First in a series of posts about the value, importance and power of owning and telling our story – and being heard.
Science may think it has all the clever tricks to understand the universe and what we are to make of it but the simple human practices of telling stories and hearing each other as we share ours can offer much more – the ability to connect the dots, recognize complexity and interconnectedness, and make sense of our experiences – and can play an important role in helping us heal and grow.
Maybe, one day, scientists will get smart enough to catch up with the rest of us.
This story is about women who are telling their stories of having being raped and standing up to say they are not ashamed. Indeed they have no reason to be ashamed – nor does anyone who has had that experience. The stories tell of their struggles, to overcome not only the experience and the event itself but experience and the humiliation of being silenced in a society that in small or large part does not know how to deal with violence of any kind let alone violence by men against women and, still, in small or large measure blames women for having being raped. These stories show us how sometimes the struggles to be heard is harder overcome than the experience itself – one tells of having to have a court imposed reporting ban overturned so she could tell her story and have newspapers report it.
Telling our story is one way of not only making sense of what happened to us but of showing the world we are not ashamed.
Facing down rape: Women stand up to say they are not ashamed
Toronto Star, Wed Apr 16 2014
By: Dianne Rinehart Book Reporter, Published onRaped women are standing up to say they are not ashamed — nor will they be shamed.
Share on Facebook
Photo TOStar/Colin McConnell
Karyn Freedman is lying on a mat on the floor, trying to pull an enormous imaginary knife away from her throat.
It is part of the therapy she has undergone since being raped at knifepoint in Paris in 1990 when she was 22 by the roommate of a friend’s university instructor.
In real life, she couldn’t escape her attacker but in therapy she regains her sense of personal power by defeating the rapist. In this session, she puts on boxing gloves so she can grab the imaginary knife without shredding her hands. She can escape — if only in her mind — decades after she was held captive.
Confronting her fears is emotionally draining work. Since the attack, she has sought out a number of methods to get her past the post traumatic stress disorder that leads to panic attacks.
While it may seem antithetical, it’s a method that is gaining popularity. Millions of women who have been raped are coming forward to share the horrific details of the assaults, and organizations are springing up to help them share their stories.
“Coming out as a rape survivor can go a long way toward erasing the humiliation that comes with having your body used sexually, violently, against your will,” Freedman writes.
“It is a way of telling the rest of the world that you have nothing to be ashamed of,” says the Torontonian, who is an associate professor of philosophy at the University of Guelph.
Telling her story she says, “helps me feel whole. I don’t feel like there’s something I have to hide. I have found it to be a very important part of my personal recovery.”
For Freedman, the personal is also the political.
One Hour in Paris, a graphic account of her repeated rape and long road to recovery (on sale April 23), also examines the political and philosophical issues behind rape.
“Sexual violence remains a dirty secret,” Freedman writes in the prologue. “Through statistics we may know of rape’s pervasiveness … — one in three women worldwide, one every 10 seconds — (yet) the social and cultural pressure on women to keep their stories private is, for many, an insurmountable hurdle. As a result, survivors of sexual violence remain anonymous, effectively closeted,” she says. “This is deeply regrettable.
It both reinforces the shame that we struggle against and widens the gap between who we are and how others see us.
“This also has the unfortunate consequence of making rape look like a personal problem, a random event that happened to me, for instance,” she says, “because of where I was, what I was wearing, or who I was with, instead of what it really is: an epidemic faced by women and children worldwide which is the manifestation of age-old structural inequalities which persist between men and women. By speaking out about their experiences of sexual violence, survivors can help us to see the problem of rape as a problem of social justice.”
Janet Goldblatt Holmes, 61, agrees.
The former Torontonian also battled her fear and shame before finally writing about being raped on a date when she was 16 and coming out publicly.
Goldblatt Holmes wrote about her experience in 2006 in a survey on the website of The Voices and Faces Project.
More than 400 women and a few men have filled out the survey for the organization, says Katie Feifer, the research director of the organization working to put a face to rape by telling victims’ stories.
“We believe our archive is the largest single repository of survivor testimony in the U.S.”
Goldblatt Holmes found comfort speaking at schools in Toronto and Barrie to help students understand “that no is no” and, if you have been raped, “you have nothing to feel shame about.”
But changing attitudes isn’t easy. Goldblatt Holmes was shocked when a physical education teacher asked her what she had been wearing when she was raped. “It doesn’t really matter what I was wearing,” she told him, though it was simply jeans and a T-shirt.
