The night is young; we’re all in the living area, playing video games, telling old stories, and laughing… with the redundant side of underage drinking. I was made a drink that was strong enough to ward off a strong drinker and have left it on the counter. I don’t know any of these people well enough to call them friends, but I’m here with someone who I’ve considered a friend since before grade school, someone who I feel I can trust no matter what…
It’s late and we’ve agreed I’ll stay over to refrain from drunk driving seeing as how it is late, my considered friend is pretty far-gone, and I lack a vehicle. Since the living area is still pre-occupied, when he says he’s going to bed; I decide I’ll sit up in his bedroom and watch some TV until I get tired. We go to his room and shut the door to quiet the noise from the living area. I’m watching a movie when he reaches over and begins to rub his hands over me. I tell him to stop and he doesn’t…
It’s 6 a.m. and I’m disgusted with myself, my so thought friend, and I feel such deep humiliation; it’s like an urge to vomit from my bones. I’m in shock and don’t know whether to run and call for help or curl up and cry. Out of fear, mortification, and shame; I kept this rape, this traumatic incident to myself for almost a year. It wasn’t until it had mentally and emotionally torn me apart that I reported it now and have had to go through the humiliation, shame, and disgust of repeating the details of that night all over again.
I finally reported my rapist for multiple reasons; I couldn’t live with knowing that I may not have been the first, or more importantly the last, seeing him on campus has caused panic attacks within me so when I do see him I become physically ill. This has forced me to avoid an entire wing of campus-from signing up for classes to getting food in the Student Union Building-because I don’t feel safe. Fear unravels around me as soon as I step onto campus…
I need people to take a multiple of things from my story
1. Even the most trusted of people in your life have the availability to sexually assault you. “2:3 rapes are committed by someone the victim knows”-UNM WRC
It is not always the person in the dark alley that we should be cautiousness around.
2. I know the humiliation one feels after a rape and I know how much easier it seems at the time to walk away, but holding it in will only do a world of hurt to yourself while your assailant has the potential to sexually assault more women. If it happens to you, report it as soon as possible. Trust me, you don’t want to have to hold it in only to feel forced to relive it down the road when you do decide to report it.
3. Rape is never the victim’s fault. An individual has never nor would they ever ask for such a thing to be inflicted on them and I don’t care if he was flirty, or she was wearing a short skirt- nothing justifies a rapist’s actions.
4. I don’t suggest you live in fear- far from it as a matter of fact. But because of this incident I’ve let fear control my life and it shouldn’t be that way. My rapist has gone on living his life without any repercussions so it makes no sense for me to feel an accumulation of fear and avoid activities that I used to enjoy. Instead I advise that you aware yourself to the maximum level. The “Works” program at Johnson provides Self Defense classes as a part of its course line up. I suggest that UNM offer this as a free awareness course to any individuals interested in it. (A membership for the “Works” program is currently $60 for students.) Awareness is key- I don’t mean things like “Don’t walk in the dark” because we’ve heard that since we were kids and like my story has shown; it’s more likely to be someone you know than that stranger on the street. Practice fight over flight and be mindful of the area you find yourself in, in example; “Where are my keys?” before I get out of the car, and “That person walking seems suspicious, I’d better call UNMPD to alert them” instead of “I’m just being paranoid.”
5. To all the students who view the recent attacks on campus as “overdramatized” and see sexual assault as a minor problem- know that it is extremely disrespectful to the victims to make jokes such as “Oh, don’t get groped on your walk to your dorm.” This kind of mockery is what discourages victims from coming forward and reporting their assailant and I cannot tell you how soul wrenching- from the standpoint of a victim- it is to hear a person make these kinds of comments. Sexual assault is an extremely serious offense that should be handled as such.
Sexual assault cannot always be prevented but we can diminish the numbers by awareness for individuals and outstanding support for victims. As women and men of this campus we have the right to feel safe. If we don’t I really feel that administration can only do so much- it is up to us to meet administration half way in creating a safe campus. I’ve submitted this because if I can prevent even one individual from ever experiencing the trauma that I did- it will be re-living well spent.
I owe you
I owe you for my first relationship in college
I owe you for throwing me my first surprise party
I owe you for pouring me my first shot of Parrot Bay Rum
I owe you for holding me while I cried from nightmares
I owe you for breaking my heart.
