SAAM 2017: Engaging New Voices

The theme for Sexual Assault Awareness Month is Engaging New Voices. According to the NSVRC (National Sexual Violence Resource Center), the targets for involvement are: Greek life members, Coaches, Fathers and Faith Leaders. It’s one of those occasions where I get to don my faith leader hat and use it to further an important cause.

I’m Pagan. Those words are already a turn off to a lot of people, and I know that. All it means is that I find the divine in nature. I think that’s pretty amicable grounds-Chrsitians often cite nature as a way to prove their beliefs. Islam’s holy book is filled with depictions of nature. It’s universal because it surrounds us. But I’m bringing this up for a different reason.

A LOT of mythologies contain depictions of assault. Native stories about Coyote have them, Celtic stories, Norse stories, Greek and Roman traditions, even Slavic ones. And there are mentions of it in Judeo-Christian texts as well. It would seem, from the beginning of the written word (at least), sexual assault has occured. I think though, the most well-known story about it is Medusa. This story is one that I hold dear-but for a little different reasons. I’ve told other people, but I think it’s a really good lesson for others as well, plus it fits with the current climate.


(Cellini, 1554)

The version that is spread around in academic settings, and even in pop culture is the following.

Enter Medusa, an incredibly beautiful woman who devoted herself to her beliefs. She worshipped the goddess Athena, who was a virginal goddess-meaning her followers would also be virgins. Poseidon, god of the sea, seeing that Medusa was beautiful, came to visit her and try to woo her. Medusa was devout and refused his advances, returning inside the temple to pray. Poseidon followed after her and raped her. Athena, then angry, cursed Medusa to live as a Gorgon-a winged snake woman with snakes for hair and eyes that turned men to stone. Medusa is then killed by Perseus and her head was removed and used later. Perseus is hailed a hero, having vanquished a foe, with the help of other gods.

But that’s not the version I know. Here’s the version I learned.

Medusa, an incredibly beautiful and intelligent woman, lived her life devoted to her faith. She worshipped the goddess Athena, known for her wisdom and strategy, as well as being a virginal goddess. Her followers, then, chose to remain chaste as well. Poseidon, god of the sea and enemy of Athena, saw that Medusa was beautiful and came to visit her, to try to woo her and make her one of his followers instead. Medusa refused his advances, returning to the temple to pray in safety. Poseidon, angry at her rejection, followed her and raped her, then left. Athena returned to her temple to find Medusa, no longer a virgin, crying. Athena told Medusa that she could no longer be a servant in the temple, but that Athena would like to help her. When asked what she needed, Medusa told Athena that she needed a way to protect herself from all who would harm her. Athena then turned Medusa into a Gorgon, giving her the power to stop anyone who came to harm her in her tracks.

The first version is told from a male perspective. Perseus conquers the monster and sets everything back in balance. The thing I couldn’t ever get past was Athena punishing Medusa for being raped. That wasn’t her fault. Rape is NEVER the victim’s fault. And for the longest time, I felt like mythology had made a giant mistake. Until I came across the version I know. Instead of punishing someone who was already punished, the victim became a survivor. And that’s why I share that story.

Sexual Assault and Rape and Domestic Violence is not the victim’s fault. It doesn’t matter the circumstances, the clothing, the drinks, the location.  That’s why SAAM is important. 

Rape culture isn’t a new concept. It’s not a myth. 

They didn’t know I was a seed.

“For a seed to achieve its greatest expression, it must come completely undone. The shell cracks, its insides come out and everything changes. To someone who doesn’t understand growth, it would look like complete destruction.” -Cynthia Occelli

This quote means so much to me. Especially that last sentence. Today’s been rough.

I set out with the goal of going to law school. And Friday I got my final letter. In the fall, no one wants me. After 10 weeks of waiting, I finally heard back with news that was crummy: waitlisted. That means that unless enough people reject them, I have been rejected myself.

I’ve debated how I want to say this-having typed up four different blogs and then trashed them. Because no matter how frustrated I sound, or how hopeful, nothing quite “gets it”.

