Profound Nature

by Jestina Aspen Azaria

(as printed in the WINGS foundation Survivor’s Guide to Healing, 2nd edition)

My story

is not a tragedy

it is a triumph

of the most profound nature

it can’t be seen

from the outside

for it dwells within

love has conquered pain

and fear

through it all

I keep my heart

I will not grow bitter

I am filled with love

no matter the depth of suffering

I am woman

I am strong

I still love

feelings

experiences

come and go

but love resides

within my heart

for eternity

nothing in this world

can rob me of that

for me this is triumph

success

of the most profound nature

 

‘Purity’ culture: Bad for women, worse for survivors of sexual assault

By Jill Filipovic

The Guardian

Where does a woman’s value lie? In her brain? Her heart? Her spirit?

According to right-wing culture warriors, “between her legs”. That’s what underlies the emphasis on virginity as “purity”, and the push for abstinence-only education. And it has very real consequences, most recently articulated by Elizabeth Smart.

Smart, who was kidnapped and held for months while her captor repeatedly raped her, recently discussed how her religious background made her feel worthless after the first rape – how she understands why others wouldn’t even try to escape, if, like her, they were taught that a sexually “impure” woman had nothing to offer.

Smart’s speech is largely being interpreted as a critique of abstinence-only education, but she’s pointing to an entire culture that fetishizes purity. The more extreme versions of our collective obsession are seen in conservative Christian churches, which offer purity rings, purity balls and sermons that insist wives give their virginity as a “gift” to husbands. But purity culture is mainstream, even in a country where sexualized images of women are on every magazine rack and “Girls Gone Wild” series thrive.

Abstinence-only education is just one example of our bizarre relationship with sex, which can be seen most clearly in the way we treat women. Women and girls being sexy for someone else is more or less OK, as long as no actual sex occurs, and as long as the version of “sexy” has appropriate markers of being middle- or upper-class. Women who exhibit a degree of sexual agency by acting – rather than only appearing attractive – or women perceived as inappropriately powerful or aggressive inevitably face being branded sluts and whores.

The idea that sexual activity damages women and makes them lose their value was articulated by Smart:

“I think it goes even beyond fear, for so many children, especially in sex trafficking. It’s feelings of self-worth. It’s feeling like, ‘Who would ever want me now? I’m worthless.’

That is what it was for me the first time I was raped. I was raised in a very religious household, one that taught that sex was something special that only happened between a husband and a wife who loved each other. And that’s how I’d been raised, that’s what I’d always been determined to follow: that when I got married, then and only then would I engage in sex.

After that first rape, I felt crushed. Who could want me now? I felt so dirty and so filthy. I understand so easily all too well why someone wouldn’t run because of that alone.”

Smart’s case is an extreme example. But right-wing purity culture damages all women, not just survivors of sexual assault. Feminists have been making this point for decades, perhaps most comprehensively in Jessica Valenti’s book The Purity Myth. Valenti notes that the cultural emphasis on virginity teaches young women that their moral center is in their crotch, not in their minds or hearts.

This culture tells women that their bodies aren’t really theirs; bodies are only bargaining chips, which can be devalued like a new car driven off the lot. Women aren’t inherently valuable, the thinking goes, except so long as we have untouched vaginas to give our husbands (because our partners are always husbands). Virginity trumps intelligence, humor and compassion. The notion that both partners might benefit from having dated around, experimented, and figured out what they enjoy and want from a healthy relationship? It doesn’t even register.

It’s a view so out of touch that calling it “retro” seems quaint. It’s more medieval, harkening back to when women were sold into marriage by their fathers and virgins were the most valued goods. Yet it’s on display in schools across contemporary America, at father-daughter “purity balls“, on right-wing radio, and in church youth groups.

The dehumanization that purity culture inflicts was described by Smart in her speech when she talked about the sex education:

“I had a teacher who was talking about abstinence, she said, ‘Imagine you’re a stick of gum and when you engage in sex, that’s like getting chewed, and if you do that lots of times, you’re going to become an old piece of gum, and who’s going to want you after that?”

Smart says those words rang in her memory. She felt ruined.

