Friday, April 24, 2009

So Angry That I Can't Think of a Title

I've been running around doing this and that all day, so once I came home I had a lot of "news" to read. "News" in this house means Jezebel, Dlisted, and BuzzFeed. I came across a story on Jezebel about a group of "feminists" on the Ohio State campus in Columbus who have been spraypainting documented crime scenes with the phrase, "Someone was raped here." This disgusts me to no end and I may not do the most coherent job of explaining why, but I need to at least try.

A little background: I was assaulted my freshman year of college. I went to my school's counselors, who were actually the ones who defined sexual assault for me and told me that yes, I was sexually assaulted. They also refused to help me call the police (I told them that if they could physially call the police for me that I would give a statement, but if I called myself I knew that I would completely lose it), and then told me that I was going to the hospital for a check up, but actually sent me to a psychiatric hospital and tried to have me checked in against my will. It's a horrifying story, but I console myself by dreaming of the six figure book deal it's going to get me (I joke... unless you have connections in the publishing world).

When I so much as saw the image posted alongside the story, I totally flipped. Then I read the story, and began to understand the rationale the artists, the article's author, and some commenters had for this "feminist street art," and I completely lost my shit.
I cannot fathom how a person can see this and not think that it trivializes sexual assault. Actually, I can: They have never been affected by the consequences of rape.  I have, and that's why I'm so adamant about my stance on this misguided attempt at awareness. I absolutely loathe seeing anything posing as "sexual assault awareness." It's almost always wrong.  I cannot watch procedural crime shows, because they always depict a rape victim going to the police, the police sending out some super sleuthing crime unit, the woman's attacker being caught, and the victim thanking the heroes for freeing her of all her troubles. In my experience, you tell some official type that you were attacked and they accuse you of being a liar. Oh, and send you to the crazy house.  Then you go through years of therapy and still have flashbacks when you see graffiti like this, or when shows like Law and Order: SVU hit the air.  I have a theory about this, and this is the part that I struggle to express coherently, but I tried to do so on the Jezebel comments. Here's what I wrote: 
I feel as though none of the people responsible for this idea, the execution, or it's defense have ever been victims of sexual violence.

It's so common for those who volunteer at rape crisis centers, make posters and spray paint markers like these only have knowledge of assault experiences from pamphlets and health class videos.
The problem is that sexual assault is disabling, and it's incredibly hard to face in the way that would be necessary for a survivor to work for these kind of awareness/support groups. And some do, and that amazes me to no end.

I'm a survivor myself, and a gender studies major because of my assault, and I keep telling myself that someday, when I'm mentally ready, I'm going to help others. But that day hasn't come yet, and I know that it's partially because movements like this one drag me back, making what I felt two years ago just a little bit fresher.

So far all I can do is write comments like these, so hopefully in some way this helps at least one person. One day I hope I can help more.


Pillow Talk in Chicago said...

I study women and gender studies (which means a lot of feminism) and I have heard of this tactic of some feminists, and I am pretty much as disgusted as you are. I think it is invasive and sick that they actually RESEARCHED where people were raped.

There are better ways to make people aware about sexual violence, but labeling a site of violence is not a positive way. I'm sure that there are probably some feminists who are part of the project who may have been sexually assaulted, but it has always been a fine line feminists have tread between their personal vendettas and stopping to think how their actions of "help"might affect others.

I'm sorry that you have to deal with the bullshit that some people consider "activism" or "bringing awareness."

Anonymous said...

My name is Keith Smith. I was abducted, beaten and raped by a stranger. It wasn't a neighbor, a coach, a relative, a family friend or teacher. It was a recidivist pedophile predator who spent time in prison for previous sex crimes; an animal hunting for victims in the quite, bucolic, suburban neighborhoods of Lincoln, Rhode Island.

I was able to identify the guy and the car he was driving. Although he was arrested that night and indicted a few months later, he never went to trial. His trial never took place because he was brutally beaten to death in Providence before his court date. 34 years later, no one has ever been charged with the crime.

In the time between the night of my assault and the night he was murdered, I lived in fear. I was afraid he was still around town. Afraid he was looking for me. Afraid he would track me down and kill me. The fear didn’t go away when he was murdered. Although he was no longer a threat, the simple life and innocence of a 14-year-old boy was gone forever. Carefree childhood thoughts replaced with the unrelenting realization that my world wasn’t a safe place. My peace shattered by a horrific criminal act of sexual violence.

Over the past 34 years, I’ve been haunted by horrible, recurring memories of what he did to me. He visits me in my sleep. There have been dreams–nightmares actually–dozens of them, sweat inducing, yelling-in-my-sleep nightmares filled with images and emotions as real as they were when it actually happened. It doesn’t get easier over time. Long dead, he still visits me, silently sneaking up from out of nowhere when I least expect it. From the grave, he sits by my side on the couch every time the evening news reports a child abduction or sex crime. I don’t watch America’s Most Wanted or Law and Order SVU, because the stories are a catalyst, triggering long suppressed emotions, feelings, memories, fear and horror. Real life horror stories rip painful suppressed memories out from where they hide, from that recessed place in my brain that stores dark, dangerous, horrible memories. It happened when William Bonin confessed to abducting, raping and murdering 14 boys in California; when Jesse Timmendequas raped and murdered Megan Kanka in New Jersey; when Ben Ownby, missing for four days, and Shawn Hornbeck, missing for four years, were recovered in Missouri.

Despite what happened that night and the constant reminders that continue to haunt me years later, I wouldn’t change what happened. The animal that attacked me was a serial predator, a violent pedophile trolling my neighborhood in Lincoln, Rhode Island looking for young boys. He beat me, raped me, and I stayed alive. I lived to see him arrested, indicted and murdered. It might not have turned out this way if he had grabbed one of my friends or another kid from my neighborhood. Perhaps he’d still be alive. Perhaps there would be dozens of more victims and perhaps he would have progressed to the point of silencing his victims by murdering them.

Out of fear, shame and guilt, I’ve been silent for over three decades, not sharing with anyone the story of what happened to me. No more. The silence has to end. What happened to me wasn't my fault. The fear, the shame, the guilt have to go. It’s time to stop keeping this secret from the people closest to me, people I care about, people I love, my long-time friends and my family. It’s time to speak out to raise public awareness of male sexual assault, to let other victims know that they’re not alone and to help victims of rape and violent crime understand that the emotion, fear and memories that may still haunt them are not uncommon to those of us who have shared a similar experience.

For those who suffer in silence, I hope my story brings some comfort, strength, peace and hope.

My novel, Men in My Town, was inspired by these actual events. Men in My Town is available now at

For additional information, please visit the Men in My Town blog at