Content Warning: Long ramble & discussion of sexual violence, disclosure & violence. I talk a bit about my own experience, I name it, so just please do take care <3
Tonight is TakeBack the Night 2016. This event has been & remains still one of the most powerful & hardest days of the year for me and so many other survivors I know for so many reasons. A few years ago I wrote this for TBTN & I think it’s worth holding on to some of these thoughts as the issues change and yet stay the same.
I also want to take a moment to be a bit vulnerable here & acknowledge Feminism’s complicity in perpetuating harm in our communities. I want to acknowledge that so often trans feminine voices, indigenous people, non-binary folks, sex workers, HIV positive folks, queer people, migrant folks, racialized people, and other marginalized people are excluded, trivialized and isolated from these spaces. That while patriarchy & systems of oppression require the active erasure of these bodies and identities, Feminism should not. This is NOT what my feminism & anti-violence work is about & it is something we all need to reflect & deconstruct.
You know, I have a hard time telling my story.
I was 20 then.. I’m 29 now. Some things don’t change. But I know that I have.
It doesn’t necessarily get easier, but I think you get stronger.
I’m always caught between a moment of ‘is it relevant?’ to ‘I’m not a victim & I don’t want to be silent or silenced’. Other times I think to myself, I wish people would care about sexual assault and rape regardless of whether or not I decide to share my story.
It shouldn’t take any more sexual assaults or rapes for people to listen, to become engaged, and to do something about this.
But I also think and know deep down in my heart that there is something so powerful and energizing when survivors come forward and tell their stories of resilience, reclamation and survival.
After all- this is what today is about.
Late one night, when I was in my first year at Carleton University, I was walking to my car after class, which was located in one of the furthest lots, and there I was raped by three men.
There I said it. It’s not the first time that I say this but it doesn’t mean that it gets any easier. For me, everyday feels like that day, in some small irrelevant way.
Like when I see a car that resembles the one from that night, or when I smell cologne that reminds me of that night. When I walk in the tunnels at school, or along the safe path that never feels safe to me. When people say rape jokes and think they are funny. When young men carry signs on campus telling parents to drop off their daughters. When people tell me that rape and sexual assault is not an issue on our campuses. When hard working and passionate students, faculty and professors are shut down for taking a stand against sexual violence. When people rip down posters for the sexual assault support line. When the waitlists in health & counselling are so long to get support. When nobody steps in to intervene when they witness moments of rape culture. When people tell survivors that their stories are not even believable.
Because.. “Who would want to rape someone like you?”
These are my daily reminders. And I know I’m not alone in this even if I can’t quite convey the enormity of that night, or this epidemic.
Sexual violence does not just happen at night. It does not just happen when a stranger decides that he wants to harass or attack women. It happens in our homes, in our friendships and relationships, in our communities and on our campuses.
It happens when we feel like our voices and our bodies don’t matter.
It happens when we exist and live within a system that is deeply rooted in rape culture. A culture that normalizes and trivializes sexual violence. A culture that blames survivors for their choices and supports rapists.
A culture in which most rapes are never reported, because victims know they’re likely to be ridiculed, dismissed, and/or raked over the coals by everyone from law enforcement to their own families, supports rapists.
A culture in which a small fraction of reported rapes are ever prosecuted, and of those that are, a much smaller fraction result in a conviction, supports rapists.
A culture where there are unlikely to be any real social consequences. For as much as we claim to deplore rape and rapists, when it comes down to it, from U of Cambridge to Jian Ghomeshi, from Amanda Todd to Rehtaeh Parsons, from Ray Rice to the University of Ottawa Hockey Team, we too often rally to defend men credibly accused of rape, dismiss the existence of rape culture, and to tear down survivors as vindictive liars, ‘crazies’, and ‘sluts’.
Gender-based violence is certainly not a new issue. Rape is everywhere today. I mean, 20-25% of university-aged women will experience sexual assault at some point in their academic careers. And 80% of sexual assault happens by someone known to the victim.
These statistics are people’s lives, and they are trying to tell us something.
Because so many of us have our own daily reminders.
As a movement to end gender based violence and rape culture we need to focus on what rape culture means for survivors and the rest of us who need to become engaged in preventing this. We need to start speaking more loudly about the fact that a rape culture and gender based violence is not just an unjust culture for survivors; it is an unsafe one for everyone.
Do we really want to live in that world?
We need to see that rape culture hurts all of us and that ending it has the possibility to empower us. We must build & work together to do this. We need to hold each other & our communities accountable because hope and transformative change rests on community.
Community which requires critical awareness of the work we must all continually do to undermine everything we’ve ever learned that leads us to behave in ways that keeps gender-based violence & rape culture alive.
We all have the power to change this- not just empowerment but real power.