Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Only rapists can prevent rape

You've all heard it before: "10 Ways to Be More Careful and Not Attract Rapists" and all other similar incarnations. Don't walk alone at night. Don't wear earphones while jogging. Don't leave your drink unattended. Don't wear a short skirt. Don't grow your hair out long. Don't don't don't. The burden falls on us, the potential victims, to keep ourselves safe. Why? Because no one is teaching potential perpetrators how NOT to be rapists. Because no one is plastering this all over men's magazines and sports shows and bars the same way that women's magazines overflow with warnings and tips and tricks to help us survive each night unharmed. But they should be.

From lickystickypickyme:

Only rapists can prevent rape:

A lot has been said about how to prevent rape. Women should learn self-defense. Women should lock themselves in their houses after dark. Women shouldn’t have long hair and women shouldn’t wear short skirts. Women shouldn’t leave drinks unattended. Fuck, they shouldn’t dare to get drunk at all. Instead of that bullshit, how about:

If a woman is drunk, don’t rape her.
If a woman is walking alone at night, don’t rape her.
If a women is drugged and unconscious, don’t rape her.
If a woman is wearing a short skirt, don’t rape her.
If a woman is jogging in a park at 5 am, don’t rape her.
If a woman looks like your ex-girlfriend you’re still hung up on, don’t rape her.
If a woman is asleep in her bed, don’t rape her.
If a woman is asleep in your bed, don’t rape her.
If a woman is doing her laundry, don’t rape her.
If a woman is in a coma, don’t rape her.
If a woman changes her mind in the middle of or about a particular activity, don’t rape her.
If a woman has repeatedly refused a certain activity, don’t rape her.
If a woman is not yet a woman, but a child, don’t rape her.
If your girlfriend or wife is not in the mood, don’t rape her.
If your step-daughter is watching TV, don’t rape her.
If you break into a house and find a woman there, don’t rape her.
If your friend thinks it’s okay to rape someone, tell him it’s not, and that he’s not your friend.
If your “friend” tells you he raped someone, report him to the police.
If your frat-brother or another guy at the party tells you there’s an unconscious woman upstairs and it’s your turn, don’t rape her, call the police, and tell the guy he’s a rapist.
Tell your sons, god-sons, nephews, grandsons, sons of friends it’s not okay to rape someone.
Don’t tell your women friends how to be safe and avoid rape.
Don’t imply that she could have avoided it if she’d only done/not done x.
Don’t imply that it’s in any way her fault.
Don’t let silence imply agreement when someone tells you he “got some” with the drunk girl.

This goes for any gendered rape, male on female or female on male or female on female or FTM on MTF or non gendered to dual gendered and so on and so forth….

Why "Defying Gravity"?

So a friend of mine asked me today why I named my blog Defying Gravity. I would like to share a piece of music that I've found to be incredibly empowering and profound. I listened to it all the time during the last year and a half of my life, both when I needed some somber thinking-music and when I needed an encouraging boost. To me, it represents a dark part of my life, but one I survived and surpassed, with dignity and with pride.

The song is called "Defying Gravity," sung by Idina Menzel and Kristin Chenoweth in the musical Wicked. I was first introduced to it in middle school, by my dear friend Mogwit, and I loved it. It stuck and stayed with me through my awkward blooming in high school, through my sophomore year depression and destructive relationship, through my senior year when a traumatic event the first weekend of the term changed everything. I spent my senior spring, when I should have been finishing my undergraduate career and preparing to graduate, in a haze of confusion, anxiety, depression, and pain. I honestly don't remember much from those three months. I remember a few specific events, like going to speak with the campus health offices, the emergency room, safety & security, the dean's office, and the police. I remember living nocturnally because I couldn't sleep at night. I remember playing spider solitaire in my room to pass the time. And I remember this song.

It means so much to me. I associate it with some of the darkest moments of my life. As difficult as it was at times, I resolved to keep going, and finally I emerged to a higher place, where I could be safe, strong, and confident.

Something has changed within me
Something is not the same
I'm through with playing by the rules
Of someone else's game
Too late for second-guessing
Too late to go back to sleep
It's time to trust my instincts
Close my eyes, and leap!

It's time to try
Defying gravity
I think I'll try
Defying gravity
And you can't pull me down! 

I'm through accepting limits,
'Cuz someone says they're so!
Some things I cannot change,
but 'till I try, I'll never know!

