A friend asked the other day if there’s anyone left in Hollywood, referencing the daily news stories of women sharing their stories of being sexually assaulted by powerful men. Hollywood? This isn’t confined to the entertainment industry.
I’m conflicted about all the coverage. Honestly, it’s breaking my heart. I’m having a difficult time absorbing all of this. On one hand I’m so glad this is all finally coming to light. On the other hand, I’m so sad it’s so common and pervasive, it breaks my heart that so many people have been hurt for so long. It is the magnitude of this avalanche that overwhelms me.
It has made me think about things. About how my first assailant now lives in the same town as my boyfriend. About how my second assailant only dated Asians. About how my third assailant has a dimple in his chin. About how I hadn’t really thought much about the second and third rapes until now, and how I’d never told anyone about those until yesterday.
It has made me think about the statistics about repeat victimization–that a woman’s chances of being raped again increases by double to ten-fold, depending on the number of assaults. It made me think about how we don’t know exactly why this holds true.
One theory is that there is a learned silence, and then an inability to enforce boundaries. This has forced me to really look back and examine why and how there was a second and third. And I come up empty. I said no both times, Both times they ignored me. I enforced a boundary. I was not silent. They trampled right over the boundary. And it was then I became silent.
And it is in the silence that abuse of power thrives. So for all these brave people publicly sharing their stories, I’m grateful. I realize I’ve been too silent, and thus I’ve contributed to this breeding ground that perpetuates this violence. I realize I need to do a better job at empowering myself and my children so that we can be agents of change.
I realize I need to be proactive in raising my children, all of our children, to speak up and speak out. To do so, I realize I need to tell my kids about these assaults. As parents we struggle with how much we decide to disclose to our children about our past behaviors–cutting classes in school, alcohol or drug use, general mischief. I never planned on telling them about being raped once, much less three times, but I realize now we need to have a difficult and honest conversation so that they can be active in making positive changes in this world.
Survivors become empowered when the assailant loses power. They become empowered when they see other victims being validated. They become empowered when there’s safety in numbers. There is strength in numbers. This is why we’re seeing all of these women speaking their truths about so many men in recent weeks, speaking their truths after all these years.
They’ve stayed silent for so long. They’ve accepted, we’ve accepted, this dynamic as the norm. We might not like it, but we’ve accepted it. We must teach our children to speak up if they’re assaulted or harassed. We must teach our children to speak up if they witness or hear of such behavior. I taught my kids when they were younger that if they need help, they need to continue telling adults until they find one who will listen to them and help them. We must continue to tell our stories until someone will listen and help.
To teach our children to do so, we need to give them words. Of what an assault or harassment looks like–it can be so unexpected. We’ve heard so many women say they were caught off guard, didn’t know what to do, their minds racing–so many of these stories recently highlight how they were caught off guard by odd requests or sudden groping. We need to talk about the different scenarios that are inappropriate and what are red flags signaling you to run.
We need to talk about what to say and what to do when you find yourself in this situation. We need to teach our children that No is a complete sentence. We need to teach our children what their options might be if No is ignored. We need to teach our children how to react to this abuse of power differential. We need to practice using the words, or this concept is useless.
We need to teach our children how to confront someone if they bear witness to or learn of someone who has harassed or assaulted someone. We need to teach them it is their duty and responsibility as a human being. We need to teach our children that it is hard yet necessary to stand up to powerful people. We need to practice using these words too.
Words. Give them the words. We teach children what a house fire might look and smell and feel like. We teach them where the exits are and the escape plan. We teach them where to meet outside. We’ve given them words to empower them to stay safe. We practice fire drills. We must do the same for rapes and sexual harassment. This is not a drill.