Join me and the women at In Her Skin from July 5-11th as we use writing to create something completely new. Run by storytellers Stacy de la Rosa and Isabel Abbott, In Her Skin organizes periodic writing sessions, in which participants are emailed daily writing prompts in the form of a photograph, poem, or other artwork, over the course of a week. When I heard about their upcoming session, called "Identity," I knew we had to collaborate. Writing helped me overcome "slut" shaming and sexual bullying, and a big part of how I did that was discovering and defining my own identity. I want to invite the whole UnSlut community to take part in this process, too, wherever and whoever you are.
Beginning on July 5th and continuing for a week, I will be cross-posting the writing prompts from In Her Skin's Identity Session on Wattpad, the free story-sharing platform where I first posted my middle school diary entries to launch The UnSlut Project. Using Wattpad's in-line commenting tool, you'll be able to respond to all or any of the prompts that inspire you from each day. (If you don't have a Wattpad account yet, you should - it's free and takes just a second to set up.) So get ready for seven days of exploration and conversation, real and uncensored. Sign up for a reminder when we start on July 5th, and participate for as many prompts as you want. I'm looking forward to writing together!
This is a guest post by Anjali Bhattacharya, a student at GLS Law College. Follow her on Facebook and Wattpad.
I am glad that I could get an opportunity to contribute in this enormous moment by writing for the UnSlut blog. My topic is the major and common problems faced by the women all around the world, and how gender sensitization can be a solution.
Gender sensitization refers to the modification of behaviour by raising awareness of gender equality concerns. Basically, gender sensitization works to bring equality among all genders. It represents the idea that we should be given equal rights, judged impartially, protected equally, etc.
In our society this is not the case. In this world, women have a lot of problems and one of them is itself gender inequality. There are many problems that women have to face which men do not. I don’t mean that men don’t face problems but they don’t face a lot in comparison to women. And to change that situation is what gender sensitization is all about.
For instance, most of the time, when there is a situation where a woman is sexually harassed by a man or is physically/verbally abused, the most common approach to that situation is always that “the girl must have done something” or “the girl shouldn’t have done that, she should have taken these measures.” It means that even though the male is accused, the woman has to suffer as if it were not enough that she was harassed; to top it off, she has to go through that kind of shaming.
To change this kind of thinking and to have a neutral approach to both sexes, gender sensitization is very important.
What are the main problems suffered by women all over the world?
Although there are many problems that a woman has to face - not only in my country but all around the world - I will be focusing on the main ten problems which I see women of all countries having to face.
10) Obscurity in work:
Although there has been a lot of improvement in many fields for women, they still have to face a lot of difficulties. Many times, men are favoured more than the women when it comes to job opportunities, and even if women do get the jobs, there is a difference in promotions, bonuses, etc. In a few cases, even though women are stereotyped to do a certain jobs, men are still favoured more for them. For example, the career of chef benefits men, though women are stereotyped as knowing how to cook and doing most cooking in most places. So though women's empowerment is taking place, the problems are still there to be solved.
9) Discrimination At Home:
In many places, parents take more care of the educational and other needs of a son than of a daughter. Though this discrimination has been somewhat reduced in few areas, it still has a place in many countries. A boy is not questioned when he comes in late at night, but a girl is. If a boy wants to be a football player as a career it is fine, but when a girl wants to be a dancer, this isn’t. Why is it that a girl has to be good in household activities and it is okay for a boy to not be? In many places it is okay for a boy to whistle and relax, but not for a girl. All these kind of issues takes place at home, and they should not. It is a duty of the parents to maintain equality between their children and to encourage both sexes for their good deeds.
8) No Work After Marriage:
This is a problem in many places and especially in India. In most cases, women are not allowed to work after marriage. Society has always been like that. Now, though a woman can achieve by working, it is always the duty of a man to earn money and of a woman to take care of the house. A woman can do both; it is not necessary to stop her. I am not saying that a man can’t do both, every human being can. It is a dream of many girls and women to have a bright future with a good married life. It is also a desire to have a great time before marriage with her family. Many times, this is not the case, and the reason is domestic violence. Usually domestic violence is perceived as the violence done by a husband, but actually domestic violence is of two types:
Domestic violence at home: When a person is sexually abused or harassed by their parents, or is not given the facilities that parents should provide and take care of, though they have the economic condition to do it. Many girls suffer through this. This concept is related to gender inequality and discrimination at home. If a person can’t trust the people who gave birth to her then her life can be miserable. This should never be the case, because socialization starts from the home. All of this psychologically and physically affects the life of a person.
Domestic violence after marriage: This means domestic violence by a husband or his parents, a woman's in-laws. After sacrificing life with her own family, many of her needs and desires, and adjusting to a new life, a woman often has to suffer domestic violence. Yes, this is common in a lot of places, and the worst part is that in several countries, this domestic violence is in response to the birth of a girl child. A husband and his parents often verbally or physically abuse their daughter-in-law. It should not be the case, and it should also not be the reverse.
6) Sexual Harassment At Work:
Sexual harassment by colleagues or classmates could mean getting sexually touched in a bad manner, but it also consists of sexual comments and even staring in an uncomfortable manner. Although sexual harassment at anytime and anyplace is definitely one of the worst things, sexual harassment at work happens very often in almost every country of this world. Most girls have experienced this at least once or twice. It is very upsetting and almost like a nightmare. I am not saying that men never face this stuff; they do, and whoever does should definitely get justice. But the majority of the cases are from the female side.
The two places after the home where a person regularly goes are either to school or the place where they work, and if they are not even safe there, then it becomes hard for them to concentrate on their career. Not only that, but many a times the victim commits suicide or they become depressed. A woman risks losing her job if she complains about getting sexually harassed, especially if the perpetrator is her superior.
When it comes to younger girls and their schools and colleges, then if you ever refer to the works “The UnSlut Project” and “Your UnSlut Project,” you will come to know that young girls often become victims of sexual harassment, and in a lot of cases they are not even supported by their own family. It clearly shows how complex the problem of sexual harassment is, because if a girl is not supported by her own family and educational institution, then where is she going to go? The young girl becomes a victim of her classmates, who are the same age as she is, and many times of her teachers, too.
All these girls can and should definitely use their rights and laws for their protection, but most of the time they cannot. They don’t get the voice to stand up! And this is more upsetting, as after suffering through hell, these girls can’t or don’t use the help of their rights and laws provided for them because of fear or lack of guidance and knowledge.
5) Getting Abused:
This term is very much related to the domestic violence at home. But it concentrates more on how and by whom a female is abused. In many places, there is more desire to have a male child and due to this reason when the family bears a girl child, she is abused mentally and physically by her parents. Mostly it is by the father and the father’s side of the family. Sometimes the members of the mother’s family could also be involved. This world is in such a place where girls are being sexually and mentally abused by their own family, and what can be worse than that? A girl now cannot trust her family members, as in many cases the victim is harshly sexually abused by her own father or uncle. So for some, if their own house is not safe, then how can they be able to trust the world?
4) Characterisation Of Women:
Characterisation is something which has become an accepted part of a woman or girl’s life. No, it actually becomes a part of their lives from the time they are born. The female sex is stereotyped to be fragile, dependent, and well-mannered, to be always quiet. Quiet even at times when she should and she must raise her voice. If a girl or woman raises her voice, then she isn’t a girl, she is a witch, a slut; a whore is what society calls her at those times. “You are a girl so you should wear proper clothes,” “Don’t show off your legs or body or you will be raped, harassed or you will be called slut.” This is what characterisation of a woman is. “Why don’t you learn how to cook?" or "Hey, you are a girl, you should know how to keep your house clean and tidy.” I ask why all these things are always told to a girl when all of this should be equal between both sexes? I think hygiene and cleanliness is something not only girls should follow, but every human being should. I think you should wear what you are comfortable in, whether it’s a skirt or a pair of jeans, as simple as it is. If I am going to my workplace it's common sense that my attire would fit accordingly, so I don’t understand why a pencil skirt is considered slutty in some places or is called a turn on? If I am going to a party I will be dressed freely and comfortably, and so should a boy. I think it should be the occasion and myself which should decide what I should be wearing, not society, and if there is such thing as proper clothes then why can a boy can walk around in his boxers and a girl can’t in her shorts? Yes this is the case in most countries! Instead of stereotyping and characterising the female sex, society should better characterise how it is working for the improvement of the world and stereotyping a particular gender is sure not helping the cause. I can see that, and I wonder why everyone can't.
Slut-shaming is interrelated with the characterisation of women. Although Emily Lindin has already described a lot about slut-shaming, I will still add some of my points of view on the topic, which are not much different than Emily's. A girl or any female person is called a slut for different reasons. When a girl raises his voice and stands up for herself, she instantly becomes a slut. If a girl dresses freely or in short clothes, she becomes a slut. If a girl has biologically developed earlier, rumours are spread and most of the time she is harassed and thrown uncomfortable comments, and suddenly becomes a slut. If a girl engages in sexual relationships and if someone comes to know, then she is a slut.
Who gives anyone the right to slut-shame another person? I mean, I am a girl, and if I don’t want to engage in intimate stuff with a boy and my "no" means "no," then why the hell should society or the boy himself slut-shame me? Others should make him understand that if I don’t want to go ahead with him, it is my personal choice and he should not push it any further! Many times girls are slut-shamed by other girls out of jealousy or other reasons. I would like to ask those girls how would you feel to be in a similar position as the victim?
If I like wearing a certain kind of clothes, then I can. Why do you even want to judge me on that; don’t you do the same? Or aren’t guys doing it all the time? It is not only a girl's but any person’s personal choice if they want to have sex or not, or how many times they would like to and with whom. It is no secret that a guy is called a cool player or becomes a stud if he engages in a lot of those things. If you don’t want to encourage it then fine, do it in your head, you don’t need to shame others by spreading stuff about them in front of everyone. The impact is never good, it is always negative! Even if you think badly about someone or if someone else has shared stuff about herself with you, you should respect them and not spread rumours which cause them to face slut-shaming. If you can’t stop judging others or change your mentality, then at least stop acting on it.
2) "Eve Teasing" And Cat-Calling:
Women around the world have to face this problem while either walking on the road or going anywhere. Yes, she is "eve teased," and even seemingly harmless comments like, "Hey you are some hot stuff,” "Why don’t you join us?" "Come here baby, I can give you a ride,” and followed by those irritating whistles are something which every women has to hear, or she must have heard now and then. The only thing which most of them do is ignore those comments and those people who eve teases them. Sometimes women are even stopped on their tracks or are pulled by their hands!
This is definitely some irritating situation which should be solved and i think that it clearly shows that rather than telling girls to behave tell those boys to have some respect and improve their mannerisms.
For the month of April, Good Clean Love is donating 10% of its online sales to our work at The UnSlut Project! On Tuesday, we hosted a joint twitter chat with Good Clean Love about "slut" shaming. We spread the word about why these conversations matter, especially during Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM), and learned a lot from everyone who participated. We also gave away three of The UnSlut Project's signature Define "Slut" shirts as well as Body Candy from Good Clean Love - congratulations to the winners! See the Storify of the entire hour-long chat below.
On Wednesday, I was welcomed by the Annapolis West Education Centre and the town of Annapolis Royal in Nova Scotia. In the morning, we held an assembly for grades 9-12 and their teachers. That evening, we screened UnSlut: A Documentary Film at the school for interested students, their parents, school staff, and even a member of the RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police). It was a very moving day full of conversation, tears, healing, and planning.
The whole visit was made possible by a high school junior named Zeynep. In January, she emailed me to say that she would like to bring me to her school to speak about "slut" shaming and sexual bullying, but she knew the school didn't have a budget to bring in international speakers. I offered to donate my time and then Zeynep convinced the administration to host an assembly, scheduled the day, and secured funding for my stay from Women's Place Resource Centre. I was delighted to be able to share The UnSlut Project with Annapolis Royal, thanks to the motivation of this young woman, as well as the work of one of the dedicated teachers at AWEC, Susan Robinson-Burnie.
In Zeynep's Words:
Annapolis Royal’s high school is very small; only 170 students attend classes in grades 9 to 12. One hundred and seventy teenagers may not seem like an overwhelming number when you see it as the entire population, spread out and diverse. As diverse as they may be, there is one thing they unite in: a juicy story about one of their peers, and suddenly for a 16-year-old girl, 170 teens are the end of her world. That 16 year old was me last September and many other girls every month following. These girls had nothing more in common than the fact that the entire high school had taken an active interest in our sexual history or lack thereof.
I was pelted with jokes and snide remarks during class and was horrified to realize that everyone knew about such a personal event. I ran to my friend when it was recess, and I was on the verge of tears as I managed to say, “Everyone knows.” Her response was, “Well, your actions have consequences.” This was the mantra of our school and try as I might to ignore it and focus on schoolwork, I couldn’t.
That’s when a few months later I discovered The Unslut Project and heard Emily’s story, I knew immediately that our school needed to hear from someone who could eloquently show the dangers and consequences of “slut” shaming. So I emailed Emily and within a month it was planned with the help of one of my teachers. Emily made the flight out and came to our school the following day. The presentation was amazingly well received, with us also planning a community screening of UnSlut: A Documentary Film that night. Both events changed people's perspective and allowed education our school does not otherwise provide. Kindness, respect, and perseverance - that is what this project has taught me and it will stay with me forever, as well as with 169 other students.
