Browsing Tag

sexual assault

Feminism

why aren’t Christians outraged by sexual abuse?

Because I wrote an article for Relevant a while ago (“What Christians Get Wrong about Sexual Abuse“), every so often I get e-mails from their editors asking for pitches on specific topics. This week, they asked for an article titled “Why Aren’t More Christians Outraged by Sexual Harassment Scandals?”, referencing the recent firing of Bill O’Reilly for sexually harassing women at Fox News. I pitched them something, and they published it yesterday.

You can read the whole thing here. I’m a little annoyed at Relevant‘s habit of sanitizing my writing. They removed me quoting Trump’s “grab them by the pussy” line, as well as the word rapacious and various other things. But … considering my first draft included the line “women are just supposed to be animated sex dolls that occasionally do the dishes” (which I cut in later drafts, upon reflection) I may be just a little out of touch with what an evangelical audience can tolerate. Possibly. Have I mentioned lately how much I love you all for reading me even when I’m horrifyingly honest?

The comments so far have been, ehm, interesting. There’s lots of lovely people saying surprisingly lovely things, and a few people who are … goddess bless them they’re just so clueless.

The semester is really close to wrapping up– my last item is due May 5, and then I have the summer off. Sticky notes for post ideas are piling up on my desk, and I’m excited to get back to that. For now, I’m going to enjoy a lone day off and play some Elder Scrolls Online: Tamriel Unlimited.

Feminism

despair and fury: being a woman in rape culture

[content note: rape, sexual assault, depression]

This is an extremely difficult post for me to write. The words have been simmering inside of me for a long time, and I hope that getting them out of me will … help. I wrote a post a little while ago that talked about the depression I’ve been struggling with, and as you can probably tell from my lack of regular posting, the past two weeks have been rough.

I consider myself fortunate in that my depression has always been situational– while it certainly isn’t fun, that it’s been a rather normal reaction to life events means that when life settles down, so can I. I’ve never worried about being depressed because I knew there would be a bend in the road, a light at the end of the tunnel, and I’d come out of it. Eventually. All I had to do was buckle down and muscle through it.

This time, though … I’m not sure how to get around this depression because while it’s still situational, the “situation” isn’t ever going to go away. This time, I’m depressed because rapists get away with it.

I don’t think that’s a fact that’s going to change at any point in my lifetime … and that’s just fucking depressing as shit.

I came to the realization of why I’m depressed shortly before Christmas. I was speaking with my partner about a man we both know to be a sexual predator when I just … snapped. I was remembering all of the times this person had grabbed my ass without my permission or the times I’d watched him drunkenly grope and forcefully kiss his way through a party– and the fact that he was surrounded by a community of men who find this behavior acceptable and will call any woman who complains about it a “bitch.” And, suddenly, I couldn’t handle it anymore. I’d removed myself from that group of people, but the group still exists and that behavior still happens, and nothing is ever going to happen to him.

I hid myself in the closet and beat my head into the wall until everything in my vision was a little fuzzy and dark; I wanted to claw out of my skin, to rip my heart out of my chest so it would stop hurting so badly. My rapist, the last time I heard anything about him, was a youth pastor, and married to the woman he’d cheated on me with– a woman, because of what he told me, I suspect he might have assaulted. By all accounts he’s happy and successful and chances are he will never be brought to justice for all the women he’s harmed. And that … was overwhelming in a way that I can’t put into words. That night, I hated this world and everything about it. I was hysterical with fury and pain.

Since that night I’ve been struggling to deal with this reality that I’ve been able to emotionally ignore for so many years. I can’t escape it now, and the burden of waking up to a world where the men I know to be rapists are happy and hale and will– almost absolutely– never see the inside of a prison makes me want to shrink as far into my bed as I can bury myself.

Today it took me three hours to drag myself out of bed, and all I ended up doing was moving to the couch, cuddling with Elsa, and crying myself to sleep again. I thought I might be getting better, that surrounding myself with tea and good books and good movies and cuddling with Handsome was working.

But, last Wednesday, I was riding the DC metro and I watched a man violate every single one of a woman’s boundaries while she was helplessly trapped on a train with him with no where to go. I stood there, helpless and enraged, not knowing what to do, while I watched him slowly escalate his behavior until he attacked her and she tried to fight him off and I start yelling at him to stop, but he ignored me until Handsome grabbed his shoulder. And then he spends the next five minutes yelling at every single last person on the train about the “dumb bitch” who interfered.

And I stood on that train until he got off, and I sobbed, because I saw that other people had noticed, and I and Handsome had been the only ones to even move when he attacked her. I cried harder when another passenger confronted my partner and told him that he should have “left it alone.”

I don’t know how to live on this planet. I don’t know how to live on a planet where Fifty Shades of Grey is a box-office success and women tell me that I need to take responsibility for being raped because obviously I ignored the many neon-billboard signs that my rapist was an abuser because I thought he was hot. I don’t know how to live in the same country as a woman who tells rape victims that they need to repent. I don’t know how to live in a world where it’s rare and unusual for someone to step in, even when a sexual assault is obviously happening right in front of them.

