Wednesday, April 24, 2013

How to be an ally

So there's been some drama at Dartmouth, my alma mater, recently. I've been trying to stay out of it because thinking about campus in conjunction with sexual assault brings back a lot of frustration and sadness. The Dartmouth administration was actually very good to me-- it's the behavior of my fraternity brothers that I am still bitter about.

That being said, it's been impossible to completely avoid conversations about this on Facebook and mailing lists, so I've reluctantly chimed in when the conversation got irritating enough. The first time I got involved, it was to put the kibosh on "but false rape accusations!" bullshit. I wrote a post on this a while ago. False rape accusations are exceedingly rare and almost never targeted at a specific person, because seriously, victims of acquaintance rape aren't exactly treated kindly or sympathetically in society, so if someone wants attention or sympathy and somehow thinks crying rape is a good way to do it, they're not going to name a specific person-- they're going to pick the scenario they wouldn't receive any blame in, and talk about a stranger in a dark alley with a weapon. Crying rape for revenge runs into the exact same issues. Perpetuating the idea that false rape accusations are common really hurts victims, and seriously needs to stop.

The second time I've chimed in has been in response to the notion that rape victims need to testify in court because otherwise they're perpetuating rape culture. The person who brought this up said that testifying is a service to society that rape victims should do "if they're strong enough," but that it's totally ok if they can't, and there's no judgment involved. I called shenanigans on that too, for multiple reasons. First, you can't say there's no judgment involved if you frame it as a "service to society" that a victim can choose not to do if they're not strong enough. That means that someone who chooses not to testify is weak or selfish because they're unable or unwilling to go through the hell that is the legal system. (Did I mention how going through the legal system means having to relive your experience over and over while people try to discredit you and drag your name through the mud? And that the process generally takes at least a year? Yeah.)

Secondly, stop putting the onus on victims. Why are we the ones perpetuating rape culture if we don't testify? Why is it mainly our responsibility to stop perpetrators? Saying that any change in rape culture depends on the victims is an easy way for people to absolve themselves of responsibility. You don't get a cookie for not being a rapist yourself and sitting around telling rape victims what they need to do to stop rape. It's not just our responsibility. Stop looking at what others can do and start looking at what you can do.

Stop telling people how to not get raped, and start telling people how not to rape. Stop ignoring when someone does something unacceptable-- say something. Tell people that rape jokes are harmful. (I know I've written about it a lot, but I feel like this post says it better than I have: your silence condones and normalizes rape, particularly in the minds of rapists.) Stop perpetuating the myth that women cry rape for attention or revenge. Stop pressuring victims into testifying; there are many reasons why someone might not want to testify, and they are all legitimate. Also recognize that it's exceedingly hard to procure a guilty verdict, and that doesn't mean the victim was lying.

Listen when someone comes to you and tells you it happened to them. Don't assume they're lying. Don't ask them if they were drunk, or if they were wearing something provocative. Don't ask them to hide what happened. Don't make them feel ashamed of it. Be respectful and supportive. If you don't know how to be supportive, say so, instead of just becoming distant or pretending nothing happened. Be an ally, that's all we ask.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Well, then.

He broke up with me last night. It kind of came out of the blue-- I thought he seemed really happy to spend time with me on Monday-- and I was pretty heartbroken because I really liked him. Sure, there were things that needed to be worked on, but we talked about stuff on Tuesday, and I thought things were good. Granted, on Tuesday he also told me that he would be happier and find me more attractive if I weighed less, but he said he still thought I was cute. I was pretty embarrassed and a bit hurt, but I asked to talk to him about it, we made plans to talk yesterday, and I thought things would be fine. But after I brought up my concerns about his comments on my weight last night, he just said he was losing excitement and interest in me, and didn't think there was enough to keep the relationship going. He brought up some issues I had been working on, but it was basically that he didn't find me attractive anymore so he wasn't willing to give me any time to work on those things.

I cried for a while last night. It certainly didn't help that I've been feeling the effects of the anniversary for a while (tonight is pretty much the main night), and he was originally going to come up and spend the weekend because he knew it'd be rough for me. I think part of what hit me hard was how it seemed he pretty much wanted me to accept that he wasn't interested in me anymore and just go away. He didn't want to discuss anything. He didn't mention wanting to be friends. He basically just wanted me to say "ok," stop talking, and disappear from his life. I don't think he ever wants to speak to me or see me again. I'm a bit bewildered and hurt. I know we hadn't been dating for all that long, but to just suddenly and completely kick someone out of your life like that? Especially just because you think they're too fat? On Tuesday he seemed ok with the fact that I was working on my weight, but I guess he decided he wasn't willing to wait after all, and I wasn't worth even being friends with.

