For me, most recently, it was a near-miss accident in a suburban parking lot after seeing a movie.
No big deal, right?
Not for me; in 1996, at a stop sign, my new car tapped the bumper of a man, while driving three blocks from my home. In his car was his aged mother. They sued me for $1 million, a lawsuit that scared me for years. They eventually got $60,000 from my insurance company — he was a lawyer and I was a young woman in a red convertible. Alone, working from home, with few friends in the U.S., I found the whole experience deeply frightening and absolutely dread another car accident of any sort, let alone another lawsuit, easy enough to trigger in the litigious United States.
I’d never been sued when I lived in Canada.
For my husband, it’s the smell of Ralph Lauren Polo cologne — a scent he and fellow reporters and photographers used to douse the kerchiefs shielding their noses and mouths while covering the aftermath of a prison riot that incinerated several dozen New Mexico prison inmates.
For some people, this image remains unbearable — 13 years later
Yet we all have triggers — a sight, sound or smell that can suddenly and powerfully and unwillingly thrust us back into a traumatic moment from our past. And they’re all different and specific and, because of that, you never know when or where they’ll hit you.
Life itself doesn’t arrive conveniently labeled with trigger warnings.
At a music service for the Christmas holidays of 1995, the year I was divorced after a brief and troubled first marriage, I sat with two friends. As a bagpiper came down the church aisle there I began to weep uncontrollably; a piper had played after our wedding.
When Jose proposed to me, it was at midnight on Christmas Eve after church service, as snow began to fall. He knew that the worst experience of my life, at 14, had occurred that night and, he said, he wanted to re-brand it with a happier memory.
Which he did.
We each need to be in the world and of the world, participating fully.
But there are times and places that are deeply painful for us — while the triggers to ancient and powerful feelings remain and invisible/unknown to others.
Ms. Sulkowicz spoke of her interest in the kind of art that elicits a powerful response, whether negative or positive. Freshly painted on the walls around us loomed big black letters spelling out the “rules of engagement,” the guidelines to her performance: One states that she will continue the piece until the man she accuses of attacking her is no longer on campus, whether he leaves or is expelled or graduates, as she also will next spring. (If need be, she plans to attend commencement carrying the mattress.) She said the performance is giving her new muscles and an inner strength she didn’t know she had, and is attracting many different kinds of attention, some of it hard to take.
“Carry That Weight” is both singular and representative of a time of strongly held opinions and objections and righteous anger on all sides, a time when, not surprisingly, political protest and performance art are intersecting in increasingly adamant ways.
Her decision to make the alleged attack public, ongoing and physically demanding — of her and her bystanders — forces others to engage with her, intellectually, emotionally and physically. Many rape survivors choose to remain silent and hidden, fearing insensitive response from friends, family and authorities.
A few years ago, an Ivy League student going public about her rape, telling the world her real name—let alone trying to attract attention by lugging around a mattress—would have been a rare bird. In America, after all, we still assume rape survivors want, and need, their identities protected by the press. But shattering silence, in 2014, means not just coming out with an atrocity tale about your assault but offering what Danielle Dirks, a sociologist at Occidental, calls “an atrocity tale about how poorly you were treated by the people you pay $62,500 a year to protect you.” By owning those accusations, and pointing a finger not only at assailants but also the American university, the ivory tower of privilege, these survivors have built the most effective, organized anti-rape movement since the late ’70s. Rape activists now don’t talk much about women’s self-care and protection like they did in the ’90s with Take Back the Night marches, self-defense classes, and cans of Mace. Today, the militant cry is aimed at the university: Kick the bastards out.
According to this HuffPo story, 10 Columbia undergrads were accused of sexual assault in 2013-14 — and none have been disciplined:
The Ivy League university announced in January that it would release the aggregate data, starting with the 2013-14 school year.
“Over the past year, the issue of sexual assault has gained a new level of attention and engagement on campuses around the country,” Columbia Provost John Coatsworth said in an email to students. “We are committed to providing a national model of the best policies and practices to help ensure that members of our University community feel safe and respected. As one part of that commitment, we are publishing Columbia’s first annual Report on Gender-Based Misconduct Prevention and Response.”
