Trigger Alert: The following is a meditation on sexual violence.
This piece is in response to my previous post, “Won’t You Celebrate With Me?”, in which I discussed my experiences as a survivor of child abuse.
Last year, I wrote a piece in which I declared myself a survivor of child abuse. That fact is something that not a whole lot of people know about me. I know that much of my dissemblance stems from a deeply cultivated sense of privacy, but I would be lying if I said that, even as an adult who knows I did nothing wrong, that there was no shame in my silence.[i] When I think about what happened, I sometimes hear a voice saying things like, “It was so long ago, you need to get over it” or “Compared to what others have been through, you can’t even complain” or worse. And while I know this voice is full of shit, it’s still there.
Last year, CF Ashon wrote something in the comments that continues to resonate with me: “we live in a world that makes it difficult, if not shameful, for people who have been victimized to speak…” This phrase has come back to me a lot in the recent days, especially as I think about the gruesome events that have happened in the small town of Cleveland, TX.
If you have not already heard, a young Latina sister—only eleven years old—was gang raped by eighteen black men —yes, you read that correctly. Eighteen men. A New York Times article with some skewed reporting focused on the community’s bullshit response to this sister’s assault. For example, a community member lamented that the alleged perpetrators “will live with this the rest of their lives.”
Sometimes I wonder what planet I’m living on. A child is raped and folks are up in arms about how her eighteen attackers will feel for the rest of their lives?! Jesus, take the wheel.
Suffice it to say, there has been a lot of victim blaming: claims that the girl said she was of age (side eye), that she dressed “provocatively” (side eye), that her mother was negligent (side eye). All of this ballyhooing about blame is obfuscating the issue, which is: a girl was raped. Period. There’s no excuse. I don’t want to hear it.
Although much mainstream coverage of this incident has been fairly bootleg, thankfully we have folks like Akiba Solomon and Denene Millner who bring both sense and compassion to this discussion. Solomon indicts the rape culture that sanctions this behavior, asserting:
“In this framework, girls of color are the predators, the fast-asses, the hot-asses, the hooker-hos, the groupie bitches, the trick-ass bitches, the bust-it-babies and the lil’ freaks who are willing to let dudes “run a train” on them.”
Solomon is right. Perpetrators get let off the hook because folks are quick to want to uphold patriarchy by talking about brothers who act a damn fool as victims. And, let’s not get it twisted; we all know that black men, in particular, have had a history of being charged with rape, and other offenses, when their only crime has been being black and alive. I know this. But folks, we have cell phone footage and so on. Indeed, folks in the community don’t even deny that sexual activity occurred, but rather, in Solomon’s words, they are calling the incident “a case of consensual group sex gone wrong.”
This brings me back to Ashon’s comment about shame and silence. While I am absolutely sick about this and hope that the girl’s attackers are brought to justice, at this moment, I’m just as concerned about how this girl is doing right now. Reports state that she has been placed in foster care in another town because of threats to her family. (Sigh).
My concern is how is she getting up and facing the day. I suspect that this sister is being bombarded with a host of angry voices—internal and external—voices that question her morality, her sexuality, her intelligence, and her self-worth.
I wonder, is she being supported? Is she being held if she wants to be held or left alone when she needs space? Is she able to cry it out, talk it out, scream it out, draw it out, or dance it out?
If I could talk to this sister, I’d have a lot to say. But, first, I would listen to her. She has been talked about, conjectured about, and, I suspect, lied on, but I’m not sure how much listening is happening. I’m pretty sure that I will not be able to do this, but I hope that this sister can discover a supportive and affirming community that will listen to her needs and help her heal. And I hope this happens sooner rather than later.
Unfortunately, I know from experience that this sister from Cleveland, TX is not the only young girl out there dealing with sexual trauma from the hands of those closest to her. But there are things we can do besides shake our heads in collective disgust.
- We can continue to talk about it. I know the saying is that talk is cheap, but in the case of sexual violence, the silence is often overwhelming. Talking about these incidents, when possible, helps to illuminate the workings of rape culture.
- We need to listen. When folks admit to being survivors, we need to listen and not judge or shame them.
- We need to provide folks with information. Check out great resources like A Long Walk Home, No! The Rape Documentary, and Yes Means Yes! Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape, for starters.
- We need to help create counternarratives to the pervasive rape culture in our society that deems “running trains” and other sorts of sexual violence sites of masculine rites of passage. This means radical deprogramming for men and women in our communities. I know this is no short order, but this is life or death kind of serious.
- We need to be accountable to one another. As in, yes, I am my sister’s keeper. When anyone experiences sex violence or violence of any kind, we should be outraged and ready for action. These are not hypothetical situations. These situations are happening every day.
This is just a short and by no means exhaustive list and there’s much work to be done.
So, let’s get to it.
[i] To be clear, I’m not making an equivocal statement about silence in all survivors of abuse and assault. I know that for some speaking out is neither desirable nor possible.