Last night was hard for a while, but it turns out I have amazing friends, and I am stronger than I realize. My self-esteem has been suffering for a while (I'm used to feeling bad about my body, but it's rare and discomfiting to feel stupid-- but he was brilliant), so I spent some time just feeling really shitty about myself. But then after talking to friends and going through half a box of tissues, I wrote some bad poetry for myself-- ok, I don't think it even counts as poetry (it's a list of affirmations that are not in complete sentences and are creatively indented :P)-- but somehow that did the trick, and I am feeling better about the breakup. It feels like it's started to heal; I just need to not poke at the scab too much.

So now the pressing issue is the anniversary, because my plans to spend it with him got thrown out the window last night. I'll spend time with friends, and I'll manage tonight and the rest of the weekend somehow. I guess I just need to focus on the fact that despite some setbacks, I've been doing pretty well with moving on with my life. The trauma doesn't define me anymore. While I will always consider myself a survivor, I am also a vet student, a researcher, a friend, and perhaps most importantly (:P), a slave to 2 adorable kittens. There are people in my life who love me, and I have to believe that they see something in me that makes me worth caring about.

Here's to five years.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

In Which Time Marches Onwards

The end of March is approaching. It will be five years. I worried a little that the fact that it would be five years would somehow make this anniversary different, more difficult, somehow-- I guess because people and organizations tend to celebrate five-year reunions? I keep getting emails from my undergraduate class about the five-year reunion coming up. I should have graduated with them, but I didn't because of what happened the first weekend of my senior spring. I could still attend (Dartmouth considers you part of the class you entered with and not the class you graduated with), but I'm not sure I'd want to go back to campus anyway. I went back for an important meeting at my fraternity that solidified and implemented the change in the permanency clause, and I thought maybe that would help me feel kinder or fonder feelings towards them again, but when I looked at how they were going to conduct trials, and when they asked me to recount my story and be available for questioning by the undergrads, my response was a pretty unceremonious "are you kidding me?" (ok, that might have been the G-rated version of what actually went through my head). So that was that. I have a handful of fond memories of my time there, but I don't really have any plans to form more, and I am ok with that.

I've been thinking about the anniversary a lot this month, more so than I have in the last two years. I've been a little worried (ok, that might be an understatement) because I've just started seeing someone; I really like him, so the last thing I want to do is fall apart and give him the impression that I am an unstable ticking time bomb. For the most part, though, I've been ok. There have been a few sleepless nights and a few days when my stomach was unhappy with me (thanks, enteric nervous system), but I think I might have brought that on myself by worrying about it being five years specifically and by fretting about what to tell him. I wanted to be open and honest with him. I also wanted to spend the Weekend with him. However, I was nervous about making him uncomfortable, or putting pressure on him, or just plain saying too much too soon, which I know I've done in the past.

And then I proceeded to start fraying at the edges yesterday, which is a week too soon, so it threw me off-balance. I managed to keep it sequestered until the prospect of being alone that night unlocked the door and let the ugly fear and memories and feelings out, and then I kind of lost it and started crying. (I did make plans to spend time with friends after I knew he was going to leave, but somehow that didn't quite stop the flood.) I felt awful, embarrassed, and scared that I actually was an unstable ticking time bomb. I had to remind myself that it's the end of March, and that I'm normally okay. In fact, this year marks the first anniversary where I feel like I've significantly moved on with my life and really accomplished things, which is awesome, even if it is four years behind schedule. I'm well into my first year of vet school, my grades are good, I was granted funding for my summer research (as a Merial Scholar, too, so I get to go present at a conference in August), I'm president of an organization and co-vice president of another, I have an amazing group of friends, and I'm seeing someone I really like. I've been impressively stable in the past year or so, with only a few minor episodes (most of which were brought on by people making rape jokes, which is shitty and not really in my control), which I was able to get over in a few hours at most. So yeah, life is quite good-- it's just the end of March that sucks.

This week is my spring break. As my physiology professor has emphasized to us, it is not a break from studying-- it is a break for studying. I have an overwhelming amount of material in several classes to catch up on and a final exam and 3 practical exams the week after break to study for (and they're all on the same day, too, because the scheduling gods didn't receive their blood sacrifice or something). I was worried that falling apart last night was a sign that I would have to spend this week taking care of myself instead of doing all the work I badly need to do. I'm feeling more optimistic now, though, so hopefully this lasts. I work best with carrots dangling in front of me, so I am gathering said carrots and also making sure I'm not alone when I know things will be rough for me. I have a lot of wonderful, caring people in my life, for which I am very grateful.

