Resources #YesAllWomen Could Use
This post comes from a friend of the Standing on the Side of Love Campaign and contains personal and community reflections and resources about sexism, patriarchy, and sexual assault. Trigger Warning for sexual assault and violence.
There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.
-Dr. Maya Angelou
This past week, another tragic mass shooting occurred in Isla Vista, California. This time, the shooter released several videos and a manifesto that made clear his distaste for many people, especially, but certainly not limited to, women. In these materials, the shooter expressed his belief that women should be judged on their appearance and that he was owed sexual experiences from women.
Also this past week, we also lost a great American hero, Dr. Maya Angelou. Assaulted as a young child, Dr. Angelou did not speak for five years, believing her words brought on the death of her perpetrator. She later found her voice and used it to raise awareness about the many times she experienced sexual violence and assault throughout her lifetime in over 30 works including autobiographies, anthologies of poetry, books for children and more. She taught countless women the importance of sharing our stories to release the guilt and shame we might otherwise internalize after experiencing sexual violence.
And on a personal level, this past week I was sexually assaulted.
Shortly after the Isla Vista shootings, the #YesAllWomen Twitter hashtag sparked a nation-wide conversation on misogyny and patriarchy, and I had a burning desire to share my story. These milestones all occurring this week make it so clear to me that patriarchy still rules our society, that sexual assault and misogyny are not limited to one incident but are a ubiquitous threat, in varying levels, to all of us. The humanity of every person is threatened by this reality. I wanted to share my story both to help me heal personally, and to provide information that yes, all women, and all people of all gender identities might find useful.
Immediately after the assault, friends and family pointed me to resources that have helped me profoundly. I hope all of you reading this have never experienced, and will never experience sexual assault or violence. Sadly, statistics and personal experience force us to acknowledge and bear witness to the fact that far too many women, far too many people, will have to suffer through this as well.
If you, or a loved one, experience sexual assault, here are some points you may find helpful:
• Ask for and accept help as you are able and willing: This might be something that is usually hard. I realized early on I needed to be honest with a close circle of people about what happened so that I could have their support. I also reached out immediately to a local rape crisis center and survivor’s advocacy network. To find information on your own local resources visit: RAINN and the National Center for Victims of Crime.
• Be prepared to make difficult decisions: The circumstances of every assault are different, but in my case, like so many others, I knew my assailant. There were many things that needed to happen immediately so I could be in a safe space away from harm, and that was the most important thing I needed to focus on. You or your loved one might also be confronted with many other immediate decisions, like whether to go to a hospital to get a “rape kit” done, when to reach out to sexual assault detectives, or deciding to press charges. People will likely give you conflicting advice, something I experienced over and over. I was also told: “ultimately it is up to you to decide”, as if that would be comforting. It wasn’t. I didn’t ask to be assaulted in the first place, and it felt like I had this huge burden of making all of these deeply uncomfortable decisions that felt overwhelming. I got through it by practicing self-care while journaling to see what felt like the right things to do for me. You may find creative expression might be something that helps you as well.
• Remember that ending patriarchy and misogyny will take work: Transforming the way we treat ourselves and each other will take lots of love, compassion and time. But we have to take action today to ensure that the normalization of violence against cisgender and transgender women, genderqueer and gender non-conforming people ends. For more information on transformation check out Black Feminism Lives, Against Patriarchy: 20 Tools for Men to Further the Feminist Revolution and the UUA Reproductive Justice Curriculum for Congregations.
For a few days after my sexual assault happened, all I wanted to do was scream with rage. In fact, one day I had to do just that. I parked my car in an almost vacant lot, turned a warrior women song on full blast, so loud my car shook, and I screamed. I screamed until my face hurt, until I let all that rage and anger and fear out of me, so it wouldn’t stay inside and become toxic. Then I made a very conscious decision to stop screaming. I turned off the music, and sat very still. Later, I wrote some words from Dr. Angelou in my journal: You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.
One thing you might consider doing is sharing this story with others in your lives, so they have access to these resources. You might also want to share your own story, perhaps anonymously like me, or with your own voice—whatever feels most comfortable and safe to you. In the words of Dr. Angelou: History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.
I ask you to join me so that collectively we can change the long history of sexual violence in our communities. Listen to the stories shared by people directly impacted by violence. Our collective future of love and liberation depends on it.
PS: #YesAllWomen has acted as an important rallying call in recent days as people share stories of systemic and personal violence that is normalized. We recognize that people with many gender identities are impacted by violence. Let us begin with working for the human rights of all people to be respected.