And when you allow this doubt, this inability to cope and comprehend to fester, the fall out is huge. You withdraw, you become a shell of what you use to be. You transform into this shadow. You skirt the issue. You make excuses. You don’t address the giant elephant in the room that is stomping its feet and roaring to be spoken about and acknowledged. And you do this all to yourself because you don’t want to grieve.
But we need to grieve. We need to realize that this has happened and that we might not ever be the same. We need to realize that are sense of security and our ideas of the world have been completely altered because of the actions of one individual and we need to stop pretending that everything is alright, because it isn’t. It’s not alright to be raped and it’s not alright to be assaulted. Furthermore, it is not alright to pretend it never happened. Because it did.
Address the issue. Address it and grieve over what happened to you. Let your emotions run through you. Cry. Scream. Get that negative energy out of yourself in the healthiest way possible and do not let it change who you. When you allow a traumatic event to fester inside of you like an infection, it is going to make you absolutely sick. It’s going to change you. You won’t know it until it is too late and you can’t do anything to change it. So, grieve.
“RAISE Hope for Congo, a campaign of the Enough Project, aims to build a permanent and diverse constituency of activists who will advocate for the human rights of all Congolese citizens and work towards ending the ongoing conflict in eastern Congo.”
“RAISE Hope for Congo seeks to fundamentally change the equation for Congo by using The Enough Project’s robust field research, advocacy, and communications to bolster a broad grassroots movement that promotes lasting solutions. Our initiatives work to educate and empower individuals to be a part of these solutions to the conflict.”
- Company Rankings: Be a responsible consumer. This annual report serves as consumer guide for 15 leading global electronics companies and ranks each company on its energy use and emissions, green products, and sustainable operations. Read More
- Conflict-Free Campus Initiative: Your school may be indirectly funding Congo’s worst human rights abusers. You and your campus have an important role to play in ending one of the world’s biggest human rights catastrophes in modern history. Read More
- Conflict Minerals and U.S. Policy Reform: The conflict in eastern Congo is being fueled by a multi-million dollar trade in minerals essential to our electronic products. Read More
- Grow the Movement: One of the most important things we can do is raise awareness and grow the movement by engaging our friends, family, and social networks. Read More
TAKE ACTION: http://www.raisehopeforcongo.org/content/take-action
On August 23rd, I took redeye flight number 732 from LAX to ORD, and sat in seat 9E.
I was seated between two men. On the aisle-side was a 50-something year old man named Jim. We exchanged pleasantries, and I learned that, after a layover in Chicago, his final destination was Detroit where he would be attending a high school reunion.
10 minutes into the flight, a kid in the seat directly in front of me began vomiting. The vomit ran down through the seat and into my footwell, soaking my handbag and carry-on items in vomit. The crew was very nice about it, but noted the flight was full and there was nowhere to relocate me. There was nothing they could do but cover the mess with plastic and coffee grounds to mask the smell. That got the flight off on a less-than-comfortable note, to start. But that was nothing compared to what came next.
Later into the flight, I fell asleep. I awoke at one point to feel Jim’s hand… high on my upper, inner thigh. I thought it possible that it slipped down there while he was asleep, given the narrow nature of the seats on the craft, so I moved my leg away and went back to sleep. A while later, I awoke to find him pressed up against my arm, one hand on my leg, the other hand fumbling around my breasts.
I was terrified, and didn’t know how to respond. Stuck in the middle seat on a nearly silent, dark flight in the middle of the night, I was paralyzed with confusion and fear. I startled physically, hard enough that he removed his hands and shifted away. I couldn’t bring myself look at him. I couldn’t believe what was happening. I didn’t know how to get out of my seat and past him to signal for help, and I knew from the earlier vomit incident that there was nowhere to move me anyway. I stayed awake and on-guard for the remainder of the flight, to keep him from making another attempt to grope me in my sleep. I tried to work up the courage to approach the flight crew or gate security, but (and this is something that you’d never fully understand unless you’ve been assaulted) that kind of violation and fear often leaves victims too stunned and shocked to take immediate action.
As soon as my parents picked me up from the airport, I told them what happened and immediately called Spirit Airlines to file a complaint. Knowing Jim was only on a layover, I needed to make certain that the crew of his connecting flight to Detroit (and subsequent return flight to LAX) were notified, so that he could be carefully monitored and above all, not seated next to any other women for their own protection.