And while I know this is a bit melodramatic… I feel like Elijah saying “I am the only one left.” And of course that’s objectively ridiculous. There are so many incredible people out there fighting for the same thing I am, who speak up when they see something happening. It’s just difficult to remember that when you’re the only “bitch” at a party telling someone to quit it, or the only person on a train willing to speak up.

It makes me angry, too, because it’s not as though being a feminist takes any of my fear away. I am just as embarrassed and awkward and afraid of rocking the patriarchal party boat as anyone else. I am just as terrified of confronting someone on the train and making myself a target. The difference is that I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I didn’t do something, and it infuriates me that so many know that people around them are being harassed and assaulted, and they care … they just don’t care enough.

In the end, that is what I find truly depressing.

So, I’m throwing this post out there, hoping that it could make someone understand exactly what is at stake when they keep their head down and “mind their own business,” when they are bothered by that guy at a party who just won’t leave that woman alone but don’t want to get harassed for saying something about it. If these words do anything, I hope that it convinces at least one person that taking all the heat and flack and cursing and raging is worth it.

Art by Liza

Feminism

"he doesn’t mean anything by it" is a horrible lie

I ran into an aquaintance– a man that given the social context that we met in knows that I’m a hugger and open to hugs. We’ve hugged before when saying hello, which is something that I’m almost always comfortable with. However, this time, he kissed me. It took me completely by surprise– and I couldn’t shake the twisting, nauseating feeling I had all night because of it.

I was also infuriated with myself for the rest of the week because my reaction afterwards was to silently move away and completely ignore what he’d done. I, like pretty much every single woman in the history of ever … let it go. And letting it slide like that made me feel horribly guilty, like I’d “failed” in some way, that I wasn’t a “good feminist” if I couldn’t even call out the behavior that’s happening to me. Here I am, babbling away on the internet about consent and boundaries and safe spaces and then something like this happens and I freeze.

I’m not saying that a man’s boundaries can never be crossed or that it’s only women who freeze up when someone does something to us that we don’t like or don’t want– there are some don’t ever make a scene! dynamics to what is considered “good manners” in our culture, regardless of gender.

However, women are socialized to accept things that men don’t have to live with, such as the above example. I asked Handsome, and having to put up with people grabbing, touching, slapping, pinching, groping, hugging, or kissing him isn’t something he has to deal with when he goes out. However, many social functions I’ve been to involves surviving an obstacle course of men trying to do all that, and me having very little recourse.

A few years ago I was at a birthday party, and one of the men there got very drunk and groped my ass. I reacted to this with the absolutely suitable “hey! I don’t appreciate that, don’t touch me again” and every single last man in that room poo-pooed me with “oh, that’s just the way he is, he doesn’t mean anything by it” and him walking around like a kicked puppy for the rest of the night … and I felt horrible, like I had done something wrong by standing up for myself and asking for a pretty basic physical boundary to be respected.

The same thing happened when that man kissed me without my permission– even though I didn’t visibly react, or do or say anything, I walked around for the next few days second-guessing myself. It’s just the way he is. He didn’t mean anything by it looped around my head. I felt that I didn’t have the “right” to feel the way I did about it, that the sick feeling in my stomach was me making a big deal out of nothing.

In retrospect, obviously, I have every right to feel violated by being kissed without my permission. That I felt gross and dirty afterwards is a feeling I should respect and trust– it’s my body and mind trying to tell me something about what had happened, and no amount of “it was nothing” was going to be able to take that away.

Women spend a lot of time telling ourselves it was nothing, and that is a monstrously difficult lie to overcome. It’s a lie we’re told by no one– and everyone. It’s the lie we believe when we’re at a party and we’re suddenly A Raging Bitch because we dared to say something when we were assaulted. It’s the lie in the back of our head when a man is acting in a way that sets every alarm we have to screaming, but we force ourselves to ignore it because it couldn’t be that big a deal, right?

My big take-away from all that is this: not being able to say “don’t do that” isn’t a failure on my part. Standing up to the near-overwhelming pressure to not be that bitch and enforce our physical boundaries isn’t something that should always and forever be shouldered by women. I wish it didn’t feel like such a monumental thing to ask of men not to be that guy, but it is. Why should it always be our responsibility to tell men that they’ve been a dick? It should be the responsibility of every decent human being to enforce a social code like don’t kiss people without their permission, instead of the misogynistic code we have right now that reads don’t make a man feel bad about acting like a dick.

Photo by Craig Sunter
Feminism

when speaking to men about false accusations

[content note: sexual violence]

I want to preface today’s post with a few things: first, I’m going to be talking about my own personal experiences online and off, and I’m not going to be arguing about absolutes, or saying that what I’ve observed is the way it always is with no exceptions. However, I’ve noticed a pattern, and I think it’s happened often enough that it warrants a post.

Also, I have been the victim of a false accusation. My accuser did not go to the police to file a report; instead, he convinced many people– all of whom I had considered friends– that I was an abuser and a rapist, which made my life hellishly difficult. It was miserable– and one of the worst periods in my life for a variety of reasons; being ostracized by people I had once trusted was excruciating. So I do understand the pain this causes. I’ve been there. It should never happen to anyone, and I understand that.

I also want to make it abundantly clear that I am not talking about those who have been falsely convicted of rape, which is completely and totally different.

All of that being said, I’ve noticed a few things when I’ve talked to men about being “falsely accused.”