Of course, Smart wasn’t ruined. There are a lot of words that come to mind when listening to her – resilient, intelligent, thoughtful, wonderful – and neither “ruined” nor “devalued” are among them. Her message is crucial: value isn’t maintained, lost or compromised with sexual penetration. We are inherently valuable.

Smart emphasizes a crucial point: sexual assault is a crime, plain and simple, and survivors should be supported, not judged. A cultural emphasis on sexual purity leads to the kind of judgement that Smart internalized. Surely, purity advocates would say that they don’t intend to hurt victims – that rape isn’t a woman’s fault, that she can still be pure of heart after the assault. But that, too, speaks to the fundamental misogyny of purity culture: a woman who has sex forced upon her may still be “good”, even if her stock has decreased. Women who act on perfectly natural sexual desire, on the other hand, are tainted physically and morally.

Read the rest of the post here.

Playing by the rules

Originally posted on :

1. I will respect and maintain the confidential nature of my group. Confidentiality is a must. I will not share information outside my group that could reveal the identity of members.

2. I will respect each person’s right not to speak.

3. I will give you my full attention, listening carefully as I can, while I temporarily set aside my own feelings and experiences so as to remain present while you speak.

4. I will listen without judging. I will be open to other people’s experiences and perceptions without defending or attacking.

5. I will not interrupt when another person is speaking.

6. I will share time appropriately. I will ask for time when I need to talk, not expecting others to sense my needs. I will not demand more than my share of the group’s time by talking continually or excessively.

7. I will speak in “I” statements.

8. I…

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1 is 2 Many

The White House has started a new campaign to combat sexual assault, while at the same time releasing a list of the 55 U.S. universities currently under investigations for Title IX violations relating to mishandled sexual assault cases.

Check out the star-studded PSA:

For more info on the 1 is 2 Many campaign: visit http://www.whitehouse.gov/1is2many.

For more on the universities under investigation:  http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/list-of-55-colleges-universities-under-title-ix-investigations-over-handling-of-sexual-violence/2014/05/01/9de0c5dc-d15a-11e3-a6b1-45c4dffb85a6_story.html

 

w-SexualAssault

(Source: Washington Post)

An Open Letter From Dylan Farrow

Legendary filmmaker Woody Allen was accused in 1993 of sexually assaulting his adopted daughter, Dylan Farrow.

Although he was never formally charged with a crime, Allen was denied custody and visitation rights after a judge and psychiatric experts agreed that he had an “abnormal” relationship with the child.

Allen’s recent Lifetime Achievement Award has brought the case back up, and Farrow has not wavered in her story. She gave a November 2013 interview to Vanity Fair, and now has published a letter in the New York Times.

dylanfarrowDylan Farrow / Courtesy of the New York Times

Here it is:

What’s your favorite Woody Allen movie? Before you answer, you should know: when I was seven years old, Woody Allen took me by the hand and led me into a dim, closet-like attic on the second floor of our house. He told me to lay on my stomach and play with my brother’s electric train set. Then he sexually assaulted me. He talked to me while he did it, whispering that I was a good girl, that this was our secret, promising that we’d go to Paris and I’d be a star in his movies. I remember staring at that toy train, focusing on it as it traveled in its circle around the attic. To this day, I find it difficult to look at toy trains.

For as long as I could remember, my father had been doing things to me that I didn’t like. I didn’t like how often he would take me away from my mom, siblings and friends to be alone with him. I didn’t like it when he would stick his thumb in my mouth. I didn’t like it when I had to get in bed with him under the sheets when he was in his underwear. I didn’t like it when he would place his head in my naked lap and breathe in and breathe out. I would hide under beds or lock myself in the bathroom to avoid these encounters, but he always found me. These things happened so often, so routinely, so skillfully hidden from a mother that would have protected me had she known, that I thought it was normal. I thought this was how fathers doted on their daughters. But what he did to me in the attic felt different. I couldn’t keep the secret anymore.

