s important to realize that regardless of how you feel about our president that this is a fact: the man who holds office now boasts of sexual assault, has many rape accusations, shows little respect for women, and is still president. Our country voted him in. There are lots of different reasons I’m sure as to why people voted for him, and I don’t believe that everyone who voted for him believes that sexual assault or misogyny (or racism, homophobia, etc. etc. etc.) are ok, but they voted for him and he won. Which says to every sexual predator out there that this is okay, that rape and sexual assault is ok, that it’s acceptable— that you can do it and still be praised, still be raised to the highest form of power in this country. And that reality means that I get sexually assaulted. That means that none of us should be surprised when this horrible thing becomes a reality for so many more women because we as a society have told men that this is ok. Yes, sexual assault has been around for a very long time but it is naïve to think that it won’t get worse based off of recent events.
2. A lot of people voted for Trump because he’s pro-life, and while I highly doubt Trump fully believes in the importance of life based of his attitudes towards those already living, I believe that you do. This is maybe a hard thing to hear, and I get that, but the women and men already alive today need just as much of your care and passion as the babies you fight for. If you really are pro-life, we need you protesting with us too. We need you standing up for our rights too. We need you marching and arguing and praying and weeping. Babies, by your argument, have no voice to protect themselves and are harmed against their will: they are oppressed, voiceless, and violated, by your argument. In so many ways women are treated the same, especially those who have been assaulted: so why are you not fighting for us just as tirelessly? Not to mention people of color, refugees, homeless, disabled, mentally ill. There are stigmas all around hurting people: but they are people, alive— fight for their right to be alive too. That’s what it means to be pro-life.
3. So many people, when they heard about my assault, told me they were praying for me. And my goodness that was so comforting to know that there were so many souls out there sending up prayers when I couldn’t find it in me to pray. But our faith takes us further than prayer alone, our faith calls us to action. And in this case, morality calls us to action. So, yes, we need your prayers. But we need your actions too. Jesus didn’t just pray for our salvation, he died for it, he put his belief of our worth to the ultimate test and he calls us to believe in the salvation of people just as fully. And I firmly believe that that means standing beside people in their suffering, fighting for people in their hurt. Believing enough to protest, to write letters, to be angry and say something about it. Be active. Say something. Do something. Fight.
4. To be upset about my assault is a very kind thing, and I do not want to belittle it in any way at all. The kindness I have received, the prayers and encouragement have without a doubt altered my life in so many positive ways: but until you care about everyone’s assault, not just mine, you’re missing the point. Until you are praying for every single woman and believing rape victims and standing up for women: you are only sorry for my assault because you know me. Because I’m kind, sweet, Danielle. But there are so many other kind, sweet someone’s who deserve to be fought for, to be prayed for and until you are just as passionate about their cause as you are mine your approach to the solution is misinformed. Every woman whose assault is doubted, hidden, minimized, discredited is someone’s daughter too; every woman who is assaulted, raped, violated, injured is someone’s daughter too.
5. Respect other people’s space. If someone asks you to stop touching them: stop touching them. I don’t care if it’s your kid or your best friend, or if you mean it as a joke. Their body, regardless of whatever your relation to it is, is their own. It isn’t yours. You don’t have a right to touch it. Respect them enough to listen to them when they say that they’re uncomfortable with you touching them in that place or in that way or whatever it is. People deserve a lot more respect than we allow each other these days, and respecting the individual ownership of one’s skin is a great place to start.
6. Look out for each other. In my instance, if my friend hadn’t gone into the hallway with me we all have a pretty good idea of what could’ve happened. It’s been almost three months since my assault and I’ve been taking baby steps back towards owning what happened, and one of those steps was going back to a frat party in the place that it happened. (A brief moment to thank the person who had my back here, who constantly asked if I was okay, who told me they’d leave whenever I needed to, who searched frantically when they couldn’t find me. You know who you are and words will never equate the gratefulness I feel for your presence in my life.) I was anxious, incredibly anxious, and if we’re being honest I spent the entire hour I was there wondering when it would end. But in that discomfort I found purpose; I already knew that I was not the only one but that night I watched two separate guys follow my friend and I around the room. She was intoxicated, I was not, and any time I looked away one of them would swoop in. We moved outside, to the back hall, all around the room— dancing in different corners, not dancing at all, sitting down, walking, ect. and I kid you not within minutes of us moving one of them would be right there, constantly in the background. The kind of threat you can count on to be present. She was gone, I had to catch her from falling multiple times: you can be sure that these guys had bad intentions. I don’t know how to express the importance of standing guard over the people you care about: even when you want to leave, even when you’re tired, even when it would be just as easy to pretend you never saw them and go about your evening. We need each other to get through this life. I have a professor who says that life is a group grade, and I think that it really is. Protecting ourselves and each other is a group effort. Look out for each other, in every aspect, but especially in this. If you’d want someone to do it for you, do it for them too.
7. Don’t go back to being silent. You reached out to me because you cared, don’t stop caring now because caring requires something of you. Don’t retreat back into the sweet comfort of ignorance and denial. You’ve been awoken, you’ve been affected: respond. Please respond. I need you to respond, to do something, because if you don’t then everything I’m saying is just a shout into the void, then every single night I didn’t sleep, every moment I wanted to rip the skin from my body, every moment I wanted to quit existing and kept living is for nothing. I need to believe that there is a purpose to this pain and if you pretend you never read this you are not only doing a discredit to yourself and the person you could be, but also to me. And we both deserve better than that.
8. Take a self-defense class, but more importantly: believe you are worth protecting. I will inevitably write more on this because the concept left me weeping for weeks. But after my assault, I took a self-defense class and after we’d all cringed at pulling off someone’s ear the man leading it looked at us and said, “Yeah, it’s gross but you have to believe you’re worth it. If you don’t believe you’re worth defending you’re never going to make it in this.” And on top of that: not only are you worth defending, but so is any vulnerable person you encounter.
9. Look up statistics. Read articles. Find books. Educate yourself on the problem, from both sides of view. Learn the issues here inside and out. Especially if you’re still uncertain if this is an actual problem. Do your research. Know what you’re fighting for.
10. Recognize and respond to areas in your life where you may have let a form of sexual assault or harassment slide and learn from that mistake. Be better this time.
PS: here’s a video series and article that has a lot to say on the subject.