Yesterday I posted this meme on social media: “We talk about how many women were raped last year, not how many men raped women…use of the passive voice has a political effect…the term ‘violence against women’ [has] no active agent in the sentence…Men aren’t even part of it!” One friend’s response to this meme (“Wow. Yes.”) is both appropriate and yet epically insufficient to deal with the problem at hand. It inspired me to model how to respond with a more empowered perspective. For starters, from now on I reject the passively constructed phrase, “violence against women,” in favor of, “violence perpetrated by men.” It is far more accurate in placing responsibility where it actually lies. I am also calling out and calling on people who enable violence through their silence about incidents of abuse and lack of response to cries for help from survivors.
The truth of this critical mass #MeToo moment, ten years in the making since it was first coined by black feminist activist Turana Burke, is that sexual trauma survivors need your support, not your shock, bewilderment, dismay, disgust, or disbelief. We didn’t rape or sexually harass ourselves and sure as hell can’t fix it alone. Why is it that ALL my recovery has been facilitated by paid professionals and organized groups of sexual trauma survivors doing the same damn work as me? Why is the healing equation perpetually reduced to me and people with the same wounds struggling in parallel pain to get through another day without losing our fucking minds or setting the world on fire? Repercussions of sexual trauma are long term, painfully real, and typically lead to delegitimizing survivors and protecting offenders. It’s time to stop with the silencing and complicity. I’m here to call out the people who apparently don’t give a damn.
Let’s take a look at some statistics, shall we? According to RAINN.org, every 98 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted and every 8 minutes that victim is a child; that makes 807,900 people per year including 60,000 children. These statistics do not account for underreporting and do not include sexual harassment, which typically precedes assault and can be equally as shattering. I’m not even trying to grapple with international statistics at this point. Ask me for a longer paper on this topic if you really care.
In terms of personal statistics reflecting patterns of public concern for this issue, 64 people (all but 4 of whom are women) out of 412 Facebook “friends” have acknowledged my #MeToo posts; 7 of those people wrote me personal messages in the form of Facebook replies. This is the only form of support spontaneously expressed by anyone in my life after I publically attested to 18 years of incest. No emails, no phone calls. Nada but a handful of Facebook replies. Stop and think about that for a moment. Put yourself in my shoes and the shoes of all survivors baring their souls on the internet and consider how it feels to be thumbs upped right now. Not quite good enough, huh?
While I do not expect everyone on earth to respond to my social media posts, what I see is a statistically maddening number of people who continue to willfully ignore the reality smashing us all over the head like a broken champagne bottle christening a sinking ship. Following a blitz of press coverage on Harvey Weinsten and a robust #MeToo campaign, I highlighted women’s experience of sexual violation, shared my own story, and posted relevant resources, but 84% of you say: NOTHING.
I triple-counted the reactions to every one of my posts and double-checked my statistical calculations for that pathetic rate of response, but it is frankly unsuprising to me. That’s pretty much par for the course for most survivors’ experience of and recovery from sexual trauma. What’s different this time is that an outpouring of collective pain is undeniably on the news and all over your social media feeds and you are consciously choosing to ignore it. Are you silent because it makes you feels safer? 90% of rape victims are female and 1/6 American women will experience attempted or completed rape in her lifetime. Are you silent because, after all, if you do the math, we’re officially talking about only 88 out of every 100,000 in the U.S.? Statistical error due to undercount aside, whatever the reasons, the continuing radio silence by non-survivors in general and men in specific is predictable, despicable, and has to change immediately.
We desperately need a collective acknowledgment of how survivors are not the one’s violating themselves and an immediate committment from ALL men to systematically dismantle the patriarchy that encourages such rampant abuse.
“Wow. Yes.” AND more men need to be publicly speaking up to express their solidarity and privately reaching out to the women in their lives. Only one man in my life, a distant cousin, has written a message of support. Precisely three male friends have acknowledged any of my #MeToo posts. The rest of the people who deign to see my pain are women, the vast majority of whom are also sexual trauma survivors. I am hurt, disgusted, and ineffably disillusioned by this lack of concern for our well-being.
The absence of support for recovering from sexual assault is pervasive. Personally, since I started having flashbacks in 2010, I have received important but insufficient interpersonal support to deal with the agonizing process of healing, hardly any of it from men. My step-father and a second-cousin, along with my mom and former other-mother, contributed financially but rarely ask how I am doing. My uncle periodically calls to check in and say, “You sound incredibly sane,” although though he can never bring himself to acknowledge my experience beyond, “Your Dad was always really good to me.” Two not-that-close male relatives previously expressed limited support, motivated by watching their wife/mother self-destruct from her own sexual abuse experience. Two male and five female second cousins (all the women all survivors themselves), gave me Facebook thumbs up for my #MeToo posts, and I’ve had limited conversations with three of those women and one other cousin over the years. Beyond that, bupkis from my kin. My story is not exceptional in how family is typically the first and biggest forum for silencing surviors.