I owe you for helping me move
I owe you for giving me determination
I owe you for you leaving me to fend for myself
I don’t owe you for giving you my virginity
I don’t owe you for the threesome
I don’t owe you for cheating on your girlfriend
I don’t owe you because I chose to be a stripper
I don’t owe you because we were friends
I don’t owe you because you were my first love
I don’t owe you because I cared about you
Looking back…..I owe you NOTHING.
It is no secret that women of color carry a historical burden that has damaged us both physically, socially and spiritually. Because we are exoticized and eroticized, we are reduced to our loins. A complex is created for us: whore or mother and we are not given permission to define those terms or ourselves to those terms. Our sexuality is demonized and we are forced into the good girl or whore box. I grew up around the time when both MTV and BET were emerging and the images of black sexuality had a tremendous effect on me. I had much to live up to and yet none of it was really explained to me. I didn’t grow up in a neighborhood where there weren’t sex positive education in our schools or community; it was magically assumed that if you were a ‘good’ girl, you would make the right choices; it would not be explained to you. This creates a paralyzing fear about asking questions and creating dialogue; good girls are silent and know better. Rape culture silences victims. It reduces us to parts that can be abused and discarded for entertainment. Rape culture tells us that we are not human and our only purpose is to be fucked and discarded. Rape culture separates us from living full, healthy, loving and productive lives in our societies. Rape culture says that we are at the mercy of our attacker. There is no hope for us. Our attacker can do what he (or she) wills. We are but a fantasy, something ugly and unnecessary that can be stalked, grabbed, yelled at, and even murdered.
Rape culture tells us that we should not have been born women.
We all play our role in this culture. We have mothers that hide secrets and aunties that make excuses for bad behavior. We’ve been told to smile and not appear hostile. We’ve been threatened for not looking feminine or looking too feminine. Magazine articles tell us how to satisfy our men. Then we are labeled ‘sluts’ for looking ‘too sexy’. We are told we must fit into the size 0, Victoria Secret standard all the times. Either we are angels, mothers or whores and our sexuality must remain pure to ‘protect’ our fathers honor. We are given contradictions and binary expectations for our sexuality.
In writing this paper about rape culture, I’m focusing on what rape culture is to a woman of color and what it’s like to live in a ‘culture’ that denies you autonomy and humanity. For myself, I was introduced intro this ‘culture’ as a young, developing kid. My roles were explained to me by what I saw on TV and what I learned at home. It wasn’t consistent. Somehow, I was growing into a product that could be sold for black and white males. These were my consumers and I was always available and always willing. The black girl realizes that she doesn’t own herself, she doesn’t own any part of her body or her well-being. Her beauty is dependent by whoever takes enough interest to whistle, holla, grope or rape. Something unspoken is implanted in us that this is what we should want for our bodies. At the same time, sex and sexuality was not spoken of at home. My two caretakers were my mother and grandmother and I can’t tell you what is worse: to be bombarded with images of hypersexual, brain dead black women, or to be surrounded by self-loathing, rageful, non-sexual black women that despised their own bodies and black feminine sexuality in general. I didn’t have conversations about my body or how I had a right to love my body especially in a culture that said I am not worthy of love. We didn’t talk about challenging the status quo; we simply didn’t talk. I think for the women in my life, silence and denouncing sexuality was the answer to seeing it everywhere. In retrospect, neither of them was taught the value of self-love and thinking outside the ‘good girl’ or ‘whore’ binary. I internalized this as having no sexuality was equated to being in control and as long as no one touched or loved me, then I could remain a good girl. Was it possible to have sexuality and be intelligent and kind? Could I develop and understand my sexuality while caring for my family and making straight A’s? So in terms of rape culture, if you are a good girl, you would always be covered from head to toe and you would never be seen at night. This attitude is both binary and reductionist and once again tells the victim that she chose her attacker or chose the violence inflicted upon her.
