I became politically active several years ago. I fought for many causes, but I never spoke out against sexual violence and rape. I thought that because I had never had anything like that happen to me that I had nothing to offer or support to give. Since I knew I would never do anything like that, and I surrounded my self with friends who wouldn't do anything like that, that sexual assault and rape were things I wouldn't have to ever really think about.
Two of my sisters had told me stories about how men had raped them. I still didn't look at rape as something I could do something about. I considered how my sisters knew their attackers and trusted them. I also thought about how neither of these incidents were ever reported and that they only felt comfortable years later to tell me about it. I remember wanting to find these guys and baseball bat their knees and cut off their penises. And then time passed and I almost forgot all about it. My sisters have never forgotten.
Years later I was still out fighting injustice wherever I could find it. Activist groups in my area dealing with sexual assault and rape were almost exclusively female. Many of their events were for women only. I respected the wishes of these groups to organize autonomously, but I could not get involved and I thought it would be important for men to be involved on these issues. I showed up at the "take back the night" event and was told I couldn't march with them. I felt frustrated by this and remained not involved.
I went to one "men's" group meeting people organized. It seemed like a meeting with no action and no substance, other than being an open space for guys to disavow their allegiances to patriarchy. I didn't see how a meeting like this was going to do any good for anyone, other than help make the people there feel less sexist.
I continued to not think about sexual violence and rape. Then a group of women within an activist group I was working with brought up sexual violence in our "activist" community. They wanted to ban a certain individual from our meetings because they were saying that other females don't feel safe if he was there and would not come to the meetings if he might be there.
I remember looking around the room at all the males with blank stares on their faces. Some of the males demanded details while the women formed a bloc and insisted that the details were not important. Since I had never really thought about this and how do deal with it, I sat silently while the group passed the proposal to ban this guy if he did not meet certain conditions. After the meeting, I went with a group of (mostly males) to his house and gave him a written statement of things he could do to be welcomed back into our community.
He took offense to this and quickly became defensive. He talked about how he does so much to combat patriarchy and sexism, and that we were all full of shit. He said he was going to move because of this. He insisted that all he did was grab a women and kiss her on the cheek against her will. When the men in the room realized they weren't dealing with a rapist, the conversation was over and we all left. Some of us felt lied to (by both sides) and used, and that our action did nothing to stop any sort of sexual violence. I felt confused about how massive issues of sexual violence really are and how they overlap every other issue in one way or another.
I wrote a little essay about my experience that night. I criticized the meeting for banning someone, like they were some sort of government. I criticized the guy for being an authoritarian asshole. I criticized the narrow-mindedness of everyone involved. I hated the whole situation.
I wanted people to look proactively at this and come up with better ways of dealing with this problem. Banning was not an option. He said he would just move if he was banned. I considered that not dealing with the problem, but pushing it farther away to some other place. I thought he and others like him have a problem and everyone should deal with it. The perpetrators are the ones who will need the most support from their communities to stop abusing people in the future and to fight off impulses that might lead to that behavior. I realized then, as I do now, that there are no "right" answers or 12 steps people can take, but something more needs to be done about it. Raising awareness is just a start. Putting that awareness into action is a good start.
Right when I think I have some introductory information on the issues of sexual violence and rape, a man in my community wrote a letter about how he was raped. He was traveling and needed a place to stay and his host raped him. I remember being stunned by how brave he was to share this information publicly and attach his real name to it. His experience motivated him to look up more information and share it with us. This event changed many misconceptions about rape and sexual violence for me and others. I somehow seemed to forget that men are also raped all the time.
Then I heard of a very personal event that ended my apathy towards sexual violence and rape. Although I hate talking about it, I think telling this story may be beneficial.
My ex-girlfriend told me that my brother raped her. I remember being speechless and freaking out inside. It was the most personally devastating thing I had ever heard. My own brother raping a woman I was in love with for years. I became full of rage hoping it wasn't true. I became a giant asshole and demanded details from her. I was completely insensitive to the fact it took her over a year to tell me. I honestly have never been that mad and disgusted and outraged in all my life. I didn't want to know the details but felt like I had to know them.
She told me how it happened. She was at the bar shooting pool with my brother that night. She said my bother kept buying shots for her until she could no longer drink. My brother offered to drive her car and drives to his house where he takes her keys and says she is too drunk to drive. He convinces her to stay. She trusts him because he is my brother and her friend. She pukes on her self, takes off some clothing and passes out on his bed. Later she wakes up with my brother on top of her and inside her. She felt like she couldn't move and she couldn't scream or do anything.
Afterwards she felt like she couldn't tell anyone and pretended that nothing ever happened. My brother also pretended that nothing happened. This went on for a year before she had the bravery to tell me. Once she told me I could no longer see my brother without wanting to literally kill him or worse. I thought about severely hurting him. I thought that might make me feel better, but I knew it wouldn't stop him from doing it again to someone else. I felt powerless, and I wasn't even involved. I knew my brother needed some serious help and support that I could not possibly give him.
I moved away, in part, to never see him again. I started refusing to come home for the holidays because I didn't think I could control myself around him. My family began to think I just didn't like them any more, and my brother never mentioned any of it. I had to tell my family that their son and brother is a rapist.
They didn't like the news too much. At first my sisters and mother believed her, and my dad was skeptical. They interviewed my brother who was like "yeah, I had sex with her" as his side to the story. My brother ended up convincing them and our old friends that he was innocent. He either made up or brought up things in her past to discredit her and make her into the "bad" person. I didn't think this situation could get more horrible and ugly, but it did. My sisters had even helped spread my brother's rumors about her.
I will never know what happened. I wasn't there and it's one person's word against another. My family somehow thinks I'm "jealous" for believing her and that I can't come to grips with them having an affair. Honestly I would be happy if they had sex millions of times and he never raped her once. But she says he raped her and I believe her. She has no reason to lie and he has every reason to lie. I don't know how this situation could ever be resolved. Your ideas and comments are needed.
As you can see I don't know anything about sexual violence and rape. I can see that I'm not the only one who is ignorant about these issues. I spent the last few hours writing this in hopes of continuing the dialogue and raising awareness about the many complexities and deeply held emotions surrounding these issues. It seems to me that silence is what allows sexual violence and rape to continue.