Project Unbreakable

At the end of this past semester, I took a deep breath and participated in my university’s contribution to “Project Unbreakable”, a website started by 20 year old, Grace Brown, of Massachusetts that works to bring awareness to the issue of sexual assault through art. Survivors of sexual assault are photographed holding signs with quotations from their perpetrators or about their experience.

TRIGGER WARNING: This website features many disturbing quotes from attackers and perpetrators of sexual violence.  It may be disturbing to individuals, and particularly triggering to those who have experience with sexual assault.

http://projectunbreakable.tumblr.com

The Violence Against Women Prevention Program at my university sent out an email asking for volunteers willing to be photographed with a quotation from or about their experience.  While I knew this would be a difficult task, I was determined to use the experience as a therapeutic and self-strengthening one, a challenge and a chance for reflection. It was more trying than I anticipated. I used to keep a journal- for seven years straight, from fourth grade through high school, I wrote in a journal every single night.  It became a habit easily, then an obsession of sorts, and I was terrified that anything not put down in writing would be forgotten.  It took me hours to search through notebooks and pages to find the day I was sexually assaulted.  Maybe someday I’ll be brave enough to write more about my experience, but today is not yet that day.

I don’t remember anything he specifically said. It’s all kind of a blur and I used to obsess over whether my specific memories of that day were valid or if they had been manipulated over time.  What I remember more than actions or words is the emotions the experience evoked in me.  I chose to be photographed with two quotes, the second a statement of hope and power over perpetrators and the culture that condones and perpetuates their actions.

photo-2 copy“He was my best friend’s ex. I felt like I BETRAYED her. I couldn’t tell her what he’d done because of the guilt I felt.” 

photo-2

“We are all victims of the rape culture we live in. But if we can recognize this, we are also survivors.”

With love and hope – S

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The cost of denial

The only reason I can think of for people to deny, deny, deny, the prevalence of sexual assault in our society is because they’re too scared.

They are scared that if it’s true and if they admit the reality, then they, their friends, their loved ones are no longer safe and dammit, they might actually feel compelled to do something about it!

I suppose I can’t blame people for wanting so desparately to feel safe, because once you admit the truth that you have a 20-25% chance of being a victim of sexual assault and that so many people you know and care about have already been assaulted, it is actually harder to get out of bed everyday and walk the streets because of the fear and the disgust and the disappointment in humanity.

If this applies to you, I hope you think long and hard about your denial. I hope you realize just how badly it hurts, how strongly your questioning stings those of us who have gone through it. I hope you do your research and educate yourself before you take up another insensitive debate with another survivor. Before you cause someone else to relive the victimization and question themselves and the years of re-education, of therapy, of activism that it took to recognize that they were not at fault for the wrongs done upon them.

Susan, we have a problem!!!

Good morning world. Wake up and smell the rape culture strongly in bloom all around us.

As of late there has been an alarming trend being reported at minimum on a weekly basis.  Strong, brave, empowering women are speaking up about the rape culture that we live in… and in response, society is threatening to rape them.  Thank you society.  Because we needed our point proven further.

I wrote about Zerlina Maxwell who went on FOX News to discuss our culture of rape and violence who suggested the novel idea that teaching individuals not to rape would be the ultimate way to prevent rape.  Despite my tendency for sarcasm, I am 100% genuine with this statement, because as common sense as it seems, teaching people that rape is wrong and unacceptable, that individuals have a right to their own bodies, and that no one is entitled to another individual, are not lessons that are taught on a regular basis in our society.

Carolyn Luby, my peer at the University of Connecticut, wrote a sophisticated, respectful and well-spoken open letter to the president of the university, Susan Herbst.  Herbst has spent her recent time in office working with Nike to design a new face for the university’s husky mascot through her “New University Visual Identity Program”.  Personally I hate change for the sake of change and feel that Herbst’s time could have been utilized focusing on much more essential issues, i.e., her plan to hire five-hundred new faculty and staff members for the university in a four year time period.  Thus far, at the end of year one, less than 70 of these proposed positions have been filled.  Or, better yet, she could address the issues of misogyny, sexism and sexual assault that are currently plaguing her campus.

Luby, wrote about Herbst’s focus on the mascot as a depiction of the University of Connecticut’s student athletics program.  Herbst’s comments that the mascot had be previewed and approved of by coaches and student athletes made clear where her focus is situated.  Luby appropriately reminded Herbst of the recent events that have revealed prominent athletic team members as exhibiting less than the “poise, confidence, competitiveness, and the determination to succeed in the classroom and on the field and the court” that she credits them with.

Luby speaks as a survivor of sexual assault, more eloquently than I am able, in response to women’s basketball coach, Geno Auriemma’s statement that the new mascot “is looking right through you and saying, ‘Do not mess with me.’”:

What terrifies me about the admiration of such traits is that I know what it feels like to have a real life Husky look straight through you and to feel powerless, and to wonder if even the administration cannot “mess with them.” And I know I am not alone.

We know Carolyn is not alone, as 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men on college campuses has been the victim of sexual assault.

