Talking to my friend Catherine the other day, I somehow got on the topic of work. Service. Values. The paths that lead us through all three. Catherine asked me a great question, which got me thinking about my current place in the world, and the direction in which I’m moving: “if you could be a part of any movement, knowing it would succeed, what would that movement be and what would your role in it be?” I knew the first part of my answer immediately, and the second one is still forming.
I belong in the movement to end sexual violence against women. I believe, truly, deeply, almost maniacally, that the root of every bad thing that is happening in the world, now and across history, is a result of sexual violence. I recognize that my perspective on the state of things and my (sometimes obnoxious) outspoken attitude towards rape and sexual assault have pigeon holed me. Perhaps I am a cliché.
But I feel like my eyes have been opened, or a veil has dropped, or a light turned on, and only a few others in my life have experienced something similar when it comes to this kind of violence. Even the most sympathetic, open-minded, and even feminist people in my life have a difficult time accepting the truth about sexual assault and letting go of the myths (“women should be held accountable for what they let happen to themselves,” “half of all reported rapes are false,” “intoxication = consent,” et cetera). I find myself choked up, apoplectic when talking about rape because to me, it’s all so obvious. To me, it’s a no brainer that only 6-8% of rapes are falsely reported. To me, it’s no surprise that only 2% of perpetrators are ever convicted, incarcerated, or even arrested. To me, the fact that only about 25% of all rapes are ever reported is very discouraging; to others, 25% is plenty. Really?
Seeing what survivors experience in the aftermath, sometimes forever, means becoming simultaneously desensitized to rape and repeatedly horrified, disgusted, and determined. A victim’s body/soul connection is never the same following an assault, let alone what happens to her interpersonal relationships. Or her professional relationships. Or the way she sees her education. Or the way she feels safe. Or the way she trusts herself. Even if her perpetrator is sentenced to 15 years (HA!), that’s criminal justice. That’s not justice for the victim. Which, of course, leads to more questions. What IS justice for the victim?
At this point, many turn to other violent crimes like murder, assault, et cetera to point out that there are few resources for such victims once perpetrators are convicted, sentenced, and serving their time. However, many argue also that the laws, cultural attitudes, and even global perspectives on something like murder provide some relief, and perhaps prevention. That is not to say that “murder isn’t a problem,” in the world, but I believe (no, I KNOW) that sexual violence as a weapon, a tool of war, a vehicle for domestic violence, an oppression model, et cetera, is wildly underestimated. Rape is at once the most heinous and most accepted crime among cultures that do not anticipate it or punish it harshly enough. And so it continues.
I could go on and on. And will. I don’t know what my role, ultimately, will be. I’ve dabbled with the idea of law school, thought about a sociological route in academia, thought about media relations, and am pursuing women’s health. Ideally, I’d like to help steer the cultural perception of sexual violence against women towards something more... accurate. Do not mistake this for censorship, to which I am adamantly opposed. But our societal expectations and attitudes towards rape were all shaped somehow, and the education and laws surrounding SA will never change until the culture does. They feed one another.
I feel it so strongly in my gut that I belong in this field. My feminist philosophy, which stems from my childhood, my interests in women and values surrounding gender, my passion for this work, and my deep curiosity in how a life in this field could take shape excite and frighten me. Because it’s a constant struggle. Worth every moment.