This year the dates don't quite line up, so the 25th is a Monday, but I'm pretty sure Friday is still going to be when I will acutely feel it. I asked him to spend the weekend with me, or at least Friday and Saturday, and he was really sweet about the whole thing. Haven't planned for Monday night yet, other than having an appointment with my psychiatrist in the afternoon. Overall I think this anniversary will be ok. I think I will want to set aside some small amount of time to remember and to affirm to myself that it was not my fault, that I did what I could to protect myself, that I am stronger than I give myself credit for sometimes, and that I have moved on. But otherwise I think it will be a more-or-less normal weekend where I can be happy and enjoy his company. Yay for that.

Monday, September 24, 2012

So if you googled my OkC username and found this...

Hi. I realized a few days in to having my OkC profile that using the same handle was not the brightest idea I've ever had. However, since Google has a rather firm grip on Sayrina being my blogger name, rather than trying to deny that this is in fact my blog, I am writing this post to intercept any misconceptions before they occur (I hope).

If you were interested enough to google my username after having read the spiel on consent on my profile, I assume that you're not resistant to the idea of women's rights. Maybe you even suspected something because who writes about consent if they haven't had an issue with it before, right? (Not necessarily true, but not a bad guess.)

I was one of those people who lived in a bubble and never thought about it before it became an issue for me. Yes, I am a survivor of both relationship abuse and rape. I realize that this isn't one of those things you normally talk about when you're first getting to know someone, so I do apologize for my lack of foresight when choosing an OkC handle. However, if you found this blog, it's already come up, so here's trying to make the best of it.

Yes, I did have post-traumatic stress disorder for some time afterwards. I've since moved on with my life and feel like I am a stronger, wiser, more confident woman for having experienced what I did and growing and learning from it. I will always care very strongly about issues related to sexual assault, relationship abuse, and PTSD. However, that doesn't mean I live in the past, or that I have so much baggage that it's practically falling out of the closet. I don't hate men or run screaming from relationships. It just means that I am more aware of the need to communicate, set clear boundaries, and make my expectations known.

If this freaks you out or makes you uncomfortable, I understand. If it would help, I am always open to answering questions; I am not ashamed of what happened and will talk freely about it if prompted. On the other hand, because I've learned that it can make people uncomfortable, I won't bring it up out of the blue. While this is part of my past and who I am, it's just that-- a small part.

One other thing: I realize that by scanning through my posts, it looks like I'm always talking about being triggered. Please just bear in mind that this is like a review site, where some people only write reviews when they're angry or displeased with the person, place, or thing being reviewed. For various reasons, for better or for worse, most of my posts were written when upset. As you can see, the number of posts has decreased significantly over time (which is actually sort of a failing on my part because I'd hoped to keep this going as a resource, but I haven't had time to do the research to post more educational, rather than personal, things).

Finally, if this hasn't gotten you backing away and looking for the nearest exit, feel free to mention to me that your Google-fu brought you here and you read this. There are brownie points to be had!

Friday, July 6, 2012

Hello, World.

First of all, I have to share this. It's an extraordinary read that says so much of what I want to say in powerful, eloquent terms. It comes with a trigger warning and may be uncomfortable for non-survivors as well, but please read it. Here is an excerpt from the intro that should give you an idea of what the post is about:

It's a very strong idea in our culture and one which keeps rape victims in denial about their experience and ensures that they don't face up to what happened to them for weeks, months or years in some cases, because their image of themselves, doesn't fit in with the image they've been fed, of a rape victim.  So I want to talk through the step-by-step process of how a woman can be set up to become a rape victim and how that has nothing to do with her and everything to do with the man who decides to rape her.

Secondly, a small update about my life that will shortly become relevant: D* and I broke up a few months ago (the parting was mutual), and I have tried to start dating. It's the first time I've really tried dating (as opposed to my normal friends-evolve-into-relationship pattern), and it turns out that I am having some difficulty with certain aspects of it.

[Edited out some stuff that I decided I don't particularly want on the internet.]

This, of course, leads into the question of when and how I should tell a prospective boyfriend about what happened to me. I am trying extraordinarily hard to not repeat what happened with D*, when I blurted everything out as quickly as I could in an effort to be up-front; I suppose that at the time I thought full disclosure in that manner was a good idea, and subconsciously I was giving him the chance to run away before I could become too invested. I've now realized that this is not ideal, but I don't have a better plan. I need a way to test the waters and gauge his reaction to things like sexual assault. I need to know that he won't tell rape jokes, or laugh at them, or blithely contribute to rape culture. :-/

Also, I realized how low my bar is set right now for what I consider a good date, because I remember wondering if/when he was going to make a comment about my body or say I was fat. Hello self-esteem issues?

I'm drained and I think I'm beating a dead horse, so I'm going to stop here for now.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

How NOT to try desensitization...

Really rough night last night. I can't remember the last time I was triggered so badly that I couldn't fall asleep when I tried. Even worse, I didn't realize I was triggered; I thought I was okay. Only after an hour of lying in bed, sleepless, with my heart pounding did I realize why I couldn't fall asleep.