The first time I noticed this was a little over a year ago. At that point I was still really new to feminist conversations about rape culture and I was just beginning to familiarize myself with the data, and was sharing what I’d been learning. He brought up how he’d been “falsely accused” of raping a woman he’d been dating for a short time, and I did my best to not minimize what I saw as legitimate pain.

But, the conversation continued, and as he kept talking I realized something: the “false accusation” he felt so victimized by wasn’t actually false. In this particular case she hadn’t actually said he’d raped her, but that he’d assaulted her– and he had, by his own admission to me. He didn’t see it as assault; to him it was a small thing that he described with phrases like “being a little pushy.”

I didn’t have the chutzpah at the time to call him on it, but that conversation stuck with me.

Since then, I’ve noticed that when men bring up their personal experience with “false accusations,” they tend to be exaggerating, or omitting the fact that they’ve been accused of assault, not rape. In those particular cases, when I’ve been able to hear “their side of the story,” so far without exception they actually have assaulted a woman, but they’re such magnificent douchebags that they refuse to even recognize that’s what they’ve done. Instead they go on gigantic screeds about how much they’ve suffered. And, trust me, I know what it’s like to have people think that you’re capable of assault or rape. It’s worse than unpleasant.

However, most of the time, the only consequences these men have suffered is losing access to some of their victim’s friends. Their employment is completely unaffected. Most of the people in their friend groups support them. Their “suffering” is usually limited to not being able to bang a few women who’ve decided they’re a jerk– almost always because they are.

In the cases when they actually have been accused of rape, it’s unusual for their victim to have gone to the police and for them to have been investigated, much less charged with anything. These men—who have not been investigated, charged, tried, or convicted– go on and on about how much their lives have been destroyed and ruined, and I’m left scratching my head because I’ve been through this. I know what it’s like to have most of the people around you believe that you’re a rapist. It’s horrible in a way that few things in my life have been, and I’ve been through some tough shit.

But life-destroying? How about no.

I graduated. I got a job as a graduate assistant. I got a Master’s degree. I’m now happily married to one of the most wonderful people I’ve ever met. My family supports me. I have a few very good friends. Despite the hundreds of people who still believe I’m a rapist, I have a just-beginning-t0-bud career as a writer and activist. My life, overall, is pretty sweet. It hurts when I think that some of the people I thought were my friend believe me capable of rape, and I would do anything to help an innocent person escape that same burden– but my life is anything but ruined.

What I am not saying is that being falsely accused is something to laugh at or no big deal. However, from personal experience I know that the typical rhetoric surrounding “false accusations” is more than just a little overblown. I have had men look me in the eye and tell me that being falsely accused is worse than being raped, and in my experience that is ridiculously untrue. Even being a convicted rapist doesn’t necessarily result in having their lives destroyed: look no further than Ma’lik Richmond, one of the Stuebenville rapists, who got right back on the football team after serving out his sentence.

It’s also usually played out that these men who are talking about being “falsely accused” of rape actually are rapists. They have a lot of justifications for why what they did wasn’t rape, I’ve found out. There are multiple communities dedicated to convincing men that forcing a woman who is saying “no” isn’t actually rape, it’s just them “asserting their male dominance” and other such bullshit. I’ve had posts and articles mailed to me by MRAs who believe all of that to their core. I’ve talked to people that see no means yes and yes means anal as a legitimate statement. There are so many places online that are filled to the eyeballs-floating-in-shit brim with rape myths– they preach tactics like “those bitches actually do want your cock, you just have to convince them by giving it to them.”

We see these sorts of rape myths played out on a daily basis in our popular culture– Cersei and Jaime Lannister, for example. What many people saw as a “gray area” or “dubious consent” was actually just a rape myth. Cersei said “No” seven times, but Jaime assaulted her into shutting up and then raped her until she gave up being such a bitch and just admitted she actually did want it.

These are the sorts of things the men I’ve talked to who say they’ve been “falsely accused” tend to believe. There are victims of false accusations– I’m one of them. It should never happen to anyone.

However, I have yet to speak to a rapist– not even once– who see that what they did was rape. They are delusional, but they have huge communities backing them up online, telling them all of the things they want to hear. It wasn’t rape– it was rough sex. It wasn’t rape– I just knew that she didn’t actually mean “no.” It wasn’t rape– I just got her drunk enough. It wasn’t rape– she was just unresponsive. It wasn’t rape– she was just crying because she was a virgin.

And on and on it goes.

So, basically, anytime a man says “I’ve been falsely accused,” I give them the side-eye accompanied by a heavy dose of skepticism, because every single rapist who’s been accused is going to say the same exact thing. I believe in the prudence of trusting victims—and I can say that, because I’m in the somewhat unique position of being both a rape victim and being falsely accused. But it’s important to highlight the fact that believing victims comes with the flipside of understanding that rapists will lie.

We can’t afford to take “I’ve been falsely accused” at face value.

edit 11/25/14: For those who are new here, please read my comment policy. I especially do not tolerate rape apologia– and if you make any sort of statement or argument that defends rapists or blames victims or in any way minimizes rape, your comment will not published and you will be immediately banned.

edit 12/9/14: this post has been changed slightly for clarity.