The customer service representative that I reached listened to my story, and responded, as if reading from a script: “I am sorry for the inconvenience, but because you failed to report it in-flight, there is nothing we can do for you.”
To reduce the sexual assault of a passenger on one of your crafts to (as your agent referred to it) “an inconvenience” is offensive and demeaning in ways that words cannot begin to describe. To characterize my inability to speak up in the moment as a “Failure” is insensitive and cruel.
He then went on to coldly inform me that there was no recourse possible on their end, since they only handled reservations. I asked to speak to a manager – in fact I had to ask to speak to a manager four separate times before he agreed to transfer me – and the manager told me the exact same thing. No compassion, no sympathy. No concern for my safety or the safety of your other passengers. No offer to help me reach the appropriate department within the airline to get assistance. Only a cold, detached repeated transference of the blame to me, for not immediately speaking up. Blaming the victim. Super classy.
I requested to know the full name of my attacker, which I’m sure could have been easily retrieved from the flight manifest and seat assignment, so I could file a police report. I was told to contact the TSA because they were “the only people who could access that information or handle this incident”.
I asked to be connected with the O’hare Spirit counter, so that, for their safety and the safety of the other passengers, I could warn them about this passenger before his connecting flight – and I was again refused and referred back to the TSA. Both Spirit representatives with whom I spoke continued to insist that I made a mistake by not immediately reporting it, and showed no concern for my well-being or for fellow passengers that may yet be assaulted by the same man. I could not believe it.
I reached the TSA, who showed at least a modicum of compassion, but also said they only handle issues regarding entrance through airport security, and thus referred me to the Aviation Consumer Protection and Enforcement Agency (with whom I plan to file a formal complaint against Spirit for their lack of concern for passenger safety). After being bounced around on several more calls, I finally landed in touch with the airport police and filed an official report. Oh, and guess what? The police were completely understanding of my inability to immediately report the assault, and showed great compassion for my plight and urgency in bringing justice to the situation. FINALLY.
Meanwhile, I took to twitter, in the hopes that Spirit’s social media customer service representative would provide some better support and an in-road to making the crews on any future flights on which my assaulter is booked aware of the situation. The response I got? “Sorry to hear about your situation. You’ll need to file a complaint with the police, however.”
What about the fact that this passenger was going on to fly at least twice more in the coming weeks, including immediately following my flight? What about the fact that allowing him to fly, unsupervised, puts other passengers like me or your own employees at risk? What about the fact that sexual assault is a crime? What about customer service? What about decency? or compassion?
It took 6 full hours of an incredible outpouring of support from my twitter community before I received @Spirit_Helper’s revised response and invitation to email you. Six full hours in which thousands of your customers demanded better action on the part of your company. Demanded protection and justice on behalf of your passengers. Demanded boycotts of your airline due to your apparent lack of concern and your unbelievably cold responses. SIX HOURS to get a reaction that showed Spirit had even the slightest interest in understanding the situation better.
(It is also worth noting that @Spirit_Helper deleted her first response to me, about filing a police report, which only goes to show that she or someone at her office recognized how insensitive and irresponsible it was.)
I know it is not Spirit Airline’s fault that I was assaulted on your plane. But it is your responsibility, once made aware that there is a dangerous traveler in your midst, to take whatever steps necessary to ensure the protection of your passengers. It is your responsibility to help a customer who was violated on your plane make contact with the people who can assist her in reaching the right departments who can help. It is your responsibility to warn your crews that a sexual predator is boarding their plane. It is your responsibility to show even an ounce of compassion, and not blame the victim, but instead focus on a solution.
It pains me to think how much worse this could be. What if I had been raped on your plane? Would it have been this hard to receive any support from your company? What if I didn’t have a huge social media following who would mobilize on my behalf to incite Spirit’s social media rep to action? The lack of concern and urgency regarding my safety and the safety of your passengers and crew is astoundingly irresponsible and shameful on the part of your company.
As you can tell, I am no longer afraid to speak up about what happened to me, and I am prepared to go to the media if that’s what it takes to get a real response from Spirit Airlines about how poorly this situation was handled by your representatives, and how little concern you have for your passengers’ safety.
