The Important Conversation

I have, like many of you, followed the Brock Turner case from the moment the victim’s statement was published by BuzzFeed.  This case has created intense feelings for me, just as it has for many of you.  My grandmother used the phrase, “I’m so mad I could just spit!” on occasion and it was always one of those quirky sentences that sounded funny, but I couldn’t quite picture.

Well, I can picture it now.

I am so mad I could spit.  I am so mad I could spit, throw, yell, punch, kick, and cry.  I’m willing to bet you feel the same way, too.

Ashleigh Benfield, an anchor for CNN, took the time to read the victim’s entire statement live on air.  She allowed every emotion she felt to be put on display.  Did you see her segment?  Have you read the statement yourself?  I hope so.  We live in a world where women are sexualized, are seen as property, are seen as things instead of people; instead of human beings.  We live in a country where now more than ever, extreme importance is placed on equality and justice.  And still, if a girl is assaulted, somehow it’s her fault.  What was she wearing?  How many drinks did she have?  Was she behaving in a certain manner?  And if you found yourself asking those questions after hearing about this case, you are the problem with society.

If a girl wears a short skirt, she is confident.  If a girl has two margaritas, she is having fun.  If a girl dances, she is enjoying herself.

She is not inviting you to accost her verbally or physically.  She is not inviting you to touch her inappropriately.  She is not inviting you to rape her.  She should not wake up behind a dumpster with her dress pulled over her head, missing underwear and a swollen vagina.  She should wake up in her bed, probably not feeling the best, but not wondering what happened to her.

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While I cannot fully comprehend the victim’s pain, I am so very thankful for her willingness to speak up.  Many victims do not.  There is a stigma of shame and embarrassment for victims of assault and rape.  You somehow believe it was your fault.  You’d rather not talk about it; you’d rather not be forced to relive the events again and again, through discussion.

But we cannot remain silent; the silence will destroy you.  You will spend too many hours hating yourself for harboring this secret.  You will spend too many days wondering why you didn’t say something; why you didn’t speak up, act out, do something – anything.  You will spend months shoving these thoughts and feelings into a box in the back of your brain – “compartmentalizing”, your therapist will say.  You will spend years allowing this to affect your life, your love, your relationships, in a way that prevents you from being your full, complete and wonderful (yes – WONDERFUL) self.  Remaining silent, you will spend an actual lifetime in pain.

One in six American women is the victim of sexual assault.  Let me repeat that figure: one in six.  Do you know six women?  One of them has been the victim of sexual assault.  Think you don’t know someone who has been assaulted?  Well, you know me.

Of women victims, 44% are under the age of 18.  Again, let’s repeat: 44% are under the age of 18.  This means that nearly half of female victims are minors – children.  Of that group, 93% of victims knew their attacker.  That bears repeating, right?  NINETY-THREE PERCENT.

I am a victim who meets all above criteria, and while my experience was nowhere near as traumatic as the victim in the Brock Turner case, here’s what you should know: the experience, regardless of what specifically occurs, is still traumatizing.

I waited 15 years to share my hurt, my pain, and my eventual forgiveness, which I first shared here.  Talking about it has brought a level of healing that I didn’t know could exist.  Forgiveness is for me, and nothing else holds the same healing ability as that one simple word.  I have shared how God’s grace has worked in my life here, and this has been the turning point for me in both my life and my faith.  Being open and honest about my experience has not only helped me, it has helped others.  I have been a listening ear and supporter for others who have been through hell.  By coming out of hiding, I have encouraged others to do the same.  There are many of us; it is time to band together not only to heal, but to educate.

What I have learned through my experience is this: not only do victims not want to talk about it, neither do other people.  Talking about assault, about rape, makes people uncomfortable, and makes them feel awkward.  I am telling you, it’s time to get over it.  It is not an awkward conversation.  It is not an uncomfortable conversation. It is an important conversation.

Assault happens every day.  Rape happens every day.  The only way to stop this is to talk about it; to educate, to understand, to encourage and build each other up.  If someone comes to you with their story, please listen.  Please engage.  Please be the rock and support they’re seeking.  I have been so very blessed with a husband and friends who have listened, who have talked, who have loved.  It is crucial to the healing process. 

We need to have the important discussion.  You need to know that if someone uses words that are inappropriate, that are rude, that are hurtful, it’s assault.  You need to know that if someone touches you in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable, it is assault.  You need to know that if someone forces themselves upon you, whether or not they complete the act, it is rape.  And you must, must, must say something to someone. 

We need to teach our children from a very early age that their bodies are theirs, and that they are the granters of permission for touch.  If you try to hug my son, and he refuses, respect that choice.  Do not make a child feel guilty or shamed because they don’t want to hug you; this creates the mindset of, “Well, Uncle Joe is my family, and he loves me, and even though this doesn’t feel right surely he would never do anything to hurt me.”  That is not only wrong thinking, it’s dangerous thinking.  My children, from a very young age, have had the power, permission and encouragement to say NO.  My children know who is allowed to touch them, they know where and how it’s okay to be touched, and they know that if anyone ever does anything differently, even if it’s someone they know and love, and that touch makes them feel bad in any way, they are to tell us immediately.  If we aren’t there, they know who else to talk to.  Children must know that it’s not only strangers we are watchful of; sometimes the devil you know is worse than the devil you don’t.  Education and empowerment is critical.

We need to stop thinking that any adult is “asking for it.”  Boys, men, adults, you need to realize that if a girl does not consent, it’s the same as saying NO.  If a girl does not agree, does not willingly participate, it is assault; it is rape.  A victim should be able to go to a guidance counselor, law enforcement, a friend, and say she has been assaulted, without fear of the first question being, “Well, how much did you have to drink?” because it doesn’t matter.  There is never an invitation for sexual violence.

Because most attackers are male, we need to teach our boys what consent not only sounds like, but what it looks and feels like.  We teach our sons from an early age that we must ask to hug, to kiss, to hold hands.  It doesn’t mean my child will always ask, but it means he’s learning that if he can say no to someone, then someone can say no to him, and that’s okay.  If we teach this value now, it will become a normal behavior.  He will know and understand what it is to be loved and respected, and he will share that with others.  He will know that we never, ever, ever take advantage of another person in any situation, especially when it comes to touch.  We must raise boys who value, respect and love others, who know the worth of others, who not only honor others but seek to protect them as well.

We need to be comfortable with “see something, say something.”  This is the only reason Brock Turner was arrested.  If you see something, do not remain silent.  Offer help.  Call the police.  Do something.  Teach your children the same, so that if Susie’s dad says or does something that seems wrong, they will tell you.  You could be the reason a child or person is saved from assault.  Always, always, always say something.

And finally, we need to support each other and love each other.  I think that goes without saying; I think that should be common sense, ingrained deep in our personalities and hearts, to just be good people, but our own human tendency to judge can come through.  Let’s not do that; let’s not judge.  Let’s love.  Let’s be there for each other.  Let’s encourage, build up, strengthen.  Let’s educate.  Then, together, let’s demand justice.

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