This is About Violence

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.

(none)

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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Written by: Amy

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58 Comments

  • It is NEVER the victim’s fault…Never. I don’t know why that is so difficult for some people to understand. Don’t want your life “ruined?” Don’t assault someone. Plain and simple.

  • Amy, thank you for taking your time in crafting this post. Thank you for what you said…and for what you shared. Thanks for your courage and for your stand, and for adding your voice to the truth that the shaming of the victim must end.

  • Carolyn G

    Powerful story. It is about violence and power. And somehow people have forgotten that rape is rape. It is illegal and no one “asks for it”.

  • Well said, Amy. And a shame it has to be said.

  • This is an absolutely amazing post. Thanks for writing it.

  • Thank you so much for sharing this. There’s such a disconnect with some people about rape. I’m still trying to figure out how to talk to my eleven-year-old son about it.

    • I think that it begins by raising our kids to respect their own bodies as well as those around them, helping them to have healthy boundaries. You start with a foundation of “that is not yours” and “stop when a person says stop” and you’ve got all you need to transition into “no means no.”

      • Lynn S

        I think it is also important for parents to mean “no” when they say it. Often times “no” means “maybe” after the child, of any age, wears the parent down. If that is the message the child gets throughout life, then they would not believe or respect when someone else says “no.”

  • What a powerful story, Amy. There is just no excuse for the victim shaming/public flogging we see in the press and otherwise. It makes me ill. And as an alum of your alma mater, I could completely picture the scene of the crime … down to the wood-edged blue chairs. Thank you for sharing … it should not be this way.

    • Yep. The glass wall and door that I kept watching in case someone walked by whose attention I could grab. And those heavy, heavy chairs in the Letts Hall lounges.

  • Alea

    Well stated. I agree 100%.

  • I’m another Alum and also pictured it vividly. Thank you for sharing your story and for saying exactly what I’ve been feeling about this case.

  • It is so sad that our society, as a whole, seems to want to sweep these stories under the rug by calling victims’ stories into question. Jessica Gottlieb hit the nail on the head. Thanks for sharing such a powerful story–victim shaming is never ok!

    • Exactly. We know violent acts are committed all the time – against women and men – and yet somehow we still try to brush each new incident away as unlikely or invalid.

  • It still astounds me that people can make the argument that anyone ever ‘asks’ or is responsible for violence to be forced on them. Thank you for sharing your story.

  • Wow. Thank you so much for sharing your story. I know that girls often don’t tell anyone about the crime, because they don’t want to have to go to court and live it over and over and over again. It’s so sad. Something needs to change in our society.

  • Thank you for sharing this, Amy. In the last few years we as a society have made small progress in a number of other areas like bullying. It always seems to take too damn long, though. Given the alarming statistics—e.g. my daughter, everyone’s daughter, has a 20% chance of being a victim of rape in the U.S.—it’s high time we do something about it now. As you say so well, “It is about violence, it is about victim shaming, and it is time that it ends.” Thanks for helping start the conversation.

  • David Griner

    Excellent writeup, Amy. Thank you for taking the time to share this.

  • AMEN! I am SO sorry that you and your friend had to live through such a terrifying experience. It is shocking to me that people still shame victims! Makes me crazy!!!!!

  • Amen! Thank you for writing this! I wholeheartedly agree. I can’t imagine how she must feel having her story exposed to thousands. Rape is rape is rape is rape. It’s not okay to blame ANY of that on the victim.

    • I sincerely hope and pray that she and her family find the support and care after the ordeal they’ve all been through and will likely continue to suffer through.

  • anne hill

    wth? i am lucky nothing has really ever happened to me like that (well sorta). when i live in NYC i did have a NYPD detective for a “landlord” and when he illegally locked me out (he was overcharging me on a rent stabilized unit) i called the cops and had to listen to him tell the cops “she’s just playing the victim”. btw, its against NYPD dept code to not identify yourself to another NYPD. my landlord didnt. i reported him to Internal Affairs. i wanted to throttle the guy, but didnt let me anger get the best of me, quietly walked off, then dropped a dime on him. there are laws in this country….better pay attention.

    • That sounds like a frightening situation, Anne!

      • anne hill

        yeah i guess it was. i was so mad i didnt feel frightened. i mean, he was lying to the police about me, and he works in law enforcement, so things could have gotten ugly. i’m lucky i knew he was breaking NYPD regulations, most people dont know that law enforcement always has to identify themselves to other cops. i had dated a cop, thats how i knew.