This month, UnSlut: A Documentary Film had its Australian premiere in Sydney, and was also screened in Melbourne through a group called Films for Change. Films For Change, which regularly premieres Australian and international films, supports the diverse voices and free expression of independent storytellers and celebrates the power of documentary to improve our understanding of the world. Both events included dinner, live music, a vegan chocolate tasting courtesy of The Chocolate Yogi, and a discussion following the film screening.
The Sydney premiere took place on March 17th at Govindas Restaurant and Movie Room, which served a vegetarian Indian dinner throughout the event. Before UnSlut began, the audience enjoyed performances by singer-songwriters Kym Staton (who also organized both events) and Kay Proudlove, pictured below (left).
On March 22nd, UnSlut: A Documentary Film was screened at Loop Project Space in Melbourne, through Films for Change and the Melbourne Vegan Club. The audience was treated to performances by Kym Staton and feminist comedian Kirsty Mac (below right), as well as a five-course, gluten-free, vegan canapé dinner following the film screening.
By María Fernanda Ampuero. Translated by Úrsula Fuentesberain and Carolyn Silveira. María Fernanda Ampuero is an Ecuadorian writer living in Spain. She is the author of two non-fiction books, “Lo que aprendí en la peluquería” (What I Learned at the Beauty Parlor), “Permiso de Residencia” (Resident Permit) and a dozen journalistic pieces and literary essays. She won the short story award Hijos de Mary Shelley (Spain, 2015) and appeared on the list “100 most influential Latinos in Spain”. Her work has been translated into English, Portuguese and Italian; she has two forthcoming books. This essay is reprinted here with the permission of María Fernanda Ampuero.
When María José Coni (22) and Marina Menegazzo (21) — originally from Mendoza, Argentina — were found dead in Montañita, a beach spot in Ecuador, both the authorities and the mass media blamed the young women for their own deaths. “It was meant to happen sooner or later,” said the former Sub secretary of Tourism of Ecuador, Cristina Rivadeneira, referring to the fact that the two women were backpacking through Chile, Perú and Ecuador —she was quickly forced to resign due to the outrage that this declaration provoked. Of the same tenor, renowned Argentinian psychiatrist, Hugo Marietán, referred to María José and Marina as “propitiatory victims”, because they exposed themselves to risks by being outside of their home country. The rest of the media responded in a similar fashion and attributed the murders to the fact that the young women were “traveling alone”.
This display of victim-blaming detonated a public backlash against misogyny and violence towards women. Several Latin American journalists and activists quickly spoke on behalf of María José and Marina and reminded readers that femicides (the killing of women) is an increasingly alarming problem in Latin America—particularly in Guatemala.
Specialized publications and organizations have been calling attention to the rise of gender hate crimes in Guatemala for years now. A 2010 article in America’s Quarterly states that, on average, two women were murdered each day in Guatemala in 2006 and that 94 percent of all the homicides of women committed between 2005 and 2010 remained unsolved. By the same token, a 2015 study ranked Guatemala as one of the top three countries with the highest rate of femicides (alongside El Salvador and Colombia); and during an interview for the foundation InSight Crime, Guatemala's Attorney General, Thelma Aldana, said that “50 percent of the 854 women killed in Guatemala in 2015 were murdered as a direct result of organized crime.”
Ecuadorian authorities hastily pinned the crime on two men that allegedly offered Marina and María José a place to spend the night, but one of the accused men took back his declaration and said that the police forced him to confess to the crime. The victims’ families believe that the murders might be related to human trafficking.
The murder investigation is still ongoing, as are the demonstrations of solidarity with Marina and María José —the Facebook post written by Guadalupe Acosta, a Paraguayan college student, was amongst the most popular signs of support. Likewise, Marina’s sister, Belén Menegazzo, called for two protests in Ecuador: one happening this Friday, March 18th in Montañita, and the second this Saturday, March 19th in Guayaquil.
Argentinian magazine Anfibia also joined the public outcry against femicides and published pieces by seven Latin American writers using the hashtag #ViajoSola (#ITravelAlone). Renowned Ecuadorian author, María Fernanda Ampuero, was among them, she wrote a piercing essay, which we have translated below.
When I was eight, the teenage son of some friends of the family molested me. Sexually. There was no rape or struggle. No nudity or screams muffled by a large hand.
None of that.
But he was a man and I unquestionably a girl, and he asked for kisses on the mouth and to be his girlfriend and knelt down to be at my level and got close to me until I could smell his breath —which I can still smell with the same fear— and he cornered me against a cabinet, and its corner pierced my back causing me more pain, and he demanded kisses. "There’s no age when it comes to love," he repeated. "There’s no age when it comes to love " and then took me to the closet where there was no light and I said, many times, to please let me go. He said to not be afraid, to be good, and he touched my face, my hair, and he asked me why I didn’t want to be his girlfriend. He told me that I was very pretty and that he liked me a lot and why did I not like him; I would make him feel sad if I didn’t give him a kiss.
I imagine my bewildered look. No boy, no girl should live that inexplicable fear, an adult fear that drowns you with confusion: a sexual fear, to get aroused and to arouse. No, dammit, children have to laugh and be frightened by things that frighten children, like ghosts, not erect penises.
Damn them all.
Marina Menegazzo and María José Coni, killed in Ecuador. Marina Menegazzo and María José Coni, killed in Ecuador.
What followed after that is a blur. A noise? Did I duck under his arm? I know that I escaped down the stairs like those animals that have been tortured by cruel children with lighters and that I didn’t stop running until I was tucked under the covers between my mother and my grandmother.
I know that I told them what happened, shaking and crying, and that they, women like me, tried to convince me that it wasn’t important: he’s a playful boy, that's all.
Forget it, María Fernanda, bury it for thirty years.
Is it possible (or am I stupid and don’t understand) that sometimes mothers are more afraid of offending their husbands, fathers, sons, brothers, friends, and brothers-in-law by saying: Hey, are you sexually abusing my child?
It must be that I'm the idiot.
No. I was not raped. I have never been raped. But that afternoon, just minutes after I braided the multicolored tail of my Rainbow Bright horse, a man killed my innocence.
It was not in Montañita, I was not in a distant country, I was not being reckless, I wasn’t "traveling alone." I hadn’t even left my house, my mom was nearby, and I was surrounded by everything I considered safe in the world. Pink walls, shelves of stuffed animals and coloring books.
I was eight.
My only "fault" was to be born with a vagina between my legs.
But who knows, I’m sure there’s someone who thinks: These women, always teasing men, even as little girls, such a problem. She must have done something to make the boy, a well educated young man, say all those silly but innocent things. What’s the harm? He was only playing. How could anyone think he had bad intentions? Please! It was that girl with her dirty mind, making up stories to get attention.
She’s a "drama queen." That was the word that they used to refer to me from then on: "drama queen."
They used to laugh at the "drama queen".
No one ever said anything. My parents and his parents remained close friends, which meant that I had to keep seeing him, although at every party I hid in a corner, like a bunny in a room full of wolves. I became a sadder girl. Then a rebellious teenager. Then a disenchanted woman. What happened, happened twice: first, in that dark closet; second, with my family, who did nothing. Scratch that. Who sided with the bad guys.
Violence on top of violence: if people do not defend you it’s because you must have done something.
The atrocity of the world, the one that breaks little girls’ hearts, I am no stranger to that. Too many years ago I lost my naiveté and my perpetual optimism. I do not trust all. I do not think we are all brothers. I’m not affectionate or feminine when I speak. I'm not Ned Flanders.
I can be a piece of shit, and I am if I want to be.
I am Ecuadorian, Guayaquileña to be exact: I know you must have two hundred eyes when you walk down the street. One hundred of them on your wallet, another hundred on your ass. Because I’m a traveler, a tourist, a woman, a foreigner, a Latin American, my father’s daughter, an immigrant. Because I have common sense, because I’ve had many fucked up experiences in my life, I know how to stay alert.
That said, I believe with the faith of a saint that there are more good people than bad. And I also believe that this world belongs to me, not only to men, not just to women traveling with men.
It belongs to me, a woman traveling alone.
I prefer living to not living. And for me, and for all the people I love, to live means to go out, travel, speak, hear, taste, discover, watch, learn, marvel, experience. To do what some call taking risks.
Yes, this is a disgusting world in which some girls go on the trip of a lifetime and never come home, but it's even more disgusting that we’re afraid to undertake such a trip in the first place.
I will not stop going to any Montañita I feel like just because they say I'm looking for death. It's the opposite—I'm looking for life. Death is given to me by those criminals that you, Mr. Chief of Police, Deputy of Justice, Mr. President, or whoever is in charge of apprehending them, have failed to apprehend.
I'll say it more clearly in case anyone’s neurons aren’t firing: it is the murderer who kills me, not travelling alone.
I'm not stupid enough —I might be a woman, but I’m not an imbecile— to seek death, gentlemen, and especially in a paradise like Ecuador. In my Ecuador we seek life: there’s so much! The problem is that, if rapists and murderers are just walking around freely, even if I’m looking for life I will find death.
I will not stop going to Montañita, or wherever the hell my ovaries and I want, alone, even if people say that that was Marina and María José’s "crime." Traveling "alone," although they were two. And although I am not good with numbers, I am fairly certain that one and one make two.
Did they need, then, a chaperone in order to not be killed? Why then do the police not offer chaperone services for tourists traveling alone? That’s how we get rid of the problem, right? Instead of chasing criminals, we’ll make sure that the crazy women traveling alone don’t misbehave and cause trouble, with their bikinis and their wild appetites. Hey, great idea! And one more: let’s change the slogan from "Ecuador loves life" to "Ecuador loves life, but accompanied."
It is more genuine.
One of the most beastly things I've read about rape is in the book “King Kong Theory,” by French writer Virginie Despentes. When they were younger, Virginie and her friend were raped when hitchhiking their way back home from a concert. The physical and sexual assault was so violent that both adolescents became traumatized and never talked about what happened, not even between themselves. One day, Virginie read in a magazine this quote about rape by feminist writer Camille Paglia: "It’s an unavoidable risk, it’s a risk that women should be aware of and a risk that they should take if they want to leave their homes and move freely. If this happens, get up, dust yourself off, and move on. And if that scares you too much, then stay at your mother’s home and give yourself a manicure."
Virginie Despentes says more:
"Camille Paglia is undoubtedly the most controversial of all American feminists. She proposes thinking about rape as an unavoidable risk inherent to our gender. She takes an incredible liberty in de-dramatizating rape. Yes, we had gone out into a space that was not ours. Yes, we had survived instead of having died. Yes, we were in miniskirts alone without an uncle to accompany us, at night, yes, we had been stupid, and weak, as girls learn to be when they’re assaulted. Yes, that had happened to us, but for the first time we understood what we did: we left home, because at Mom and Dad’s home there was nothing interesting going on. We had taken the risk and paid the price (...) Paglia allowed us to see ourselves as guerrilla fighters, not so much personally responsible for something we had sought, but ordinary victims of something to expect when you're a woman and want to risk going out into the world."
At first, I was really shocked to read these Paglia and Despentes quotes, but after several readings and much thought, I realized that savage and unspeakable things happen in this world; to think otherwise is stupid, but we are not stupid. Nevertheless, the problem is not this world, but the beasts that inhabit it —in Montañita and in London and in Buenos Aires— but we will not stay locked up at home because of them.
No. No. No. A thousand times no.
Marina Menegazzo and María José Coni. Marina Menegazzo and María José Coni.
You know what we’ll do? We will demand the world be a safer place for us, rather than getting blamed for wanting to know a world which, they say, is not safe for us.
It is not our fault that you don’t do your job.
It is not our fault, the ineptitude of whoever-is-governing.
Crime is not our fault.
Machismo is not our fault.
Getting murdered is not our fault.
Getting murdered is not our fault.
Getting murdered is not our fault.
My name is María Fernanda and I travel alone.
For Marina and María José.
For all of us: #Viajosola (#ITravelAlone)
Over the weekend, UnSlut: A Documentary Film was screened and discussed in Middlebury and Montpelier, Vermont. Both events were attended by Gina Tron, a local reporter and author who also appears in UnSlut, sharing her experience being "slut" shamed after reporting her rape. On Friday afternoon, UnSlut was screened at no charge at the Town Hall Theater in downtown Middlebury, followed by a breakout session in small groups to discuss the issues of "slut" shaming and sexual bullying. As the Rutland Herald reported on the event, "Friday’s discussion groups examined the roles boys and men play and how this film can fit into middle and high school programs."
The next day, UnSlut: A Documentary Film was screened as an official selection of the 19th annual Green Mountain Film Festival in Montpelier. The film was followed by a panel discussion, which included Gina Tron as well as Clare Fraser and Mary Ellen Solon. UnSlut had been screened in Vermont on two previous occasions last fall, at Middlebury College and at Burlington City Arts. For information about upcoming screenings and how you can bring UnSlut to your town, campus, or community event, visit this page.