When I asked my mother if her dad did to her what Woody Allen did to me, I honestly did not know the answer. I also didn’t know the firestorm it would trigger. I didn’t know that my father would use his sexual relationship with my sister to cover up the abuse he inflicted on me. I didn’t know that he would accuse my mother of planting the abuse in my head and call her a liar for defending me. I didn’t know that I would be made to recount my story over and over again, to doctor after doctor, pushed to see if I’d admit I was lying as part of a legal battle I couldn’t possibly understand. At one point, my mother sat me down and told me that I wouldn’t be in trouble if I was lying – that I could take it all back. I couldn’t. It was all true. But sexual abuse claims against the powerful stall more easily. There were experts willing attack my credibility. There were doctors willing to gaslight an abused child.

After a custody hearing denied my father visitation rights, my mother declined to pursue criminal charges, despite findings of probable cause by the State of Connecticut – due to, in the words of the prosecutor, the fragility of the “child victim.” Woody Allen was never convicted of any crime. That he got away with what he did to me haunted me as I grew up. I was stricken with guilt that I had allowed him to be near other little girls. I was terrified of being touched by men. I developed an eating disorder. I began cutting myself. That torment was made worse by Hollywood. All but a precious few (my heroes) turned a blind eye. Most found it easier to accept the ambiguity, to say, “who can say what happened,” to pretend that nothing was wrong. Actors praised him at awards shows. Networks put him on TV. Critics put him in magazines. Each time I saw my abuser’s face – on a poster, on a t-shirt, on television – I could only hide my panic until I found a place to be alone and fall apart.

Last week, Woody Allen was nominated for his latest Oscar. But this time, I refuse to fall apart. For so long, Woody Allen’s acceptance silenced me. It felt like a personal rebuke, like the awards and accolades were a way to tell me to shut up and go away. But the survivors of sexual abuse who have reached out to me – to support me and to share their fears of coming forward, of being called a liar, of being told their memories aren’t their memories – have given me a reason to not be silent, if only so others know that they don’t have to be silent either.

Today, I consider myself lucky. I am happily married. I have the support of my amazing brothers and sisters. I have a mother who found within herself a well of fortitude that saved us from the chaos a predator brought into our home.

But others are still scared, vulnerable, and struggling for the courage to tell the truth. The message that Hollywood sends matters for them.

What if it had been your child, Cate Blanchett? Louis CK? Alec Baldwin? What if it had been you, Emma Stone? Or you, Scarlett Johansson? You knew me when I was a little girl, Diane Keaton. Have you forgotten me?

Woody Allen is a living testament to the way our society fails the survivors of sexual assault and abuse.

So imagine your seven-year-old daughter being led into an attic by Woody Allen. Imagine she spends a lifetime stricken with nausea at the mention of his name. Imagine a world that celebrates her tormenter.

Are you imagining that? Now, what’s your favorite Woody Allen movie?

Find the letter along with comment from NYT editors here: http://kristof.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/02/01/an-open-letter-from-dylan-farrow/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_php=true&_type=blogs&smid=fb-nytimes&WT.z_sma=OP_AOL_20140201&bicmp=AD&bicmlukp=WT.mc_id&bicmst=1388552400000&bicmet=1420088400000&_r=1&

Read more about the case, the interview and the letter here:

http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/culturebox/2014/01/did_woody_allen_molest_his_adopted_daughter_22_years_ago_reviewing_the_evidence.html

A new road

Originally posted on :

I finally joined a support group this week, after thinking about it for about three(ish) years.

I was scared, but it wasn’t scary.

The women there — ranging in age from 20s to 50s — were absolutely incredible. The group I joined is affiliated with the WINGS foundation, so everyone is a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. Which means these women were very young when they were assaulted. Some of them were very, very young. Many of them were abused by family members, some by their own dads. A lot of them have subsequent problems, like eating disorders and addictions. Several are members of Alcoholic Anonymous.

So I felt a little out of place. I felt like maybe I didn’t really belong there. Like since I was a little older (teens) and my abusers were similar in age and not related to me, I should be in a group…

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Blurred Lines

I loved this catchy summer tune when it first came out. It had an interesting beat, and even though I didn’t understand a single word in it, I sought it out online to listen to.

Then I realized what it was saying.