  • The girl should shoulder no responsibility in this situation. She is the victim. I have a similar story Amy and it is scary. I know many, many stories as an RA for two years in college.

    • The stories RA’s could tell. And probably SHOULD tell. I’m sorry that you have a similar story. I’m guessing many if not most of us do. And so often, we sit silent.

  • HappyMomC

    Thanks for sharing such a powerful story. No Victim should ever be ashamed. We as women should teach our kids, sons and daughters and that will one day bring the change in people’s minds. I wish more people read this post of yours.

  • Thank you Amy for standing for the victim! It amazes (horrifies, frightens, disgusts) me that there are people who still understand that No means NO… and noone has the right to dispute that. And if someone is not old enough, or sober enough, or is in any way incapacitated and not capable of providing consent – than that is the same as saying NO! And the fact that we blame the victim – making them live the experience over and over again – is the reason so many of these crimes go unreported…or if they are reported, go unprosecuted.

    Speaking from experience – not as a rape victim, but as a survivor of child molestation – I remember vividly what it was like to hear over and over how I was “destroying the life of a good man” …everyone’s favorite teacher. What people don’t realize is that everyone’s favorite teacher gets to be that way because he is befriending every child while he searches for his next victim. That is how the Sandusky’s work and that is how mine worked. And until we stop blaming the victim – it is how they will continue to work.

    You could say, well clearly it wasn’t your fault – you were a child – yet still I was blamed by classmates and interrogated by adults. Neither was it this girl’s fault. No-one asks to be molested or to be raped. I hope someday we as a society come to realize that. Until then, thank you for standing up for the victim and sharing your story…if you were next to me I would hug you!

  • Janet

    Amy, I’m sorry you and your friends went through this. I, too, have stories of my own from elementary school, high school, college, and even one of the places that I worked at. I was extremely lucky to have escaped the violent situations that I found myself in over the years. I had friends, however, who weren’t as lucky. I agree that society needs to stop blaming the victims of violent crimes. Thank you for speaking out on this extremely important topic.

  • I’m so sorry. You and your friend did the right thing. Unfortunately something similar happened to one of my friends who lived on my floor my Freshman year. She had the courage also to report it and the guy was kicked out of school. Everyone was sympathetic to him, because they were both drunk. We continued to support her, it wasn’t her fault. After that, we worked hard to make sure we didn’t leave a friend alone. Unfortunately my senior year, a friend of a friend was attacked, walking home intoxicated from the downtown bars, up a deserted path – by two boys. I believe they were arrested (this was 20 years ago). Such a sad thing that this happened, that it’s still happening and people still blame the victim.

  • Anonymous one in four

    Thank you for writing this. Sixteen years ago I was one of those 1 in 4. I went to visit an acquaintance at another college. When I got back to campus and my friend asked how my visit was I told him and he told me I wasn’t making sense. I soon realized there were large blocks of time missing and events that didn’t make sense. He asked if I’d been drinking, but I’d had nothing except iced tea. He asked if maybe I had been drugged.

    I wanted to ignore it. I wanted to hide. I took showers and still didn’t feel clean. I washed my clothes. I wasn’t sleeping and everything sent me into panic attacks. Reporting a rape is humiliating it’s self. You tell your story over and over to so many people. Since this was different colleges I had two sets of people to tell. They told me that my rambling odd story with missing time was evidently a classic story after being drugged with the date rape drug. My iced tea was prepared out of my sight and handed specifically to me. Everything fit the classic profile. As I told the story more pieces started coming back to me in hazy dreamlike memories. I remember him telling me it was my fault. It was like I was watching from outside of my body powerless to stop it.

    Next, the next round of humiliation came, the rape kit. They took me to the ER and had a wonderful woman from the woman’s crisis center meet me. She sat with me until the procedure. The doctor, as he was taking samples, made the comment about it being semi-consensual. The nurse looked at him in horror. I protested that no, it wasn’t consensual. I was drugged and even the police thought so. He just gave me an annoyed look and continued the procedure that is nothing short of more violation. I told the lovely woman from the crisis center and she ran out after the doctor.

    Then, more humiliation when I told my parents. They didn’t support me. The blamed me. My mom cried about my “stupid mistake”. My housemate said I was “asking for it”. I realized that if my parents didn’t support me what court would. He was finishing his PhD. I was an undergrad. I had a short dress on and was visiting his apartment at another college. Who would believe me?

    I made up my mind not to press charges. The DA called me several times. He promised to support me. He promised to protect me. I told him if my own family couldn’t support me I just couldn’t and wouldn’t. I knew I couldn’t hold myself together. I was barely surviving as it was. I told him that if anyone ever reported another incident I’d come out in support of her. I could hear the exasperation in his voice, but he was kind.