Photo by Marc Smith
Feminism

the lies George Will believes about rape

george will
[content note: descriptions of sexual violence]

I’m not going to rehash what other people have criticized in Will’s ridiculous Washington Post piece about how “Colleges Become the Victims of Progressivism” (here’s a DoNotLink, just in case you haven’t seen it yet). There’s already been quite a bit of ink spilled over his assertion that being a rape survivor is a “coveted status”– Amy Davidson broke it down really well in The New Yorker and Wagatwe Wanjuki started the fantastic #SurvivorPrivilege– so I’m not going to waste your time by going over that again.

Instead, I’m going to talk about the rape myths Will believes, and how believing those lies created something as monstrous as “being a rape survivor is a coveted status.”

Here’s the salient portion:

Consider the supposed campus epidemic of rape, a.k.a. sexual assault. Herewith, a Philadelphia magazine report about Swarthmore College, where in 2013 a student “was in her room with a guy with whom she’d been hooking up for three months”:

“They’d now decided — mutually, she thought — just to be friends. When he ended up falling asleep on her bed, she changed into pajamas and climbed in next to him. Soon, he was putting his arm around her and taking off her clothes. ‘I basically said, “No, I don’t want to have sex with you.” And then he said, “OK, that’s fine” and stopped. . . . And then he started again a few minutes later, taking off my panties, taking off his boxers. I just kind of laid there and didn’t do anything — I had already said no. I was just tired and wanted to go to bed. I let him finish. I pulled my panties back on and went to sleep.’”

Six weeks later, the woman reported that she had been raped. Now the Obama administration is riding to the rescue of sexual assault victims.

Will did some manipulative and dishonest things in this article, but the most heinous is that he misleads his readers into thinking that sexual assault and rape are not clearly defined (not original to me, my friend Renee Doiron pointed it out); the entirely made-up nebulousness surrounding these definitions, he argues, is going to give vindictive women the ability to ruin the lives of good men, and these women are being spurred on by the liberals and progressives taking over college campuses everywhere. Because, after all, being a rape victim is a “coveted status.”

It’s pretty clear that he thinks that Lisa Sendrow is a lying whore, considering he puts “sexual assault” inside scare quotes twice. But why does he think she’s lying, that what happened to Sendrow is a good example of a woman claiming to be a victim in order to get “privileges”?

Well, there’s a few possible reasons, and each of these probably contributed to this disaster of an article in messy, complicated ways:

1) He believes that giving prior consent makes you unrapeable.

This is, unfortunately, a pretty common myth, and it’s the main reason why police officers don’t consistently investigate reports when the defendant had previously been consensually intimate with the victim, or when the victim had been in a relationship with his/her rapist.  It’s also the reason why people like Phyllis Schlafly say that marital rape is impossible.

Any previous history of consensual sexual activity, whatever it is, from cuddling to kissing to frenching to third-basing to sex, does not matter. Ever. If she or he or ze is not currently saying (or clearly indicating, in a trust-based relationship) “yes, please!” then you are a) a creepy jerk or b) a rapist.

2) He believes that “legitimate rape” looks a certain way; i.e., it is violent, and the victim fights back.

This is why you hear a lot of rage-inducing things about rape from men– they have no idea what it’s like to be a woman and to face the threat of sexual violence. To a dude, violent reactions seem appropriate and normal, and they don’t have to contend with the idea that fighting back almost guarantees escalation and is not a solution for women.

When it comes to rape, fighting back in the way that people like Will conceive of it is rarely ever an option. [TW] First of all, when a cis women is being raped, her vagina is probably being penetrated– this is incredibly painful when you are not aroused or lubricated, and “fighting” by flexing your kegels, closing your legs, or resisting in other ways makes the pain much more intense. As a defense, women frequently do things during rape that help to mitigate or minimize that pain– they tilt their hips, they open their legs. This is not a conscious decision, but our bodies know what’s necessary in order to help protect us from long-term damage like cervical bruising or vaginal tears that could require stitches.

However, a man like Will sees “just laying there” as a form of silent consent. That men tend to be physically much stronger and larger than women doesn’t even enter into their minds.

3) He believes that being raped is so obvious to women that we instantly understand exactly what happened.

Sendrow did not immediately report her rape to anyone. In fact, what Will conveniently does not mention is that when she did tell a dean that she’d been raped, she was dismissed. I also did not report my rape right away– for the simple reason that I did not understand at first that what had happened to me was rape. I’d told him no, I’d tried to persuade him to stop, and eventually I gave up and just laid there because he started cursing at me.

I didn’t know I’d been raped because I believed all the same myths that Will does. I thought rape was violent. I thought you could only be raped by a stranger. Because it was my fiancé, and because he hadn’t drugged me or clubbed me over the head, I didn’t think it could be rape. Sendrow was in a similar position. I get e-mails on a weekly basis that are stories from women who are just now coming to terms that they were raped. Sometimes, we just don’t want to admit that it happened. We don’t want to acknowledge that we were that vulnerable.

4) He believes that “basically saying no” doesn’t count. If you don’t scream “no!”, it’s not rape.