In rape culture I have been groped, followed, yelled at, spat on, and have had genitals exposed to me. I carry that with me and inside of me. I carry that violence inside my sexuality every day. I trust less and am hyper vigilant. In rape culture I was silent through it all. I felt I had no one to turn to. In rape culture, I have been frequently humiliated, insulted, mocked, threatened and reduced by non-white men. I say this only to point out how difficult it is to speak the truth about one’s own violence and oppression when you find that your violator and oppressor looks just like you. There is a silence in our culture about women of color being victimized by their own men (as well as other women) and that silence creates a pathology that ruins lives. I know as a woman of color it would be so much easier if I told you that for each time I have been violated, it has been by some white man, it hasn’t… If I am sitting on the bus and you decide that because I am a black woman you have the right to sit next to me with your penis out, something is wrong with you. In rape culture, we shrug our shoulders. The hatred for black women is deep. In rape culture, it is difficult to love yourself and our sexuality – that thing that is deemed disgusting and perverted and not worthy of care. In rape culture, I have had to relearn my role as a black woman and ask painful questions about how my sexuality is defined as a black woman and whether those definitions are consistent, fair and healthy for myself and my community. I think any woman of color will tell you that when it comes to us, our sexuality is defined for us and not by us.
One night while going home, I sat on a bus that had only one other person. I sat a few rows from him and paid him no mind. He asked me for a ‘date’. I said no. He came up to me, sat next to me and put his arm around me. He said nothing. His legs were open and his dick was out. The shame of it was that not only did it happen, but I froze, I did absolutely nothing. I felt sick, like I was the one who was disgusting. What was it about me that made this ok? All I wanted to do was go home. I carry that experience and others with me, inside of me and when I walk down the street, I haven’t been freed from it. Our rape culture says that I deserved it after all what was I doing riding the bus alone at night? Our rape culture doesn’t look at him; somehow his moment of hatred for me s a woman is not a factor. I realize that is what it was about. It according to our rape culture was about me deciding to be a woman (and a woman of color) and get on the bus alone. His dick was my punishment. When do we talk about this? In the land of the free we are told to shut up, get over it and next time to not go home so late. We are told to smile, to not look so angry, to know better to be the ones that prevent these things from happening and when they do happen, ‘make the best of it.’ In some countries, we are stoned. I should be so lucky. I’m sure I could just reduce the pain of what happened, after all it was late and he was just being a ‘man.’ Yes, I was assaulted. No it was not funny. Yes, he could have shown some restraint. No, I’m not an animal. Why is it we are the ones that have to give the explanation? If you are laughing at my anger, you are not on my side, if you say ‘you’re hysterical’, you are not on my side. You are on the side that enforces the rape culture. Somehow being vocal and just being angry is seen as being far more offensive to our society. I’m angry because at any time in my life I can be treated as if I am something that can and should be disposed of. I can with intention plan on walking home or anywhere and I may not make it to my destination. Someone at that moment may once again decide that I have no business being a woman and that I must be punished for this. I don’t want to be accused of being a ‘man-hater’ and yet I find that I have to defend my position in such a way to prove that I am not. I shouldn’t have to prove anything. How terrible is it that we cannot bare to recognize and validate another human being’s outrage over being sexually violated and that instead we reduce their rage as being the problem, something that needs to be controlled, managed and put away.
Denouncing the rape culture begins with looking at how the rape culture has defined and denied you your truth and humanity. We still live in a global society where women are being burned, beheaded, stoned and executed under the assumption that they were not the good, perfect wives. We have father-daughter dances where little girls are to prove their love for their fathers by remaining chaste. We dare not have sons prove the love for their mothers by never physically, sexually or verbally assaulting a woman. We simply deny the existence of rape culture; it’s the woman’s fault for being out late or wearing the wrong thing. We need to bring the outrage back; rape is wrong. Rape is a hate crime. Sexual assault is a hate crime. Being a woman is not criminal. I should not have to suffer for it.
You were funny and smart
We were from two different worlds
But you quickly won my heart
Your love was uplifting and freeing
We’d discuss our futures and share our dreams
Others envied what we had
For if they only knew
The fear I lived of making you mad
As time went on
Your love became critical
According to you, I never did enough
I soon became the object of your aggression
Your love was becoming very rough
The broken door frames and shattered glass
I prayed these hard times would soon pass
I’d wake up while being held down
Your love was painful
You said I should understand my role
And eventually I’d learn my lesson
The more I cried, the harder you’d go
I’d close my eyes to escape my nightmare
Your love was terrifying
Our love story I’ve never shared
You used your love as a threat against me
Welted handprints were covered
Ensuring no one would see
I’ve smiled and loved since you
I am still not whole again
Eight years later and the distant memories of
“Your Love” continue to haunt me.