I could just type the lyrics, and you might understand how awful the song is. But I think I’ll do what The Society Pages did, and post some lyrics along with photos of abuse survivors holding posters with quotes from their attackers. (For the full article, go here:  http://thesocietypages.org/socimages/2013/09/17/from-the-mouths-of-rapists-the-lyrics-of-robin-thickes-blurred-lines-and-real-life-rape/ )

projectunbreakable.tumblr.com/

projectunbreakable.tumblr.com/


I always wanted a good girl
I know you want it
I know you want it
I know you want it
You’re a good girl
Can’t let it get past me
You’re far from plastic
Talk about getting blasted
I hate these blurred lines
I know you want it
I know you want it
I know you want it
But you’re a good girl
The way you grab me
Must wanna get nasty

projectunbreakable.tumblr.com

projectunbreakable.tumblr.com


So hit me up when you passing through
I’ll give you something big enough to tear your ass in two

Shake the vibe, get down, get up
Do it like it hurt, like it hurt
What you don’t like work?

projectunbreakable.tumblr.com

projectunbreakable.tumblr.com

I actually stopped listening to the song before I saw this post, when I realized that it was essentially about a guy hating the “blurred lines” of knowing when a chick is too drunk to have sex with.

I’m not one of those people who gets bent out of shape about the various lyrics of pop songs or rap artists. I generally don’t give a flying fuck what these overpaid, under-talented “artists” have to say, about anything. They exist to sell records. Period. End of sentence. Their morals end where the checks begin.

But I’m (understandably) upset about the lyrics. The song, which I once thought was so catchy and fun, now makes me physically sick to my stomach.

Because it brings up memories of times when I was too drunk to have sex, and of the guys who didn’t let that stop them. 

And I think of the thousands of other girls who have been through the same thing.

Rape and sexual abuse are under-reported, and of those that are, fewer than 18% of cases end in conviction. Those numbers go way down when alcohol is involved, precisely because the lines of consent get “blurry.”

The legal system is weary of sending someone to jail when alcohol is involved. That’s understandable. But you know what isn’t? The moral and ethical implications of having sex with someone who can’t expressly say, “Yes, this is OK.”

I think back to the most recent time I was accosted while drunk. It’s not as long ago as I wish it was.

I’d been out drinking with the guy a couple of times, as friends. We worked together. We’d made out once or twice in the year that I’d known him, after drinking, but we remained friends and had a mutual respect and understanding of our relationship.

The night it happened, we had way too much to drink. I ended up getting sick and passing out in bed. He stayed up to do cocaine with another friend of mine.

I woke up a few hours later, his body on mine. His hand cupped my jaw and gave my head a gentle shake. “Stay with me, c’mon stay with me,” he said.

I confronted him about it months later. He apologized and said he didn’t remember. That’s probably true. He had a lot to drink before snorting coke. But I remember.  

That song of the summer reminds me every time I hear it on the radio. In the five seconds before I can reach down and turn the channel, I remember. The smell of his breath, the fuzziness in my head, the leaden feelings of my limbs and the roiling of my stomach as I tried not to vomit up more booze.

I’m sure some people would say there was blame on both sides. I was in his bed; we’d made out before. Was it really that much of a jump on his part to assume I’d want to have sex?

I suppose not. But if I’d been more than semi-conscious, I wouldn’t have chosen to had sex with him. Certainly not without protection, which could have opened me up to disease and pregnancy.

I still had to see the guy for months afterward. I didn’t hate him, but I wanted to. I want to believe that he’s a nice guy. And he is. But he, like so many other men (and women) have this belief that things like what he did are just “what happens” when you drink.

Maybe songs like “Blurred Lines” contribute to this cultural mis-belief. Maybe not. Maybe, at 25, this individual should have known better, no matter what Robin Thicke has to say.

But I’m betting that if you had a daughter, a sister or a friend that you cared about, you wouldn’t want her going through something like that. And if she did, you’d probably want to beat the crap out of the guy who did it.

Maybe you think the song is just a song, and you love the catchy tune and weird video. Maybe I can’t convince you to turn off the radio when it plays, or better yet, to call your radio station and request that they not play it.

But at least now you know. And I’m hoping that next time you hear it, you’ll think about what’s really being said and celebrated.

Thanks for listening.

Like the tune but hate the message? Here are three funny alternatives done by women and for women:

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WVI9PfBzsA8

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tC1XtnLRLPM

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FqQJ7K2Hffw