Twenty-five years ago, a man climbed through my apartment window and raped me in my bed. When I fought back, he wrapped his angry fingers around my throat, shoved my head between the wall and the bed and tried to choke me to death.
When he finally left my apartment, I ran down the street to my friends’ apartment. While I sat on their couch telling them what had happened, Terence sat on the floor at my feet and cried. He took me to the hospital and stayed there until the doctor had examined me and the police had asked me a hundred questions. Later that day, my brother Dwight came and spent the day with me. Tears appeared in his eyes too.
The next day I went home to the farm and told my parents what had happened. My stoic, pacifist father had to leave the room for awhile to collect his emotions, and when he returned, he admitted that he finally understood the man who’d spent several years of his life hunting down his daughter’s rapist.
Many women showed compassion to me as well, and they are important, but, in retrospect, I believe it was a game-changer for me that men were in my corner along with the women. The fact that all of my family and friends – women AND men – cared about what happened meant that it was a crime against humanity rather than just a crime against women.
From the start, I was able to speak freely of my rape experience, without having to hide behind shame, and that’s largely due to the way that my friends and family supported me. Some people were surprised at how candid I was, expecting me to keep it a secret, but I kept saying “Why wouldn’t I talk about it? A crime was done to me. I did nothing wrong and it doesn’t need to be a secret.”
Sadly, most of the one billion women who experience rape in their lifetime are not able to speak of it. Instead they are taught (by both men and women) that it is something to be ashamed of, that they brought it on themselves, or that it’s cultural taboo to admit that it happened.
We need to talk about rape, and we need men to care about it along with the women. To make real change, rape needs to be seen as a crime against humanity. Anything less than that, and it can be dismissed as a “women’s issue”. If rape is only a women’s issue, than any violence or oppression of women is equally unimportant, and suddenly we have allowed half of the world’s population to be silenced.
Recently, there have been reports of American politicians making unconscionable comments about rape, first about a woman’s body being able to “shut that whole thing down” to prevent pregnancy from a “legitimate rape”, and then a comment that perhaps a pregnancy from a rape was because “God intended it to happen”. According to Nicholas Kristoff’s recent column, these comments only scratch the surface of the real problems related to rape. What’s underneath is a lot of evidence that rape is not taken seriously by the authorities meant to protect American citizens. In many states, the rape kits collected after women are assaulted collect dust on a shelf and are never tested, and in some places, the women who’ve been raped have to pay for the testing to be done.
In a so-called “developed country” it is an abomination that sexual assault is not taken as seriously as other crimes. Violence against half of a country’s population is being overlooked on a regular basis. It’s even worse in other parts of the world where women are often sent away from home after a rape, or forced to marry their rapist.
Violence against women is a serious enough issue on its own, but, sadly, it is only a symptom of a much larger disease that has infected our world and we must take it very, very seriously. It’s a disease I dare to call patriarchy. Patriarchy is an unbalanced system that allows those in power to exploit and violate those who have less power.
If we, as a culture, are willing to overlook rape, then we are saying, in essence, that it is okay to use violence to overpower other people and/or the earth. If we ignore the rape of women, we also ignore the rape of our oilsands, the destruction of our oceans, the plundering of other countries, and the exploitation of the poor.
Power is a destructive force if it is allowed to run rampant without being balanced with love. As Adam Kahane says in his book Power and Love, the two are like the legs we walk on – each one holds the balance for a second and then shifts to the other. It’s the only way we can move forward in a balanced way.
Men (and women) the world over need to start paying more attention to rape because our world depends on it. It cannot remain a shameful issue that women are only allowed to whisper about in the company of other women. Until it has been brought to the forefront of our politics, the world will continue to be out of balance and we will continue to put power ahead of love.
Every woman in the world needs to be surrounded with the kind of compassionate men that I was surrounded with. Only when men and women work together to end rape and to stop the power-imbalance of patriarchy will the world come into balance.
p.s. On February 14, 2013, I’ll be rising with One Billion Rising. Won’t you join me? Women AND men?