Few universities disclose such information. Some Ivy League schools, including Yale University, Brown University and Dartmouth College, release data on sexual assault punishments in some form.
College offers students a wealth of exciting opportunities — to learn new subjects in depth, try new sports and activities, take on leadership roles, gain intellectual confidence and emotional maturity.
For some, it becomes an overwhelming maelstrom of sexual assault, often in concert with consciousness, memory and physical condition altered by drugs and/or alcohol.
This Slate piece, from 2013, raises some powerful questions and received 60,000 Facebook shares:
A 2009 study of campus sexual assault found that by the time they are seniors, almost 20 percent of college women will become victims, overwhelmingly of a fellow classmate. Very few will ever report it to authorities. The same study states that more than 80 percent of campus sexual assaults involve alcohol. Frequently both the man and the woman have been drinking. The men tend to use the drinking to justify their behavior, as this survey of research on alcohol-related campus sexual assault by Antonia Abbey, professor of psychology at Wayne State University, illustrates, while for many of the women, having been drunk becomes a source of guilt and shame….
The 2009 campus sexual assault study, co-authored by Krebs, found campus alcohol education programs “seldom emphasize the important link” between women’s voluntary alcohol and drug use “and becoming a victim of sexual assault.” It goes on to say students must get the explicit message that limiting alcohol intake and avoiding drugs “are important sexual assault sex protection strategies.” I think it would be beneficial for younger students to hear accounts of alcohol-facilitated sexual assault from female juniors and seniors who’ve lived through it.
Of course, perpetrators should be caught and punished. But when you are dealing with intoxication and sex, there are the built-in complications of incomplete memories and differing interpretations of intent and consent. To establish if a driver is too drunk to be behind the wheel, all it takes is a quick test to see if his or her blood alcohol exceeds the legal limit. There isn’t such clarity when it comes to alcohol and sex.
This group, End Rape on Campus, offers nine additional resources; these women are fighting several prestigious schools — UNC Chapel Hill, Columbia, Berkeley — for sexual assaults against them while they were students.
Columbia Journalism School
Gratefully, I never suffered any such assaults while an undergraduate at the University of Toronto, and, yes, I did attend some parties at male fraternity houses. But there was not, then, (and I suspect still), a culture of female binge drinking.
For a variety of reasons – maybe coming of age during second-wave feminism? — drinking myself into vomiting, staggering oblivion, let alone while surrounded in a large house by young men whose morals, ethics or sexual notions of decent behavior were unknown to me just never appealed to me in any way. So I just didn’t do it.
For me, and my friends, sex was fun, plentiful — and best enjoyed while sober. And, as someone who lived all four years off-campus living solo in an apartment, I was also acutely aware that whatever (lousy) choices I made were mine alone, as were the consequences of same.
I had no RAs, nearby friends or room-mates or campus security to turn to for advice or possible protection. Cellphones — and an emergency text or IM — did not yet exist.
I often wonder how much of young women’s “need” to drink themselves into virtual unconsciousness is a quick, easy and socially-sanctioned way to dodge the many complicated feelings and negotiations around safe, enjoyable, consensual sex.
Is this an issue that has touched you or someone you love?
Later, records show, a sexual-assault nurse offered this preliminary assessment: blunt force trauma within the last 24 hours indicating “intercourse with either multiple partners, multiple times or that the intercourse was very forceful.” The student said she could not recall the pool table encounter, but did remember being raped earlier in a fraternity-house bedroom.
The football player at the pool table had also been at the fraternity house — in both places with his pants down — but denied raping her, saying he was too tired after a football game to get an erection. Two other players, also accused of sexually assaulting the woman, denied the charge as well. Even so, tests later found sperm or semen in her vagina, in her rectum and on her underwear.
It took the college just 12 days to investigate the rape report, hold a hearing and clear the football players. The football team went on to finish undefeated in its conference, while the woman was left, she said, to face the consequences — threats and harassment for accusing members of the most popular sports team on campus.
