This Caged Bird Sings

Columbus 12This is angry, bitter, raw. It deserves none of the finesse and crafting of my usual posts.

There is a great divide between men and women. Women live  life thinking about our surroundings and constantly assessing our safety. Walking at night is too risky. Passing construction sites garners catcalls. What do we have on hand other than the keys already between our fingers that is a potential weapon? There’s a man staring at me, potential attacker. What’s that sound behind eye? What just came into my peripheral vision.

There are self-defense classes just for women. Not self-defense. Self-defense FOR WOMEN. Because we are the targets and it’s not enough to take a self-defense class.

Reports of rape, sexual assault, and sexual harassment aren’t taken seriously by the general public. She was asking for it. Her lips said no, but her eyes said yes. Look at what she was wearing. She’s had so many sexual partners she’s just saying she was raped because she was spurned.

You can deny this happens all you want. You can be uncomfortable because men cannot keep their hands and other body parts  to themselves, groping, ripping, tearing, and invading our bodies.

YOU SHOULD BE UNCOMFORTABLE.

Women are not safe because men cannot take responsibility for themselves. They must blame us because that’s the manly thing to do.

I was sexually assaulted in college by an athlete I met in the first week of school. He found a way into a LOCKED all-female dorm after-hours. He made his way into my room, which I had left unlocked because my roommate was out of town and I had a habit of waking up to use the bathroom and locking myself out. When he left my room, I went to a neighbor’s room because I heard the TV on. He was in there with her. He didn’t see me, but she came out to talk to me. She didn’t believe me when I told her because he hadn’t touched her. Because she didn’t believe me I didn’t tell anyone for months. And because I left my room unlocked I beat myself up day after day for being so careless. Never mind the fact that he never should have been able to get inside the dorm period. No, I blamed myself because I should have known better. And it wasn’t walking around by myself at night. It was being in my room. Alone. I spent a lot of time out of my room. A lot.

Years later when the nightmares finally left me alone, I was stalked by a fellow psych major. We were in several classes together and he wound up with my number because we had group project together with other students. He called multiple times a day. I startled every time  the phone rang and started screening my calls. When one of my uncles discovered what was going on, he wanted to break my stalker’s arms and legs. While the idea was nice, it wasn’t worth it. One of my classes was easy to steer away from him because it was the big lecture room in Gartley Hall. The other class wasn’t so easy. It was a seminar class with only a handful of students and a large table we all sat around. I would purposefully arrive late to choose a seat away from him. Mind you, I told him more than once that I wasn’t interested in him and to leave me alone and he wouldn’t. It didn’t take long for the nightmares to return. This time of my assailant and my stalker working together.

It is a huge problem when you fear a stalker who drives you to keep your keys between your fingers while walking to classes in BROAD DAYLIGHT. It wasn’t a far stretch for me to wield my umbrella like a weapon in my other hand either.

These two events left scars that still run deep. The last time we were home for a visit, KFVE ran a replay of a game from those days in college and while I was excited to watch a our team decimate BYU, the announcer saying my assailants name drove me back into that time full of fear, nightmares, and distancing myself from relationships. Women cannot come out on the other side of this without those scars. They affect our relationships with everyone.  They are long-reaching scars and no one is immune to them. No one.

But that was back in college you say?

Early on in my career in mental health a client sexually assaulted me. We had a saying, if it isn’t documented it didn’t happen. This particular client was prone to making graphic sexual threats towards women, especially when we had to physically restrain him. It would have been so easy to brush off what happened the night he assaulted me. To half-ass my paperwork and gone home to sleep it off. I stayed until the wee hours of the morning DETAILING what he did. What I did. What he said. How he struggled after punching me in the face and I had him in a physical restraint. How he was grabbing for me between my legs in the struggle and I had to keep readjusting so he couldn’t. How we wound up on his bed with him on top and back to me finally able to to not just grope me, but grab a hold and squeeze. How help finally arrived and took over so I could get away from him. By the time I returned to work the next day, everyone knew what happened. Almost every single female co-worker told me, “He did that to me, too.” I couldn’t believe it. If he had done that so many women, he shouldn’t have been in our facility. I went back to his chart and sure enough, no one documented being sexually assaulted by him. Why? Fear? Embarrassment? I’ll never know. But I know my sexual assault could have been prevented if just one of the women had reported it with their documentation.

Are you still uncomfortable?

I hope so. Because this happens every day to us. If it can happen to me, it can happen to you, your sister, your daughter, your mother.

Does your discomfort make you want to yell at me and tell me I’m wrong, not all men are like that, who do I think I am spouting all this? Do you want to tell me to just shut up and deal with it? You have no right to say those things because you haven’t lived it. You have a responsibility to make change so our daughters can live in world where they live without fear of being snatched, groped, assaulted, and raped.

