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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