This is why I advocate for enthusiastic consent. The “no means no” standard that’s the popular understanding of consent just doesn’t cut it. A 1999 study by Celia Kitzinger and Hannah Frith shows that it’s actually extraordinarily uncommon for people to say the word “no” when they’re refusing something– we use a lot of other things, like body language and soft-sounding phrases like “I’m not interested.” What their study revealed (their results are broken down here by Thomas Millar) is that everyone understands when someone is refusing, even if they’re not explicitly saying the word “no”; in fact, actually using the word “no” is considered impolite and rude.

Women, especially, have to navigate a world where we could be in danger, but it’s impossible to tell the difference between Elliot Rodger and Mr. Rodgers until one of them pulls out a gun or drugs you. Because of that, we have a lot of things we fall back on– which includes avoiding giving a hard no. Men like Will do not live in that world, so they don’t have to think about what it would be like to face a man who is blatantly refusing to get a hint and what women have to ask themselves: if I get forceful with this person, is he going to hurt me?

There are probably others, but these are the ones that immediately leaped out to me.

Feminism

things you can do for someone in an abusive relationship

comforting friend

I’m not entirely sure why I haven’t written this post yet– of all the things I should be writing about, this is probably one of the more important. Every so often I get an e-mail along the lines of “I think my son/friend/sister might be in an abusive relationship– what can I do?” and I always take the time to answer these individually, and will continue to do so. However, over time, I’ve realized that there’s a few things I say to pretty much everyone, so I figured I should collect them into a post.

~~~~~~~~~~

Before we get started, there’s a couple terms I need to clarify: abusive behavior, abusive relationships, and abusers.

Someone who is not an abuser can engage in abusive behaviors. Human beings are quite capable of hurting each other, sometimes very deeply and consistently. Our relationships can be unhealthy and co-dependent, and can have various features that are abusive. Those relationships can sometimes be healed, and sometimes they need to be ended. However, there is a difference between someone who does abusive things and an abuser.

An abuser is what American culture tends to think of as a “sociopath,” although it is extremely important to point out that not all sociopaths and psychopaths are abusers. Sociopaths and psychopaths are mentally ill people, and with good and effective treatment can live productive, rich lives, filled with healthy relationships.

An abuser, on the other hand, lacks empathy, a moral conscience, and is driven completely and totally by their own-self interests and in protecting their self-image. They will go to any length to get what they want, and they do not care who they hurt. They are primarily interested in maintaining control in their life and over the lives of their victims.

~~~~~~~~~~

One of the most important (and most complicated) questions should be talked about right up front: should you report it to the police?

The answer: “it depends.” The important thing to keep in mind, however, is that it is extremely difficult for police investigations to move forward without the cooperation of the victim– if the victim denies it, which they are quite likely to, then the investigation will probably stop there, and the victim will face punishment from their abuser for telling anyone “exaggerations” or “lies.” If the victim has confided in you about their abuse but are unwilling to report it themselves, then you need to be extremely careful about what you do with that information. Chances are you could endanger the victim even further. If you break their trust, then they are also unlikely to trust you in the future, when they might be more willing to go to the police with you.

If they confide in you that they are being abused– and they recognize it as abuse– then you should encourage them to make a report. Make sure they know that they have your support– that you will go with them, that you will be there, that you will defend them. That you will not leave them no matter what. That you have their back.

Do not say things like “if you don’t report this, then s/he could go on to do this to someone else. This is your duty.” It is not their responsibility to report their own abuse. Yes, the police can rarely ever do anything without them. However, their only “responsibility” is to themselves. They could quite literally die if they report it, and quite often they are the only defense between their abuser and other people, such as their children.

Individual circumstances might be different, however. If you believe that the victim’s life is in serious and immediate danger, then that changes things dramatically and you should probably notify the police. If the abuse has escalated to that point, then it is possible that a police investigation could be successfully conducted.

Again, all of this depends. Every situation is different.

~~~~~~~~

comforting

One of the first things I encourage people to do is “be a safe place.”

People, in general, don’t enjoy having their choices criticized, and while remaining in an abusive relationship isn’t actually a “choice” since their autonomy has been suppressed by their abuser, they tend to think of their relationship in those terms. If you criticize their choices, then they could respond defensively, and the only thing you’ve accomplished is entrenching them even further into their relationship. You will become someone who just “doesn’t see him/her the way I do” or who “doesn’t understand what is really happening.” Frequently, victims see themselves as being necessary to their abuser’s well-being. They are helping their abuser to get better. They’re not blind to the problems– they just see those problems in different terms.

Victims need to know that you love them. That you accept them. That you are trustworthy. That you take the time to understand. Sometimes, they might even approach you with “haha, my partner did this the other day, isn’t that crazy! They’re so funny!” They want someone to confide in, but they want to do it on their terms.

Listen. Be perceptive and alert. Ask leading questions, and see if they might be willing to give you details. Ask things like:

Have they done something like this before?
How does it make you feel when they do something like that?

Try to see if they can be honest about what their relationship is like and what the problems are. Establish patterns– that it’s not a one-off, that what they’re doing fits into things they’ve done before. It’s important to avoid the “every relationship has problems” pitfall, however. Yes, relationships take work, but there is a difference between two people working on figuring out their communication problems and abuse. Do they think that this would ever be “normal” in a healthy relationship? Contrast what they might be rationalizing as “problems that need work” with what are actual real-life problems that need work.

In an abusive relationship, a problem is “I must never, ever go to this person’s house ever again because they would not like it.” In a healthy relationship, a problem is “I should probably talk to my partner about why they don’t like it when I spend time with that person, and I have the ability to make up my own mind and form a compromise, if I want to. They trust me.”

