Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Wondering Wednesday: Personal Thoughts about Rape and the Objectification of Women

This topic has been weighing heavily on my mind for several days because I have come across several disturbing articles in the aftermath of the release of the rapist, Brock Turner. The articles and comments I have read shouldn't shock me, but they do because things haven't changed much in my lifetime. If anything, I feel like the acceptance of rape is increasing, which rather alarms me. This is not a comfortable piece to write and I acknowledge that it will likely make many of my readers feel uncomfortable because its a hard topic to discuss. I ask that you read carefully and consider my perspective.

Fortunately, I have never been raped, but the fear of rape has stayed with me since I became a young woman and learned what rape was. I have friends and family members who have either been sexually abused or raped. Of these women, not one of them was ever assaulted by a stranger. All of them were abused or raped by someone they knew and trusted: a parent, a grandparent, an uncle, a cousin, a brother, a friend, a boyfriend, or a trusted family friend. It's ugly but these things really do happen. I don't know of anyone who was every able to bring their rapist or molester to trial. Not one.  Most of them couldn't even bear to report because authorities or leaders weren't so helpful or respectful of what they had experienced. Trials are notoriously horrific for victims of sexual assault because their characters are often torn to shred by lawyers in public. Now, if you are reading this and you don't know anyone who has ever experienced this, then the people close to you aren't telling you for a reason--they may be so ashamed of what happened to them, they may wrongfully blame themselves, or you may have done something that signaled that you can't be trusted with such painful and scary information.

I hit puberty rather late in my teens--around the time I was 14 1/2. During Junior High, I endured comments, jeers, and even some attempts at groping from my male peers. This was normal for my school and very little was done to stop it by teachers or parents. In fact, if a girl complained, it was very unlikely anything would happen to her perpetrator. When I finally hit puberty, I grew rapidly and was very curvy, which brought new attention to my body. Attention I was extremely uncomfortable with. I also knew that no one was going to protect me and I had to protect myself. I'm very small and so I developed the biggest, gruffest, boldest, meanest personality I could manage. Learning about feminism helped me articulate the inequities and injustices I saw and experienced as a female, but also gave me courage to speak up about things that were happening right then. It worked and I basically scared a lot of boys away-something that I don't regret at all.

I have been thinking about my teenage experiences with a view toward what my daughter, who has just begun middle school,  and what she will potentially experience. She is sweet, innocent, and very much a child. I'm very nervous about the challenges ahead for her. How do I help her protect herself? How do I teach her to trust her intuition? How do I allow her to experience the joys of crushes and falling in love, but teach her to be wary of situations that feel wrong-even with boys she might like? I'm only in charge of one side of the equation here and it is really tough.

On the other hand, I have three teenage sons and we have these conversations often. I talk to them about how they talk to and about girls. I shared my experiences in junior high and the fear I felt about the way boys and men reacted to my body. They were very understanding and hopefully, they have listened to my advice and counsel. I would be so ashamed if one of my sons acted badly or inappropriately to any girl or woman.

As a woman with daughters, I want people to understand something really important about me. I'm not an object to be lusted after, leered at, or used. I have a body that is a vessel for my thoughts, feelings, experiences, intellect, and work. I have a body that is full of the power to create. I'm a person of value. I want my daughters to be viewed as people of worth because they are human, worthy, and valuable.

I want good men to:
1) listen with compassion when women talk about rape and assault,
2) openly condemn men who rape, assault, harrass, or abuse women (or children),
3) encourage justice and appropriate punishment for rapists,
4) stand up for women and be a protector,
5) treat women with respect and consideration,
6) work on not objectifying women or their bodies,
7) respond to young men and teenage boys and talk to them about appropriate ways to talk to and about girls.

What are you thoughts about this? 



Nicole Salisbury said...

This made me cry. I absolutely agree. Thank you for sharing!!!

Bobi Jensen said...

This meant a lot to me. I enjoyed reading your thoughts as we went through these stages in our own worlds but near each other a lot.

Luisa Perkins said...

Amen, Tiffany. Every mother needs to figure out how to teach her sons and her daughters these things. I was raped by someone I knew.

Tiffany Wacaser said...