Nicole is a 23 year old broadcasting major, who enjoys writing about the things she loves, including women's soccer, and various TV shows and actors.
Fictional female characters - whether they’re strong, powerful, and independent, or shy and meek in spirit - we can all identify with them on TV, in movies, comic books, novels, videogames, and on stage. We find comfort, safety, and courage in them; until things don’t go our way.
As a fan girl, I’ve noticed this in some of the fandoms I’m in. I’ve noticed it over the years, but felt now was the time to write this.
The "slut" shaming of fictional female characters, especially when they get into relationships, or even have a casual fling with, someone we may not want them to be with; or wear a dress or outfit that’s too short, too tight, too revealing.
I’ve heard everything from, “No X! Not Y!” “Don’t do this!” “Y deserves so much better than X anyway!” “X, how could you? Don’t you see how much Y loves you!?” “X needs to raise her standards! She’s too good for Y!” All the way up to, “Just kill them both and end the show, already!”
Then come the excuses, the putting those who do enjoy the relationship down and saying hateful things. Then, actors are asked about the relationship: How could this character do something that seems too out of character? How could the actress playing X betray her fans?
And then the blame turns to the writers: They’ve ruined the character and people hate everything they’ve done with the show.
I know, or at least hope, many of those who say things about these female characters wouldn’t ever "slut" shame a woman, a real flesh-and-blood woman, for her choice of relationship, or for her sex life.
But what many fail to realize is that the people involved, the people that are getting the blame for this, the people at the other end of the "slut" shaming, the actors, the writers, they are flesh-and-blood human beings, male and female and any other gender identity you can think of. They hear and see the words, the hate, the "slut" shaming, and although they are famous, although they hear hurtful things a lot, hearing hateful, vitriolic words from those who are supposed to be their fans is a different kind of hurt.
"Slut" shaming is a real life issue. It affects girls and women all over the world every day. If we have no problem "slut" shaming a fictional woman for a relationship, for an outfit, or for whatever reason the fans have come up with this week, will we stop and think before we say similar things to a woman or girl who is standing in front of us?
We, as fans, as friends, as people, have a right to dislike a relationship someone is in, or to dislike what they wear. But we do not have a right to call them names, or butt into a relationship, or control the clothes they wear. If the relationship is happy and healthy, and no one is being abused in any way it is none of anyone else’s business, whether you like the person’s chosen partner or not, and as long as someone is comfortable in the clothes on their back, in their own skin, then it’s not the job of anyone else to tell them to go change, that they look too — anything -- to be wearing what they’re in.
Instead of spreading negativity, we should spread positivity and love, because with everything going on in the world today, we could all use a little more love and a little more positivity.
Jill Knapp, a native New Yorker, is an American author of New Adult/Women's Fiction novels with HarperImpulse, a United Kingdom division of HarperCollins Publishers. She has currently written three novels in her series about New York City: "What Happens To Men When They Move To Manhattan?", "We've Always Got New York," and "You'll Find Me In Manhattan." Before publishing her first novel, she received a Masters in Psychology from the New School For Social Research in Manhattan. You can order her books online here. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.
Emotional abuse is a tricky topic.
I hated even writing that sentence.
The sad truth about the way our society works is that if you don’t have physical bruises on you, you weren’t abused. Well, I have had both physical and emotional bruising done and, for me, the emotional scarring seems like it will never heal.
Because of this I am jumpy, anxious, and hate to be touched by others. Even those closest to me know not to surprise me with a hug.
I don’t speak openly about my abuse. In fact, this is the first time I have ever put pen to paper (so to speak) and really written about what has happened to me. The truth is that over ten years later I can count on one hand how many people I have told about my abusive relationship with a man I was with for a little over three years.
You may ask, is that because it’s so personal that you don’t want people to know about it? And the answer would absolutely be yes. But the truth is, that’s not the only reason why I haven’t divulged what I have been through. The hard pill to swallow is how quickly people will belittle what you went through. You will hear a chorus of, “It must not have been that bad, or surely you wouldn’t have stayed,” “I knew you while this was going on and you seemed fine,” “He seems like a jerk,” and finally the blank or pursed-lipped stare of someone who either doesn’t believe you, or flat-out just doesn’t care.
Unfortunately, I have gotten all of these responses and they are the reason why so many women and men feel like they can’t share their abuse stories. Responses like these often humiliate and confuse the abused individual. Saying something like, “It couldn’t have been that bad” makes us think back to our experience. During that time, most of us are trying to re-assure ourselves that it’s not that bad. That all women must go through this. That if I just was more quiet, less needy, less annoying, less likely to cause any type of stir, then this wouldn’t keep happening to me. And here lies the problem of why so many of us stay in these dangerous positions.
Simply calling an abuser a “jerk” also belittles our experiences. It takes a lot of the responsibility off of the abuser and just implies that he is simply a jerk.
Here is the situation for many women who have been through something similar. This guy did not start abusing us on our first date, or the second, or even the fifth. He waited, with sly calculation, until we were hooked, to show his true colors. There is an expression that comes to mind called love bombing. Love bombing is something that someone does in the beginning of the relationship to hook you in. They shower you with compliments, praise, possibly even gifts. They talk about wanting a future with you, how they’ve never met anyone like you before, how you are the one. You become so flattered and cared for by this person that you trick yourself into believing that this person who you just met is absolutely perfect. You are so high up on that pedestal! For us girls with low self-eteem, it can feel really good to be adored that much. It can make you feel relaxed. It can make you feel safe.
But how quickly it all changes! It seems completely out of nowhere. And it is. This person who once admired you so deeply suddenly is making you feel terrible about yourself. It starts with small, seemingly benign comments about your clothes or the way you wear your hair. Small things. Things you think you can fix. But there is no “fixing it” in an abusive relationship. Once you’ve fallen off that pedestal, you are never getting back up there. No matter what you take, no matter what you do.
This is how it started for me. Subtle comments my ex would make about preferring brunettes over blondes. (Spoiler alert, I ended up coloring my hair and he still wasn’t happy with me.) I was often criticized for my weight, my clothes, my friends. Then it was comments about my career path, my intelligence, my culture. Anytime I did something he didn’t like, I would be bombarded with harsh words and threats. He threatened to ruin my life time and time again. He would constantly take pictures of me in private situations and threaten to send them to people if I didn’t do what he wanted.
The insults began to pile up so high, I completely lost any faith in myself. I wondered how someone who loved me so much at the beginning of our relationship could now hate me so much. I hated everything about myself. This constant beratement made me start to hate myself.
He would take food away from me if we were in a fight during a meal time and throw it in the garbage. He even made comments like, “you don’t deserve to eat.”
The threats would keep me up at night. He would threaten to hurt me, hurt my friends, and even hurt my family.
More than once, he even threatened to kill me.
Having reached a breaking point about six months in, I broke up with him. We stayed broken up for about two weeks until he bombarded me with emails and phone calls begging to get me back. He said everything right - everything I needed to hear. He said he was sick, diagnosed with a Cluster B Personality Disorder, and promised he would begin going to therapy and start taking medication. Anything I wanted, he would do. He apologized for everything and seemed to genuinely take responsibility for the things he was doing to me. He said he would do “anything” to get me back.
Foolishly, I took him back. I thought, maybe he really has changed. Maybe he finally sees what he’s been doing to me, to us, and will go back to being the person I first met. About two weeks in, he cancelled his therapy appointments. He told me he had a change of heart about taking the medication. And then a few days after that, the emotional rollercoaster started all over again.
A few more months had passed of us being together and by this point in my life he had me convinced these things he was saying about me were true. That I was a “waste of life,” “filth,” a “stupid bitch,” a “person who should have been aborted.” I was forced to do things sexually that I wasn’t comfortable with all under the constant threat of either being hurt or discarded.
Words like, “No one else would ever want you. You have the body of a twelve-year-old boy,” still stick with me to this day. Emotional scars that still haven’t healed.
In some cases, abuse doesn’t stop at solely emotional. It escalates into physical and sexual abuse.
A few memories stand out in my mind.
I would cry and beg for him to stop, hoping this would reach out to some shred of humanity in him that would make him feel guilty. But for people like this, those words are a catalyst. It makes them feel powerful and makes them see you as weak.
Once I was driving with him in the passenger seat. He was seething with rage over something I cannot remember. I think it had to do with us going to a restaurant that he didn’t enjoy. I kept trying to calm him down, even while he was screaming at me. He told me to leave him alone as he continued to say horrible things to me. I don’t know why, but I continued to try to soothe him.
But again I tried to comfort him when we reached a red light. Mostly, I just wanted the yelling to stop. I gently put my hand on top of his and he suddenly grabbed it. I tried to pull back but this made him angrier so he clamped his teeth down on my hand. Hard. Hard enough to draw blood. I yelled for him to stop, but he didn’t. I was crying at this point, my hand throbbing with pain. After what seemed like forever the light finally turned green and he let my hand go.
I drove as fast as I could to his home and told him to get out of my car. Thankfully, without putting up a fight, he did. I drew a breath of relief and then noticed my hand was still bleeding. I can still remember the throbbing pain to this day.
Later on, locked in my bedroom so my parents wouldn’t catch wind of what was going on, I called my then-boyfriend to demand an apology (this was a time before texting was common). While on the phone he denied having hurt me. That there was no way he could have made me bleed and that I would “most likely be up in my room all night, self-inflicting pain, to make it seem worse than it actually was.” This is just one example of the physical abuse and emotional manipulation I went through for years.
Another term abusers live by is gaslighting. This occurs when an abuser will do something and then swear it never happened. The goal is to confuse and devalue your train of thought. For example, my ex spit in my face more than once. When I brought this up in an argument, pleading with him to stop doing these things to me, he would say they never happened. This went on time and time again; his selective memory would always work in his favor to erase any of the terrible things he did. It wasn’t until I was finally free of him that I was able to see this tactic for what it truly was. Manipulation.
Many more violent things happened to me, but the rest are too painful to talk about.
I decided to write this article because this happens to too many women. We want to take care of people, make them better, soothe their pain. But all too often this comes at the cost of our own happiness and, in some cases, our safety.
Essentially, love is not abuse. You shouldn’t have to prove your love to someone by constantly putting up with their manipulation tactics. All too often I heard, “If you really loved me, you would put up with this.” Don’t get pulled into this trap. If someone really loved you, they wouldn’t be able to hurt, manipulate, and degrade you. It just wouldn’t be in their nature.
This is Part Two of a two-part series by Janell Yik. Born and raised in Staten Island, New York, twenty-six year old Janell Yik is in pursuit of her Sexology education and career. She is very passionate about her career choice and takes it very seriously, with exceptions of it being fun and healthy. As a child, Janell has always been intrigued by health and sexuality. She is currently working on her Bachelors in Women's, Gender & Sexuality, and minoring in Psychology. Ms. Yik will attain a Masters in Human Sexuality and a PhD in Clinical Sexology in the near future. She cannot wait to graduate and network with more Sex Educators, Sex Geeks and Sexologists to make this world a safer and sex positive world. Follow her on Instagram and Facebook.
In my last article the question was, "Are you open minded and comfortable with sex?" The point was to develop a better understanding, most importantly building respect towards others, thus becoming comfortable through your own way, discarding ethnocentrism. The point is not to make you agree to everything but if you understand that proper sex education is extremely important, my job will be half done. There will never be unchallenging answers or a solidified decision, and it can and will take a long time to unlearn all the conditioned disinformation we have been taught. Not saying everything we were taught is wrong, but realizing that people have been misinformed by cultural and religious bias is a step in the right direction.
There are many adults who do not know their own bodies still, and are still afraid to ask questions, which can lead to not getting the proper care. In my opinion, it is strange that people still disagree and/or do not understand the necessity of sex education. It is written all over society that it is needed, but it is our job to willingly and gladly educate.
From research, asking questions, and learning through personal experience, the next goal was to discover why sex is taboo. Why are we misguided, misconceived, shamed? Why do we feel some type of guilt, and why do we feel uncomfortable in certain ways? People love having sex, but do not like to talk about it. This is the problem, and I found out why.
There are so many reasons as to why many people feel that way; the number one reasons are religion and culture. In many religions and cultures, sex is a taboo unless you do it the way the religion or culture tells you to. If you don’t do it that way, most of the time it can force guilt and shame, and can give misguided or incorrect information about those who do not follow.
Many will argue that sex is strictly for procreation, although there are many valid reasons why people do it. Nature always wins, not something humans created. We cannot stop people from having sex… at all. So we must educate and protect them, and ourselves.
Another thing is, having sex isn’t "everything in life" either, so do not get that confused. Sex will not make you a "whole person." Sex has many definitions and is not only intercourse.
If we did not have the proper sex education through school or through our guardians, we learn about sex through culture, mostly religion and many times through society. When we learn about sex through them, many of us may learn a very tampered and small aspect of it. The majority of sex is usually described as very bad and wrong, which brings guilt and shame, and intervenes with our power to make our own decisions.
Through most cultures and religion, there is only one time that is sex is approved, and that is through marriage. We all know marriage is not for everyone. Should we put shame and guilt on those who choose not to get married or don’t believe in marriage when they have sex? I don’t think so.