Things to consider:
-- this student’s naievete, about fraternity behavior, getting drunk, trusting her own judgment to get the hell out when she began (as she did) to feel scared
– the boys’ crime, shrugged off by the college and D.A.
– the school’s inept approach to adjudicating serious crime
– larger questions about how much a college is “in loco parentis”, responsible for students’ behavior
– the extremely un-PC point that women should keep their damn wits about them if they’re going to hang out with a bunch of men anywhere in the world they do not know well. Even those they think they do know well. Getting so drunk you cannot remember your actions is pure insanity, as is trusting everyone else around you to take responsibility for your sobriety and sexuality. If you would no sooner stand in the middle of a six-lane highway and just kinda hope people would — you know — swerve around you, why endanger yourself by drinking to mindless oblivion?
I went to a few fraternity parties when I was a student at the University of Toronto. They were always crowded and noisy, filled with young men I didn’t know in another circumstances. The preppy crowd was really never a great fit for me.
Luckily, I was never assaulted.
But nor did I ever attend them, or while there choose to become, blind drunk.
I never want to be out of control to that degree, anywhere, ever.
Later in my life, I made the disastrous error in judgment of dating a con man, a man who had been convicted of that crime in another state. My interactions with my local police and district attorney were appalling, eye-opening and life-changing.
The authorities, in whom I’d placed my middle-class tax-paying home-owning trust — simply didn’t give a shit.
I have never looked at “the authorities” with the same naive respect since then, and that was 16 years ago.
This stupid school also later had male students walk around campus in high heels — for fucks’ sake — to show their empathy and solidarity with female vulnerability.
Better they should have borrowed a vagina and gone to a party full of entitled jocks.
And here is just one of 1,700+ (!) comments on the story, from a reader in L.A. (This might be the most comments I’ve ever seen on a NYT story.)
How many more stories of hallowed institutions misusing their authority to protect athlete rapists and either silence and/or denigrate rape victims must we hear about before victims just automatically eschew campus governance entirely and go directly to law enforcement? When will matriculating students and their parents confront head on that basketball and football are not the only long standing team sports woven deep into the cultural fabric of their chosen college? I am so tired of hearing about rape and rapist protection culture built in to religious and academic institutions. I would tell any entering freshman who experiences sexual assault to rush themselves to the hospital for a comprehensive rape examination and then go straight to the police. Only then would I report the incident to the school.
What — if anything — can or should colleges and universities be doing better to stop campus rape?
What — if anything — should young men and women be taught (or punished for not knowing/acting on) about how to conduct themselves in situations like this one?
Welcome to the United States of America (Photo credit: Kai Strandskov)
By Caitlin Kelly
This is one hell of a post, by University of British Columbia student Clay Nikiforuk, from rabble.ca:
What do you do when you’re detained by powerful officials, everything you say is presumed deceptive, arbitrary “evidence” is held against you, and you’re treated like a moral deviant? And what if its 2013, you’re a woman, and the “evidence” is that you possess condoms? It happened three times in two weeks — being detained by U.S. border officials on my way to or through the States…
I was detained, yelled at, patted down, fingerprinted, interrogated, searched, moved from room to room and person to person without food, water or being told what was going on for what seemed like forever. Just as I thought they were tiring of me and going to refuse me entry but at least let me back into Aruba, a ‘Bad Cop’ type took me to a distant, isolated office and yelled at me that I was full of shit. He had found information online that in the last couple of years I had been modelling and acting. This, he concluded, was special code for sex work, and I was never going to enter the U.S.A. ever again. I tried not to laugh and cry at the same time. I told him I’m currently writing a book on the sociology of sexual assault.
“Are you looking to be sexually assaulted?”
I blinked at him. I couldn’t breathe.
“Was that meant to be funny?”
“No, it wasn’t.”
“Ah, no. I’m definitely not.”
“Well, it sure seems like you are.”
“… How so?”
He wouldn’t elaborate.
This post raises a whole host of questions about power, sexuality, female agency and abuse of power. I also had my own issues with it because she admits — brave? foolish? — that she was traveling with her lover, a married man. Not my thing. I hate adulterers, frankly; my first husband was one, as was his partner (now his second wife.)