To all those in my life who have hurt me--

You can't pull me down.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Book: "Aftermath: Violence and the Remaking of a Self" -- Susan Brison

Susan Brison, a professor of philosophy at Dartmouth College, weaves an intellectually stimulating but honest and unpretentious narrative about sudden violence and trauma. Brutally attacked, raped, and left for dead while taking a walk in the French countryside, Brison speaks from the mind and heart about the pain of picking up the pieces of one's life.

I found her observations about the reactions of her friends, family, and community to be particularly poignant. She examines the oft-heard encouragement to forget and move on, and how isolating that can be for survivors of sexual violence. She also addresses issues such as deterioration of memory and concentration, change of personality, and distorted views of time and place.

This was the first memoir by a survivor that I read. While it can be a bit dense and academic sometimes, it is overall a very touching and worthwhile read from a clear and expressive author.

Book: "Story of a Girl" -- Sara Zarr

This story provides an honest, compelling look at coercion and pressure in teenage relationships. I found it triggering but also validating because of particular events in my own past.

The protagonist, 13-year-old Deanna, is caught in a confusing whirlwind of hormones, attraction, and pressure and ends up having sex with 17-year-old Tommy, whom she's not even sure she actually likes. Her family is awkward, struggling, and fractured, and her peers in school have branded her a "slut." Here is a frank examination of stigma and society's double standards with regards to sexual exploration. Deanna's story is an emotionally wrenching portrayal of how one mistake can leave a huge impact on a teenager's identity and sense of self-worth.

Beautifully-written realistic fiction. Delves more into coercion and social pressure than clear sexual assault.

Site: Pandora's Aquarium

I owe so much to the unfailingly supportive community at Pandora's Aquarium. I would say that this is the best place to read posts if you're feeling alone or write posts if you want words of support and encouragement. The community is gigantic and infinitely loving. Feel free to use the forums as little or as much as you want; it was often just helpful for me to know it was there whenever I needed a boost.

Site: DartHeart

DartHeart, a nonprofit organization, is a peer support network for students with post traumatic stress. We provide the resources and opportunities for student survivors to unite and offer mentorship to each other and their communities about the realities of life after trauma. Our organization is run by student and alumni survivors of trauma with guidance from health care professionals and supportive members of the community.

DartHeart is a budding organization that is well on its way to being an important resource for college students. It provides what college health offices and informational resources cannot-- support and understanding from fellow survivors.

Introduction to My Resources Posts

I will also begin posting links and reviews of websites I have found informative and helpful during my healing process. I will tend to focus on personal sites more than national organization sites like RAINN.

These posts will be tagged "sa resources" (sa = sexual assault). Please feel free to comment on this post with suggestions. Thanks!

Book: "Safe" -- Susan Shaw

I read this book about a year ago. It still remains in my mind today as one of the most realistic portrayals of rape-induced PTSD that I have found in fictional literature. I will never forget the shock of reading the scene where Tracy (the protagonist) first experiences sudden dissociation and a cold flash; I could not contain the rush of relief and validation that I was not alone. Some of the other symptoms that are very well-described are her social anxiety, increased isolation, and distrust of those she knew before her trauma.

Fantastic book, but very triggering.

Belated Introduction to My Media Posts

The other day, I came across this post in one of the blogs I follow. It is a request for songs, movies, YouTube clips, etc. that relate to sexual assault or sexual harassment. I read all the comments and contributed my own.

I'd like to start my own version here: if you can think of songs, movies, YouTube clips, books, articles, etc. that relate to rape/sexual assault, please post them here. I will then make separate posts tagged "emotional media" with an embedded version of the material if possible/applicable and any thoughts I have on it. This is a collection for myself, survivors, secondary survivors, and anyone else who can empathize or wants to try.

Song: "Concrete Angel" -- Martina McBride

This is a powerful, emotionally wrenching song about child abuse.

My heart breaks when I think of young children in these kinds of situations.

Song: "Gratitude" -- Ani DiFranco

Continuing to reflect on this February's Speak Out:

The event opened with an a cappella rendition of Ani DiFranco's song "Gratitude." It was beautiful, haunting, and powerful. I remembered it the other day and listened to it on repeat.

Uncertainty, Doubt, and the Search for Validation

I wrote two short pieces for the Speak Out event this past February. Here is one about guilt, uncertainty, and "was it really rape":

“Hand over the money.” You're being mugged. Maybe you see a weapon, maybe you don't. You freeze. You hand over the money, maybe even a watch or necklace. If you're lucky, you get away safely. When you get home, everyone is relieved you're okay, and no one questions your cooperation with the mugger. If you choose to go to the police, they'll probably support your decision to not fight back, too. It's all pretty clear-cut. You were the victim of a crime. You didn't ask for it. Nobody doubts your story, and you don't spend the next few years blaming yourself for having a wallet.

