Waking Up to Sexual Assault

There are those who believe that it is a Southern lady’s strength of character to ignore inappropriate and aggressive words and behaviors from men. She may use a strained smile, her sweet charm, and quietly walk away. At times walking away from ignorance and bad behavior might be fine, but there are other times when we must do something. We must wake up and face the fact that the ignoring and the acceptance of degrading behaviors rips a woman’s soul and the fiber of our society.

The first time he grabbed my bottom no one was watching, and I dismissed it as an accident though I knew deep down it was not. It was a deliberate groping, not a brush against me. What was he thinking? He was a friend. I was married. He was married. I was confused. I did not say anything because my internal dialogue was in a struggle. When it happened the next time, we were around several people, and the man laughed as if it was a joke. I was literally the butt of his sick joke around several uncomfortable people, but no one told him to stop, not even me. Through uneasy laughs everyone ignored it because he had been drinking. These awkward and painful situations continued for years. It would not happen every time we were together, but most of the time, and I was not his only target. He enjoyed being the center of attention and making people feel uncomfortable and bad. I would get physically ill when we made plans that involved him. Finally I said no more, and that is when I was told that I was the problem. I was told that something was wrong with me, and I did not know how to have fun. The perpetrator was never held accountable for his actions, and I allowed these people that I was around at the time to erode my self-worth.

Abusive behaviors affect all areas of your life. Your spirit becomes dimmer. Your stomach aches and though you know deep down it is not right, you start to believe that perhaps you are the uptight person you are being told you are. You are surrounded by fear and weakness, and it is contagious.

When certain events happen in our lives we remember where we were, the date and time, or the music playing in the background. I remember the sound of her voice when she called me. Not her words, just her voice, and I knew something was terribly wrong. Then we began navigating the legal system, and I started waking up to my own situation. I learned a lot, and became gravely aware that if her assault had not been captured on video tape, she most likely would have not been believed. He had been harassing her for months, but she tried to politely avoid him. Eventually, she was not so polite. He persisted and then he saw an opportunity to corner her alone in the middle of the day. This did not happen in a bar late at night involving alcohol and altered judgement. He was not young or inexperienced.

About one month after being in court facing her perpetrator, there was another incident involving both of us at a wedding reception. An intoxicated older male acquaintance assaulted me, then turned and assaulted her. There was a witness who knew what she had just been through, but nothing was done – not even a simple, sober apology. His male friends were told and responded that they could not believe he would do something like that.

We need to talk…

openly…

honestly.

We need to talk about this in our families…

openly in our schools…

honestly in our churches.

We need to speak up when this happens within our circle of friends…

within our families…

within our schools…

within our churches.

And we need to stop blaming the victims! Yes, we are survivors, but first, we were victims, so we need to use the correct words and call out the perpetrators…

in our circle of friends…

in our families…

in our schools…

in our churches.

No one, female or male, is an object of body parts available for another person to use in repairing their deficiencies or insecurities. We are not a scratching post to rub up against, to paw or grab, and disrespectful words are not acceptable. We are not the butt of jokes, and alcohol is not an excuse. Many people who drink too much have problems, but they do not attack other people. We need to define what these actions truly are and frequently discuss what to do to break down the wall of misunderstanding and fear.

Defining assault, sexual harassment, or sexual assault is confusing, and for the people who have been attacked, this makes it worse. We may not be sure what happened to us. We may be in shock. We may stand there and not move. We may smile that uncomfortable smile. We may turn and slap the person who grabbed us. We may be fearful of being accused of dramatizing or being difficult. We do not know how we will react, and this works to the advantage of the person committing this heinous act.

Discussing assault, sexual harassment, or sexual assault can be a challenge, but it will help us in defining and understanding these situations. I have heard some men justify these behaviors saying there are women who enjoy this type of attention and actions. Pointing to how a woman dresses is also very common. To try to comprehend why this happens, I have heard women say that men just cannot understand what it feels like to be overpowered by another, or it is every man’s fantasy to have a woman sexually attack him. These are weak excuses that help perpetuate the continuation of the abuses.

I have been told to not be so weak or expect a man to stand up for me.

Let’s be clear. Being confused, afraid, or angry, is not about being frail; this is about being human. If you are a husband, father, brother, uncle, cousin, or a friend, I expect you to step up when someone has been harassed. Period. I also expect a wife, mother, sister, aunt – anyone who has knowledge of or has witnessed abusive behavior – to do something. In addition, I expect all of us to stop blaming the victim. The “boys will be boys” mentality has to change.

Sexual assault is the most rapidly growing violent crime in America, and these acts are happening all around us.

Stop, read that again.

We are talking about the fastest growing violent crime. We are raising our young people to ignore and accept these behaviors. The hallways in our schools are like a minefield for our girls with words like “slut” and “whore” reverberating freely and frequently. This has to stop before the good, strong fiber of our society completely wears away.

If you have been assaulted, do not let anyone shame you or take away your words. This is your truth. If a person cannot hear your story, even if they are someone in your family, find another person to tell. Some people may call you crazy, angry, or a bitter bitch. These words and others like them are common in these situations. The derogatory words come from scared and damaged people who want to stifle your voice. Some people will be uncomfortable with what you are saying and doing, but that is their issue. Find someone who is able to hear everything you have to say and support you. Words have power, so when you put actions behind the right words, positive changes can happen.

Here it is, a small, but important portion of a much larger ongoing story. This is not just a piece about my personal life, but yours as well. I believe our purpose on Earth is to create relationships and help one another, and I expect all of us, including myself, to do better.

Now, let’s talk. Let’s open up this important conversation. Comment here on my blog. Invite a neighbor to join you in the discussion. Suggest a series on this important topic at your church. Go to your child’s school and ask questions. Say something. Do something.

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. To learn more go to http://www.nsvrc.org/saam/sexual-assault-awareness-month.

Also visit the Office of Women’s Health website at https://www.womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/sexual-assault.html .

If you need to talk to someone because you have been assaulted, or even if you are not sure about an attack or a confusing situation you have experienced, call RAINN at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

 

 

 

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