~~~~~~~~~~

As a part of removing a victim’s agency and autonomy, abusers will do everything they can to remove any sense of self-worth, value, and confidence. They might make the victim feel as if they are illogical, as if their own thought processes cannot be trusted. That they are stupid. Ugly. That no one else will ever want them.

You must do the opposite. Let them know that they are a smart, funny, capable, competent, wonderful, valuable person. That you value your relationship with them, that their presence in your life means something to you. That you like them. That you believe in them. That you have hope for their future. That they are fine just they way they are, that they do not need to be “fixed” by their abuser’s “reforms.” Give them something to believe in besides what their abuser is telling them.

~~~~~~~~~~

Be watchful. Pay attention. Abusers can be extremely talented manipulators. They can be charming, friendly, and popular. They can seem extremely well put-together; fashion conscious, meticulous, educated, articulate. They can be someone you’ve known for a very long time. They can be a respected figure in your community, a self-giving public servant.

They can be anyone.

They are usually the person you would never suspect.

They don’t usually have beer-bellies and stubble. They don’t keep a baseball bat near-at-hand. They don’t have to be alcoholics. They’re rarely obviously stupid. They don’t have to be overtly aggressive and domineering, yelling and slapping people around.

It’s not at all unusual for you to second-guess your instincts about a person or a relationship. No one wants to believe that someone we know could be hurting someone else we care about, and we can go a long way in rationalizing behavior we see. Oh, they just had an off day. They’re stressed. It’ll pass.

What an abusive relationship looks like in public can be very difficult to spot, especially if you didn’t know the other person before the relationship began. There can be signs, however– things like does s/he stop a sentence in the middle after their partner/parent gives them a significant look? Does s/he acquiesce to everything the other person wants immediately, even when it’s obvious that’s not what they want, and they don’t resist? If they disagree, is one of them consistently “winning” with hardly any input from the other? Do they try to anticipate what their partner/parent wants and seem stressed if they don’t know how to figure out what that could be? Have you ever seen small aggressions– pinching, pulling, being physically insistent, grabbing tightly, leaning in to whisper angrily? Have you seen them cuss their partner/child out, using degrading and humiliating language?

Keep in mind that while we tend to think of physical abuse as horrific and physical violence as unacceptable, verbal violence is just as damaging, sometimes even more so.

All of these, on their own and in isolation, could mean absolutely nothing, which is why they’re all easily to rationalize. However, if someone is making you uncomfortable, trust that feeling. If you think that something is off, pay attention. Just because they seem to be overtly affectionate in public most of the time, one act of physical aggression completely overrules a host of “I love yous.”

Start keeping a written record of everything you’ve personally witnessed, no matter how small it might seem at the time, and make sure you have a date/time and what the general circumstances were (“at so-and-so’s birthday party”). If they confide something in you, write that down, as well– and try to put things in chronological order. Abusers tend to escalate their behavior over time. Having a written record could be extremely useful later if they decide to report the abuse to the police, for personal reference, and for helping the victim establish patterns.

Also, for victims, the abuse is easy to all blur together and they can lose track of dates and events quite easily– did this happen at this outing, or that one? Was it in summer, or winter? It’s all a monotonous wreck to victims, so having a record can be extremely useful for keeping their memories clear, especially when they go the police who can be antagonistic and disbelieving.

~~~~~~~~~~

comfort friend 2

Don’t let the abuser isolate their victim from you.

This does not necessarily look like the victim suddenly cutting off all contact with you under orders from their abuser– although it absolutely can. More often, however, the abuser is going to be paying close attention to their victim’s relationships and friendships. Any minor disagreement, any falling out, any tussle, any fight– s/he will use that against you. Things that you would ordinarily never give a second thought about will become knives that the abuser uses to cut you out.

“Wow, she was such a bitch to you. Are you going to let her get away with that?”
“You deserve a better friend than her. She doesn’t care about you.”
“She’s just out to destroy us. She never liked me. She’s jealous.”

One of the most common ways that an abuser will isolate their victim is to make their victim start behaving in a way that makes you, their friend, not want to be around them. She used to be an incredible person– but since she’s been with him, she’s such a bitch. I just can’t stand being around her anymore. She’s changed. I thought our friendship was worth something, but I guess not.

And, it is quite possible that your relationship didn’t mean that much to them, and they really are just treating you badly. But Heaven knows I treated my friends like total shit– it’s an effective tool for isolating victims, because not only does it remove you from a place where you could see their abuse, it also makes you less sympathetic.

It could also look like the abuser saying things like :

“I just want to spend time with you. Just the two of us.”
“I don’t like big crowds of people. Let’s just stay in.”