I've come to accept that lots of books will use rape as a plot point in some way or another. Most of the time, it comes as a surprise, too, because the description on the back of the book doesn't mention it. The thing is, after four years, I can usually get past that and not be too affected by it. (Sometimes I will numb out a little, but then I'm usually fine.) I was reading a mindless romance novel last night, Mackenzie's Mountain by Linda Howard. I have liked her books in the past. A series of stranger-in-a-ski-mask rapes occur in the town, and the main character becomes a victim of attempted rape. The author tried to realistically portray PTSD in a strong, stubborn woman who values her independence, and I appreciate that. However, during my bout of sleep-destroying anxiety, I finally deduced that what really got to me was how the character tried to deal with her fear. She wanted her lover (the other main character) to re-enact the attempted rape with her in order to try to replace those memories with something good from someone caring. Sure, desensitization, that's legitimate. But when it got underway, with her running and him chasing her, the description of him became really disturbing. It felt like he was portrayed as enjoying it. And when he captures her, she starts to scream and cry and struggle and she repeatedly says "no" but he doesn't stop, and he has sex with her. In the end, of course, the author portrays her as being fine and the desensitization successful, but all I felt was revulsion and horror.

In my mind I kept screaming "oh my god, use a safe word!" before I realized that the characters had no concept of that, and had never established a way to distinguish between "I'm scared but okay to continue" and "please, stop, I'm really having a hard time." It gives me the squicks, and just thinking about it makes anxiety claw at my chest. What the characters were doing felt much more like rape to me, and it evoked a much more visceral response than the stranger-in-a-ski-mask thing because it was someone she cared about and trusted. And, cynical person that I am, if that scenario had gotten out of hand and she had legitimately wanted to stop and he didn't, and she quite correctly called it rape, he would have said she asked him to do it-- i.e. she was asking for it. It makes me nauseous.

Ugh, I can't write anymore. I will write another post later about the trouble I am having with reconciling my identity and fears as a survivor of sexual assault with my somewhat long-standing interest in [safe and healthy] dominance/submission. I know a lot of people think submission fantasies are a way of coping with being raped; I feel like all the resources I have found for assault survivors treat submission fantasies as an unfortunate consequence of sexual assault that survivors can learn to get past, like a disease people can strive to heal from. I don't think that is necessarily the case, and I'd like to do more research about BDSM for survivors of sexual assault before I write this post. If you have any thoughts or insight, let me know!

Monday, August 15, 2011

The myth about false rape reports

I really enjoyed the last book I read (title omitted to prevent spoilers, but feel free to ask for it in the comments or email me if you want to know) until I got to the "girl who cried wolf" part. In a nutshell, a lust-driven 15-year-old girl chases after a married man, who turns her down appropriately, and then she (falsely) accuses him of being involved with her, i.e. statutory rape.

I'm really, really tired of the false rape cliche in literature and film. In this case, her motives were essentially revenge. It comes up all the time-- a female is rejected/scorned/broken up with and so she decides to get back by falsely accusing the male of rape, or the female and male have sex and she regrets it later so she calls it rape. False rape really doesn't happen as often as so many people think it does. Studies conducted worldwide (and summarized in this issue of The Voice, a publication by The National Center for the Prosecution of Violence Against Women) point to a figure of 2-8%.

That's it. It's not 41%, as suggested by the severely flawed yet often cited Kanin (1994) study. Additionally, false reports almost always fit the stereotype of a sexual assault, the kind in which a victim can remain most "blameless" under society's flawed notions of what is considered sexual assault. False reports are almost never allegations against someone the victim knows, almost never "date rape" stories that are so often dismissed as acts of vengeance or regret. Actual false rape reports read along the lines of a "classic" (and actually very rare) scenario, involving a stranger or vaguely described acquaintance who is never named and use of a weapon and/or serious physical injury. The "assault" will only have included penile-vaginal penetration and the victim will say she struggled and physically resisted to the utmost. Essentially, the story painted will cast the "victim" in the most best light possible, with the least blame placed upon her by society. False rape reports are made mostly by mentally or emotionally disturbed individuals.

So this whole "women cry rape for revenge all the time" thing is complete and utter nonsense, yet people continue to perpetuate this harmful myth. When someone (a very brave someone) comes forth to report sexual assault by someone they know, one of the most common reactions is to doubt it, to look for other possible motives the victim might have to lie. Why? When someone reports being mugged, most people assume s/he is being truthful. What makes sexual assault so different?

The prevalence of false rape stories in literature and the media serves to keep this myth alive. It is always severely disappointing to me when "the girl who cried wolf" is used as a cheap plot point. False rape reports are not as widespread as most people believe, and they are almost never the ones people think are false (i.e. acquaintance rapes).

PS- The article I linked to above is a very good, worthwhile read.