From my friend, Marlena of Mohegan

Part 1:

I think the reason we hear about more rape is in part due to the changing definition of rape. In the past "date rape" and "marital rape" were not even considered to be crimes. I think women were conditioned to think of certain situations as a direct result of having "asked for it" and therefore their own fault.

In my 35 years of being an ER nurse I have cared for countless victims of rape and other assaults. A rape victim must endure what surely feels like a second assault in order to provide evidence for the prosecution. I tried very hard to make the exam as gentle as possible but I hated this part of my job.

The victim, who hopefully has not showered, changed clothes and has come directly to the ER after the event must remove all clothing, including underwear, while standing on a clean sheet spread out on the floor. All articles of clothing and debris are packaged up. The nurse must comb out the hair of the head and pubic area for additional debris. Any dried fluids must be swabbed and preserved. Fingernails must be scraped for possible retained skin cells or blood from the attacker. The nails are then cut and clippings are retained. Bruises and other injuries are photographed. All orifices must be swabbed for DNA and other fluids. A pelvic exam is done with specimens obtained for DNA testing, VD, and semen. Blood is drawn for HIV and pregnancy. We must pluck twelve scalp hairs and twelve pubic hairs which are compared with any hairs found with the debris combings. Hopefully a volunteer from the rape crisis center has been able to stay with the patient through all this humiliation. The volunteer may have brought clean clothing for the victim to wear home otherwise hospital garb is worn home. These exams are hard enough on on a lucid adult but I've done them on children and mentally handicapped patients. Some nurses have special training and are on call. They are called SANE nurses (Sexual assault nurse examiner) and make themselves available even when they are not scheduled to work. I take my turn but have not volunteered for extra duty. The specimens must be carefully handled, swabs must be dried so there is no mold or other deterioration during storage. There is a strict chain of evidence followed for the "rape kit" to be placed with the police so that it will hold up in court.

Tiffany Wacaser said...

From my friend, Marlena of Mohegan:

Part 2:

I was shocked to learn (believe it or not from "Law and Order SVU") that not all rape kits are processed promptly. New York City has made sure that the kits are processed right away and have seen an increase in convictions because of this. Other municipalities store the kits for months or years. The quality of the specimens naturally is at risk and finding the rapist becomes less than likely.

The adolescent teasing during puberty surely exists in every school. Those who mature earlier or later than the majority of teens are most at risk for the ribald comments, bra-snapping and "accidental" gropes. That these behaviors are tolerated are just another step in the lack of respect which led to the ridiculous punishment for Brock Turner. His father didn't want his life to be "ruined" because of a few moments of "action". Schools and parents need to be responsible to curb this attitude instead of writing it off as a natural stage of growing up or what used to be called "sowing one's wild oats".

I have tremendous respect for Elizabeth Smart who is doing so much for victims of sexual assault. She is a beacon of hope as she shows others that self-worth is not diminished by someone else's crime. She has challenged those who teach that virtue is like a piece of chewing gum and cannot be reclaimed once it has been "chewed".

Reporting a rape brings a lot of scrutiny of the victim’s manner of dress, previous promiscuity and social habits. At BYU the victim may be expelled because of an honor code violation which placed her in a "risky" situation. It isn't hard to understand why a victim might choose not to report the crime.

Tiffany Wacaser said...

@ Nicole Salisbury,

Thank you for reading, and sharing. I really think we need to be more open about this to have any hope of changing things.

@ Bobi Jensen,

I've thought a lot about how we share experiences because we grew up together, but yet how those experiences were also different. I'm glad we talk about them now and process them. You were a good friend then and a good friend to me now. I'm glad we have reconnected.

@Luisa Perkins,

I really look up to you as a model for parenting. I am so sorry that you were raped. That breaks my heart for you. But I'm also really in awe of you for the person you are, the family relationships you have established, and for the ways you develop and build your talents. I love you, my friend.

@ Marlena,

I also appreciate your insight and thoughts, especially with your perspective as an ER nurse who comes up close and personal with the immediate after effects of rape. I know you probably don't ever see the outcome, but I imagine your compassion and kindness does mean something to those women. Thanks for sharing.