That attitude — what were you wearing, were you drinking? — is where Freeman and Goldblatt Holmes face a backlash. Blaming women for their own rape disputes the notion that there is a rape culture or that rape is a result of social inequality — and it is being spearheaded, ironically, by other women.
Journalist Emily Yoffe wrote in Slate that college women should stop getting drunk if they want to avoid rape.
Heather Macdonald, a researcher at the Manhattan Institute, so infuriated listeners in a debate on CBC Radio’s Q, when she denied the existence of rape culture and questioned rape statistics, that the item producer, Julie Crysler, felt compelled to place an editorial online defending their decision to select Macdonald to debate the issue.
Among Macdonald’s points: parents wouldn’t send their daughters to university if rape was as prevalent as contended.
Despite shocking statistics — Statistics Canada’s most recent report found one in five Canadian women have experienced at least one incident of a sexual attack by a date or boyfriend — and recent media coverage of rape chants on Canadian university campuses and university hockey teams being suspended after allegations of sexual assault criticism of anyone discussing rape culture is mounting.
“I think we’re in the middle of a pretty profound backlash right now,” says Lise Gotell, chair of the University of Alberta’s department of women’s and gender studies, who debated Macdonald on Q. “The whole rape culture as feminist hysteria is being spun not only by Macdonald … but by a Time magazine article by Caroline Kitchens that “an out-of-control lobby” for poisoning the minds of young women and creating hostile environments for innocent males.
Gotell couldn’t disagree more: “It’s actually pretty difficult to speak out and identify yourself as a victim of sexual assault.”
Which makes it all the more remarkable that Freedman and others are choosing now to come forward.
Zerlina Maxwell, who was raped by her boyfriend’s roommate eight years ago, responded to Kitchens’ claims with her own essayin Time. The first thing Maxwell heard when she reported her rape to someone she trusted, was “You were drinking, what did you expect.” She created the Twitter hashtag: #RapeCultureIsWhen to counteract the backlash.
Some of the tweets with that hashtag:
- Rape culture is when women who come forward are questioned about what they were wearing.
- Rape culture is when survivors who come forward are asked, ‘Were you drinking?’
- Rape culture is when people say, ‘she was asking for it’
Ironically, the most controversial argument Maxwell is being attacked for is her assertion that the most effective way of preventing rape is to educate potential perpetrators.
That stand has garnered her appearances on television shows and a feature in Glamour magazine as one of the faces of “a new generation of women who are taking the fight for justice into their own hands.” Among those featured, was Savannah Dietrich, who had been sexually abused by two athletes. They were found guilty and convicted, but when she found out if she spoke out about the case she could get 180 days in jail she tweeted: “Will Fray and Austin Zehnder sexually assaulted me. There you go, lock me up. I’m not protecting anyone who made my life a living hell.”
That’s the stand two Toronto women took after they were sexually assaulted on the operating table by Dr. George Doodnaught.
Both Debra Dreise, 43, and Eli Brooks, 56, went to court to get the publication ban on their identities lifted so they could speak out.
“I am not ashamed. These are crimes that happened to us,” Dreise told the Star in March. “I want to empower and encourage any other victim of any other crime not to be ashamed and do the right thing no matter what the social status of the perpetrator is, a policeman, a doctor, a teacher,” she said. “Take a stand and do not be intimidated.” As more women go public, their actions encourage others.
The One Billion Rising for Justice campaign launched by The Vagina Monologues author Eve Ensler, asks survivors “to break the silence and release their stories — politically, spiritually, outrageously — through art, dance, marches, ritual, song, spoken word, testimonies and whatever feels right.
The movement grew out of her V-Day movement to end violence against women.
Meanwhile the United Nations has launched Unite to End Violence Against Women. Its “Voices of Survivors” program allows victims of violence to speak about the assaults in their own words.
“What they’re trying to do,” Freedman says of all these movements, “is to promote international global awareness about rape and sexual violence by putting names and faces (to the issue), which I think is a really important move both for reasons of healing and also for political reasons.”
As the debate rages, Freedman is finally looking forward, not backward — and it’s to “the fresh faced young women and men” she sees on campus. “I imagine I will be a potential resource for students,” she says. “I really think we’re failing young women and young men on college campuses. We’re failing them both by not having a more organized national and international strategy for dealing with rape on college campuses … I hope to be put in a position where I can effect change and help to do something about this problem.”
As more women go public, their actions encourage others…
- One Billion Rising
- The Vagina Monologues Eve Ensler, asks survivors “to break the silence and release their stories — politically, spiritually, outrageously — through art, dance, marches, ritual, song, spoken word, testimonies and whatever feels right.