July 12, 2010

Daughters and the Female Experience

At thirteen, I found myself one evening marching in a "Take Back the Night" rally, megaphone in hand and leading a horde of chanting women through the University of Michigan campus.

I've been thinking about that experience a lot the past few days.

This is an unsafe world.  There are so many dangers we can protect ourselves from, and so many we can protect our children from, but not all.  Not nearly all.

That rally was misguided.  The idea was to protest rape and sexual abuse, but most rapes and sexual abuse don't occur in the dark on the streets.  They happen in homes, in dorms, in cars... they aren't perpetrated by faceless strangers.  Sometimes, yes they are.  But mostly it's someone you know.  Someone you trust.  Or at least someone that someone you trust knows and trusts.

I have a dear friend who joined the military.  When she told me she was enlisting, I fought myself against screaming at her to run away- that it's a boy's club and women in uniform are not safe.  That was more than two years ago, and last week I learned that my deepest fears for her had come true.

She's a fucking rock star.  She's come out of all of this horror even stronger and braver and somehow perhaps better than she went into it, but that doesn't mean I would have wished it upon her in a million years.  That doesn't mean it ever should have happened.  And as I've thought over and over of all the things I wished I had said, or wished I had done, I've been dwelling fairly constantly on this one subject: Rape is ubiquitous, and I have two daughters.

The number of women in the United States who report being raped is astronomical.  The current estimate is one out of six women, but again those are the REPORTS.  Most women don't report being assaulted.  Because most women know their assailants.  Despite the raising rate of reporting rapes, despite the laws changing more and more to protect the victim, only about six percent of all rapists ever spend a day in jail.  Leaving them free to assault more women.

My friend is amazing.  Despite all the fear, all the pain, and all the baggage that comes with being assaulted, she came out.  I call it coming out because most victims don't.  For most victims, it's a horrid secret they carry with them, never letting any of their friends or family share their pain.  And one out of six women is a lot of women that you KNOW... and do you know if any of them are the one?

I've been dwelling fairly constantly on this one subject: Rape is ubiquitous, and I have two daughters.

Her decision to come out, to OWN her pain and to make something of it, has inspired me.  So I am coming out.  Yes, I am a coward.  I've timed my "coming out" to avoid a few really awkward possible confrontations with people I love, who I do not want to see hurt by what happened to me.  But more than that, I want to come out so that someday my daughters will know that it's safe to speak up.

It's safe to stand outside in the streets with a megaphone, screaming to the world what happened to you and for somebody to make it stop.

When I was fourteen I went to a New Year's party, and an older boy from one of my classes force fed me alcohol until I couldn't see or think.  He took me to a closet, raped me, and told one of his friends to bring me home.  I tried to convince myself that I had been acting on my own steam, that I was a reckless and fast girl, and that I had done only what I'd wanted to do.  Five days later I tried to kill myself, and very nearly succeeded.  While I eventually told my parents what I'd done to myself, I don't believe I ever told them what had been done to me.

When I was twenty I was trying to break up with a guy I had decided was dangerous and insane.  It was again the middle of winter, and he'd been kicked out of his apartment and into his car that day.  Against my better judgment, I let him come home with me instead of staying out in the cold.  He terrorized me all night, for seven hours alternating between shouting at me, threatening to kill himself, and trying to have sex with me.  After seven hours, I completely gave up.  After he left I spent three days without leaving my bed, even to eat.  The worst part was that I thought I really should have known better that time.  That I really should have been able to save myself.

Reporting it to the police was even worse.  Despite our modern ideas of fault and blame, the detectives essentially told me that I'd been asking for it, that there was nothing they could legally do, but that they'd tell him to leave me alone.  Not that it helped in the slightest.

And now I have daughters.  Now I've brought into the world another two girls, who will grow up and be vulnerable to the evils of humanity.  And I have no idea how to protect them.  I don't want them to fear the world, I don't want them to avoid love and sex and relationships, but I want them to be safe.  I never want them to feel used and afraid and violated.  And that is completely beyond my power.

Of course I'll talk to them.  Of course I'll let them know that they never have to say "yes," that they never have to do ANYTHING sexual that they don't want to do, but that just isn't enough.  I want them to know if something is done to them, that it is a crime and that whoever did it will be punished.  But that just isn't always true.  I want them to live in a world where they are fundamentally safe.

That is not this world.

So in short, there is no solution.  But I am coming out- I was raped and it was not my fault.  I am terrified at the thought of talking about it with my family, but I hope to God I can get over it someday and have this conversation with my daughters.  I hope I can tell them what happened to me, and they will know that even though I can't protect them from everything that I trust them, and I love them.

And I want so badly, with such heart rending violence, for them to be safe.


  1. Thank you for sharing this and being strong so other women and girls can be strong too!

  2. When I went to a Take Back the Night rally, it was not misguided. Those women (and men) were talking about, owning up to, and screaming against their own experiences, not a faceless theoretical.

    The world is not safe. But I am not afraid to work in boy's clubs. I am not ashamed of past assaults. I am too powerful to be stopped by memories.

    You are a strong woman, and your daughters will be strong.

  3. I want to post from this profile using this blog.

    I am proud of you. You are amazing and strong and beautiful, and I love you with everything I have. Your daughters will love you for your strength, and they will benefit from it greatly.

    You have inspired me to create and keep this blog. To share my experiences in hopes of inspiring others to share theirs, because then not one of us is alone anymore.

    Anyone who wants to share my experience, feel free to check out my blog. I just started it, but the more people read, the more inspired I will be to continue writing, and hopefully the more women I can inspire to shake off their fear.

    Supermommy, you're the bomb. :)

  4. I really appreciated your compassionate, thoughtful words, it is terrifying bringing girls into this world where violence toward women is very much alive despite so much hard work. I feel for your friend in the military, I've heard so many similar experiences from women serving abroad. Best of luck to you and your little ones, Supermommy is the perfect moniker for you!
    With gratitude :)

  5. you never fail to tug my heart strings Lea darling. It is so hard for me to hear these things as a man. It fills me with a cold rage. I wish so deeply that these things would never occur... or that I could do something to prevent it... or to bring these men to justice.

    What happened to your friend in the military makes me ill. The guy who did that should be stripped of his rank, his nuts and then he should be discharged.

  6. This is an incredibly brave post. As a mother of all boys, I will need to teach them respect and caring for women, and I will use your experience as a guide. Thank you for helping me see that and for being brave enough to share this with the world.

  7. This took so much courage. I wish the world were a better place.

  8. Have you ever heard of Darkness to Light? It's an amazing organization dedicated to empowering people to prevent child sexual abuse. The facilitators teach people steps they can take to prevent, recognize and respond to sexual abuse. I was required to be trained in D2L as a teacher in SC, but I think it's a training that EVERYONE should take.




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