When we feel bad about certain things we do sexually, we tend to refuse to take notice or acknowledge our natural feelings. Often we turn to negative things so they can stop this shame and guilt. With effective proper sex education, we curb these negative attributes. We end "slut" shaming, body shaming, or shaming and guilt in general, often resulting in depression, suicide, and even murder. Sex education brings awareness, slowly combating rape, sex trafficking, genital mutilation, child sexual abuse, diseases, STDs, and STIs. Gaining protection and understanding for the LGBTQ Community. Aiding in the decline of unwanted pregnancies, abortions, and unwanted children. Eliminating sexual harassment, ridding the faking of orgasms that can lead to complications in many relationships. Eliminating everyday sexism, gaining equality for women, gaining sexual consent, and so much more.
There are so many reasons why we should normalize talking about sex. If we have people who see or go through sexual assaults, harassment, rape, and more, the easier it will be to speak up for what is right and defend ourselves and those who are victims of it. In addition, we'll rid the fear to come out and tell someone if one has an STD or STI so it will not be passed around.
Sophia Wallace, an artist who created "Cliteracy," once said:
There was an 11-year-old boy who asked his mother, "What is a clit?"
Life can be simple as that! Many times we complicate it because we are uncomfortable, we fear sexual questions, and we think that children should be restricted from sexuality, because "it’s an adult thing." Many times we are doing this because we think we are "protecting" children, not realizing we do oppress them in many ways and create other problems.
We also further the damage by thinking early sexual behavior will occur, when in fact it has been proven that that is not always the case and in fact abstinence education does not work often! Hiding sexuality from children does not protect them. These curious children can try to answer their questions with other, incorrect resources. We should give an explanation of this forever-existing sexuality to them. We should give an explanation that it is expected and it is extremely normal, and we should try to give an explanation that the way we convey sexuality should be self-controlled with the appropriate age.
We are all Sexual Beings, and yes, even asexuals are in some way. We are all here because our parents had sex. From when we are in our mothers' wombs, we discover masturbation, which is a normal discovery at any age. We also discover many parts of our bodies, and we masturbate as well, or we simply just touch ourselves. We are told it’s bad, not to do it, and to stop touching ourselves, so we keep that information in our brains until puberty hits and we become so confused as to what is happening with our bodies and minds. Throughout the rest of our lives we continue to be sexual beings.
Sexuality is a fundamental part of our lives, it is very important, and we must speak about it at every age in an age-appropriate conversation. Many times children aren’t being taught the full aspects of life, especially with sexuality. From a young age, we are taught that there are only two kinds of people (which is incorrect), someone with only a penis and someone with only a vulva (and we are not even taught the correct term of a vulva). Then we are taught constructed gender codings and labelings that have been changed many times.
Sexologist Amy Jo Goddard states:
The more whole we are as Sexual Beings, the more fulfilled we are as human beings […] The more comfortable and good you feel in your body, whatever its size, shape, color and imperfections, the more whole you feel, the more confidence you develop, the more whole you feel, and the more sexual expressed you are, the more whole you feel.
She is not saying you have to be sexual, have sex or talk about sex all the time, but if you are restricted or having that taken away from you, parts of your human rights are taken away. We are not taught that spirituality and energy ties into sex and sexuality very much. Because of particular systems of faith and worship or communities, we do not learn or realize how a very large quantity of spirituality is tied into it, and it becomes less valuable. When it becomes less valuable it doesn’t allow us to awaken our true sexuality, and when many times we do not awaken it, we do not realize our own self importance as well as others', which causes us to look for "our whole being" when we are already are a whole being.
We must also realize spirituality differs from person to person. Amy Jo Goddard also proclaims:
There are many ways to normalize talking about positive, healthy sexuality. Please try to research how to, and if you have any questions, please leave a comment and I will gladly help. The point of my blogs is to try to normalize talking about sex, so that when I do post "outrageous" kinky things, or when they pop up in our everyday lives, we can think critically, be more understanding, less judgmental, and be free from the guilt and shame we may not realize we have.
But before I end this blog post, a favorite quote of mine that I want to share with you is, "Know the importance of giving other people freedom to make choices you might not necessarily make yourself." If we do not at least try to let people make their own positive choices without hate, harassment, or being ridiculed, we will never, ever have equality in anything. We need to realize the beauty in many things, and change ourselves first.
This is Part One of a two-part series by Janell Yik. Born and raised in Staten Island, New York, twenty-six year old Janell Yik is in pursuit of her Sexology education and career. She is very passionate about her career choice and takes it very seriously, with exceptions of it being fun and healthy. As a child, Janell has always been intrigued by health and sexuality. She is currently working on her Bachelors in Women's, Gender & Sexuality, and minoring in Psychology. Ms. Yik will attain a Masters in Human Sexuality and a PhD in Clinical Sexology in the near future. She cannot wait to graduate and network with more Sex Educators, Sex Geeks and Sexologists to make this world a safer and sex positive world. Follow her on Instagram and Facebook.
This article will be about nothing but fun and healthy Sex and Sexuality. It will be a judgment free zone; the goal is to show you that there is a word called ‘respect.’ I am NOT here to preach or change minds. This will be up to you to do so, to learn how to become more understanding, loving, and open-minded for yourself.
Different views and beliefs can be a beautiful thing! The world is very diverse; there will be things you have never heard of, or have never
seen, which does not make them wrong or right. What we should try to do is keep an open mind and respect differences, the same way you would like to be respected. Consider that what is acceptable in our culture may seem strange or offensive in another’s. Find out if you really want to become more comfortable and open-minded.
The beauty of it is that your Sex is YOURS, and it can and will be different from others'!
The goal is to make you realize the world is not just black and white (there are many shades of grey), and to make you comfortable with Sex and Sexuality. Many of us aren’t as comfortable and/or may think we are comfortable but really aren’t. Breaking the complacency that one may develop on the topic of sex is beneficial. Not only will it help you in your Sex life; it may also encourage “escaping comfort zones” within everyday life as well.
I want you to be comfortable saying the word Sex, thinking about it, and doing it. I want it to be first nature for everyone, because we fail to see that it actually is.
There are many quotes, statements, and sayings that would be very inspirational, and would make you look at Sex in ways you have never before. I would really like you to explore Sex in your own way, for yourself, with my guidance. If you have to take baby steps, take baby steps; just know that I myself and others like me will be understanding towards every single person as long as respect is included.
This is a guest post by Taylor Hough. It includes a description of rape.
My name is Taylor Hough. I'm sixteen years old and have had a rough couple of years. From being "slut" shamed to being sexually assaulted, here is my story.
It all started when I went to my dad's house for the summer. I was fifteen at the time. My dad lives with his fiance and her five kids. The oldest one is seventeen and his name is Bryant. I've never liked going up to my dad's house because it seems like his fiance is always getting on to me about everything, and my dad just sits there and lets it happen. She normally gets mad about the clothes I wear even though 99% of the time my outfit is completely appropriate. It really offends me that she cares so much about what I'm wearing. It got to the point where she wouldn't even let me wear a bikini; I was forced to wear a one-piece if I wanted to go swimming.
Anyway, back to what this story is mainly about. One night I had just gotten out of the shower and put on my pajamas, then started taking my clothes out of the dryer. As I was doing that, Bryant suddenly came into the bathroom and closed the door. He started trying to talk me into having sex with him. I said no several times. He said that I "always want sex" and that I'm "that kind of girl."
It was late at night and everyone was asleep and my dad was at work. I didn't know what to do. He started trying to touch me, saying things like, "Come on you know you want it". He was a football player and a lot stronger than me, so I thought it would be best not to try to get away. At that point he pulled down my pants and raped me. He left and went back to his room suddenly, without saying a word. After he left, I sat there and thought for a long time. Then I finally left the bathroom and cried myself to sleep.
Ever since this happened, I feel really nervous around members of my family, even the ones who live at my mom's house, who didn't do anything bad. I have dreams of people who I trust raping me, then I'll wake up and start having a panic attack. Nobody knows about those dreams because I don't want to talk about them.
I think one of the worst parts about what happened is that my own father doesn't believe me that it did happen. Me. His own daughter. And you wanna know what the even more f*cked up part is? He told me that even if he found out I was telling the truth, that he would get Bryant the help he needs, then expect me to have to go back to his house and live with him with Bryant there. He also expects me to take part in his wedding with Bryant's mom... no thanks.
I want to be able to help other people going through the same type of thing I am. I felt like I had no one there for me but my mom. In fact, I still feel that way. I'm just hoping that my story will help other people like me feel like they're not alone. That's all I want.
Newton’s First Law of Motion states that an object in motion tends to stay in motion in the same direction unless acted upon by an external force. For me the event that changed my course and speed so drastically was bullying. Until this summer I was a very confident teenage girl. I did not let silly things bother me because I knew what I wanted to do with my life. I have my life planned out; I am very meticulous.
Well, this summer changed my attitude completely and changed my outlook on the world. However, I definitely gained some important and useful knowledge from this experience.
I was bullied this summer by anonymous people. It all started with a rumor that I was pregnant, which was strictly a rumor, but no one listened to me when I said I was not pregnant. I received harassing phone calls almost daily telling me how worthless I was, asking me about the baby (that did not exist), and they even wrote very humiliating things on my car. I was being torn down by a rumor that was in no way true.
I usually did not let things like this get to me, but I was never under this much scrutiny before. Before this happened I was a very social and outgoing person, but while this harassment was going on, I changed. I refused to leave my house, I was miserable, and I did not know what to do. For once in my life, I was at a loss for ideas on how to help me advance in my life, until I finally realized how hard I was being on myself.
Being harassed this summer did not only change me in a negative way, it changed me in a positive way as well. While I was spending every minute punishing myself, I realized that I was helping no one, especially not myself.
That is when I decided to initiate my very own project to help the school. I took it into my own hands to start a bully-prevention program in my home town of Bayfield, Colorado. I am talking to victims, bullies, and individuals who are perhaps both, and I am getting their input on the situation of bullying. I am also getting input from several large organizations such as Second Wind Fund, Safe2Tell, and many others.
I want kids to realize the impacts of bullying and the cruelty it causes. Bullying does not only affect the victim; everyone is involved and is affected in some way.
My goal is for people to realize this. I am looking for personal accounts, stories, and any other resources that could possibly help with my project. If you or your organization can offer any assistance or input, please contact me.
My life was well planned out. I had all my classes, graduation, and college planned out perfectly. I did not, however, plan for the event that changed my outlook on life. Yes, there were negatives from this summer; but I am choosing to overlook them and look to the positives from this.
Emily Peinado is a senior at Bayfield High School. She horse back rides and does archery in her spare time, and she really enjoys any outdoor activities. Follow her on Instagram.
This is a guest post by Sonia Audi, a writer, graphic designer, and visual activist based in Nairobi, Kenya. She uses her art to address issues that affect women on a daily basis. When she isn't engaged in the next big project to make the world a better place, she is either buried deep inside the pages of a Stephen King book or watching TV. Follow Sonia on Wattpad.
Mama told me to always keep my knees together. Of course, she had the best intentions at heart. She warned me not to be like “those girls who throw themselves at men,” otherwise I would get pregnant or worse, contract an STI or AIDS. She said that if I got pregnant out of wedlock, no one would ever respect me again. The boy would get high fives and be called a “man,” but I would be spat on and called a slut.
The conservative and highly religious society I grew up in taught me to never be too frank about my desire for any man. It was “unladylike.” If I happened to like a guy, I was not to tell him until he told me first, otherwise I would come off as “cheap and desperate.” I was made to believe that as a woman I could only exist as a stereotype, either a whore or a Madonna. I chose the latter.
A big chunk of my life story is told in journals in the voice of a scared, self-righteous, and confused teenager, journals I cannot read without wincing. Whore, slut, bitch, cheap, disgrace and desperate are words that appear over and over again in reference not only to girls whose lives I did not approve of, but also myself. The girls I "slut" shamed ranged from those whose clothes I considered “not modest enough” to those who were unabashed about their sexual escapades. They disgusted me, because that’s what a righteous Madonna like me had to feel for whores, right? However, I never told them what I really felt about them to their faces because I was a coward.
I was too much of a coward to admit to myself that the only reason I hated them is because I envied them. They had broken free of the stereotypes that had me caged. They were neither whores nor Madonnas, for they owned their sexuality with the same passion with which they thrived in all other areas of their lives. Many of them were quite studious and clever, and made it to very good colleges after high school. They respected their parents, gave back to society through charity, fought against injustices, and loved their neighbors. It was unfair to judge them based solely on the number of men they had slept with and the hemlines of their skirts.
I used to hang on every word they spoke when they described kisses, caresses, foreplay, and sex. Afterwards, in the comfort of my bed, I would fantasize about having sex with one of the many crushes I had at the time. What did that make me? Certainly not Mama’s little angel! Was I then a whore, “cheap, desperate, and unladylike” for desiring sex? No, it only meant that I was a normal teenager who was becoming more and more aware of herself as a sexual being. That was definitely not one of the many thoughts that flooded my mind each morning when I woke up. Instead, I felt dirty for being such a “bad Christian.” I blamed myself for letting my mother down, and I asked God for forgiveness.