You see, I started writing this blog on Friday, when I found out. I was so full of emotions that the words were pallid, flimsy. I spent all day Friday just moping. I mean, I was at work, so I didn’t mope too hard, but I moped. Saturday came the hard-hitting break down. All I wanted, all I’d worked for-gone. And there were a lot of deep questions that went unanswered. I reevaluated everything. I gave myself a one-over and grew frustrated. Nothing had gone the way I’d planned. If I got off the waitlist, it would be because someone else rejected their offer. I’d be getting hand-me-downs. Not how I wanted to start law school, to be sure.

And I woke up this morning. I barely slept last night-so there was lots of coffee involved. Over my second or third cup of coffee, I realized that I wasn’t as sad any more. I realized I was in need of a plan. So that’s exactly what I did. I sat down and got to work.

Most law schools begin classes in autumn. But there’s one school that I applied to for autumn that also has a spring start. I looked, and the application for Spring 18 opened yesterday. That means that I’ll be applying incredibly early (as compared to my other applications) and I will be closer to the top of the pile (meaning I’ll get a decision first). I know that that decision could just as easily be another “waitlist” or worse-“denied”, but I sat down at my computer, spit-shined my application and submitted it without a second thought.

It’s been a whirlwind weekend. I cycled through a lot of emotions, a lot of coping techniques and a lot of coffee. But I came out the other side. And I came out on my own terms. “If I can’t say I wish for this to my choices, I have the power to make different choices.”

I’m a seed. I was buried, and I burst open. My roots are coming out and I’m starting to grow. It’s hard, it’s dark, but there’s sky above me and that’s all I can ask for at the end of the day.

It’s Sexual Assault Awareness Month. And that means that my fight goes far beyond just myself. It’s time to rise up, for the greater good.

And nobody in all of Oz, no wizard that there is or was, is ever going to

bring me down.

I Have Listened

To be heard, you must first listen.

It is said that they best way to help people is to first be willing to listen to them completely, to be open to the way they view their lives and to accept that their story is real to them. It follows that they only way to truly understand that person is to “walk a mile” in their shoes-to experience what they have experienced before you jump to conclusions or make judgment. I have listened.

I have listened to the cries of the oppressed, to the whimpers of those who were too afraid to speak up, to those who could not speak up. I have listened to the sound of naysayers and those who would use cyclical logic and bare minimum reasoning skills try to cover up and wash over the actions of others. I have listened to the tear filled sobs of those who came before me, of those who have told me their stories and I have held them in my heart the way a slave held their chains. I have listened.

I have listened to the numbers, the facts, the statistics. I have listened to the “reasons” why these things must be so, why it is always someone else’s fault, why there is nothing that can be done about it. I have listened to the voices who say that there was never a problem to begin with, that those who cry out in their injustice are “seeking attention”, are “asking for it”, are “just trying to get ahead by any means necessary”. I have listened to the campaigns and the speeches that neglect to mention individuals by anything other than their relationships to others, by the crime they reported, by everything except the name they were given at birth or chose for themselves.

I have listened to those same people rise up in exhilerated joy as a victim comes forth with the unnecessary “confession” that if they hadn’t been at a certain place and a certain time, wearing certain things, drinking certain things, talking to certain people, avoiding certain people, if they had made any choice other than the ones they did, perhaps it would not have happened to them. Perhaps it would not be their fault.

I have listened.

And I can listen no more.

enough

Over the past month, with it being SAAM (Sexual Assault Awareness Month) I have pressed each and every fact I could latch onto into my brain with the feeble hope that perhaps it would come in handy, would save someone’s life. I have collected, hoarded stories from victims, from all walks of life, from survivors and politicians and naysayers and people who don’t even believe rape culture exists. I have written the story of my anger and hurt and rage so deeply that it has become tattooed into the person I am at my very core. And I have preached these same concerns to everyone I meet, making sure that other people know the risks, the concerns, the reality. And they have listened.

But I can no longer content myself in just saying

“Hello, my name is Michelle and here are the facts about how difficult it is to make the justice system believe that you are a victim.”

I am no longer content in just saying

“Did you know that one in five women will be assaulted?” or “Did you know that the governor of Ohio has stated that if a woman doesn’t want to be raped she shouldn’t drink alcohol?” Or “The CDC says that in order to protect babies that you have a risk of conceiving, women shouldn’t drink at all?”