But the larger point remains: whose fucking business is it, when women cross the U.S. border, who we’re fucking, when and why?
Are young, unmarried men subjected to the same sort of interrogation?
I’m betting that’s a “no.”
ARIZONA BORDERS AND CITIZEN SAFETY… (Photo credit: roberthuffstutter)
I’ve also lived through a much milder version of this, as a young, single Canadian regularly crossing the American border for a year or so to visit my then beau, (later first husband), an American I had met when he was at med school in Montreal and who was then doing his residency in New Hampshire.
I did not then know how to drive, at 30, nor did I own a car. I did not understand that, in the United States, traveling anywhere by bus shrieks — at least to border officials — of poverty, desperation and an apparent lack of any economic choice.
To me, as I’m sure it was to Clay, also a well-educated Canadian woman, it was just a damn bus, an affordable, efficient mode of transportation, with no coded message implied.
The offices of The Gazette newspaper on Saint Catherine Street, Montreal, Canada. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I was also making, for a young journo, a healthy wage as a staff reporter at the Montreal Gazette, a large regional newspaper. I had a laminated press pass with my photo on it. No matter!
Every single time I crossed the U.S. border and showed it to prove my full-time, staff job in Canada I was subjected to nasty and aggressive interrogation by U.S. border officials — surely the only reason I was dating an American man was to marry him, rightawayso I could escape my hideous, unemployed life in Canada.
I climbed back into the bus every time shaken, crying, humiliated and angry. This bullshit was sexist, ugly and routine, and — luckily — something I’d not been subjected to before.
This was the country I’d be moving to to marry? Jesus!
Like Clay, I was young, single, female. These interrogations scared the shit out of me. How could they not? Would I lose the right to see my sweetie? Lose the privilege of crossing that border then, or forever? What records were they keeping and how could they affect me?
I moved to the United States, with a green card as a permanent legal resident, in July 1988 — after submitting to an AIDS test.
And yes, I learned how to drive and bought my first car, stat. The hell with the bus.
While the rest of the world recently watched the horrors of a mass shooting of schoolchildren in Newtown, Connecticut with disgust and dismay at Americans’ deep and profound attachment to private gun ownership, (consequences be damned), my own shock, disgust and sadness at that (latest) massacre here has been matched — possibly exceeded — by the reports of rape from India, where a 23-year-old woman was attacked and raped then thrown from a moving bus.
Her battered, torn body gave up the ghost in Singapore, where she was sent in a last-ditch desperate attempt to save her life. A 17-year-old girl, also raped — one of the barely one percent of women even reporting this assault to authorities — committed suicide.
No salwar kameez — the modest tunic/trousers combination — will protect any woman from the brutality and terror of rape.
Here’s one analysis — albeit by John Lloyd, a middle-age white male journalist writing for Reuters:
Indian observers have cast both tradition and modernity as background causes. The country’s most prominent sociologist, Dipankar Gupta, said the “unmet aspirations” among hundreds of millions of young men “who know just enough English to know that they don’t know English” were a major cause of Indian criminality. (It’s a telling comment: Fluency in English is among the most obvious class markers in India; most of the protesters’ signs were in English.) Cities are seen both as a place where success can be achieved and where traditional respect for fathers gives way to life in a space where male hedonism can be indulged. For the six drunkards on the New Delhi bus ride, a rape and a beating were folded into a fun night out.
Female empowerment has unsettled men everywhere. Women who think and speak for themselves rip apart settled hierarchies; educated women who take jobs other than mechanical, peasant labor or household tasks threaten the grip men have over income and its patterns of spending. The rootlesssness of the mainly dirt-poor migrants who flock to New Delhi and other cities for work tears them away from a life in which marriage is embedded in family and social structures.
And the nation’s leaders too often create moral vacuums. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh offered an anguished and brief reaction over Christmas, in which he sounded like a man who felt every one of his eight years in office and 80 years of life, and had nothing to offer but sympathy as with the father of three daughters. His honesty is unquestioned, but his governments have presided over large increases in corruption and in reported rape cases. Neither of these has been more than sporadically tackled. Now, in the December days on the streets of New Delhi, there may be something more than a flash flood of protesters – something that points to a tipping point.