I carried this weight with me for the longest time. It was not until after high school when I was forced to start taking responsibility for my life that I finally let go of it. I had to move to Nairobi, miles away from Mama’s wings, to attend college. It’s the first time I saw the world through my own eyes, and not Mama’s. I started to see the hypocrisy that is the fibre of our society when it comes to gender and sex, and how we are brainwashed not to look beyond that. I started to question myself. Why is it that women are shamed for being sexual beings, and yet men are applauded for the same? Why do I have to be defined only by my sexuality when there’s a lot more to me? I started to question those around me. The answers I got (still get) are not the kindest.
“You have a pussy, not a dick. You’re being penetrated and not the other way round. So, you’ve got a lot more to lose.”
“Leave that feminist talk for white women. African women are not promiscuous.”
“Women should stop trying to be men.”
What the hell?! I can barely keep it together every time I think about these responses and many others. The late Simone de Beauvoir captured my feelings perfectly in her quote, “Man is defined as a human being and a woman as a female – Whenever she behaves as a human being she is said to imitate the man.”
To all the women out there... You are a mother, sister, grandmother, aunt, neighbor, niece, daughter, friend, lover, and a whole lot more. Most of all, you are a human being with dreams, expectations and desires. People’s distorted perception of you based on how you choose to approach issues of sex should not define you. It’s okay to own your sexuality. Wait... Did I say ‘okay’? Hell, it’s great!
Last Friday, October 9th, UnSlut: A Documentary Film made its Vermont premiere at the Burlington City Arts center. Gina Tron, one of the women who bravely shares her story in the film, organized the event and was in attendance to participate in the conversation that followed. I was absolutely blown away by the interest and participation from the audience - I learned so much from your contributions and am heartened to think that you'll be going forth into the world and making change! Thank you to everyone who came and made this evening so special. To find out how you can bring a screening of UnSlut: A Documentary Film to your campus or community, fill out this form.
Guest post by Ali Guttilla. "Hi I'm Ali. I'm 23 years old and I'm writing about my story and bringing awareness to rape, bullying, "slut" shaming, victim blaming, addiction, and mental illness. Hoping to make a difference!
So many things have happened from the age of twelve years old to twenty-one years old that have shaped who I am, and my thoughts, and gave me the life experience, at twenty-three, not even a woman of eighty-eight could quite comprehend.
These were not fun years—they may have seemed fun and wild to the naked eye—but they weren’t; they were years of darkness and despair, loneliness and anxiety, as my life spiraled out of control and my childhood came to a screeching dead end way too early.
At age twelve, I was put into the “smart class” in junior high school, where I knew no one. Quiet, shy and to myself, everyone had their cliques—no other girls looked like me; I was acne-ridden, skinny, flat-chested, short and had a big nose in the middle of my tiny face to top it off—I was a middle school bully’s dream.
It wasn’t long into seventh grade, the boys in my school began harassing me—calling me ugly, telling me no one would ever go out with a girl as ugly as me—real mean things to bruise the ego.
The next year, one of the biggest bullies—the ringleader—punched me in the back and whispered, “You’re so ugly, I hope you die in a plane crash.”
“Kids can be cruel” is definitely not just a saying, it was my reality for two years.
Then came high school, where I felt much more comfortable at an all-girls high school after my crappy experience with those nasty boys.
I had actually attained a good group of girlfriends; not the outgoing, popular ones, the “goody-goody” ones, but I was glad I had some good friends.
Sophomore year—right after my grandfather died—I began having terrible anxiety attacks in school, and I’d have to leave in the middle of class. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong or what was making me so anxious. My guidance counselor requested a therapist, as the attacks persisted.
Therapist One: Jaime. Jaime was nice, and young, and she helped somewhat with my anxiety throughout the rest of sophomore year.
Junior year was the year of lots of parties, sweet sixteens, boys, SATs and tons of drama. I was actually convinced junior year was going to be the best year of my life—my anxiety had definitely diminished. I had a group of friends I was very close to and I had actually gained some confidence in myself.
I gained so much confidence that I actually messaged the much lusted after boy who rode the bus with me and my friends, all sophomore year. My friend Ryan and the bus boy were in the same band, and he told me that he thought I was cute—cute! Me! A gorgeous boy thought I was cute?
So, on good ‘ol Myspace, I messaged Vinnie, and little did I know that one message would alter every single relationship in my life thereafter.
Vinnie and I actually started dating for a month; he bought me ice cream, took me to the movies, texted me from the morning until he fell asleep—he was my first real kiss, first real make-out, and I even let him finger me in the movie theatre. I definitely wanted to lose my virginity to him—Vinnie, the gorgeous boy on the bus I lusted after for an entire year, who was a drummer in a rock band and read me poetry—seriously, what girl wouldn’t melt? Especially a girl who was used to guys treating her like shit, instead of a real life, beautiful girl.
For the first time ever, I felt wanted. Vinnie made me feel wanted.
I was completely inexperienced. So were all my friends, so they were no help at all. I was basically going off of my womanly instincts, and by that I mean winging it.
I talked the talk with Vinnie, but walking the walk was way different. He’d already done things, done it. And me, well, I barely had boobs at the age of fifteen.
We finally schemed a day after our midterms to rendezvous at his house, while his parents were both working. I thought I was so slick and badass, lying to my parents, going off with some hot, brooding rock ‘n roll drummer. It felt like it was all too good to be true. And it was.
For the special occasion, I bought lingerie, on which the saleslady commented, “I hope that’s for your mother.”
Fast-forward to Vinnie’s bedroom—typical guy room; band posters, dirty laundry, and a bed. I scampered into the bathroom and walked out in my little extra-small black and red lingerie.
Before I could even say anything, I saw a completely new side of Vinnie. He lifted me up and thrashed me onto his bed. He crawled on top of me, and I could feel all of his weight.
I remember being intimidated and trying to just kiss him, but he pinned me down and went at my neck like a vampire thirsty for human blood. He kept on until both sides of my neck were bruised and bloody and sore.
Things were fuzzy and happening so quickly. I remember him pulling down his pants—and bam! This giant, huge THING was right in my face. He nudged me, as in, “Go on, it’s not going to suck itself.”
I froze, but Vinnie didn’t. With force, he pushed my head down—HARD—I could barely breathe and there were tears in my eyes.
I knew I wasn’t doing it right, I didn’t know what I was doing, or being told to do, he kept pushing my head and flopping me around.
He held down my head and while I was still tearing, he took out his phone. “I’m taking a picture to remember, ok?”
How could he?
I wanted to go home and erase this whole day, erase the person he became, but it didn’t stop there. He flipped me around and started fingering—first one, then two. I cried out in pain, it felt sharp and rough. He said, going faster, “If you can’t handle two fingers, you’ll never be able to handle a dick.”
That’s all I remember about that day. My bruised neck that lasted almost two weeks was a reminder of what was done to me, what I thought I wanted.
My “friends” didn’t have much to say to me, especially when a few pictures got out.
Well, you guys were dating. (So it wasn’t rape.)
You said you wanted to do stuff with him. (So it wasn’t rape.)
There’s a picture to prove it. (You’re lying, it wasn’t rape.)
You talked to him first. (So it could never be rape.)
You went to his house on your own, with lingerie, what did you think was going to happen? (So it wasn’t rape.)
I didn’t try to tell anyone else after that, or explain myself.
That wasn’t the first time I came across a guy like Vinnie—I just knew how to handle myself the next time, and the time after that—because I didn’t stop.
Guys heard I was easy, and willing. So they wanted me. And I wanted to feel wanted. Again. More. Only this time, I wanted to know what to do and how to do it. I became more experienced, of course, but I was still being treated like meat.
None of my friends wanted to be associated with me.
A year after everything, I started dating a guy three years older than me. I was seventeen, he was twenty. He drove, he was in college and training to become a cop. I thought I loved him at one point. He showed me love and affection. He introduced me to his parents. We even went away on vacation together.
But the summer before college, I got my graduation gift—yes. I got a much wanted nose job. Being even more comfortable with myself, and growing into my body, I took to college well. I was active and popular and made a lot of friends. I had a lot of guys around, all the time, always flirting. Flirting was what I was best at—being cute and charming and teasing, but not giving. It was just fun.
The summer after freshman year, my best friend at the time, Gabby, had a “friends with benefits” relationship with this hot guy—and when she introduced us, I guess we just clicked.
I knew he wanted me, he showed it, he worshipped the ground I walked on—he thought I was the sun and the moon.
So, I broke up with my first real boyfriend, who in time was always busy, never around and I fell out of love with—if it ever was love—and started going out with this new guy, Nick, who wanted to make me his girlfriend the minute I broke it off with my ex.
Being with Nick ruined my friendship with Gabby, and our group of friends, but I didn’t care that much. I knew Nick cared about me way more than I cared about him. I liked it that way. I was attracted to Nick though, we had sex constantly and he was always telling me how pretty I was.
After a while, Nick got jealous and controlling over anyone in my life—guys, girls, even family. He was so protective and controlling, I felt my anxiety come back—with something else, OCD.
I had obsessive thoughts about brutal violence and rape and sex 24/7, I could not even hear myself think or read without these images slamming into my brain. My only escape was sleep. I began to feel suicidal and depressed—I slept and cried all of the time.
My parents took me to a psychologist who put me on medication for depression, OCD, and anxiety. I was numb and my OCD stuck. I broke up with Nick the summer before I turned twenty. He was crushed, and I felt like a load was lifted off of my shoulders. He caused me a mental breakdown and I didn’t care less about him being upset—I cared about sex, and guys, and lots of sex with lots of guys.
I was at a point in my life where I felt sexy, and I knew guys wanted me—it was time to take back my power.
So, I did.
The day after Nick and I broke up, I started an on-again-off-again relationship with the town "bad boy" and druggie, Tony. I started getting together with an older frat guy, and all of his friends. When school started, I was in the elevators, the stairwell, even the library with someone new each day.
I couldn’t even focus on school anymore. My depression, anxiety, and obsessive thoughts were always lurking inside of me—unless I was having sex. So that’s what I did—all the time. It was the best drug out there, and it wasn’t addicting, right?
Sex was an instant painkiller, it numbed everything—I felt completely drunk while I was having sex, and then after, I could barely remember. All I knew was that the pain was numbed for a while.
I began smoking a lot of weed, mixing it with my medication and sedatives and alcohol, to numb things even more. I didn’t want to feel pain anymore and I didn’t want my mind to be flooded with bad memories, so I numbed myself until I couldn’t remember anything.
I did everything a “bad girl” would do. Or, as I was referred to more commonly, a “slut,” “whore,” or “skank”. I didn’t care what other people were saying. I didn’t care how worried my family was. I just wanted to party, smoke, drink, have sex and sleep until 3 pm.
I met guys in school. I met guys in my neighborhood. On the bus. On websites. I even began doing some risqué tattoo modeling, which got me even more attention. I was very open with my body, not in a body positivity way, in a way in which I allowed myself to be used, with the mindset that I was using THEM.
How wrong I was.
I even had an affair with my professor in school, shortly before I dropped out. To me, everyone was so attainable. And I loved it. I loved the hold that I could have on men. I loved that I was aware of my sex appeal—I loved that I was the exact opposite of the bullied middle schooler that everyone called ugly, the exact opposite of Vinnie’s chew toy. This time, I felt in charge. I called the shots.
I sent naked photos to anyone, and everyone, with no thought of consequence. It seemed like I was a stupid girl. A “slutty”, “trashy” girl. A party girl. Casual. Uncaring.
I was labeled many things. And I was none of them. I was hurt, misunderstood, mixed up, poisoned, full of broken dreams and stolen innocence. In many ways, I was still that twelve-year-old being called ugly every day.
I still saw myself in Vinnie’s bed. Helpless.
My friends not caring.
I got arrested for shoplifting. I was out of control, lost, someone no one recognized or wanted to be around, unless they were getting something from it.
My parents took me to a new therapist and a new psychiatrist while I was in between court dates (and boyfriends). I didn’t think I had problems. I was a “free spirit” I tried to explain to everyone. The denial was strong in me. So was the anger underneath everything. And underneath that, sadness and loneliness.
I began dating a drug dealer and heroin addict that I met at a CVS while buying cigarettes. I immediately jumped into a relationship with him for a few reasons:
a) He had his own house.
b) Free weed.
c) I thought maybe having a boyfriend would be good for me and stop everyone from worrying.
I was wrong. Again.
The first three months, things were awesome. He bought me gifts and showed me affection. I was completely happy and smitten.
Then, while he was away on vacation something happened. I was hanging out with my friend Josh at the time, and his brother I’d never met. Josh left for an interview and would be back in an hour so I stayed.
His brother, who was really cute, began talking to me and we started watching a movie. We tickled and flirted and play wrestled. Then he started kissing me. Taken aback, I pushed him away. He got on top of me and started fingering me. I tried to pull his hand away. I was high out of my mind, feeling dizzy and weak.
He hushed me.
You know you want this.
As I felt him inside of me, he said, "I haven’t had sex in six months. I’m sorry. Don’t tell anyone."
I ran to the bathroom, cried, washed up, and then left. I tried to brush it off, like it was a typical occurrence. I thought to myself I pretty much was asking for it. I flirted. I thought he was cute. I enticed him. I got high. I wanted it.