And… they slowly drift away until you don’t see much of them anymore. Some of this can be due to the first-blush infatuation; people in love do like spending all of their time together, and tend to stop hanging out with their friends as much. However, if your friend completely falls off the face of the earth, reach out to them. It could be nothing– or it could be an abuser isolating them.

~~~~~~~~~~

And, lastly, get a bunch of information ahead of time.

  • Find the rape crisis centers in your area and collect their addresses/websites.
  • Get a list of the rape advocates in your area, their phone numbers and organizations.
  • Know where you could go to get them into a domestic violence shelter.
  • Know which police service has jurisdiction in what area. Sometimes it’s the city police, sometimes it’s the county sheriff.
  • Know who has jurisdiction at the victim’s house, at the abuser’s house.
  • Have the phone numbers to call to file a police report.
  • Know how to get to the police station.
  • Keep a list of local hotlines available (suicide, rape, domestic violence).
  • Gather brochures for shelters, crisis centers, etc.
  • Have a few books about what abuse is like in relationships, like Why Does he Do That?
  • Be familiar with public services for rape and abuse victims, like the SANE at a hospital.
  • Know what procedures are like; what the victim might have to go through to have a rape kit done, for example.

~~~~~~~~~

I realize that a lot of what I said here could be simple, non-abusive things. Sometimes people have social anxiety and they really, legitimately, don’t like big groups of people– or going out at all. That’s ok, and if their partner is consenting to that and wants to support them in that, that’s fine.

However.

