2011 was a year full of intense stories about sexual violence across a wide spectrum. My hope is that some of the discussion and dialogue here on The Siren has been beneficial in shining a light on an ugly problem and, perhaps, offering hope, clarity, or insight for those struggling with this issue — from survivors to all those who love them. Because, for me, that is the only reason to talk about this. If we can help move the conversation forward. If we can turn the dial that much closer to understanding and outrage at the occurrence of this, or any form of violence, then it is worth doing.
Big Brother: I’m not exactly sure what flavor of Koolaid was being served in DC this year, but it must have been a wild flavor. Starting in January, rape became one of the central topics of the already controversial No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, proposed by Rep. Christopher Smith. You see, the idea was that the government shouldn’t pay for abortions at all, even for victims of sexual assault. But even most hard-line, anti-choice politicians feel a bit Grinchy about removing the standard “except in cases of rape or incest” exemption. This is why Smith and his cohorts wanted to craft language that basically tried to measure rape by degrees. Is it reeeallly rape? Gosh, I don’t know. Is that reeeally air your breathing? Are you sure it’s not just a mental construct? Are you reeeally a human being? Cause I’m not sure about that… One good thing this year is that the FBI is finally (finally!) changing it’s antiquated definition of rape!
School rules: I don’t know if it is the down economy or just bad luck, but there seemed to be a lot of stories about school-aged girls dealing with rape this year. Particularly gross examples included the high school cheerleader in Texas who was allegedly raped by two of the football players from her school (and she still had to cheer them on during games!) and then there’s the special needs girl who is suing her school for ignoring signs of rape from a fellow student and then forcing her to write a letter of apology to him.
Penn State: Really, the Penn State scandal is so bad, this could be the only story I mention for all of 2011 and it would be enough. More than enough! Like a lot of survivors, this story has hit me pretty hard. Maybe that’s why I don’t think that jokes about it are all that funny. Of course, 52 counts against Jerry Sandusky, over a 12-year span with 10 boys, is gruesome. And the level of corruption and conspiracy of lies and silence that went along with it — well, that violates more than just those boys. It violates a public trust. And it violates the spirit we imbue in sports and the role-model status of athletes.
The UFC: Speaking of athletes and them being role models (whether they like it or not), The Sin City Siren was part of a group who have been taking the Ultimate Fighting Championship to task for a rash of recent tweets and public appearances in which one of their fighters or staff joked about rape. On the same day that the UFC debuted in prime time, as part of a reported $700 million deal with FOX Sports, a group of mothers held a protest here in Las Vegas to urge the organization to enact a code of conduct, similar to those in other major sports organizations. This came after fighter Forrest Griffin tweeted that “rape is the new missionary.” But barely a month later, fighter Rashad Evans joked during a press conference about putting his “hands all over” another fighter in an up-coming bout “worse than that dude on those kids at Penn State.” That same day, fighter Miguel Torres tweeted jokes about a rape van. But while UFC President Dana White chose to fire Torres over the incident, he has levied no public discipline of Griffin (who later made a donation to the Rape Crisis Center on his own) or Evans, fighters with much higher (and more lucrative) profiles. And then barely a week after firing Torres, White himself made a rape joke on twitter! Enough is enough! It’s time for the UFC to grow up! And here is the petition telling FOX to drop them unless they enact a code of conduct and clean up their act.
Social Media: And speaking of social media being used to spread jokes about sexual violence… What was up with all the “joke” pages on Facebook? Some pages were eventually taken down after a public out-cry, but many still remain. “Unlike” Facebook. “Unlike.”…. One thing that was cool on social media was the Start By Believing campaign debut this year. Just like the name says, one of the most important things for survivors is when those around them “start by believing” their story.
Profiles in courage: Another thing that helps survivors is when they can gather hope and strength from the shared experiences with other survivors. I believe one of the most powerful ways this happens is when celebrities and athletes — people that a lot of others look up to — come out with their stories. This year we saw Olympic gold medalist and legendary boxer Sugar Ray Leonard come forward with this story. When someone like Leonard — or other famous survivors including Oprah Winfrey, Gabriel Byrne, Tyler Perry and football player Laveraneus Coles — it helps fellow survivors find the courage to tell their stories to those closest to them. It can help survivors find the courage to seek support or help, if they need it. And it can help those who love a survivor understand what s/he is going through. In my own experience, the only way I could set myself free, was to finally speak the truth to those I love. And it still took me a long while longer before I could speak that truth publicly, as my friend Kris Hill did, here, this year. In my experience, one of the hardest, but most crucial, steps to healing from sexual violence is to find your voice and speak your truth. It doesn’t have to be on a blog or even to more than just one other person. It could even be in a prayer. But to find the courage to acknowledge what happened and to no longer live in personal silence is an important step. And the more survivors tell their stories, the more our society will feel outraged that acts of such deep violence still happen.
**If you or someone you know needs help regarding any form of sexual violence, please go to the Nevada Coalition Against Sexual Violence or RAINN for more information and access to a full range of resources.