I am, after all, a slut.
After the “incident” with Josh’s brother, I broke my faithful streak and began cheating. I had no fear of being caught. My boyfriend was always high with his friends, or out selling. The only time he wanted me was for sex. What else was new?
Word got around about me even more. Pictures were posted on anonymous websites with titles like “The Sluttiest Girls in Town.”And under the title I saw multiple pictures of myself and other girls. Naked and posing.
My caption read: "This Girl is Such a Whore! I bet there are millions of photos of her floating around. Please post more."
I hated myself. I hated my ugly face and stupid, used up body. I started thinking about suicide again. It sounded as nice as being sedated. During my “relationship” with my druggie boyfriend, an old almost-flame came back into my life.
We had dated a few years back, when I was single but not too wild. We began hanging out regularly, then every day. He became my best friend, and my safe haven.
There was something about him I always liked—he never saw me as a slut. He never treated me like a piece of meat. To me, this was insane, finding a guy like him, but in reality, it’s how I—and every woman—should be treated; with respect.
Rich knew all my secrets and fears; opening up to him scared me, but in a good way. He was always gentle, and sweet, and funny and sarcastic and thoughtful. I knew when I fell in love with him—everything was perfect with him—and not just sexually and physically. He listened. He understood. He saw me—actually saw me for the person I was, not the person that the pain created.
Sometimes, all someone needs is to be truly seen and understood.
I broke it off with my druggie boyfriend and moved back in with my parents. I also began therapy and taking my medications seriously. I had a therapist I loved, Victoria.
She diagnosed me with something called Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), also called Emotional Dysregulation Disorder. For those of you who don’t know (because I didn’t), Borderline Personality Disorder is described as “a serious mental illness marked by unstable moods, relationships, and behavior.”
People with BPD have:
People with BPD also have already had things such as high anxiety, depression, or problems with substance abuse. Adults with BPD are often the victims of rape. This also causes Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). I was often misdiagnosed (as BPD can easily be misdiagnosed) and given the wrong medications.
I was also considered to be, as you could have guessed, a sex addict due to PTSD. Some people still don’t believe it’s an addiction, or think it’s a silly addiction, but it’s as real as alcoholism and heroin addiction.
Something you need constantly to take away the pain, no matter if you are hurting yourself and others.
I was not a slut. Or a whore.
Fuck those words. Those words shouldn’t exist.
I was a victim of bullying, rape, and "slut" shaming, made to believe I wanted and deserved these things. I had (and still cope with) a serious mental illness. Mental illnesses are as real as cancer.
It took me a long time to tell this story—lots of group therapy, one-on-one therapy, re-building a relationship with my family and entering a new, healthy relationship with my now year-long relationship with Rich to realize I was never a bad person, never those nasty things people called me.
I never deserved to be exploited—no woman deserves to be blamed for what was done to her.
No woman deserves to be called a “slut” for having sex—whether it’s three guys, thirty, or three hundred, as long as it’s consensual.
No means no. Pushing a guy away means no. Crying means no.
It doesn’t matter if you flirted with him, made him angry, said you wanted to have sex and then changed your mind.
No means no. Period.
Posting nudes as a source of revenge and punishment for having sex is "slut" shaming and cyber-bullying and sexual harassment. It’s not funny, or cool, or sexy. It’s a real issue that has hurt many women.
I learned how horrible people can be—people you trust and your own friends, but I also know there are people out there who have similar stories and people who want to help you.
I wanted to help and I wanted to be able to share my story. I wanted to be able to say after everything, I am doing well. I worked full-time as a nanny for a year. I am back in school, doing very well. I have been in a healthy relationship with Rich for a year so far. I am close again with my parents. I am sober. I still go to therapy once a month (and it’s mostly good stuff).
Things DO get better. Even if it means having to rebuild what some people broke down. Never be afraid to reach out, or tell your story; there’s going to be someone who needs as much help as you did and just needs someone to turn to who will listen and understand.
Never be ashamed to go to therapy. Never be ashamed to do anything that is helping you. Never be ashamed to speak up when you have been wronged or violated.
You’re beautiful. You’re strong. You’re worthy. You’re powerful.
By Shannon Sheehan. Shannon is a senior Sociology, Gender Studies major at the University of Notre Dame. Besides interning at The UnSlut Project this summer, Shannon's senior thesis focuses on the effects of the sexual double standard on identity formation in college students. In her free time she loves social outings, running, writing, and cooking vegan meals.
Shelly and I were talking last night, and she asked me a question about sex addiction that got me really thinking. She asked me who I was hurting by having random sex, because unlike an addiction to drugs or alcohol it’s a lot less clear. I realized the answer is really just myself. Anytime I hookup with a guy I immediately go into this place of intense and overwhelming fear, like up until that point it was exhilarating and exciting to feel wanted, but now here we are, and I can’t let myself be hurt again. I feel like I have to be the one to offer sex immediately because it’s the only way I can be completely in control of the situation, making sure I never give him the opportunity to ask me, making sure I won’t say no and then be raped again. But really, I’m giving up my power out of fear, fear of what my past experience has taught me will always happen to me in sexual situations. I am teaching myself that the only part of me that can garner control and power is my sexual side. I’m tying my worth to sex, which means that if it’s a one-time thing, I’m easily disposable and replaceable. It hit me that last semester, I was basically just engraining the feeling that I’ve had my whole life, that I am broken because of my abuse, I am good for one thing and then easily discarded, into my own self image. In a sense, I was re-assaulting myself.
I am not a rape victim. I am a rape survivor. For the first time in 21 years, eight of which I was being molested and one of which I spent reeling from my second assault, I can finally say that I am not living in the hell that defines life as a victim, instead I am living life on the other side, as a survivor. I pray that if you are reading this, you are neither a victim nor a survivor of sexual violence, but if you are, I hope reading this will give you a glimmer of hope I spent years wishing for: you are not alone, there is recovery from this dark place.
That’s what scared me into seeking treatment at a Residential Rehabilitation center this spring. I had hit a breaking point, a place where I felt there could be no recovery from. I was twenty years old, and my earliest memory is of being molested by a family member who would continue to do so until I entered high school. My life was literally defined by trauma. Before every family gathering or holiday party the anxiety would set in, the nightmares would increase, and the fear became overwhelming. I was so confused, I didn’t even understand what was happening, just that it felt terribly wrong. After trying one time to tell a parent about my abuse and being told I was “making it up,” I stayed silent out of manipulation and fear until I hit high school, we moved away, the abuse stopped, and it felt safer to confide in a few close friends.
As strange as it sounds, once the abuse stopped everything about my PTSD intensified. It was like I knew how to deal with it but I had absolutely no idea how to cope once it stopped. I spiraled into a deep depression, battled constant body dysmorphia and disordered eating. There was not a day when I wouldn’t catch myself staring into a mirror, or some other reflective surface, thinking how dirty I was, like the glass should shatter just from me looking in. As I began to enter a world of teenage first dates and high school hookups, my sexual identity grew more polluted and distinct from my friends, after it had already been exploited for so many years. I began to engage in sexual encounters, but not in a way that felt right, more so in a way that felt like I was trying to prove something. Part of me felt so used, and then another part felt like maybe engaging in hookups meant I wasn’t wasted, I was more than just damaged goods. A grey fog settled around my perspective; I became restless, hungry to excel at something and bury this past I was so ashamed of. I became the bubbly, vivacious party girl, the honors student with goals and dreams, and a leader in cheerleading and Youth in Government. Despite my set backs, the occasional night terrors or flashbacks, I was here, I was trying. I was running from a past I hated, pushing it further and further into the abyss
It wasn’t until September 13th, 2014 that this ability to subsist, to trick myself into thinking I was okay, shattered. I was returning to school to start my junior year fresh off of studying abroad in London and having the time of my life. I finally had a major I loved, friendships that were solid, and I felt more confident in who I was as a person. I finally thought the depression was clearing – I was at a high point, determined to make this my best year yet. Then it happened again. My campus sexual assault completely pulled the rug out from under my carefully calculated trauma distraction plan. Everything about that night shattered me. I had heard the statistics, I knew them by heart, hell, I was a Sexual Assault Student Advocate at the Gender Relations Center and a Gender Studies major! I knew that 1 out of 4 college girls are sexually assaulted. But I thought I could check that box – I was already a statistic, and who does this happen to more than once? Did you know that women who have been victimized before are seven times more likely to be raped again? Seven. That is the most fucked up statistic in the world. Living through one sexual trauma is enough for a lifetime. Two? Two knocks the wind out of you.
After I was assaulted for the second time, this time by a friend, not a family member, my brain was in trauma overload, reeling with years of unprocessed pain. I entered a complete psychological shut down. I had been waiting to have sex, but now that it was taken from me again? I felt like "damaged goods" didn’t even begin to cover me. So I started to have sex, in a confused and desperate attempt to not feel like a wasted person. I started to have sex to feel something, anything other than what I was feeling right then.
There was a pretty girl, from some small suburb of Dallas, and she came up to New York with a dream. In the confusion and the noise, all of her beauty and her poise, turned grey like snow beside the city street. She met a boy named Steven, they made love in his apartment, in a second story walk up out in Queens. And the thing she hoped to find beneath him on that August night was, was the farthest thing from her as she dressed to leave.
During this time I felt like the lyrics from my favorite song A Wedding in Connecticut (above) by Ron Pope. The PTSD was so bad that I didn’t sleep in my bed for a month, and only after my roommates agreed to completely switch our bedrooms up and I ordered new sheets to replace the blood stained ones, was I able to even stand being in there again. But the night terrors were too much; I woke up in cold sweats, screaming, delirious, swaddled in a mess of blankets on the floor. It was like everything around me kept speeding up and the demands of school, work, research, just life, were too much, let alone the social atmosphere of a college party scene. Life just kept going and I catapulted ahead, grabbing at anything to numb the pain – alcohol, prescriptions that never seemed to curb the spiking anxiety, sex to replace otherwise sleepless nights. I was starting to break down. As the year went on and things only got worse, I started to question it – was life really worth living? How much longer can I do this? How much longer can I live disgusted by myself? The realization that my life had been perpetually living as a victim, trapped with the guilt, the shame, the anxiety and the self-blame, overwhelmed me. I didn’t believe someone could heal from what I’d be through. All my life I had felt broken and I was looking for ways, for people, to fix me. No one ever did. Now I truly believed I was un-fixable. Crying in a parking lot one cold spring night, I said the words allowed to my best friend while we dialed the SOS Rape Hotline... “I am not okay.”
The opening passage is taken from my nearly 200-page journal I kept everyday that I was in residential treatment. I entered in as what my mom would later describe “a shell of a person” and emerged one month later as someone with color starting to return to her life. I can’t describe everything I went through in rehab, or the deeply personal experience of it. But I can tell you that it saved my life. I grew in an understanding of my events and myself, I received the validation and support I needed to see that there was in fact a happy and healthy life for me. My problem before had been that I knew I was broken and I wanted to be fixed, to be made whole and pretty and to make everything go away. But now I knew that I didn’t want to be fixed, my trauma was a part of who I was and formed my strength, my character, and my abilities. It molds me, but it does not define me. Slowly I began to understand that trauma recovery is a lifelong process of picking up the pieces and putting them together with glue, the old with the new. It is the process of becoming a mosaic – a composite, more beautiful creation of glass that has been shattered, one that is stronger, and more resistant to fracture in the future.
This story is just beginning and I am only now starting to get to know myself, and what it means to live in this post-traumatic growth period. This summer, my internship with Emily at The UnSlut Project was an amazing medium to facilitate this change. I was involved in an issue so near and dear to my heart as a survivor of sexual violence, and I was afforded the chance to help spread a movement of change. I have been called a “slut” more times than I can count, first by my abuser and then time and time again by peers who could not possibly understand the sting it had for me. There is absolutely no reason to ever define a woman by her perceived sexual behavior, or preferences of appearance. No one should be reduced to a label. After seeing all of the good that the online community of support created by The UnSlut Project can do, I felt compelled to tell my story publicly for the first time. Not only to spread awareness and start to break the stigma of victim blaming and silence, but to courageously do what so many have done through this project – show that you are not alone. Whether you are a survivor of sexual violence, "slut" shaming, harassment, bullying, or simply an advocate, we have all been touched by the culture of shaming in some way. This needs to end, and the best way to do that is to start speaking up.
This is a guest post by Lucy Morgan. Lucy is the Gender Equality Officer at Newcastle University in England, where she is pursuing a degree in Literature. She is the Vice-President (formerly President) of the Newcastle Feminist Society. Her hobbies include drinking gin, sleeping around, and listening to Amy Winehouse. Find her on Twitter.
Girlhood is shaped through the pursuit of perfection. Perfection. A cruel, elusive ideal masquerading as the norm. In order to be normal, a girl must be perfect. She must keep up with the whirling, temperamental idea of perfection and bend over backwards to accommodate it. Clear skin, tight body, hairless, except for the hair on her head, which must be unique yet dazzling. Her skin color must be the correct shade of tan, her body must not jiggle when she runs, her make up must be immaculate yet not noticeable. A girl must be easy on the eye if she wishes to get by without a fuss. Any ‘imperfections’ must be elaborately masked in order to ease her transformation into an acceptable-looking girl.
