Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Silence is Acceptance

I read an article in the New York Times by Nicholas D. Kristof. It can be found here. It relays the tragic reality of mass rape being used as an element of warfare. For instance, it's estimated that during the civil war in Liberia (1989-2003), as many as 75% of women were raped. The real point of the article, though, is the fact that mass rape persists even after wars end.

Kristof shares statistics about the incidence of rape in Liberia since the end of the war - a survey in 2007 showed that 12% of girls 17 and under had been sexually assaulted sometime over the previous 18 months. He also introduces us to a 7-year old girl, who is living in a shelter for survivors of sexual violence. She was raped by a security guard at her school. Her situation is alarmingly common. Between January and April, Doctors Without Borders in Liberia treated 275 new sexual violence cases. About 60% of these women were under age 13 (28% were under age 5). This disgusts me.

I'm not alone in these feelings. Discover Magazine blogger Sheril Kirshenbaum read the article and was moved enough to take action. She's starting an initiative called "Silence is the Enemy." Her goals are to raise funds and raise awareness, in hopes of bringing an end to the rape and abuse of women around the world. Read her story here. She's asking for donations to be made to Doctors Without Borders. She starts by sharing her very personal story of being sexually assaulted. She never expected to blog about it, but she realized the power of her words and influence. She wanted to speak for those who couldn't. In summary, her campaign's purpose is to say "1) this is happening 2) it’s completely monstrous, and 3) we want change."

I'd like to join her cause. So here goes....One night when I was in high school, I was sexually assaulted. I was waiting for my mom to pick me up from the dry cleaner's where I worked. I sat in a chair behind the counter, chatting with the owner. He asked when my mom would be coming, and I told him she'd be there shortly. He came up behind me and put his arms on my shoulders. I immediately felt uncomfortable, but didn't know what to do. He started squeezing my shoulders, in what I felt was a sorta creepy manner. But, he was foreign, so my first thought was maybe he just didn't understand the "American taboo" of invading someone's personal space. Plus, he was my boss, so I didn't want to react harshly. I kept hoping and hoping I'd see my mom's headlights in the window so I could just avoid this awkward situation altogether. And that's when it happened. The owner stuck his hand down the front of my shirt. I jumped up and yelled, "No!" I headed towards the front door as quickly as I could, and my mom was just pulling up. I got in the car in silence. I was in shock. We drove home and I went straight to my room. I didn't know if I should tell someone, or keep it to myself. I was embarrassed. Did I display some sort of behavior that warranted his action? Was it my fault? Replaying the feeling of his hand on my breast almost made me throw up. I started crying and called my boyfriend. I told him what happened and he immediately made me tell my parents. It wasn't an easy conversation to have. They decided the best plan of action was to call the police and file a report. When an officer arrived, I had to relay the uncomfortable story again. I don't know why, but I felt shame. Why was I the one feeling this way? I didn't do anything wrong. I never returned to that job, and I tried to forget the whole situation. When the officer called me in the subsequent weeks, I didn't return his calls. Somehow I thought my best response would be to just pretend it didn't happen. I'm not going to lie, there have definitely been long periods of time where I haven't thought about this experience, and had successfully "forgotten" about it, albeit temporarily. But there have also been too many times where the memory has entered my head and brought that sick feeling back to my stomach. I guess I was "lucky" that my experience wasn't worse though. I can't even imagine the emotional and physical trauma that some women have experienced as a result of their sexual abuse.

I fear there are an enormous amount of unreported sexual assaults in this country, and in the rest of the world. I fear stories like mine, and stories much harsher than mine, are more common than we realize. But that's because we keep quiet. Silence is indeed the enemy. So, I'm fighting back. I'm following Sheril Kirshenbaum's lead. I'm no longer silent. I urge you to get motivated and act. I'll be donating to Doctors Without Borders, and visiting Sheril's page often to keep my thoughts on the goal.


Unknown said...

Well said, well said.

Young Wallace said...

Gary Haugen, founder and president of International Justice Mission (http://digg.com/u14jAk) will be speaking at Watermark Community Church this Sunday (6/7/09; 9am, 11am, 5:30pm) about slave and sex trafficking around the globe, and what you can do to help. Not a church-goer? Show up about 20 minutes late to miss the "churchy" stuff. This guy has a real passion for abused women and children, and this is a great opportunity to hear from someone who has rescued hundreds of them!

Unknown said...

I applaud you for your courage! I wrote about your post on my blog, but I didn't have the same courage as you so it's not as...heartfelt.

Anyway, again, you've amazed me.