Why I Won’t Stay Silent
We’re raised from a young age to be careful of what we say in company. We hold close every secret that might be offensive, to protect others from our own misfortune. In this silence is a form of isolation.
#MeToo was a revolution.
Women and some men from every walk of the earth came forward and put the spotlight on the ugly, offensive truth. Many found this overwhelming, they couldn’t imagine so many women having been harmed in silence. The truth is that the world is often a cruel, selfish place.
It’s hard for someone who has had a relatively safe life to look back and notice the signs of danger in our world. We often sugarcoat our memories with a fine dusting of positivity. You may never notice the people in the world who could wish you harm. Men, especially have a hard time understanding why most women feel threatened. Most men fear prison for one reason, rape. They will dutifully fulfill any expectation, and avoid criminal activity solely because in jail they are at risk of an attack. The scary truth is that for women, every place is potentially as dangerous as men perceive prison.
The World is Not Safe Until We Don’t Need Safe Spaces Anymore
The first time I was attacked, I lost my naïveté. I had always thought that these kinds of attacks happened in the “wrong” places. The shady ends of town, dark alleyways or party houses. I thought that I was safe, because I wasn’t at a party with the wrong crowd. These bad men- they only came it at night, right? Above all, I had felt – like many 16 year olds, that I was untouchable. No one had ever hurt me, so no one would ever hurt me. These things didn’t happen to girls like myself.
The man who attacked me didn’t care that it was broad daylight. He didn’t feel deterred by the utility blade on my belt, or the steel toed boots I wore. I mistakenly had felt as though these things would offer some sort of immunity to attack. They appeared tough, unbreakable; and I thought that reflected in me.
In the middle of town, next door to the police station; in the afternoon – this man almost got what he intended. In my shock, I didn’t react right away. Perhaps the daylight and the multitude of people close by made me feel as though someone might intervene. Yet, as he pushed me, ripped at my jeans; and then held me by my throat – no one intervened. It felt as if he knew that no one would come, and the grin on his face confirmed it. He knew he had total control.
There was a moment of pure terror when I realized that no one was coming to save me. Not a single soul, despite being feet away; and clearly able to hear my cries for help – would risk themselves to protect my innocence.
In this moment I realized a hard truth. I was the one who needed to take action. I was the one who needed to stop this man. As scared as I was, I still needed to protect myself.
I was raised on superheroes, and I believed that for every person who wished evil on the world, there was one who tried to make it right. In just a few short moments that false net of security fell from beneath me. No man in a cape would swoop to my rescue. No, this was going to be up to me, and me alone.
So what did I do? I pushed him as hard as I could, kicked home with my steel toed boots; and ran like hell. A part of me was guilt ridden, as if people would judge me for reacting in this way. In fact, another man in the parking lot called out to see if HE needed help. I was embarrassed too, because I knew that now I was one of “those” girls. Even so, I held together the tattered pieces of my clothing and jumped into the first cab I could see.
I Didn’t Ask For It.
This day, I hadn’t been looking for attention. I had just gone to a store, before my shift at the tire shop – to buy myself some lunch. I hadn’t seen this man, or anyone while I was shopping. I hadn’t stopped to chat with anyone, or even made eye contact. Until the second he tried to force himself on me, I hadn’t been aware of this man’s existence. I hadn’t been flirtatious, or any of the other behaviours commonly associated with “victims”. I had just been trying to get through my day. I was lucky that day, because this man tried but did not succeed.
When I finally arrived at work, I had to explain the state of my work clothes. I changed into another uniform, and borrowed a pair of jeans. The first thing I was asked when I tried to state what had happened to me was, “Well what were you wearing? Did you lead him on?”
It is my wish in this world that we could convince all people that rape in not an acceptable form of punishment for any behaviour. No form of dress, or attitude should be considered an invitation for that kind of violation.
My dignity is not a price to be paid in penance. No one can take it away, or restore it to me. It is mine, and mine alone.
I felt in that moment as though I shouldn’t tell people what had happened to me. It felt like they were judging my character based on this man’s actions. I hadn’t asked for it. I explicitly stated otherwise, in fact. It was inferred that I got what was coming for me, for being alone in that end of town.
That end of town? This happened NEXT to the POLICE station. In front of a store. A store that I had visited daily with my friends before that day. My parents raised me to be careful, and it wasn’t as though I was in a red light district somewhere. This was a family store with teddy bear mascots, and soda machines in front of it. It was hardly a brothel or a drug house.
I wish I could say that this close call was my only experience with sexual assault. I want to tell you that because my eyes are open to the world, I am safe from it’s dangers.
Unfortunately, this isn’t a happy story; and I can’t offer you that warm feeling of security.
What I can offer you is what I have learned from our world. I have learned that my body is a temple, that I must defend with my life. There are those who would wish to defile your temple. To trample it and break it down into ruin. To these people you owe nothing at all. We can’t allow ourselves to feel guilty for protecting ourselves in a cruel world. We must be viscous, and diligent. We must be watchful, to catch sight of dangers before they overwhelm us.
The final and most important thing I learned from this attack was that it can happen anywhere. There is no safe place from rape, and because of this we must protect each other and ourselves. This is a monster that lurks in the safest of places, in our homes, in our streets; and it is a monster that needs to be stopped.
I ask you to do one thing for me.
When you go out, open your eyes to the world around you. Truly take in the experience of the others in your life. If you come across a person being attacked in any way, please don’t turn your cheek. Please don’t leave them alone to face the world. Even if all you do is call the police from the safety of your car- you will be responsible for saving someone. Imagine this stranger is your daughter, or your sister – or even your friend. Could you live with yourself for just walking away? Often it is the smallest actions; those that we do of choice and not necessity that shape us as people.
It’s time for us all to stand up, speak out, and make a difference.
I’m not sorry I spoke up. I know my past has a lot of ugly moments, ones that make people uncomfortable. You know what I think? Good! It should make you uncomfortable. The idea of anyone being sexually assaulted should make you so uncomfortable you NEED to act. You should never become numb to or ignore that feeling.
The time for being a bystander is long gone.