Like Most Women…Feeling and Thinking about Sexual Assault and Violence
Posted April 28, 2014on:
Ever since I wrote about my mother leaving my abusive stepfather in a December column for the Chapel Hill News, I have been thinking about my experience with gendered violence and the web of violence that many women experience. Sometimes we are haunted by our own stories and can only know them fully when we find courage to write about them. Below is my column that appeared last week:
Like Most Women
Like most women, I have often carried red pepper spray, a whistle and positioned my keys in between my knuckles when walking to my car at night.
Like most women, I have at least once walked out into the middle of a street, or crossed a street to avoid a man walking too close behind me at night.
Like most women, I have while walking alone at night pretended to talk on a cellphone to give the appearance that someone could help me if needed.
Like most women, I have at times relied on male authority, status and power to keep me safe.
Like most women, I have felt the chill of cat calls, and resentment toward the ubiquitous phrase “Why don’t you give me a smile today?”
Like most women, I have taken a self-defense class and considered taking more.
Like most women, I fear the kind of attack that is statistically very low: stranger rape.
Like most women, I have been sexually harassed in one of the jobs that I have held.
Like most women, as a girl, I grew up feeling like a type of prey for boys.
Like most women, I know a female family member who is a survivor of sexual assault.
Like most women, I know a woman who was sexually assaulted and never told anyone for fear of not being believed.
Like most women, I have survived an attempted sexual assault.
Like most women, I have known women in abusive relationships.
Like most women, when I was a teenager, I was in a relationship where someone hit me.
Like most women, for a long time I internalized my anger, confusion and shame.
Like most women, I yearn for a world without sexual violence.
Like most women, I wish this world would come soon.
Like most women, I know changes will not come about unless I speak my truth, encourage others to speak their truth, get involved and stay involved.
I was 10 years old when the first “Take Back the Night” marches were held in New York and San Francisco in 1978. These rallies began in the U.K. with women highlighting women’s lack of physical safety at night. These campaigns grew into a much larger set of responses to protest and raise awareness about many facets of sexual violence. Sexual violence is a broad term and includes rape, incest, child sexual abuse, intimate partner violence, sexual exploitation, human trafficking, unwanted sexual contact, sexual harassment, exposure and voyeurism.
My experiences listed above reflect the continuum of many women’s experiences with sexual violence in the U.S. and globally. The most common form of violence experienced by women globally is physical violence inflicted by an intimate partner. On average, at least one in three women is beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused by an intimate partner in the course of her lifetime (U.N. fact sheet).
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Why April? As demonstrations and violence prevention efforts grew over the last two decades, they often coalesced around domestic violence. In the 1980s October became Domestic Violence Awareness Month. By the late 1990s many sexual assault advocates were using the first week of April as a time to focus attention on broad sexual assault issues. The National Coalition Against Sexual Assault (NCASA) and other groups began advocating for a month-long focus on sexual violence.
This year’s campaign is focused on youth. This campaign provides tools on healthy adolescent sexuality and engaging youth in activism about sexual violence prevention. According to recent research that appeared in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, we know that one in six boys and one in four girls will experience a sexual assault before the age 18. We also know according to CDC data that approximately 9 percent of high school students report being hit, slapped, or physically hurt on purpose by a boyfriend or girlfriend in the 12 months before surveyed.
April is a time to step up our knowledge and prevention efforts to help make our communities safe from sexual violence. For creative ways to get involved check out the National Sexual Violence Resource Center’s website nsvrc.org.