In refusing to protect your passengers, you enable the offender.
So… what are you going to do about it?
I really want to highlight this part: “I tried to work up the courage to approach the flight crew or gate security, but (and this is something that you’d never fully understand unless you’ve been assaulted) that kind of violation and fear often leaves victims too stunned and shocked to take immediate action.”
YES! People need to realize that following an incident of sexual harassment or assault, it can be very difficult to speak up. It can be paralyzing and terrifying and leave you with no words for what has just happened to you. Even otherwise ‘empowered’ and vocal individuals who speak out against this violence can find themselves paralyzed and silenced when subjected to this kind of assault. It is a scary feeling, and no one should be blamed or shamed for their reaction to an assault. <3
A wonderful friend of mine is participating in the Santa Monica 5000 on October 2, and she is raising money for Women for Women International’s TEAM CONGO!
The funds will be directed to the organization’s program in the DR Congo, which is the site of the world’s deadliest war since World War II. Over 5.4 million people have been killed there since 1998, and rape is used daily as a weapon of war against Congolese women and girls.
Since its founding in 1993, Women for Women International has served nearly 300,000 women survivors of war around the world, in countries like Afghanistan, Sudan, and the DR Congo. Women for Women International’s year-long program provides these women with direct financial assistance, job skills training, rights awareness education, and the emotional support they need to get back on their feet.
My friend Louise Abnee is aiming to raise $500 for this cause by October 2. Every little bit helps—if you can afford to send $5, $10, or $20 her way for this cause, it would be greatly appreciated! To donate, follow this link!!
To learn more about this cause, visit womenforwomen.org and runforcongowomen.org :)
I know I am walking a fine line with this post, but I feel I need to make it.
In the discussions about victim blaming and shaming, there seems to be a general tendency to shy (er…run wildly) away from any discussion about risk reduction and prevention. It seems that many supporters of the anti-victim-blaming movements interpret any discussion of personal responsibility and protection as “just another victim-blaming tactic.” But I don’t view it that way.
Every good sexual violence prevention program includes efforts focused on risk reduction—women and girls are at risk for sexual assault, and sexual assault can be prevented. That is a core value of sexual assault prevention. Rape is not inevitable. Just like human trafficking is not inevitable. It is preventable, and as advocates for survivors and at-risk populations, we should utilize every preventive tool we can. For me, that includes encouraging self-defense classes, increasing awareness of risk, equipping women with tools to identify dangerous situations and ways of getting out of those situations, etc.
Risk reduction is important. And risk reduction can also take a number of different forms. Educating children on what “safe touch” and “unsafe touch” is. Educating kids on who they can turn to for help, and how they can ask for help when they are being hurt or abused. Teaching women and girls self-defense so they can resist an attack in the event that they find themselves in that situation—and using self-defense as a means of empowering women, to teach them they are strong and capable and that they don’t have to live in fear. Teaching women and girls to trust their intuition and listen to the alarm bells inside them. Teaching children what consent is, what sex is, what healthy relationships look like, what the signs of an unhealthy or abusive relationship are, and how to get help if they think they (or someone they know) are in an unhealthy/abusive situation. Educating people that most rapes and assaults are committed by someone the victim knows—dispelling the “stranger rape is the only danger” myth. These are all forms of risk reduction, and they happen to be focused on personal safety and personal risk reduction for potential victims.
Studies show that people who have been assaulted once are at a greater risk of being assaulted again. Why? (I don’t have the answer to that) And how can we help change that? If someone is more at risk, shouldn’t we embrace any and all proven-effective prevention efforts? How can we empower survivors to reduce their risk and live full lives, free of violence and abuse? I mean that is the goal, isn’t it—to help people live free from sexual violence and abuse because no one deserves to be assaulted or abused.
Risk reduction can also be bringing an end to bystanders by educating men and women on how they can prevent assaults from happening around them. Bystanders can play an important role in preventing assault—and educating people on how they can do that is an important risk reduction tool. Teaching people about consent, especially using a sex positive and “enthusiastic consent” model, it also effective and important. Teaching young men that asking for consent is sexy, and that assuming consent is not okay, is important. So is teaching young men to value women for who they are and breaking down the “women are sexual objects” message our society sends.