Of course this is all totally fucking impossible. Puberty (cringe, I hate that word), comes along and bestows on teenage girls a number of obstacles in the way of Mission Impossible to planet perfect. Acne, greasy or oily skin, greasy hair, weight gain, stretch marks, etc. etc. are all very real things that young women experience as they attempt to get through the education system. And the education system massively fails them when it comes to fighting the damaging sexism that comes with the pursuit of perfection: it has done for centuries and continues to do so today.
What is this utter bullshit that is banning teenage girls from wearing skirts?! How is this even a debate? I remember being in primary school when they announced that young girls would finally be allowed to wear trousers; a few years later and we’re totally stuck with them. This policing of what young girls wear is indicative of a larger culture of shaming within schools. How many times did your sarcastic form tutor gleefully inform you that, “You’re here to learn, not do a fashion show!”? Yet instead of actually assisting you in your learning, they would spend ridiculous amounts of time handing out make up wipes to the ‘cakeface’ girls, berating tall girls for displaying their legs too obviously, and endless other activities that revolved around moderating girl’s appearances.
No one has ever explained to me just what it is that’s so erotic about legs. What bit about ‘the legs’ is inherently sexual? Is it because they’re assumed to lead up to a vagina? One, we shouldn’t be assuming people’s genitals or their gender anyway and two, so fucking what? We all know that genitals exist - legs aren’t exactly the subtle reminder that we need for that kind of knowledge.
Let’s also remember that it is common for such blatant sexism to come with a side of racism. Look at the case of the fifteen year old schoolgirl in France, recently sent home for wearing a skirt so long it signified ‘religious affiliation.’ Another example of an education system policing a woman through her clothes - in this case to punish her for being a Muslim too openly.
The enforcement of a ban on school skirts is also painfully limiting of gender expression and could be particularly harmful to transgender students. Although the rhetoric of skirt = girl and trousers = boy is binarily basic enough, the idea that everyone should wear trousers is also oppressive. Once again, schools should be a refuge from transphobic thinking and should be encouraging true gender expression in their pupils. However we’re still at the stage where to appear ‘male,’ wear a skirt to school, and avoid getting beaten up, you have to be Will Smith’s son. A beautiful protest against these harmful regulations was done in Brazil; where's the UK equivalent please?
With all the relentless fuss made over their legs, school girls would be forgiven for wondering, “Just what the fuck is up with my legs?”; “Why are my legs such an issue for everyone?”. And seeing as their place of education is the one causing this anxiety, they are unlikely to seek answers there. Instead, sadly, they’re going to look for answers in magazines, TV shows, music videos, etc. They are going to find out that their legs are actually called ‘pins’ and that they must be sculpted or toned in order to be acceptable. The magazines will also introduce them to ‘cellulite’ (a term literally invented by Glamour magazine) and helpfully point them in the direction of a £30 cream to fix it. The magazines will ‘circle of shame’ cankles, overhanging knee fat, touching thighs, stretch marks, etc. and suddenly the school girl realizes that her school was right all along: her legs are a multitude of problems that need fixing.
A recent study revealed that young people (in particular young girls) are developing eating disorders earlier and earlier in their lives - I’m talking girls as young as eight already on diets. Schools should be a voice of reason in these young people’s lives and create safe environments where pupils are encouraged to feel healthy. Instead they are joining in with the rest of the world by scrutinizing young girls and punishing them for not fitting their own ideal. One of the common impulses behind eating disorders is a desire to take control. To make up for the lack of control you have in your life, you place rigorous controls on your eating habits. Schools are only encouraging this mentality. Wearing makeup, short skirts, etc. may help young girls feel better about themselves, more comfortable. But so many schools are denying them that right. Instead they are snatching away school skirts, humiliatingly getting girls to remove their makeup in front of the class, and forcing them to appear the exact opposite of how society demands. No wonder young girls may feel out of control when placed in this situation. No wonder they try to regain control, in the saddest way possible, through the harm of their bodies. After all, their bodies are what caused all the fuss in the first place.
Young girls are being shamed into submission. With school rules battering them one way and the fiercely patriarchal media shoving them another, is it any wonder that eating disorders are on the rise? In both cases, it’s the same shaming tactics that are used, causing the same feeling of insecurity and low self-esteem in young girls who, by this point, have no place for free self expression, no escape from the endless scrutiny and, consequently, are less likely than their male peers to thrive comfortably in an educational environment. The time has come to remove the weight of shame from the backs of girls, already grappling with a terrifyingly unequal and demanding society. The strength of young girls as they navigate through a system where they are constantly having to change themselves to be accepted, where attaining ‘perfection' is seen as a doable and necessary thing, is incredible. They should never be made to feel ashamed; they should be applauded. It is the bully teachers and sexist education officials who should be hanging their heads in shame.
Guest post by Alexandria LaRue. Alexandria is a Sex Worker Advocate from Dallas Texas. When she is not volunteering she is doing homework. Alex is a Journalism major in her final year of her undergraduate degree. She enjoys karaoke, reading a good book, or going for walks. She is currently working on a philanthropy media project called Mission Positive. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram.
I can’t help but feel lucky. I look at my life, the company I choose to keep, and I feel vast amounts of what could be mistaken as fortune. Though it may look like life only handed me red Starbursts, I assure you that is not the case. I have been involved in the adult entertainment industry for the past 6 years. In other traditional occupations if one were to describe their line of work as "finance," it may be vague but it is an acceptable answer. When I say I’m in the adult entertainment industry suddenly people want details. They want details usually because they want to know the "gross" details of your work; it’s the same curiosity that brings people to watch pimple popping videos on YouTube. I happen to be quite fond of my work so I typically disclose what my latest project is. We live in a strange age that allows crop tops but frowns upon G-string bikinis. What I do for a living doesn’t harm bystanders, but it tends to make people feel a grimy sort of uncomfortable.
I remember the first time I appeared naked on the internet. After years of putting it off, I finally submitted my first set to Suicide Girls. If you’re unfamiliar, Suicide Girls is an alternative modeling site and social networking hub. I had so much pride finally getting the set done, baring my soul and bottom on the beautiful glossy internet. Once the set was approved and public, there I was smiling back at myself from the front page of their website. I squealed with glee; I felt like a naked Amazon running through the jungle shooting arrows and eating raw meat from a stick.
To my chagrin all my friends did not share in my excitement. I got some private messages concerned for the obvious damnation of my soul and others concerned with my future. I also received less reasonable messages containing really cute words (ex: slut, whore, disrespectful, etc.). As an adult woman I knew I could do whatever I wanted to and since I’m not married to a politician or a Pre-K teacher I didn’t see the danger. The simple fact is this: we only get so many trips around the sun and if we aren’t spending it doing things that we love we are wasting our time. Calling me a "slut" was not going to suddenly take the image of my “offensive nipple” from their memory bank, it wasn’t going to convince me to wear a turtle neck until I’m in the ground, and it wasn’t going to do any good for humanity. In fact calling me "slut" only displayed how insecure they were with the human body.
It saddens me, when these adults with all this power hold young men and women in such "high regard" that they think they can bully them in to conservatism. In some cases, they do. There are legions of repressed men and women afraid to be who they really are for fear of being called a "whore." I will tell you one thing, the whole wide world has access to photos of me naked and I am not ashamed. I have no regrets, no remorse, and no apologies. I have the people in my life that matter to me and that love me. They are all a little different, but they take me for exactly who I am. At the end of the day that’s all that really matters. None of them feel disparaged by my occupation, and the rest of the world will just have to be grumpy alone.
Planes kept flying, gasoline didn’t go up, my favorite football team went to the playoffs, no one was stricken with illness, blood didn’t rain from the sky, and no one died. No one died.
By Shannon Sheehan
The first sneak peak screening of the nearly finished UnSlut: a Documentary Film premiered in Palo Alto last Wednesday, July 22nd, through partnerships with viiv media and PeerSpace. The documentary aims to spread awareness of the power and far reaching impact that sexual bullying can have for girls everywhere; NBC Bay Area covered the screening, repeating the film's theme that "words can inspire or destroy."
Emily Lindin, filmmaker and founder of The UnSlut Project, said to NBC that the word is so powerful because of its universally harsh implications. As the film emphasizes, "it can be deployed at any women at any time; whether or not she is actually sexually active is sort of beside the point." In the past decade, the emergence of social media has made sexual bullying particularly harsh and explosive, making the film’s message crucial.
Viiv media hosts "pop-up popcorn screenings" of films that help fuel its mission of "shattering today’s warped media reflections of women and providing a better lens through which to view our selves and our world." This is just the first sneak peak of the film that will be screened this fall in venues across the world. Thanks to everyone who attended and helped make this sneak peak screening a huge success! Click here to find out how to bring the film to a school, community center, theater, or living room near you.
This is a guest post by Shaifila Ladhani. Shaifila lives in Delhi (India). Has lived with a misspelled name for ages and lives up to the meaning of her name 'The Invincible'. Talkative. Opinionated. Adamant. Wants to help people in any way possible. A good listener and good to talk to. Currently doing majors in psychology and a minor in Sociology. Wants to write to make a difference. The only aim in life is to have an identity that people don't forget after she's dead. Read her blog here and follow her on Instagram here.
The recent rise in movements like feminism is present because people have realized that everybody deserves to be equal. It is not just men but women, too, who are not willing to break the vicious cycle of oppression. But that is another matter. What I would further clarify in this article is how Islam doesn't want its women to be suppressed, Allah doesn't want the women to be secondary citizens.
Among the reasons for the peaceful and rapid spread of Islam was the simplicity of the doctrine. Islam asks people to believe in one God (Tawhid - Believing in oneness of God). It repeatedly instructs the people to use the power of their intelligence and observation. The Holy Quran says: "...And say: My Lord increase me in knowledge" [20:114]. Even Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) said, "Seeking knowledge is mandatory for every Muslim" (All Tirmidhi, Hadith 74). Thus, seeking knowledge (i.e. education) is compulsory for every Muslim.
The image of the typical Muslim woman wearing the veil, denied education, and forbidden to dress up is too common for everybody. Some Muslim countries do have laws that oppress women, but it is not coming from Islam. Islam sees a woman as an individual with her own rights. The often used term 'modest' for dressing of women is used in the wrong sense. Quran asks the people (all the sexes) to dress modestly. Violence against women is also condemned in Islam. However, some women think wearing a veil is better. It is their choice. But forcing a woman to behave in a certain way in the name of religion is not advocated in Islam.
The basic rights of a human being are simply taken away in the name of a religion that doesn't even permit it. All this, simply because we complied. Simply because we wanted to believe that it made Allah happy. Well, it doesn't.
There is a story which is narrated by Abu Huraira. According to this lore, Allah forgave a prostitute for her sins because she was kind to a dog who was dying of thirst. Prostitution is obviously a sin in Islam. I don't think any religion advocates prostitution. However, some people believe that Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) allowed the concept of "temporary marriage," Mut'a. According to this, a man and woman get married and have sex, they stay together for three days and then, if both agree, they can get a divorce. Other than that I don't know about any other concepts. But this is also highly criticized.
The point is, going to a prostitute is a "sin" as major as being a prostitute. Just because women are the "weaker" sex, we can't let only them be the sinners. Women are getting aware and they are standing up for themselves now. It is high time we stop putting them down in the name of religion.
On Saturday May 9th I participated in the 2nd Annual Lace Up for RAINN 5K. I was really looking forward to the event again this year since it had such a positive effect on my life and career as speaker and advocate for sexual assault awareness. Originally I found out about the event as a proud member of the RAINN Speakers Bureau.
The event is set up as a virtual 5K so you can join in with your team or as an individual from wherever you live at whatever time of that day is convenient and for someone like me, who would be walking by myself, it's perfect. The goal is "to raise awareness in a fun, approachable way and to connect with others who are passionate about the cause". Last year the event did just that for me. At the time JoAnnSpeaksOut only had a website and Twitter account so once I completed the 5K I posted my picture and comments on Twitter with all the hashtags and as a result I connected with an amazing girl (also a sexual assault survivor) from Michigan. We became fast friends over social media having many things in common and in part because of her I was inspired to start my blog which is now going strong almost a year later.
Within the past few months I have expanded my social media presence for JoAnnSpeaksOut onto Facebook and Instagram and knew I would be able to spread the message of Lace Up for RAINN much further. I even had the confidence this year to create a fundraising page with a template provided by the event organizers. I set a modest goal, and with the help of my always supportive boyfriend who assisted me in spreading the message, I reached that goal. Because of all those generous donations, 10 victims of sexual abuse will receive the help they so desperately need and deserve.
The numbers came in for the 2015 Lace Up! RAINN reported 210 participants nationwide with 651 miles run in communities across the country to raise awareness. Most importantly $20,879 was raised to support more than 2,000 survivors of sexual assault.
My fundraising page will continue to be active through the end of May. If you are interested in helping to make an impact on the lives of many survivors please consider a donation.
