A guest blog article by Chevara Orrin (activist, world citizen)
A recent Facebook post read, “If a prostitute is raped, is it rape or shoplifting?” My stomach churned as I hastily replied, “As a survivor of incest and an advocate who works to eradicate sexual, physical and emotional violence against all women, including changing the desensitized culture we’ve created and perpetuated that marginalizes these experiences, I ask that you be more thoughtful in your postings.”
Several minutes later, a friend of a friend “liked” my comment and within seconds the original Facebook friend had blocked me from viewing his wall posts.
And that is often how easily we close our eyes to the abuse of women we feel somehow “asked for it.” Women, we believe, brought the violence upon themselves.
Now I suppose I could have ignored the posting. At worst, the comment was misogynist. At best misguided. In the age of the social-media revolution, it seems as though anything goes, including off-color jokes that cause us to giggle with nervous laughter, slightly uncomfortable … about race, gender and sexual violence.
Several years ago I decided to speak out openly against messaging that trivializes and normalizes violence against women. At first, I began by sharing my own story with those closest to me. I served on boards of organizations whose mission was to eradicate sexual violence. I gradually began to insert myself in conversations around me, challenging stereotypes. I started writing letters, signing petitions, joining marches and rallies. I organized a group of 23 college students (men) teetering in high heels as they “walked a mile in her shoes” to raise awareness about sexual assault against women.
So, of course, my Facebook friend wasn’t about to receive a pass. His attempt to silence me only strengthened my resolve. In order to create lasting change we must take action, not just offense.
I take offense because I am a woman. I take offense because I have a mother, grandmother, aunts, sisters and nieces. I take offense because my two sons may have daughters someday. I take offense because in the past three years that I’ve openly shared my own sexual abuse, I’ve heard from hundreds of women in our community sharing their stories of victimization and survival. Some of them prostitutes. All of them worthy of our protection.
I take action because in the words of poet and writer Audre Lorde, “Your silence will not protect you.”
Those of us who have suffered sexual abuse and violence are often silenced by shame and stigma. I speak for the women who have not yet found their voices. I speak for the 1 in 6 women in America who will be victimized during their lifetime. I speak because somewhere in the United States, a woman is raped or sexually assaulted every two minutes.
I speak because I know a woman who spent 16 years as a prostitute. She was raped by her grandfather for five years. She was only 11 when the abuse began. In an effort to escape from the pain and terror of sexual violence, she began using drugs. At 16, she became a prostitute to support her drug habit. She worked street corners, back alleys and affluent neighborhoods. She’s been beaten and raped at gunpoint. She’s witnessed unimaginable horror. In 2007, she graduated from college with honors and lives and works in our community.
I don’t think she’d laugh at the punchline.
Rape is violent and never justified — whether the victim is a grandmother, college student or sex worker.
Aishah Shahidah Simmons, award-winning producer/writer/director of No! The Rape Documentary, spoke at a recent rally: “Again, I ask where do we draw the lines of who can and can’t be assaulted, harassed, and/or raped? As long as there is any group of people including but not limited to adolescent and teenage ‘fast’ girls, women, trans people, queer people, and sex workers who are marginalized, then all of us are vulnerable both because it’s all subjective; and the lines of the margins shift all of the time. Who’s acceptable today may not be acceptable tomorrow.”
I stand in solidarity and sisterhood with any and all women who have been raped. As for my former Facebook friend, I hope somebody posts this on his wall.
copyright note: Originally published at the Winston-Salem Journal on September 4, 2011. Reposted with permission from the author, who is a community activist and university administrator. She is also the founder of WhiteSpace SafeSpace, a forum for incest survivors.