The instinctive act of freezing is called tonic immobility. It is a common, normal, even adaptive, response to threat. It's okay to freeze during a mugging, and it's okay to freeze when confronted by a rapist. It’s still a mugging and it's still rape. You are a survivor, and the mugger and the rapist are entirely to blame. Not fighting back or screaming during an assault does not mean you wanted or deserved it in any way.

I was raped almost a year ago, and I still struggle to believe this on bad days. Sometimes it feels like all the stories I hear are about women who fought tooth and nail against their attacker. I think about how I just froze, and I feel so small and unsure about myself. Once he started getting too close to me, I went numb. He knew I didn't want it, I knew I didn't want it, but my mind shut down and I couldn't speak up. I honestly cannot say if I had any conscious sense of fear; I just couldn't feel anything. It was only when I felt pain that I could free myself from that debilitating numbness and say no. To this day, I still wonder what would have happened if he hadn't been careless and hurt me suddenly. I don't know if I would have broken out of my dissociated state and said no at all. That uncertainty has been unwanted company through endless days and long, painful nights.

Having struggled with that kind of guilt, this is something I need to say. Not putting up an epic struggle does not make you any less a victim and survivor. It's still rape even if he didn't hold you down and muffle your screams. Contrary to what textbook-definitions of trauma seem to require, not everyone's terror has to come from immediate, conscious recognition of threat to their life. It certainly didn't go through my mind; I don't think he would have physically harmed or killed me had I struggled, but the aftermath of my assault still hurt. Coercion has many faces, and threat has many forms.

I wrote this for all the survivors who ask themselves if it was really rape. When I was raped, I wish someone had told me this, loud and clear, because I needed to hear it. Your pain is legitimate, and hard enough to bear already without having to struggle with self-doubt. Sometimes it feels like every story but yours is clear-cut; sometimes it feels like there's no definition of rape to cover what happened to you. But it is rape, it is real, and you are not alone.

This was one of the first pieces I ever wrote about my experience.

Let's talk about consent

I haven't figured out the balance between personal and educational with this blog yet-- e.g. I was thinking about whether or not I wanted to write a post called "Let's talk about PTSD" in order to explain the definition of PTSD, common misconceptions, my personal experience with it, etc. While I was thinking about that, I decided to write a post about something both personal and educational: consent.

Sounds simple, right? No. If everyone held identical conceptions of what equals consent, then rape victims wouldn't feel so lost in their search for validation. Guilt and self-blame are two of the many horrible feelings that plague rape victims. I struggled for months trying to find something that felt concrete that would tell me for sure that it was really rape; I felt so alone, thinking that my experiences "didn't really count."

Finally, one day, I found it. I was practically blubbering with joy and relief when I came across this page.

What is not consent:
If your partner has sex with you under any of the following circumstances, it is rape/sexual assault:

  • Physical violence (e.g. hitting, choking)
  • Threats with weapons
  • Continuing sexual activity after you have indicated you wish to stop. (It doesn't matter if you initially consented; people change their minds for a number of reasons all the time. Your wishes should be respected.)
  • Overpowering you with physical strength, pinning you down
  • Threats to harm you or a third person
  • Threats to your property/pets
  • Threats to rape you if you don't give in -- that basically says "let me rape you or I'll rape you" - sex gained under such a threat is rape.
  • Depriving you of liberty until you acquiesce to a sexual demand-- e.g. "you don't leave this room until I get what I want."
  • Having sexual intercourse with you while you are sleeping or incapacitated by drugs/alcohol to the extent that you cannot give or withdraw consent
  • Refusal to allow you to sleep until you give in to sexual demands (note: sleep deprivation is a recognized form of torture)
  • Sexual activity after continuous pressure on you to have sex before you are ready, to perform acts you have stated you don't like, or just going ahead and doing it.
  • Putting you in a position where you must engage in one form of sexual activity to prevent something "worse" from happening i.e. you have to engage in oral sex in order to avoid anal rape.
It is important that you realize you do not have to have physically fought or even said "no" for an act to be regarded as sexual assault. Tears or other expression of discomfort are more than reasonable indicators that you do not want the sexual activity. Often, sexually violent partners do not actually seek consent, or if you do say no, it is not taken any notice of. Remember that submission is not the same as consent.

Some of these seem obvious, but others not so much. All of the above manifestations of rape can lead to PTSD.

