Thursday, October 7, 2010

"Hey, hey, ho, ho...

...sexual assault has got to go."

The Take Back the Night rally/march/speakout happened on my campus tonight. The student group I direct wanted to take on this event, maybe even reinvent it. Several had been to it in years past and left feeling that they hadn't even known why they were there. Several had experienced sexual abuse or assault themselves and wanted to raise awareness on campus. So we moseyed on into the women's resource center that has been running it and offered to help. The staffer in charge seemed mighty happy to see us. This was a task that came as one of many on her to do list when she was hired. She did it, albeit without much help and without much enthusiasm. The students offered both.

Now that it is over, I have many complicated thoughts, too many to process tonight. I will say this, I don't think we changed much except that we got more people out and we raised the energy level. The program still represented the staffer's vision and I wish my students had been more vocal in running the show. But I think people knew why they were there this year. And any who stuck it out for the whole speakout probably found their brains in the same mushy spot where mine is tonight.

There is something amazing about hearing people you know stand up and say:

"I was abused by my dad for seven years."
"My abuser was a cop, my stepdad."
"I have never told anyone this, save one person, but I was raped when I was 13."

How could I have not known this about them? Then you have to ask, what else don't I know about these people? Who else around me has experience horrific shit and yet goes on with their lives so much that people like me don't know this about them?

Even if you know a fair amount about sexual abuse, domestic violence, and sexual assault from an academic perspective, hearing how people who don't know the studies tell their stories is eye-opening. The stories have such similar themes: shame, silence, denial...

Okay, here is the point that really hit home for me: invisibility. Speaker after speaker tonight talked about feeling like a shell of a person, feeling invisible... And it clicked for me. Of course they feel this way, some of them experienced not just a one-time trauma but year after year of it and the people around them, even (especially?) their families, didn't ever notice that something was wrong.

If I run the numbers, something on the order of 6 women in my average 40-person class has experienced rape or attempted rape. Holy shit.

Anyway, I'm both proud and moved by my students' work on this. Rather than just flier the campus, they did presentations in classes, chalked the sidewalks, did a black eye campaign, and took over the University Center at lunch time to get the message out. They got people talking and 100 folks showed up tonight, which for a commuter campus is pretty damn awesome.

Two students sporting (fake) black eyes. About 20 students made themselves up the day before TBTN and carried handbills for the event to pass out to folks who asked what was up.

At lunch time, the black eye campaign gathered in the student center, taking up space with a short silent vigil and their signs, cited stats on rape and domestic abuse, and then they passed handbills through the crowded space.