Her killing has prompted government promises of better protection for women, and deep soul-searching in a nation where horrifying gang-rapes are commonplace and sexual harassment is routinely dismissed as “Eve-teasing”.
Several thousand people massed again yesterday in the centre of the Indian capital – some to express sympathy for the victim who had been out to watch a film with her boyfriend, others to voice anger at the government.
Stringent security measures that have seen government offices and other public areas sealed off in New Delhi to prevent protests have been seized on by critics as further evidence of an out-of-touch government bungling its response.
Police are guarding the presidential palace, parliament and war memorial in an attempt to deflect the rage which so many people feel not just towards the perpetrators of this and other rapes, but towards the government and police who are regarded as at best complacent – and at worst as colluding in growing numbers of attacks on women.
Sexual violence and official complicity
The government was silent for days after the attack. It has done little to challenge the climate where sexual attacks are widespread and offenders walk free. It is now proposing naming sex offenders, which may make some small difference but is hardly likely to alter the fundamentals of society where women are often not believed and where, if they are known to have been raped, they face social stigma and are unlikely to get married.
Campaigners are demanding tougher sentences and better policing. Many will realise, however, that such demands will do little to stop rape and that there need to be fundamental changes in society if women are to be able to move freely around the streets and to have the right to live, work and study without the threat of sexual violence.
Broadside has readers in India.
I need to hear from you now.
What is going on?
Why are Indian women such objects of contempt, loathing and derision?
How is this considered acceptable by police, the judiciary, feminists, the press and the government?
Huma Abedin, aide to Hillary Clinton, featured in Vogue: gorgeous, married less than two years to Weiner. (I do wonder what Hillary is saying to her about surviving such marital insanities.)
Maria Shriver, ex-broadcaster, ex First Lady, member of the Kennedy clan.
Their alpha men can’t keep their trousers zipped, nor be truthful or faithful.
My ex-husband wailed to me, on June 15, 1994, after barely two years of marriage, “I’m leaving” and ran off with someone he worked with; I at least had the financial dignity and means to survive without his lies and deception. Thanks to a pre-nup I made him sign.
I’d left Canada, and friends, family and career, to follow him to his native U.S. to start his medical career. (Journalism is not a business you leave untended for any length of time.)
Six weeks after I threw his stuff into garbage bags — after seven years of trying to make the thing work — I had a funny, fun, kind new boyfriend. And a marriage proposal from someone else in another country who had loved me from afar for decades.
These men are morons — and their women? I can’t fathom the rage and embarrassment they must feel at having chosen them or stayed with them.
Women like these have choices, plenty of them, and better ones than these wretches.
I’d change the locks and start proceedings on every one of these losers.
Here’s a useful app – that turns your Itouch or Iphone into a rape whistle. From the Toronto Star:
On Friday, YWCA Canada announced its YWCA Safety Siren app, available free for download at the iTunes store.
The alarm — with a choice of three ear-splitting wails — goes off with either a press of the pink button or a shake, converting an iPhone or iPod Touch into a 21st-century version of the rape whistle.
Not only does the siren sound, but an email is automatically generated while a phone call gets made (if you have an iPhone) to preset emergency contacts. Both can attach a Google map pinpointing your location…
There are other safety apps already available, including an “I’m being assaulted’’ app that sends emails. There’s also an “Am I safe?’’ app that rates locations as go or no-go zones.
But neither combines all the features of the YWCA app, which is more than a siren. Hit the “Safe Date’’ button and there’s info on how to avoid trouble before you step out. The Health icon describes healthy ways to hook up. Dating 101 is a guide to guys, good and bad. Finally, the Geolocations tab will pop up a map showing the nearest health and rape crisis centres.
Even the most charming — often the most charming — of men can turn predatory. I doubt (m)any women are carrying rape whistles or Mace these days.
The wisest move, as every smart woman knows, is to let a friend know where you’re heading before going on a first date and/or avoiding a stranger’s car or apartment until you have some idea who he is. Having ended up in the clutches of a former felon, a man as handsome, well-dressed and chatty as they come, I know well that appearances mean little.