Rape jokes aren't funny.

So, why am I still up at stupid o'clock in the morning? Because a friend of mine made a rape joke last night. Har har, non-consensual sex. That's a riot.


Okay. I get that some jokes are funny because they address taboo subjects and make people uncomfortable. Do I still make off-color jokes sometimes? Yes. Did I used to make rape jokes? Yes, I am ashamed to say I did. This is why I am not trying to take a moral high ground here. All I am asking is for sensitivity. Other strong, brilliant feminists who possess a far sharper wit and snappier way with words than I have written many posts about rape jokes and rape culture. In my currently triggered and sleep-deprived state, I have nothing to add to the academic side of the argument. However, I can make this personal.

From Fugitivus's post:
Let me tell you a thing you might not know: the inability to hear rape “jokes” without flashbacks, Hulk rage, and “air quotes” is one of the enduring parting gifts of a rapist.


For those of you who wonder why rape victims get all super sensitive about rape jokes ‘n shit, well, this is why. Before you’re raped, rape jokes might be uncomfortable, or they might be funny, or they might be any given thing. But after you’re raped, they are a trigger. They make you remember what was done to you. And if the joke was about something that wasn’t done to you, not in quite that way, you can really easily imagine how it would feel, because you know how something exactly like that felt. Rape jokes stop being about a thing that happens out there, somewhere, to people who don’t really exist, and if they do they probably deserved it, and they start being about you. Rape jokes are about you. Jokes about women liking it or deserving it are about how much you liked it and deserved it. And they are also jokes about how, in all likelihood, it’s going to happen to you again.

Do you know why I'm not asleep in my warm, cozy bed right now? Why instead I'm sitting with my laptop, surrounded by stuffed animals and feeling sick to my stomach? Because someone made a rape joke at 10:30pm and it triggered me. Eight-and-a-half hours later, the effects are still here. It made me think of what happened last March, and of what I lived through my sophomore year. It made me tense, anxious, and nauseated. I can't sleep, and y'know what? I'm angry.


Because rape jokes aren't f***ing funny. Because I shouldn't have to explain to a "friend" multiple times why off-handed rape remarks are hurtful and insulting. Because I am sick of seeing how prevalent rape jokes are in everyday life and media. So, please, do your part and don't make rape jokes. This isn't just about "being a politically correct person" or trying not to offend some rape victim out there. If you need it to be less abstract, here it is:

I am a rape survivor. I am a real person sitting on a couch at 7 in the morning because a rape joke brought back an overwhelming onslaught of feelings and memories of traumatic events. Every time you make an off-handed remark about rape, someone who hears it might be triggered. Someone who hears it might have a friend or family member who lived through sexual violence, who remembers what it's like to try to console a distraught person suffering from flashbacks and crippling depression.

Rape is not an abstract concept that just "happens to other people." It happens to people you know. So think about that next time you're about to make a rape joke or you hear someone else make one.


Who am I? / Why am I writing this?
I am a survivor of rape and relationship abuse. I took a medical leave from college in spring 2008, my senior spring, for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). A year and a half later, I returned to classes, and now I am finally starting to move on with my life. Part of the healing process for me involves researching and writing about sexual assault, so this blog will focus on issues related to sexual violence and PTSD.

What will you find here?
There will be several types of posts, and I have tried to tag them accordingly:
  • Resources I have found helpful in my healing-- mainly websites and books. These will be tagged "sa resources." 
  • Emotional art that has touched me, including but certainly not limited to songs, stories, and movies. (Some are uplifting and empowering; others are heartstring-tugging and sad. I will try to describe them so you know what you're getting into.) These posts will be tagged "emotional media."
  • Issues and thoughts related to rape/sexual assault, PTSD, and abusive relationships/domestic violence.
  • My story, and the stories of other survivors who have given me permission to post them.
  • Questions to you, the readers. I would love to hear your opinions, suggestions, and thoughts.

I will try to keep my blog as sensitive as possible to the needs of survivors. However, I cannot promise that nothing here will trigger you. I am truly sorry if something does, and I hope you take gentle care of yourself.

While I am writing this blog partly for myself, I also want this to be a helpful resource for other survivors, even if just to know they are not alone. Many of my posts will be personal; this is not meant to make you compare stories or somehow feel alienated or invalidated. During my healing process, I found it useful to read personal accounts of other survivors, to see the similarities between our stories, and to know that I was not alone.

Thank you for reading. I would love to hear comments from you to know you are out there. :)

(Edited 10/2/09)