This post was originally published on March 20, 2013. As I watch the news of the stolen girls in Nigeria, I cannot help but think of the vulnerability of girls and women around the world as they continue to suffer as victims of violence, commodities, pawns in war games. I pray for those young women and the young women and girls who are being taken from their homes, their bomas, their huts even as I type this, their faces never to appear on the news, their stories never told.
I’ve been avoiding writing anything about the Steubenville rape case – a Facebook post, a tweet, a comment on a blog post – partly because I hadn’t taken enough time to know the details of the case to do so intelligently, and partly because I wanted to wait for confirmation that it was appropriate to replace the word boys with rapists and the word accuser with victim.
They’ve been found guilty. They are now rapists. It’s time for that argument to end.
And so I’ve begun to remove the blinders and read all of it, the news stories, the sports columns, the blog posts, the Facebook memes. Today I read this guest post on Scary Mommy: Was It My Fault, and felt my stomach turn as I read this comment:
I think the girl has to shoulder some responsibility for putting herself in that position…
What position was this, you ask? The author of the post had been drinking and having sex with her boyfriend who then left the room. Another boy and then another and another came into the room and one at a time, they raped the girl.
As the outspoken blogger Jessica Gottlieb said in this much-shared Facebook post, “If a woman walks down the street totally naked and a little bit drunk it’s still illegal for you to shove things in her vagina.”
IT IS STILL ILLEGAL.
Rape is not about sex. It is not about the actions of the victim. It is not about sobriety or promiscuity, situations, locations.
It is about violence committed by one person again another. Against a victim. Against a victim who shoulders none of the blame.
Not a even a little bit.
And the most maddening thing about every post, story, and news segment I have now seen about this particular act of horrific violence against a young woman is that as a society, we have chosen to assault her over and over again by discussing her part in this crime against her. But isn’t this what we do to female victims of violence?
Sophomore year of college I returned home to my dorm after babysitting my favorite writing professor’s son and walked into the floor lounge to fill my water filter. It was a weekend night so I wasn’t at all surprised to find one of my guy friends passed out on the couch, the TV still on. He began to stir as I filled the pitcher and wanting to be social, I stopped at the table behind the couch, putting my pitcher of water down, and began to attempt to chat with him.
I don’t remember every detail of what happened next. My memory is uncannily photographic, most important moments stored like some magical, multi-sensory video that I can watch, hear, smell, taste, feel as though I’m still in the moment. But pieces of this night are simply missing.
They aren’t missing because I was drunk.
They aren’t missing because I was high.
They are missing because that is what violence does to you. It robs you.
What I do remember is another drunk guy storming into the lounge, yelling, throwing things, slamming the lounge door and putting himself between the door and me. I remember looking, terrified, to my friend Jim who groggily began to get up from the couch, unsteady on his feet. I remember a wooden chair, the kind built to withstand the use of college dorm life, hurling towards me and smashing into the wall behind me, wood splintering. I remember water spilling.
And I remember a giant arm wrapping around my neck, squeezing. A forearm pushing into my chin, tilting my head back.
I remember the words, “I could kill you right now. I could snap your neck right now.”
And then he was gone.
This isn’t a story of rape because I was lucky, not because I was sober or because I was a virgin or because Jim was in the room with me. The truth is that 1 in 4 girls will be sexually assaulted by the time they are 18.
This is also not where the story ends. The drunk man, still on a rampage, raced down the hall to my friend Stephanie’s room. This part of the story is hers, not mine to share. Our stories join with the pleading eyes of one of the resident hall staff, asking us to report this, asking us to call the police, crying and sharing that she wished she had done so herself in a situation that hadn’t ended quite like ours. There were police reports and visits with campus security. Interviews and phone calls.
Then came the shaming.
No, not the shaming of the man who had attacked us.
The shaming of us.
The friends who would no longer speak to us. The people in the dorm who called us bitches and said we had ruined this man’s life, had driven away from school.
We had done that to him. By being there. And by refusing to stay silent.
None of this is about the victim, the location, the circumstances.
It is about violence, it is about victim shaming, and it is time that it ends.
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