Thunder cracks the sky. I wipe my hands on my jeans as I pace the sidewalk just outside the diner door. Rubbing faster my palms threaten to ignite, the friction gives me focus. I breathe deep. My gaze is drawn to the man in the window, about four booths down from the door I cant bring myself to open. He is looking down, most likely arranging the table, lining up shakers and ketchup, napkin dispenser and plastic bud vase. His hair is freshly cut. I can picture being four and listening to the precise instructions he imparts to the barber. I take another deep breath and pull the door open, dead weight in my grip that I can barely scoot past into the brightness. The scent of burgers and fries permeate me. The diner is empty except for its staff and my father, alone in his booth. Another roar from the sky, the windows rattle. I jump as he waves to me.
His smile is bright white. I remember stealing his Pearl Drops tooth polish. I can see now his hair is thinning, his stomach over his tailored waistband. His shoes are a high polish. I can still smell the wax of shoe polish from the worn wood shoeshine kit he kept in the garage. I still remember the threadbare sneakers my toes wiggled through. I shake my head, banishing such thoughts. Slowly I shuffle to the booth, reminding myself I am 25, not five.
He stands, gesturing, smiling wider so thick creases form on ample cheeks. “Crystal, sit down, order what you like.” I grimace and he backpedals, “CC. I remember. CC.” Here’s the church and here’s the steeple… It is late summer and his nails are tinged green and split from manicuring his yard.
“Hey dad.” I slide in the booth. It’s been two years. I haven’t looked in his watery blue eyes in two years. They still make me shift my view to the side.
“How are you?”
“Good. Back in school.” I nod. “Um… Working.” Twirling the salt out of its military line I refuse to meet his eyes. “Getting along.”
“I’m glad to see you.” He pats my hand, short taps that barely connect skin to skin. The warmth of his hand barely reaches me. “Your mother is ecstatic that you called.” A bigger smile and he picks up a menu, hand me one.
A waiter meanders over, greasy, unkempt, tattoos across his hands and knuckles – “love”, “hate” is eye level as he touches pencil to paper. Later I don’t remember what I ordered.
My father begins to chatter on smiling, in that careless singsong baritone voice. I learn about my grandparents, older brother now sister, the landscaping, his new job, the camper they just bought, the trips they will make. Tasteless food arrives and I swirl ketchup on the plate. It takes several moments to realize when he stops talking.
“Dad… I’m not here to visit.” I push the plate away, lean my head back and drill my fingers on the table, trying to get up the nerve.
He looks genuinely confused, eyebrows bunched above his nose and mouth in an off center circle. “I don’t understand.” His cheerfulness is eclipsed by a red flush that creeps up his neck. “Crystal, you asked me to meet you.”
I am seven and he is standing at the door with a belt in his hand, wristwatch shoved in my face when I am ten minutes late. I am back in the diner, his pinched face and pursed lips demanding an explanation.
“I needed to come tell you I remember. I remember everything. I never forgot. And… and it’s not okay anymore.” I sit up straighter but my eyes stay trained on my fingers. “I am trying to forgive, but right now… now,” I grit my teeth, gripping the edge of the table and meet his eyes, stabbing him with mine. “You beat me. You put me in the hospital. You came in my room at night.” I hiss at him, words choking me, “you got me pregnant.”
He looks down. For a second he is frail, old, and pitiful and I am powerful. But I see the red building under the collar, the purple rising in his cheeks. The waiter comes toward the table then, thinking better of it, perhaps feelings the building charge, passes and goes back to the kitchen.
My father’s voice is clipped, deep, menacing, “You don’t know what you’re saying.”
“I know exactly what I am saying,” I whisper, “You just don’t want to hear it.” I look down and breathe deep, willing myself to not pass out. My voice comes out high pitched bordering that hysterical I-must-be-crazy shaky soprano, “I want nothing more to do with you or mom.” My voice clams, “Nothing.” Voice even, gaze hard and leveled toward the blue eyes that don’t flinch, “Nothing.”
I am expecting the lion, the bellow, the belittling comments and placating lies. The scarlet neck smolders, plum cheeks taught as the jaw flexes to grinding teeth. I picture the teeth crumbling to white powder. He rises and drops money on the table. He leaves without a word. Staccato of Italian lather speeds to the door.
Before me on the table, creased but fanning open lies over five hundred dollars – the only attempt at apology or confession my father is capable of.