I am no longer content running the same lines about concerns, statistics, sound bites of interviews from men who know nothing about what it is like to be a woman or a survivor.

My message is changing. It is a very great and noble cause to warn women about the dangers that they face each and every day. But it is not enough. Instead of just speaking, I have to start matching actions to words. Putting movement to my thoughts. I cannot do this alone, but I will be the one to start.

You see, in the end, all I wanted was to change the world. It’s what I have always wanted. And more than that, I want to change it for the better in a way that I know will be felt by so many. I want to have that iconic moment in Mitch Albom’s The Five People You Meet In Heaven when literally everyone I’ve ever helped is standing there smiling. That is what I want. And that may be selfish, but I’m not just doing it for those reasons. Never.

I want a woman to feel that she doesn’t have to sell her body to make do. I want a woman to be able to walk safely in her neighborhood without being afraid. I want a woman to see that the justice system which exists to ensure that. Equality and integrity can thrive will not continue to let her down, as those in her life have. I want a woman who made her own way in life to be judged not on the fact that she was a woman, but on her actions as a decision maker. I want respect for all-regardless of biology or skin color or socioeconomic background. And I don’t think that’s impossible.

This summer, which is literally just 10 days away for me, will see a maturation of my message. I am hoping to get a research project/grant for the fall so that I can present my research at the Denman (our research exposé) in the spring. I am hoping to gather my wits and material and create a “touring” speech which can be taken to schools or to the classes of the freshmen on my campus. I am going to try to pack as much as I possibly can into this summer so that when I hit law school next (NEXT) fall, I will do so running. I cannot remain an armchair advocate. That has proven to not be enough. The next step is something I will be sharing with you all as I go. There will be changes along every step, and I expect some feedback (please) because it isn’t my intention to preach, it’s my intention to educate. And I know that there will be setbacks, but nothing will stop me. My heart is a flame and the only direction I can go is up.

I have decided to rename the idea (I told you there would be changes!) to Operation: L.Y.F.

This stands for Love Yourself First. I know that Supernatural is doing a campaign with the same moniker (LYF) but I have an acronym for Love, I’ve been working on it all night and while I do not wish to take away from the Supernatural one, I have ideas.

First, this really must be an operation. We must all take our duties, our capabilities and make ourselves into little squadrons and teams based on what we do best.

LYF is slang for “life”. And that’s how long these changes must be for. That’s what these changes are all about.

L(ove) is the theme of my children’s book (of which I have yet to hear anything). In it, I detail what body safety looks like, using the letters L O V and E to remember.

Y(ourself) because the focus is on empowering the individual to protect themselves and to be aware of their rights.

F(irst) because self-respect and self-love are the basis of a fulfilling life. You cannot truly live unless you love yourself as number one. Not in a “I’m more important than you” way but in a “I am me and I love myself with the most respect and devotion possible” way.

So, although this is final’s week (and I’m off to study!) I will be actively working behind the scenes in order to promote my ideas and the possibility of researching on campus in an academic setting. I’ll keep you updated as soon as I have tangible actions!

My PSA

April 1 marks the very first day of April (obviously) but it is the beginning of an entire month of awareness. April’s awareness topics range from Autism to Organ Donation, from several types of cancer to Stress. But there is one thing that it is, which needs to be mentioned loudly. April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. And it is that topic which is the focus of today’s message.

On a personal note, there are very few topics which get me so fired up that my big heart shows right through. This is one of them. I am VERY passionate about improving the conditions of women with regards to sexual education and safety. What started out as a tangent-concern (I’m a woman and of course, I’m concerned about those topics) quickly became an all consuming passionate need to improve the world around me. This is what I’m going to do for the rest of my life. I’m writing a book about it, I’m going to school for it. I have lots of ideas, and I would love to share them all. If you want to know more about this topic, or any others that I blog about, please, just ask. Educating others is the biggest blessing I could ever have.

Trigger ALERT: This post contains information on sexual assault/rape. If you find those topics to be triggers, please, know that you are not alone and that life is still beautiful-even if your skies are grey.