I won’t ever shut up.

We women have a collective story to tell. Maya Angelou, who passed away this week, taught me that every story we have to tell is valid no matter how taboo society may deem it.

This caged bird will sing loud and long until change happens.

 

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21 comments

  1. Wow Debi, that was powerfully writen. I am sorry to hear you had to live through that. One of the cementing factors in moving my family back to California to be near family and friends is while I was in California, interviewing for work, the mom next door was raped at 9 am on a Friday. All I could think about and be fearful of was the safety of my wife and daughter.

    What I have seen as a major problem from a male perspective is the absence of the American father. Boys from my generation, it was rare to have a father involved. I do not want to have that fornmy daughter. I want my daughter to learn from my example of how I treat my wife to be the example of how a woman should be treated.

    Keep up the great writing, telling your story. The more confident women can be in bringing stories like these to the forefront, the more likely the ability to create change. I have never understood the lack of justice for women in cases like yours. To me, a sexual assault is worse than murder from the standpoint of the victim still has to live with the details of the attack.

  2. It hurts my heart to know everything you’ve been through, Debi. 😦 I’m so sorry. You are brave; thank you for being vulnerable and sharing with us. I can’t even begin to imagine what you’ve been through, and the trauma that still lingers from it. (((Hugs)))

    “You have a responsibility to make change so our daughters can live in world where they live without fear of being snatched, groped, assaulted, and raped.” I couldn’t agree more with you. It takes courage to come forward… and I think we have to teach our daughters that specific type of courage early on. They NEED to know that type of behavior isn’t AT ALL acceptable, and we need to do whatever we can in our power to shout out about it until we feel safe.

    There was a man who worked in the meat dept. of our local grocery store that tried intimidating me every time I came in (he was a large guy, easily over 200lbs, and I’m fairly small). I complained to the store managers, who of course were male and did nothing about it. Finally that same man intimidated me and used threatening behavior while I had the girls with me. He did nothing “technically wrong (from the store’s perspective)” since he didn’t touch us or use words but made it known by coming into our personal space that we SHOULD be scared of him. I had security escort us to our car. The momma bear in me lost it. The store still refused to do anything – until I paid a visit to our local trooper station, with the girls in tow. Fortunately I met with a trooper who realized I was very scared (I was asking about restraining orders). He called the store, and paid a little visit to the troublemaker. The store still didn’t fire the guy (even though I’m sure they had all the fire power they needed to on camera… body language speaks volumes), but transferred him to another store, which ironically is right next door to the trooper station. Thankfully, I haven’t seen the guy since. It’s sad when other men view threatening behavior and intimidation towards women as socially acceptable. I just don’t get why it’s tolerated!! Lots of love to you today!!
    xoxo,
    M

    PS- I finished reading by shouting a good and sturdy, “Amen, sister!!!”

    • Thanks, Megan. I know I shared about the first sexual assault before, but it’s been a while. I think with everything that happened this week capped off by a conversation with friends last night I was pretty irate.

      We can teach the next generation of girls how to deal with this, but more importantly, the boys need to be taught that it is NOT okay. I just shared something on my personal Facebook page that ties into this post from an author I follow on Twitter. I think you’ll shout another “AMEN!” after reading it.

      It really sucks when you are ignored like that. I’m glad you made the decision to go the trooper station. What that man did was absolutely wrong and you did the right thing.

      XO

  3. I almost didn’t leave a comment because I’m male (feared how it would be received,) but I consider you to be my friend, and your words made me a little misty, and I like to think I’m not a complete coward, so here goes: I’m so sorry you had to go through all that, Debi. It makes me ashamed of my entire gender. I can actually relate in a way, from some things when I was growing up. I know it’s not the same, but I do remember what it felt like to be weaker and smaller and powerless. Healing vibes headed your way, my friend! I hope you have a Aloha awakea!

    • I am glad you left a comment because we are friends. I was trying to explain to another male friend yesterday about how this is different from him fearing walking a bad neighborhood at night in a place where he used to live. The best way I found to explain in in my case, I didn’t really feel safe anywhere unless I was with friends I trusted completely. Thank you for the well wishes. 😀

  4. I agree wholeheartedly with your message that no one has the right to tell someone to “shut up” when they are standing tall, telling their story, and saying “no more”. Violence against women is rampant and the blame-the-victim mentality is still there, despite awareness campaigns, activism and the strong voices of caged-birds-no-more. And while I agree that abusers are not taking responsibility for themselves, I do not share the opinion that “men cannot take responsibility for themselves” or any other “all men” statement. In my experience their are healthy men – husbands, fathers and survivors themselves – who are standing by our side singing and fighting for change too.