People make uninformed decisions. They also make stupid or thoughtless or careless decisions. We all do it—I know I certainly have. Of course, if I were to put myself into a dangerous situation, that doesn’t mean someone has the right to assault me. It doesn’t make the assault my fault or the perpetrator any less guilty. I may have increased my personal risk through my own choices, but that doesn’t mean the assault is my fault, or that I asked to be assaulted. There needs to be a clear distinction made between the risk reduction efforts that can help prevent assaults and the victim-blaming language that tries to hold victims responsible for the actions of their assaulter. Please remember they are not the same thing.
On another note…the vast majority of rapists are men—but only a very small percentage of men are rapists. Most rapes are committed by the same small percentage of men, and most rapists/assaulters commit more than one rape/assault. Not every man is a threat. And men play a vital role is sexual assault prevention and intervention. Please don’t forget that.
When I first heard about the SlutWalk movement, I admittedly had very mixed feelings about it. I understood the message, but I questioned the methods. I couldn’t express why, but something about the movement unsettled me. To an extent, it still does. Nevertheless, when I heard that SlutWalk was coming to Houston (and that I would be in town for it), I decided I wanted to participate. To be clear, I do still think there are flaws with the movement, as no movement is perfect—there will always be issues with inclusivity and message framing and what not, but that doesn’t mean the movement isn’t worthwhile or important or effective. So I went and participated and lent my voice on Saturday.
So why did I decide to participate?
For me, SlutWalk represents the need to fight (and put an end to) victim blaming and sexual violence. SlutWalk to me means that no one deserves to be raped or assaulted or harassed. No one is ever “asking for it.” No one is to blame for the assault except for the perpetrator, the rapist, the assaulter.
If you have been a victim of rape, sexual assault, or sexual harassment, listen to me. I don’t care who you are, what you were wearing, what you were doing, where you were working, or who you were with—the blame belongs to the person who assaulted you. It is NOT your fault. I don’t care if you are drunk and high and running down the street at night completely naked—nothing ever, ever, EVER gives anyone the right to rape you, to assault you, to lay a single hand on you without your expressed verbal consent. Period.
SlutWalk also means we need to stop shaming women for their sexuality. The number of comments I have encountered stating that “if women don’t want to be treated like sluts, they shouldn’t dress like sluts,” or “If you dress/act/look like a whore, don’t be surprised when you get treated like a whore”—it’s just maddening. And heartbreaking. Women are taught their whole lives to be ashamed of their bodies, of their appearance, of their sexuality, of their sexual desires. And if (God forbid) women try to break free of these constraints, to own their sexuality and be proud of their bodies, then they are told they deserve to be raped and assaulted—they are reduced to nothing more than physical objects, good for nothing more than the sexual pleasure of other people (particularly men).
Women’s bodies and sexuality have been commodified for a long time. You see it everywhere—in the sex trade, in advertising, in the calculated use of sexual violence in war, in the trafficking of women and girls all over the world. And yet at the same time that women and girls are being told that their only value is in their sexuality, they are also being told to value their virginity (and in many cultures, including much of the U.S.) that their virginity is their only TRUE source of value. Without it, they are damaged goods. Worthless. Disgusting. Filthy. Ruined. So women and girls are taught that if they want to be loved and valued and accepted, they must be sexy/sexual—but not too sexual, because then they are just worthless sluts and whores. Be sexy. Attract sexual attention. But not too much—you don’t want to be a whore. (And even if the attention you are attracting is unwanted, remember it is your fault. You are doing something to attract that attention.)
I know I personally received that message from a lot of sources growing up, and it is a message I am still trying to break free from. But like many other young women, that message was ingrained in me: "Sex is bad. Sex is wrong. Don’t think about sex, talk about sex, and certainly don’t HAVE sex…and if you do, you should know you are a terrible little girl." Even though intellectually I know that message is wrong, I still have an emotional, knee-jerk reaction to open conversations about sex and sexuality. I am working through that, and I aim to support and promote very sex positive messages that embrace and encourage safe and healthy sex, open communication, verbal consent, healthy relationships.