I think this is a smart idea.
The interesting question is what happens after that blast of noise — will anyone come to your aid? Or is it most useful as a distracting device, a chance to give you a few moments of surprise to flee?
I’ve spent the week listening to a powerful BBC radio series on “Women At War”. One of them focused on the issue of sexual assault on American female soldiers:
Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez, who sits on the Military Personnel Subcommittee, successfully lobbied last year for the development of a Sexual Assault Database to encourage accountability within the Armed Forces.
“There are plenty of phone calls that come into my office of alleged assault of women by our military men,” she says.
“They are heartbreaking. Some women don’t want to go public with it, some have gone public with it and they’ve been drilled out of the military.
“I’m told that the statistics are that once you have been raped in the military you are most likely to be raped over and over.”
She says that not enough prosecutions are happening and that while the Pentagon is taking it more seriously, big changes still need to be made.
“Why is it that when a woman alleges rape, the outcome shows that the man who supposedly did this was demoted or moved to another unit? I want to know why this is happening!”
It’s not a new story, although not an easy one to report with names and photos of women wiling to speak out publicly on the record. Female soldiers say they face significant sexual harrassment, let alone rape, according to today’s New York Times front-page story.
Of the women veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan who have walked into a VA facility, 15 percent have screened positive for military sexual trauma, The Associated Press has learned. That means they indicated that while on active duty they were sexually assaulted, raped, or were sexually harassed, receiving repeated unsolicited verbal or physical contact of a sexual nature.
In January, the VA opened its 16th inpatient ward specializing in treating victims of military sexual trauma, this one in New Jersey. In response to complaints that it is too male-focused in its care, the VA is making changes such as adding keyless entry locks on hospital room doors so women patients feel safer.
Depression, anxiety, problem drinking, sexually transmitted diseases and domestic abuse are all problems that have been linked to sexual abuse, according to the Miles Foundation, a nonprofit group that provides support to victims of violence associated with the military. Since 2002, the foundation says it has received more than 1,000 reports of assault and rape in the U.S. Central Command areas of operation, which include Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Miles Foundation, based in Newtown, CT, focuses on helping women facing these issues.
How ugly and abusive that women brave and patriotic enough to fight in war face enemies within their own ranks.
One in five college women will be raped, or experience an attempted rape, before graduation. Less than 5 percent will report these crimes to officials on or off campus, and, when they do, there’s a good chance the system will let them down.
A handful of former students who spoke out and reported rapes at their schools told CNN they didn’t feel protected by their universities. They were initially interviewed as part of an investigative series by the Center for Public Integrity, a Washington-based nonprofit that says it seeks to make institutions more transparent and accountable.
The women welcomed the chance to share their experiences and offer advice to students today.
“I was too young, still in too much shock and too emotionally gone to make decisions on my own,” said a woman who, as a freshman, reported a rape in 2001. “I needed an adult I trusted. The school did not provide such a person.”
Schools are aware it’s a problem, a big problem. … They’re just not dealing with this issue head-on. –Kristen Lombardi, Center for Public Integrity
The shocking statistics of rape and attempted rape on campus came to light in a study conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice nine years ago. But the recently released series published by the Washington center shows that while federal law requires schools to act on sexual assault allegations and look out for the rights of victims, many higher-education institutions aren’t making the grade.
“Schools are aware it’s a problem, a big problem,” said Kristen Lombardi, the center’s lead reporter for Sexual Assault on Campus: A Frustrating Search for Justice. She pointed to a “culture of silence” and said critics say, “The biggest sin is one of omission. They’re just not dealing with this issue head-on in a public manner with their student bodies.”
The story has so far gathered 250 comments, several of which point out that men, too, are raped on campus and also need support and advice.
I’m the broad behind Broadside, Caitlin Kelly, a career journalist. photo: Jose R. Lopez You’re one of 12,084 followers, from Thailand to Toronto, Berlin to Melbourne. A National Magazine Award winner, I’m a former reporter and feature writer at The Globe and Mail, Montreal Gazette and New York Daily ... Continue reading →