    • I never said “all men”. While there are men out there who can take responsibility for their actions and who understand the issue, the fact is that men do not know the same fear we do. They can empathize with us, but without truly living it, they cannot sympathize. They are two different things. This is where the issue gets jumbled and people shout, “NOT ALL MEN ARE LIKE THAT!” then lines are divided and everyone wants to argue. It takes the focus off the fact that women live in fear all day, every day in varying degrees. Some are crippled by their fear. Some barely functional. Some able to manage with help. And some who carry on as if it isn’t there, knowing it’s right there no matter how much they pretend it’s not.

  5. I was referring to these statements: “You can be uncomfortable because men cannot keep their hands and other body parts to themselves…” and “Women are not safe because men cannot take responsibility for themselves. They must blame us because that’s the manly thing to do.” Those sounded like generalizations about men not about abusers/rapists. It is generalizations and lines like “you have no right to say those things because you haven’t lived it” that I think adds to the issue becoming jumbled and lines to be drawn. Violence will affect each of us differently, shouldn’t it be about us trying to come together and supporting each other however we can? Do we want men to “fear how it will be received” (as per the comment by William) when they want to add their voice towards change? Do we want women who have not been violated, to feel like they can’t stand beside those who have? In the fight against violence, we need to honor all voices that stand up and say “no more” whether their song is loud and long or a mere whisper.

    • Again, none of those statements I made was “all men”. Call it a generalization if you want because it is an issue of men versus women and the fact that men perpetrate this violence on women resulting in the fear we live with and teaching the next generation of girls to live in fear to avoid the sexual violence. Yes, we want to come together, but when people cry, “not all men” it does jumble the issue and draw lines whether you want to recognize that or not. There are men out there who recognize it and aren’t afraid to point out to everyone who uses the “not all men” argument. Because at the core, the “not all men” argument is about people being uncomfortable with the issue and about their feelings being hurt.

      The following is taken from Jim C. Hines’ tumblr originally posted May 29, 2014:

      Five minutes on my news feed brings up multiple conversations about the recent misogynistic hate crime here in the U.S. Almost every one of those conversations get derailed by comments like:

      “I’m just playing devil’s advocate, but…”
      “One man did this, not MEN. You can’t lump all of us together…”
      “Because of the actions of one man, I am told to sit down, shut up, and solve this problem…”
      “The issue of inequality in our society is discrimination against men which is unacknowledged…”

      A man went on a killing spree to punish women for daring to refuse to let him screw them. Countless women are speaking out about their own experiences of being threatened, harassed, stalked, intimidated, and assualted by men for the “crime” of saying no. And you as a guy want to make the conversation about your hurt feelings?

      First off, before you start up with your “not all men!” crap, please pay attention to the fact that pretty much nobody is saying “all men” in the first place. And second, the fact that you’re more worried about your hurt feelings than you are about the very real epidemic of physical and emotional violence committed by men against women? That the murder of women is less important that your bruised ego?

      YOU. ARE. THE. PROBLEM.

  6. Please re-read my comments. They supported my — and all women’s — right to safety. I am not uncomfortable with the issue of misogyny and violence against women. For over twenty-five years, I have worked side by side women (and men) who are trying to do something about it. My comment was about the division that can be caused by the choice of language. As a feminist, I would not sit by silently if someone was saying, “Women cannot” or “Women are not”. That was the point I was trying to make, but I will stop trying to make it since it only seems to get me lumped into this “not all men argument” which is not my voice.

    • I know, because god forbid Debi use her own words, and her own way of getting the point across on her own blog. And if you think there is a man out there who HASN’T perpetuated the rape culture at some time, either physically, vocally, or just by remaining silent… well, I think you’re wrong. And I’m married to a feminist man.

  7. Thanks for being willing to share your story, Debi, and call a spade a spade. I’m so sorry that you’ve endured this pain, but I’m grateful that you won’t be silent. I understand that you’re saying not all men are the same, but your point about men not being able to understand our fears, vulnerabilities, etc. is “spot on.” And for each of us, there are others’ whose situations we will never fully get. While we can empathize with others in awful situations, vulnerable positions, etc., it is the reality that we can’t “get it” unless we are them. There’s no point for others to argue that issue when it comes to men “getting” what women go through.

    Shirley

    • I think people confuse empathy and sympathy, thinking they are the same when they aren’t. If it were really ALL men there would be a lot more single people in the world, disconnected from everyone. Thanks for the comment, Shirley. 🙂

  8. You are an inspiration to me. You are an example of strength that can be taken into any situation. Not afraid to speak truth, not afraid of what people will think, not afraid to be misinterpreted…all for the purpose of creating awareness, sparking change, making this world a better place, and letting others know that they aren’t alone. YOU GO, GIRL!!! xoxo

  9. Amen, Debi. I’m very proud of you for speaking out. You are a strong, beautiful woman and I’m very proud you are my daughter-in-law.


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