I also believe sex should only happen when all parties involved are ready, willing, and able to participate. And if at *any* point someone withdraws consent, sexual contact should cease immediately. No excuses. Consent should never be assumed. And what someone is wearing (or not wearing) does NOT constitute consent. Neither does what their makeup looks like, whether they are drinking or not, whether they are flirting or dancing or partying in public, whether they are a sex worker on the corner or an exotic dancer on the pole, whether they getting high in a club or running in a sports bra down the street—it doesn’t matter. Because none of that conveys consent. None of that gives someone the right to lay a hand on them. None of that means they deserve to be raped or assaulted. None of that means they were “asking for it.”
I don’t care how someone dresses or where they work or what their background is. Everyone deserves to be respected and loved and treated with dignity. And no amount of shaming and victim blaming will ever change that fact. For me, SlutWalk is about making sure everyone knows that.
Here are a few photos from SlutWalk Houston on Saturday, July 9th. I will add more about what SlutWalk means to me later on. <3
This and other intriguing, outrage-makey facts about women in the military, in an infographic from Good.
[Trigger Warning: Rape, Child Abuse, and Sexual Assault]
Right now, I am going through archives of some of Cambodia’s major newspapers, documenting and cataloguing any stories on rape cases involving children under the age of 18. The Phnom Penh Post (arguably Cambodia’s most established English newspaper) has done an incredible job documenting cases in the past 2 years. Their coverage is a bit astonishing, especially compared to how rarely such cases are written and published about in the U.S. media (unless, of course, the victim is young, pretty, and white…and preferably blonde…if she happens to be of color, come from a lower socioeconomic status, have a history of any sort of troubles, or any number of other characteristics that make her a “less than desirable victim,” her story won’t be covered). The names, descriptions, and photos of the victims are withheld. In the stories I have read through, identifying information on the victim is never provided unless the victim has come forward to speak publicly. The perpetrator on the other hand frequently has his name and photo published, which I kind of love. But I digress on that point…
Basically, my research is really depressing me right now. I am writing a report on child rape in Cambodia, and these newspaper reports and case updates and story after story after story of 4, 5, and 6 year old children being raped by grown men…it’s horrific. And it is weighing heavily on me today. Rape is extraordinarily underreported everywhere in the world, and Cambodia is certainly no exception (indeed I am inclined to say that it may be even more underreported here, due to a number of factors related to cultural norms, prosecution/punishment standards, and community pressures to “stay quiet and keep the peace”). But the cases that have been reported are astounding. Because the PPP is a journalistic source, the articles aim to avoid sensationalizing the stories or inserting opinion or judgment into the reports. So many of them come across a bit cold/detached. I have been compiling the stories into a running list for my research, and sitting here reading through the headlines is just…I don’t know what the word is. Heartbreaking? Shocking? Gut-wrenching? Numbing?
In front of me right now, I have a report of a prison guard raping a 3 year old girl, a 16 year old boy raping a 6 year old girl, a 31 year old man raping an 11 year old girl (and another man raping a 14 year old girl in the same district around the same time, but in separate incidences), and a 16 year old girl who was gang raped by a group of 5-12 men. I feel sick to my stomach just typing that.
I am not sure where I was going with all of this…other than to say that I am depressed and angry and sickened. And I guess that’s all… :(
Sometimes I really hate the reality of the world we live in…I am glad it continues to baffle and shock me, though. I have said this before and I am saying it again—if I ever reach a point where I start claiming that stories like these “don’t surprise me,” or don’t make me feel sick to my stomach, or don’t give me a lump in my throat…if I EVER reach a point like that, I need to stop working in this field. Just walk away. Because as soon as I become that jaded, I will be completely ineffective. As soon as I let myself accept that this is “just how humans treat each other” and that I shouldn’t be expecting better—demanding better—then I have completely lost myself. So I am angry, I am heartbroken, I want to cry, and I am depressed by my research. But that is a good thing. Because I don’t ever want to become the person that can read a story about a prison guard raping a 3 year old girl, shrug my shoulder, turn the page, and walk away. I refuse to ever be that person.
[Trigger Warning for discussion of rape, depression]
Today, someone asked me why I’m “always talking about rape.” Not because they genuinely wanted to know, but because they wanted to communicate to me that they…