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Before we get into the “heart” of today, we need to know what it is that this month actually means.

According to RAINN (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network), sexual assault is a crime of power and control. The term sexual assault refers to sexual contact or behavior that occurs without explicit consent of the victim. Some forms of sexual assault include: Penetration of the victim’s body, also known as rape, attempted rape, forcing a victim to perform sexual acts, such as oral sex or penetrating the perpetrator’s body, fondling or unwanted sexual touching

This list is only a partial list, however. According to Marshall University the list also includes:

Sexual assault includes:

  • Rape—sexual intercourse against a person’s will
  • Forcible sodomy—anal or oral sex against a person’s will
  • Forcible object penetration—penetrating someone’s vagina or anus, or causing that person to penetrate her or himself, against that person’s will
  • Marital rape
  • Unwanted sexual touching
  • Sexual contact with minors, whether consensual or not
  • Incest (Sexual intercourse or sexual intrusion between family members.)
  • Any unwanted or coerced sexual contact

Let me break it down for you: if it is physical contact that is in any way sexual (kissing, touching, feeling, etc) and you didn’t want it-it is sexual assaultALL rape is sexual assault, but not all sexual assault is rape.

I always assumed that the word assault meant “violent”. That sexual assault basically equaled rape, or some sado-masochist stuff that you see in Law and Order: SVU. Turns out, I was wrong. It doesn’t have to be violent at all. I didn’t know the actual definition of sexual assault until I was 23 years old. And that’s exactly what’s wrong with America today. Someone grab your butt? It counts. Someone kiss you without your consent? It counts. And that’s the start of why so many people don’t report it (of course, there are other reasons).

If you don’t even know it’s sexual assault, then why would you report anything?

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According to the Center for Disease Control, “1 in 5 women have experienced completed or attempted rape, and about 1 in 15 men have been made to penetrate someone in their lifetime. Most victims first experienced sexual violence before age 25.” (CDC) But the statistics do not stop there.

According to RAINN (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network)

·         Every 107 seconds, a sexual assault happens.

·         68% of these will not be reported to authorities

·         About 293,066 people are assaulted or raped EACH YEAR

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Some effects shown by the victims are: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Self-Harm, Sexually Transmitted Infections/Diseases (STI/STD), Depression, Substance Abuse, Sleep Disorders and more.

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Here’s what RAINN recommends you do if sexual assault happens to you.

1.       Your safety is important. Are you in a safe place? If you’re not feeling safe, consider reaching out to someone you trust for support. You don’t have to go through this alone.

2.      What happened was not your fault. Something happened to you that you didn’t want to happen—and that’s not OK.

3.      Call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673).You’ll be connected to a trained staff member from a local sexual assault service provider in your area. They will direct you to the appropriate local health facility that can care for survivors of sexual assault. Some service providers may be able to send a trained advocate to accompany you.

I’m going to just attach the link to RAINN about reporting assault, which includes some reasons people may not.

https://rainn.org/get-information/legal-information/reporting-rape

So there are the facts, and the data and the definitions. Now, we need to look at the real life faces of an issue that has made its way into our society. It’s time to make prevention personal.

Baylor Story                 Self-Blame                    Devalued, Discounted and Unprotected

Huffington Post, Kesha

These links are from people (or are about people) with real lives, real concerns. And in the effort to be fair, here are some links with resources and “help” information.

Good Therapy        Victims of Crime       S.T.A.R.S.

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If you took the time to look at the links above, you’ll notice one strikingly concerning thing. The phrase in question is:

It’s not like I was raped…

Let me say this in the plainest English I can:

It. Does. Not. Matter. 

You. Are. A. Human. Being. Worthy. Of. Respect. And. Love.

Seriously. “Just because it wasn’t rape” doesn’t make it less awful, nor does it negate the effects. Rape is awful. That is true. But NO ONE asks to be assaulted. NO ONE. And it doesn’t matter if you were at a bar and someone comes up to you and gropes you, or someone comes up to you and starts kissing you and “feeling you up”. It doesn’t matter if you knew the person or if they were a stranger.

If you didn’t want it: it’s sexual assault. And that is a crime.

If you are a victim, you are not alone.