As far as dating, friendships, and colleagues, three men held me as I cried in bed, but two of them also sexualized me in ways that caused new wounds. Two male friends offered major support during trauma-induced crises, but one of them sexualizes me and other women in ways that make us uncomfortable. One male friend consistently offers kindness and a well-timed invitation to a holiday dinner, but we never talk about my experience. A tiny handful of never-been-raped-but-have-been-sexually-harassed female friends have held their phones while I wept on the other end of the line. At least one old friend ghosted after a single weeping session; apparently my pain it was too much for her to bear. Two female colleagues have acknowledged my #MeToo story. Too many friends have shared their own.
So what does it actually take to heal from sexual abuse and how do men step up to help? In my case, among two-dozen well-paid professionals, only two male practitioners have made any serious contribution. (I don’t count as supportive the gynecologist who, while initially empathetic during consultation, disregarded my wishes during surgergy, causing more trauma, pain, and shame than the medical condition he was treating.) I’d venture to say that so few men contribute to my, and other women’s healing, because the majority of them don’t offer services that would be helpful to survivors. Why is that? It’s an important pattern to examine.
There are men who actively harm women and don’t care what impact their actions have on others. I hereby banish these men to the dark pit of an abandoned mine where they can masturbate to their hearts’ content among the cold rocks, but without the accompaniment of any actual or imagined images of sexually objectified women and children.
Right now there are also many men examining their guilty consciences, reflecting back on times when they may have personally crossed the line or enabled the abusive behavior of peers. The second group can take time to deal with their own shit, but are required to report for duty within thirteen months or they can join the men in the rock pit for some self-pitying mental masturbation.
Then there are the men capable of empathizing, yet the majority have yet to be proactive in doing anything about the screaming suffering unfolding in front of them. I am only engaging with this last group of men, the one’s who might, maybe, potentially give a shit, but don’t know exactly what to feel, say or do. Guess what? Neither do I or any of my survivor friends. We simply do the best we can, every single fucking day. We are willing to heal, so we try, and it does improve, even if only step-by-infenitisemally-tiny-step.
It gets better. It really does. I am living proof of that. I rarely wake up anymore in a cold sweat from that decades old recurrent nightmare in which the axe murder sneaks into my bedroom and hacks me to bits. I haven’t cried myself to smithereens and hidden in the closet in almost a year. It’s been six months since the last time I was suicidal. Solid sleep is still hard to get, especially lately, and I rely on daily doses of anxiety pills, muscle relaxants, and more often than not sleep aides. It gets better, but it sure as fuck ain’t easy.
If you are not taking action to support the women in your life because the outpouring of #MeToo makes you uncomfortable: Get over it. I’ve been far more than uncomfortable for my entire life. If you are not looking farther than your own wives/girlfriends/partners/sisters/mothers/daughters, then I ask you to examine your own cowardice and lack of generosity. What about your exes/friends/colleagues/neighbors? What about all the women who you’ve never met but are systematically exploited even as you benefit from a patriarchal political-economic system that continues to put large segments of our population at risk (women, children, LGTBQIA folx, black and brown men, immigrants, etc. ad nauseum). It’s high time that you put on your big boy pants and dealt with those uncomfortable things called feelings. The rest of us are literally dying over here and we really could use your help.
For those who feel compassion but don’t know what to say, how about, “I’m so sorry that happened to you. I believe you. Is there anything I can do to help? Do you have the sexual assault hotline number?” (800-656-4673). Then offer to be an emergency contact (“call me whenever you need someone to talk to”), or drive a #Metoo-er to therapy, pay for a therapy or healing session, or send a gift certificate for a massage or a nice meal, which s/he probably can’t afford too often because of always paying for therapy and healing sessions.
My bill for therapy and said heading sessions?, you might wonder. Enough to be one of the reasons I’m filing for bankruptcy, but it was worth every penny because I’m still here to write this. The other major reason I’m filing for bankruptcy is crippling legal debt from divorcing a violent man who I never would have married if I hadn’t been trained to accept abuse since infancy. I am only one of many survivors whose psyche, intimate relationships, and personal finances have imploded while recovering from sexual and domestic violence.
It’s time for everyone, not just me and my bad-ass survivor friends, to saddle up and fix this. Right now. Because if you do nothing and then find out about another incident that happened on your watch, guess who’s culpable? That’s right. Everyone who has the potential to take action, but didn’t. If you speak up, speak out, and offer support right now, maybe women in your orbit will feel a little bit safer knowing that you are there. Warn her about the guys with drifting hands, sexist locker room jokes, and questionable dating histories. Challenge the aforementioned dudes about their own shitty behavior. Examine your own unearned privilege and actively redistribute some of it to people who need a hand.
Reality checks like #Metoo are difficult and painful for all of us, but those of us dealing with these issues for decades are especially exhausted. We would appreciate the support of folks who aren’t already so traumatized that we keep dropping each other in times of crisis. Time to saddle up and pick up the damn phone or even your checkbooks, y’all. RAINN is a worthy charity and I know at least a dozen survivor friends who need money for groceries at the end of the month. We can do better than this. Maybe I’m ridiculous in my optimism, but I have infinite faith and sheer knowingness that we can face this together to effect lasting social and psychic transformation. Wishing us all peace, love, and collective healing.