    Then, more humiliation, this time in the form of therapy. Once more you relive the incident in as much detail as you remember. My second therapist thought that complaining about her annoying commute was on par with constant panic attacks. She accidentally double booked my appointment more than once. I gave up on therapy.

    It took years to heal and even so you’re NEVER whole again. Any time you hear rape jokes or comments about “you can’t rape the willing” it HURTS. Anytime you hear the victim being shamed it hurts. These survivors were the brave ones. I wasn’t brave enough, wasn’t strong enough to stop him I live daily with the fact that me not reporting it may have led to other girls being in my shoes. These survivors who spoke up don’t deserve shame. The shaming should be on the rapists and the society that is a rape culture. To hear people go on about the Steubenville rapists “promising futures being ruined” makes me want to scream at the world and makes my blood boil. I’ve checked up on my rapist. He got that PhD. He’s married with a child. He got his bright future even though he doesn’t deserve it.

    Luckily I only ended up with PTSD and some anxiety issues. I didn’t have a pregnancy or STD to contend with. The panic attacks have all but disappeared. I still can’t drink Lipton instant iced tea though.

  • I never realized how often this happened and now I am especially thankful that it never happened to me. But I am as sickened by this behavior as anyone. The way this girl has been treated by the media and her friends is almost as bad as the way she was treated by the guys who raped her. Rape is a violent act that nobody ever asks for or has coming to them. The girl is never even slightly responsible.

  • This whole situation has me super angry. At this stage in our lives I cannot believe that it is not clear that rape is not sex but violence. Thank you for sharing this

  • Hi Amy,

    You are so brave to share your story. I wrote the story at Jill’s…and I know, I know…I know..and sadly it took my 27 years, and now crying over the media coverage this week..that is was not my fault…and I could finally share my story.

    I’m humbled, shocked, pissed off and horrified by the many stories that are now being shared with me.

    I hope more women will be braver than I was.

    I hope we as a society stop shaming our victims..and instead start supporting and lifting up our survivors..and prosecuting the rapists.

    Love you for this post.

    xo
    Tracy

  • Eryn

    How come when someone is robbed, we never say “Well, they obviously wanted those items stolen” or “it’s their fault their windows were made of glass, they should’ve known better”? If the cops catch a robber in your house, nobody says “AW, you should’ve let them steal your TV & jewelry, they’re good boys. You’ve ruined their lives!”

    Rape is about taking. It’s about a person putting their own self above others. Why is this so hard for people to understand?

  • Sadly I think in these cases there will always be people who blame the victim. The fact is this whole thing is tragic. 3 lives were destroyed, one more than the other of course, but it’s hard when you see promising futures dashed over stupid mistakes. Doesn’t mean the punishment doesn’t fit the crime and they don’t deserve what they got. I sure am scared for my kids though in this information age. The fact that this was all posted on the internet for the world to see just makes it that much more heinous. It will stay with this girl for the rest of her life and that is what scares me about the internet when it comes to my kids.

  • […] Change a Thing.“ One mother who is not afraid to speak out makes it clear that this is about violence, not the victim. Thank you Amy. Charlie answered the question of whose fault rape is with a […]

  • This story saddens me because it happened to you, and because this is the case many times. Telling the story, sharing like this, and educating our young boys and girls is the only way to change this in the future.

  • I am so sorry to hear what you went through, Amy! That sounds very scary!

    The whole Stuebinville case has made me sick. The one kid testifying that he didn’t know it was rape because it “didn’t look violent”?? Really? Are teens today that uniformed?
    … and then all the people blaming the victim. It’s just sad.

  • First, I grew up near Steubenville and have been there many times. A friend from back home first shared a link about the rally they were holding, and that’s how I knew of this story. It shortly thereafter, exploded.

    Second, I’ve been there. I’ve been the victim, and been shamed, and called a liar and a whore. My own mother told me I shouldn’t have been where I was, without even knowing the whole story.

    The whole world has mixed views on this crime. CRIME – personal opinions aside, it doesn’t matter. A woman NEVER asks to be raped. There are plenty who give it out for free, without needing to be taken.

    We do need to stop this stigma.

  • Jessica

    i love you for many reasons. now i have one more.

  • […] This Is About Violence | Resourceful Mommy […]

  • […] This Is About Violence | Resourceful Mommy […]

  • I am SO sorry that you and your friend had to live through such a terrifying experience. It is shocking to me that people still shame victims! Makes me crazy!!!!!

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