When I heard about Carolyn’s letter, I was so proud of my fellow student and feminist for speaking up against the rape culture we reside in.  However, two days following her letter going public, Carolyn has been harassed with comments as she walks across campus, spammed on her university email account, and verbally violated by the atrocious commentary and posts on Barstool Sports.  She’s been threatened with sexual assault and rape for speaking out against the culture.  I’m not even going to link to this horrendous site and I hope others don’t feel the need to search it, to give the organization the satisfaction of another viewing.

Here is some further food for thought:

  • When Carolyn went to the campus police about the harassment she was receiving online and on campus, the police took down her statements and recommended to she go to the police force whose jurisdiction is over her off-campus housing location, because the UConn police couldn’t protect her there. 
  • Despite the fact that a student wrote her a sophisticated and public letter, and is now being told she is danger in her campus community, Susan Herbst has yet to make a public statement or acknowledge these events.
  • The more mild commenters on Barstool Sports have stated that they stopped reading Luby’s letter after she identified herself as a feminist, because they felt this somehow negated her beliefs.
  • Various “supporters” of Luby on Facebook and other social media sites have felt the need to state that they approve of Luby’s stance, but don’t worry, they don’t identify with the f-word… feminist!
  • On the Change.org petition to President Susan Herbst, presented by The Feminist Wire, entitled, “UConn: Denounce Threats Against a Student and Make Campus Safer for Everyone”, individuals have signed and commented from across the nation, India, Canada, and Tanzania.  One supporter from India writes, “It’s really amazing that misogyny and violence against women is rampant in the US which is [supposed] to be the land of equal opportunities, freedom and equality. This country is on par with less developed nations in terms of attitudes to women.” Tell it like it is.
  • UConn student activists, who proudly and avidly identify themselves as feminists, are planning…something (TBA).  Personally, although I have been infuriated by the frequent speak-out-against-rape-culture-get-threatened-with-rape events as of late, this is MY peer, MY campus, MY community, and the safety of my friends, family, and colleagues that is at stake.  And although it is exhausting (dear God, this work is exhausting… and frustrating… and triggering!) I have to do something, to make a statement and take action against the college culture that is potentiating violence and sexual assault.  If you want to get involved, leave a post for more information and who to contact.

To read Carolyn Luby’s full letter to President Susan Herbst:

http://thefeministwire.com/2013/04/an-open-letter-to-uconn-president-susan-herbst/

Sign the petition on Change.org for Susan Herbst to take a stand on the issue of sexual violence and make campus a safer place for everyone:

http://www.change.org/petitions/uconn-denounce-threats-against-a-student-and-make-the-campus-safer-for-everyone?utm_campaign=twitter_link&utm_medium=twitter&utm_source=share_petition

Can men be taught not to rape? Hell, yes!

Ms. Zerlina Maxwell went on national television to speak to the issue of how to prevent sexual assault in today’s society.  Her idea is a simple one, and not new to most modern day advocates against sexual assault: teach men not to rape.

This, however, is a shocking idea for many who have only been exposed to suggestions of how to avoid becoming a victim, things we’ve heard all too frequently, a list of what (mainly) women should NOT do: Don’t go out alone, don’t hang out in dark alleys, don’t get too drunk, don’t be vulnerable, don’t park in a desolate area, don’t lead someone on. Other suggestions include taking self-defense classes, keeping pepper spray on your person, having a rape whistle, using the buddy system… but do these things keep rape from happening?

The fact is that this is not PREVENTION, but “risk reduction” methods.  As a potential victim, one can utilize all of these methods, without success.  The one person who can prevent a rape from happening? The perpetrator.

If every individual was taught and made the individual conscious decision NEVER TO VIOLATE ANOTHER HUMAN BEING, who would be left to perpetrate these crimes?  But, obviously, we are not teaching our children, our teens, the right messages to keep them from thinking they somehow have a right to the bodies of others.

Unfortunately, not everyone agreed with Ms. Maxwell and she received accusations and THREATS OF RAPE via social media sites.  Zerina Maxwell is a survivor of rape and has been unable to bring herself to access her social media sites due to this disgusting and triggering terrorization- which could not prove Ms. Maxwell’s point any better.  The education and sensitization of the population is simply not there.

I stand by Zerina Maxwell.  I have taught countless students through the  Violence Against Women Prevention Program that, sadly, potential victims CAN ONLY DO SO MUCH to prevent themselves from being raped or assaulted.  Instead we need to teach potential perpetrators about how to be decent human beings.  We need to change this “rape culture” that accepts and supports sexism and misogyny, this rape culture that we live in and potentiate.

In solidarity with Ms. Maxwell, I’m sharing posters from one of my favorite campaigns started by the organization, SAVE (Sexual Assault Voices of Edmonton).

The campaign’s slogan, “Don’t be that guy”, targets men as potential perpetrators.  It’s important to note that not all perpetrators are men, however 9/10 are.  The campaign does a good job representing different scenarios where sexual assault commonly occurs- where the perpetrator is someone the victim “knows”, either closely or as an acquaintance (as in 2/3 sexual assaults according to RAINN.org); rape can and frequently does occur in relationships, in marriages.  You can check out the organization’s message here: http://www.savedmonton.com.

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