There’s a reason why abusive relationships happen, and it’s because all the abuse can seem so totally normal. It can all be so easily explained, justified, and rationalized away. All of it. When taken individually, what they do isn’t even really that bad. And it slowly builds, and the abuser slowly escalates, and suddenly they’re “tripping” and falling down flights of stairs.

~~~~~~~~~~

That is all I have for now. I will probably periodically write more posts as more things occur to me and I receive more questions– they will be linked to this post.Please feel free to add your thoughts in the comments, to help make this post better.

Feminism

Pensacola Christian College & Me

August 2008-1
from August 2008, while I was still a student at PCC

If you’ve never meandered around xoJane, well, now is your golden opportunity. I’ve been a loyal reader for almost a year now, and it’s a pretty cool place. So, when an xoJane editor reached out to me and asked if I’d be willing to tell a piece of my story for them, you can imagine that my reaction looked a bit like this:

my little pony clapping seal

I’ve never really written out the entirety of what my experience was like after my rapist ended our engagement, although I’ve alluded to it a few times. I try to keep what I write about here focused on bigger-than-just-me things, although my story is a good example of what being at PCC can be like.

You can read the whole thing here.

Feminism

How Three Christian Colleges Sided with Sexual Assailants

ChristianColleges1

I’ve had a few incredible opportunities come from my original post about PCC. I was interviewed on a live radio show, and for the Pensacola News Journal, and now I have another guest post for Convergent Books. I’ve mentioned this before, but I’m a huge fan of this publisher– and yes, I’m one of those English nerds that have favorite publishers (Tor being my absolute favorite, just in case you were wondering).

“At these colleges, because the administration has a commitment to uphold strict morality codes, what were you wearing? where were you walking? were you drinking? become the automatic line of questioning. It often is found that the victim of sexual abuse did, in fact, commit a minor infraction. When that is the case, such an admission on the part of the victim is used to paint the victim as an equally guilty party . . .

Questioning of the victim can turn into a type of psychological warfare, in which the student is led to question who, in fact, was responsible for the attack. They are forced to ask themselves: “Would someone in the administration think I was dressed immodestly?” or “I know I wasn’t supposed to be in a classroom alone with him. What will they do to me if I tell them?””

You can read the rest here.

Feminism

Pensacola Christian College and Sexual Violence

crowne centre 2

It’s been almost a month since I asked for your help in exposing at least one of the problems at Pensacola Christian College: how they respond to and treat victims of sexual violence. Thank you, everyone– without you I could do nothing, and your help means everything to me. We worked together on this one.

Since then, I’ve been interviewing dozens of people and drafting articles, and I’m incredibly proud of all the brave, fierce, wonderful, magnificent people who told me their stories. Every single last one of you has my gratitude.

While I wasn’t able to find a major news source willing to publish it, Fred Clarke at the Slacktivist allowed me to do a guest post for him. I am excited that Clarke was willing to be a part of this project, and I think his platform will help get the story out. As Mr. Universe would say, “You can’t stop the signal.”

You can read the post here.

Now that it’s out, I want to ask you all for yet another thing: to help get this story out. If you’re the kind that uses social media, please think about sharing it. Talk about with people you know. If you hear someone considering to attend a college like this, please let them know about it. I couldn’t have a blog without you, and this story can’t go anywhere without you, either.

As a part of this process, I was extremely honored to be interviewed by Grace Wyler for her article at Vice, which I am proud to be a part of.

Again, thank you.

Feminism

this is what victim blaming looks like

[trigger warning for rape apologia, victim blaming]

When I announced rather publicly to the internet that I was going to be writing an article on how Pensacola Christian College has treated sexual abuse, assault, and rape victims, I expected to face some pushback. For the first couple days it was rather mild– all along the lines of “you’re sowing strife among the brethren” or “I can’t believe this could happen at PCC” or “PCC is a good school! How dare you!” It wasn’t really anything bad.

But, starting last night and continuing through this today, I’ve been  inundated with comments and e-mails.  I’ve blocked people here, in the comment section, for violating my comment policy. I will not ever tolerate rape apologia or victim blaming. I put up with a lot of stuff– sexism, racism, ableism… but only to a point. I believe in allowing people the opportunity to learn. That’s all I’ve been doing since I was a racist homophobic misogynistic ass, so I try to make sure that growth can happen here. I also love it when people disagree with me– as long as they’re not attacking my character. Disagree away, it’s fantastic.

So, while I will never allow someone to openly victim blame myself or any of my readers, I do want to take this opportunity to show everybody what victim blaming looks like. Normally I do not use comments for blogging fodder– I think that would make it more difficult for new readers to comment, and I don’t want to do that. However, two of the comments I got last night are a textbook example of what victim blaming looks like in real life. One I did not publish, the other I did (although I warned the second that what she’d done is called victim blaming. Since you can reply to her comment, please do not harass her. She’s been corrected already).

The problem with victim blaming is that, ultimately, it sounds perfectly reasonable, even common-sensical. Hopefully you’ll understand why it isn’t by the end of this post.

On to the first comment:

I went to PCC and the rules at that school make it nearly impossible to even get yourself into a situation like this. The school tries VERY hard to prevent it. You aren’t allowed off campus without other girls being with you. You can’t go to the beach without other girls with you. You sleep in a dorm with no one but girls. Guys are not allowed in the dorms. You are not allowed to be in any location with a guy alone; meaning you must be in a chaperoned area at all times, or you are breaking a rule. Cameras are everywhere. Motion sensors are placed on the fences. You scan in to leave the campus, you scan out to leave the campus. Your parking spot is checked by security guards every hour. Security officers patrol every empty building on an hourly basis. You are not allowed to touch members of the opposite sex. You are not allowed to talk in the unlit areas after dark. You are not allowed to stand around with members of the opposite sex after dark.

So I’m highly suspicious of this. And I think the faculty had a right to be somewhat suspicious, especially if the reputation of another person was at stake–and possibly a criminal investigation. So my plea to you would be to be very careful about casting a stone if you yourself are not at fault for bypassing one of these guards that the school put in place for your protection.

That said, the world is a wicked place and I would not be surprised if legitimate rapists attended that school. And I am not saying your story is not legitimate, but I think you owe it to the school to make share everyone gets the whole story here.

Let’s not pretend that PCC does not try to prevent this from happening. I cannot think of any other educational institution that goes out of its way to protect women like PCC does.

First off, his first paragraph is a pretty good summation of how crazy PCC is, which he rationalizes as good because it “protects” people. Some of these rules have softened in recent years, but most of them are still very much enforced exactly like this. It also completely ignores the reality of male-on-male, or female-on-female rape (which also, in an overwhelming majority of cases, has nothing to do with sexual orientation and everything to do with power, aggression, and dominance).

And while PCC is a fundamentalist college, how this person views the functions of PCC’s rules is not any different from how rape culture functions. The same exact argument is constantly made about rape victims in secular contexts. Were you drinking? What were you wearing? Did you lead him on?

The point of this line of questioning is: what rules did you breakAnd it’s all based on the assumption that Good Girls don’t get raped. Good Girls follow the rules. Good Girls obey the expectations of the culture. Only girls who break the rules get raped. It’s all over his comment, in how it’s “impossible to get myself into a situation” if I was following the rules like a Good Girl. And, since I obviously wasn’t a good enough girl or I wouldn’t have gotten raped, I owe it to the school to tell the “whole story”– the “whole story” including the part of how I am not a good enough girl. And, since I wasn’t a Good Girl, it’s perfectly reasonable for people to suspect whether or not I’m telling the truth about being raped. Good Girls don’t get raped. Only Bad Girls get raped, and Bad Girls deserve it. If I was stupid enough, or slutty enough, to break the rules, then I stepped outside what was put into place to protect me– so what else could I expect? Duh. Of course I got raped. I broke the rules.

Second comment:

It’s true that bad things happen and positive experiences don’t change them – you’re right. But do not forget to give the benefit of the doubt on both ends.There’s often much more to the story than “They were kicked out because . . .” I know because I have had friends who worked in Student Life who had to deal with situations that were severely misconstrued and turned into hateful gossip. The people at PCC love the students, and they do everything in their power to protect them and do what is right for them.

I can guarantee you that if a girl went to Student Life immediately after she were sexually assaulted, but had been obeying the rules of where she could go during what times with the correct number of friends (all rules set up for her protection), they would not expel her. I also know of people who were sent home to recover from situations, but people who did not care for PCC always referred to them as being “kicked out.” Remember that it’s easy to “tweak” a story so it sounds to be more in our favor – I’ve had to learn this many times even through friends, and constantly remind myself not to do it myself.

This is the same exact argument. If she obeyed the rules. If she told someone immediately. If she were a good girl. If she met with this person’s– or, in this case, Student Life’s– approval, and only then would a rape victim deserve not to be treated like a Bad Girl. If she did something, broke the rules, went anywhere alone, then she deserves to be expelled because she wasn’t a good enough girl. Bad Girls — and, by this definition, all rape victims are Bad Girls — deserve to be treated like garbage. Bad Girls don’t deserve help and comfort. Bad Girls don’t deserve justice or vindication. Bad Girls get expelled.

These arguments both ignore the reality that rape victims are raped because rapists rape them.