Guest blogger Craig Schlesinger is a musician residing in Nashville, TN. He plays bass for rock band Radar vs Wolf and on various artists' recordings for producer/drummer Mike Marsh at The Paper Mill.
“I am still as stupid as anyone, but I know my mistakes.” - Propagandhi
I play bass and sing vocal harmonies in a rock band, which involves extensive travel and puts me in contact with all sorts of people from every possible walk of life across the country. One observation from my travels that rings true, regardless of which locality I happen to be in, is that sexism and misogyny are very real.
Thanks to my punk rock upbringing, I’ve been acutely aware of the individualist feminist struggle against things like "slut" shaming, street harassment, and rape culture from a young age. Institutionalized and indoctrinated sexism and misogyny run so deep that it requires confrontation through direct, individual action. None of the following anecdotes are horrific or even overt, but I often feel that the subtle incidents require more attention because it’s easier to sweep them under the rug and/or shrug them off as random, isolated incidents.
"Slut" shaming is normalized to the degree that people are often completely unaware that they’re engaging in it. After one particular show we were hanging by our van when some young women made their way over to us. There had definitely been some alcohol consumption going on that night. After a few minutes of jovial, semi-slurred banter one of the girls referred to her “skanky shirt” in an underhanded manner, which I can only guess stemmed from a prior experience(s) being shamed for dressing a certain way.
That triggered my serious face. I looked her square in the eyes and said, “HEY. Don’t slut shame yourself, it’s enough of an uphill battle as it is!” To which her friend promptly perked up, pointed right at me, and said, “See?! This guy knows what the fuck he’s talking about!” All I could really do at that point was smile, put my fist in the air and triumphantly say, “Solidarity.” But there was a genuine appreciation and mood change from that moment on. Perhaps it helped alleviate the stigma of “girls approaching band boys after shows must be sluts… and sluts are bad!”
One night we were hanging outside of the venue prior to the show. It was a busy section of the city, so it made for some interesting people watching. At one point a car parallel parked up the street and three well dressed girls got out. For some reason the night’s first performer decided it would be a good idea to shout, “HEY BABY! You wanna come in here and watch me perform for ya?!” I was pretty well steamed, not to mention embarrassed. As much as I wanted to confront this guy I knew I needed a different route.
The girls were walking down the sidewalk towards us, and I decided to start walking towards them. As we approached each other I looked up and quickly and quietly said, “I’m really sorry about that jerk back there yelling at you like that. It’s totally uncalled for. I don’t know what you’re up to tonight, but if you’re planning on attending the show then I’m especially sorry and hope you can still enjoy yourselves.”
They smiled, thanked me, and kept walking. Not only were they there to attend the show, they stayed until the bitter end and bought our shirts, cd’s, and posters. They even stuck around for a bit to hang and chat. I’d like to think that’s mostly due to the fact that we don’t suck. I’d also like to think, at least, a small part had to be associated with how I apologized to them for the catcall.
Male on Male Harassment
I’ve fought against sexism and all that stems from it for years, especially slut shaming. But I wanted to wrap this all up with a more personal episode due to its absurdity. The only thing that’s relevant is that a fellow male performer slut shamed me for engaging in certain consensual behaviors with a young woman after our show one night.
The presumption that I was doing something unethical with a woman made me beyond irate. All I could really do without losing my cool was laugh at him, ultimately knowing that others would unintentionally throw it back in his face a few days later, which they did. And making him look and feel like an ignorant ass without having to move a muscle or utter another word was a magnificently cathartic moment.
Guest blogger Elona Washington founded Project IANAH, which stands for ‘I Am Not A Ho’ and serves on the speaker's bureau for RAINN (Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network). Through both avenues, she shares her story, offers prevention tips, and speaks out against "slut" shaming. Divorced since December 2014, Elona also contributes to the blog Single and Happy Online and serves on the board for The Black Girls’ Corner.
Sometimes, it’s the casual friend who marks the most important paths in your life. At least, it was for me. Candance and I never spoke regularly although we vacationed together several times a year. And whenever Linkin Park came into town, we made sure to go. We did the occasional shopping where once she schooled me on the difference between a duvet and a comforter (and I’m forever thankful for that). So when we hung out and guys asked what we did for a living, we joked, "she's the 'T' and I’m the 'A'" at The House Strip Club.
Yes, we were strippers. And while we could never call every girl a friend, there was an undeniable bond deeper than just walking around conversing in our birthday suits. That life was raw, exotic, and bare. There was little shame in what we did or with whom. We were straight forward and upfront and it taught us to expose ourselves without feeling the hurt or embarrassment other women may feel. So one day, when we happened to speak about the trauma that bound us: being robbed at gunpoint, the sexual abuse of our past, or how we were raped and beaten months ago by a customer, it was shared very matter-of-factly. No holds barred. What I did notice, though, was that Candance never shared her story with us.
A few years after our candid discussion, our lives took very different turns. I got married, relocated to Texas and focused on my family. Candance danced a few more years until she eventually retired. As Facebook friends, we were able to keep tabs on each other and would periodically comment on each other’s posts. Over the years, I noticed we both began to grow spiritually and it brought me comfort to know that she was further removed from our old lifestyle.
A few years later, when my sorority celebrated its centennial in my hometown, I posted my excitement about coming home and attending the events. Candance commented she wanted to hang with me but my first thought was, "How would it look if I have an ex-stripper tag along? How was I going to introduce her to my sorority sisters? Where would I say we met?" While I remained in contact with my former coworkers via social media, I didn’t spend any real time with them. As a wife, I made new friends, stay-at-home moms and FORTUNE 500 managers whose pasts looked nothing like mine. While I may have told a few of them my story, they never judged me. Instead, they always encouraged me to speak out to help others. But, because of my embarrassment and fear of being criticized by my sorority sisters, I blew her off.
It was a decision I will forever regret. A few months after my sorority event, I began to notice Candance’s posts were once again laden with cynicism, bitterness, and profanity. I reached out to see if there was anything I could do to help. She responded politely but declined to discuss what was going on in her life.
While I understood why she didn’t want to discuss it with me, I grew frustrated. I was really praying she’d find a way to conquer her demons and live a healthy, positive life. But that never happened. Mid-November 2013, a friend called to tell me that Candance had been murdered. She was at a strip club celebrating her friend’s birthday when she got into an argument with a male patron. When the evening was over, she got into the backseat of a car when the man hopped in after her. He pulled out a knife, stabbed her several times in the chest, and fled the scene. Candance somehow managed to get out of the car, but when she attempted to walk for help she fell face down, unconscious. At a local hospital, she was pronounced dead a few hours later.
The weeks following her death, I was clinically depressed. The guilt over "slut" shaming my friend was overwhelming. When I stopped dancing, I had promised myself I’d never judge another woman in my position and had made a conscious decision to remain in touch with the women I used to work with. But I failed my friend. I constantly wonder if she’d still be alive today had we hung out that summer. I had assumed my sorority sisters would have rejected her, but now I believe I also underestimated them.
My guilt over Candance’s death sparked new life in me. I’ve become even more dedicated to telling my story, the whole story. I want to give women who remain silent and struggle to overcome their demons the courage to speak out and seek help. I’m going to be the example for young girls and women who’ve been sexually abused, "slut" shamed, and emotionally abused. My experiences and Candance’s death will not be in vain.
By Mandi Gray with Emily Lockhart. Mandi Gray is a PhD student in the department of Sociology at York University. Prior to graduate school, Mandi worked with women and girls involved in the legal system.
This narrative is derived from pieces of an open letter I drafted to Mr. Mamdouh Shoukri, President of York University in Toronto, Canada. It was sent on March 2, 2015. The only thing I would change about the story is removing (alleged) when speaking about my rape and rapist. Initially, I was mostly concerned about potential defamation lawsuits following the criminal trial.
I am a first year PhD student, teaching assistant and researcher at York University. Earlier this year I was raped by another PhD student who also attended my university. Within the last six weeks, he has been charged with one count of sexual assault and continues to attend my university. I do not seek to explore the details of my own rape but rather the systemic barriers that survivors of rape, assault and harassment must endure resulting in silencing and victim blaming which in turn account for significant re-victimization and traumatization.
Following my rape, I was hesitant to come forward given the recent news reports regarding negative experiences of survivors on university campuses across North America. In my own logic, I figured that to by-pass the university investigation process I would go directly to the police to streamline the process. I am familiar with the criminal justice system and I knew what to expect having supported numerous survivors of sexual and gendered violence in my previous employment. I anticipated invasive questions regarding my sexual preferences and the subsequent slut shaming from the police. I did not anticipate that in addition to the criminal justice system, my university and employer (many PhD students are also employed by the university they attend) also felt entitled to conduct their own internal investigation despite criminal charges being laid against my rapist to determine the legitimacy of my allegations. I am disheartened and saddened that in 2015 this is the way we continue to treat survivors of sexual violence.
These structures of oppression continue to silence survivors from seeking accountability of their perpetrators as the systemic processes are designed to deter women and other marginalized groups from seeking the help and safety they may require. The inadequate responses likely result in a number of women leaving their studies and/or workplace due to the ongoing trauma and re-victimization. This also tells perpetrators of sexual violence that this is accepted behavior and that their status as innocent until proven guilty outweighs the individual rights of the survivors of the violence. This also violates the rights of those who may come into contact with the perpetrator of violence likely with little knowledge of these allegations because his right to privacy is determined to outweigh the safety and security of all women the perpetrator may come into contact with. Next time you are assigned to work in a group project, or assigned to sit next to a colleague whom you have little information about – do you feel you have a right to know if he or she has a history of sexual violence against others in a similar situation to yourself? The recurring issue of the safety of other women on campus has been a site of little concern from university administrators and has lead me to question, how many of my classmates and professors have a history of sexual violence and/or harassment that has been officially recognized but not made public? From my own experience thus far, the media reports of campus mishandling of sexual assault reports do not even begin to scrape the surface of how deeply rooted misogyny and sexism remain within university policy and procedure (and lack thereof).
For some reason, I envisioned that having criminal charges laid by the Crown Attorney, the university would have simply accepted this as sufficient proof and my claims would be substantiated (remember, the burden of proof for university findings of fact differ from that of the criminal courts). I imagined that the university would simply make a decision on how to proceed to ensure my safety and the safety of the other women on campus. Unfortunately, going to the police did not exempt me from being processed through the informal mechanisms of the university that seek to oppress and re-traumatize survivors with very little support through the process. In fact, at the time I was expected to participate I had not even yet received any counseling relating to the assault due to the long wait lists at the sexual assault clinic I attended.
Every day since reporting that the individual had been arrested to university administrators, I have been waiting for answers despite my university releasing a sexual assault policy just hours after my own safety planning meeting with security services. It took nearly three weeks for any concrete information in regards to what the process will be moving forward. I now have answers, but am forced to participate in multiple university tribunal processes that I have never wanted to be apart of. In addition to having to deal with the trauma of the assault, I also have trauma from the institutional responses of reporting to the police and my university. My days have become structured around a constant state of waiting for answers from my university regarding whether or not I will have to be confronted with the man charged with raping me on campus. I have had to take a leave of absence from my teaching duties and drop a class because the numerous calls and emails in hopes of getting half-answers or dates to anticipate. On numerous occasions I have been patronized that this process is survivor-centric and that my needs are the first priority. Although feminist rhetoric has been co-opted into institutional policy, it continuously and systemically fails to adequately meet the complex needs of survivors.
Each phone call and email I am forced to make to find out what is happening and explain the impact upon my own mental health is another instance of re-victimization and re-traumatization. It disgusts me that the act of being raped becomes easy in comparison to having to re-live the experience everyday at the hands of an institution that I quite literally pay to attend. I anticipated such a response from the police (and I received the anticipated response which one day I will be ready to talk about) but not from my university that I chose to attend for its clearly stated commitment to social justice within its mission statement. I chose to apply to graduate studies at York University because of its reputation as an institution that embodies values of social equity and justice and as a leader for progressive politics and social justice initiatives. Unfortunately, my vision of what York University once represented has been completely shattered by this experience. This has demonstrated that what is written on paper and in mission statements holds no value if it is not intertwined with actions that match the language utilized.
Unfortunately, as a survivor, I must come to terms that my entire life is structured around a waiting game that I have no control over. I am waiting to hear from the attorney assigned to the case, from the courts in regards to the next hearing and from my university who are proceeding with this in the form of tribunal as if this is simply a group assignment that resulted in disagreement. Waiting becomes a constant state of uncertainty that cannot be escaped. I have learned to accept that my days revolve around uncertainty, half-answers and more questions about what the next few years of my life will look like. I question myself in making the decision to hold this person accountable and I question the institutional and systemic barriers that place survivors of violence on trial and their every decision scrutinized and questioned.
I have come forward with my story publicly to challenge preconceived notions of what a victim/survivor looks and acts like; I have requested that the often mandatory publication ban to protect the identities of the victim be removed from my case because in protecting my identity will also protect his. I did nothing wrong that night, I am not ashamed of my actions or my decisions and even if the courts find him not guilty (which unfortunately, is a high likelihood given the issues of prosecuting sexual assault cases), our colleagues and friends will be able to make their own decisions as to what happened that night with all the facts presented.
Read the original open letter. Sign Mandi's petition.