What Kurt Metzger will never understand about reporting rape

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Pretty much my exact response to Metzger’s garbage dump

Sigh. Another day, another rape controversy, right? This week, comedian and Inside Amy Schumer writer Kurt Metzger found himself in hot water with all of us hyper-reactionary Social Justice Warriors when he went on a social media tirade, claiming that internet “lynch mobs” and vigilante justice are now taking the place of going to the police in the wake of sexual assault.

All of this started after several women came forward to the Upright Citizens Brigade (UCB) and claimed they had been sexually assaulted by fellow improv comedian Aaron Glaser. The UCB ran an internal investigation, and found the claims credible. Thus, they decided to ban Glaser for life. You know, similar to how women might approach an employer about sexual harassment at the office. Anyway, once word started getting around about Glaser, a few other comedy clubs also banned the comic. Glaser denied the accusations in now-deleted Facebook posts and called the bans and subsequent public outcry a “witch hunt.”

In comes Metzger, the bold “truthteller” that he is. He posted several Facebook and Twitter updates, railing on “rape trial by social media.” According to Kurt, there is only one “correct” way to deal with rape — by going immediately to the police. If you don’t go to the police, you apparently forfeit your right to speak about your rape, or to do anything to make your workplace or your community more comfortable and safe for women. I’m not going to give his rhetoric a place here on my blog, because it was intentionally inflammatory and hateful, and obviously meant to draw more ears to his podcast. If you’re interested in reading his incoherent rantings that started the controversy, you can here, here, herehere, and here.

But it was this post that really bothered me:  Continue reading

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Survivor speaks out: why we must believe Kesha

Back in 2011, I distinctly remember listening, for the first time, to Kesha’s gut-wrenching, tearstained cover of Bob Dylan’s classic “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright.” As soon as I heard the pain in her voice, and her open weeping, I was blown away. I immediately recognized her as a fellow survivor — of what, exactly, I could not tell. But being someone who has survived both sexual assault and an emotionally abusive relationship, her pain was so real; so familiar to me. This was a cry for help; a declaration that this beloved glitter-covered, whiskey-drinking, dirty man-loving pop star was not, in fact ok underneath all that fame and fortune.

I read every article I could on the recording, which was set to be included on “Chimes of Freedom: The Songs of Bob Dylan Honoring 50 Years of Amnesty International.” The song really struck me, because it deviated from everything Kesha had released up until that point. I had always been a fan of her music, but I’d never really thought much about the woman beneath the glitter. Through my reading, I learned that the powerful cover was actually intended to be a demo. She had recorded it on her laptop, sitting on her bed in the middle of the night. Her tears were not manufactured. According to Rolling Stone magazine: Continue reading

Is 2015 the year we finally started listening to survivors?

Author’s Note: This essay was originally published on Hamilton and Griffin on Rights, a site run by Professor Marci Hamilton and Professor Leslie Griffin, which is dedicated to the healthy separation of church and state and the rights of women and children (specifically surrounding childhood sexual abuse). I encourage you to check out the site and the amazing work these women are doing. It is currently the only legal blog that has the majority of content authored by women, and you can find my writing there on the last Tuesday of each month. This post has been republished with permission. 

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I distinctly remember the moment I knew I had to come out publicly as a rape survivor. I was appalled over the Steubenville rape case, and the subsequent fallout from CNN reporter Poppy Harlow’s reaction to the verdict. I wrote a tearful open letter at 2 A.M., and just two days later, after discussing it with my family, my words were out in the world on Hypervocal. It was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done in my life. I was worried about being shouted down, accused of lying, insulted and harassed. Yet I felt overwhelmingly compelled to publish anyway, with my full name and picture attached.

At that time, it seemed like survivor voices were few and far in between; that the majority of our words were hidden in the depths of the Internet on anonymous message boards, rather than where they should be: front and center in the discussion of sexual assault and rape culture. It felt like nobody was listening.

I was sick of seeing women’s stories called into question — “well, if she was really raped, she’d come forward, wouldn’t she?!” As if these things are so simple. As if there aren’t a million reasons victims stay silent and anonymous. As if publicly coming forward guarantees that people will believe you. As if we don’t all harbor the fear that we will be dismissed as false accusers; our lives torn apart all over again.

I was tired of being silent and seething every time a new case came into the public discourse; of comments sections labeling women as money-grabbing, manipulative, system-playing hussies who don’t seem to understand that they obviously only get what’s coming to them.

I clearly wasn’t alone in these sentiments. In the last few years, I’ve watched as a veritable avalanche of survivors has come forward to bravely share their stories. Each time, a little bit of the narrative around sexual assault is reclaimed. Our whispers are turning into soapbox screams and we refuse to let our stories be defined by our attackers and retractors.

I’ve also noticed a tide turning in the way our stories are received. Back in 2006, when the public was first learning that Bill Cosby was accused of sexual assault, his actions were swept under the rug; his accusers scorned. How could somebody so powerful, and who built his reputation on being America’s good guy, do such awful things? It was unfathomable. So the survivors were pushed back into silence and labeled opportunistic, ruinous liars. It took a re-airing of the rape accusations, extensive media coverage and an excruciatingly long list of survivors coming forward before the public opinion finally started to shift. A powerful man, who was once protected by so many with the all-too-common refrains “we don’t know what really happened” and “innocent until proven guilty,” had finally fallen from grace.

Since Cosby’s downslide, I’ve noticed that more people seem to be believing survivors at the outset, which is further empowering even more women to come forward. When adult film star James Deen was accused of sexually assaulting his co-star and former girlfriend, Stoya, the reaction was swift. Several other women in the industry immediately shouted out their support for Stoya, and eight more accusers have come forward to share their stories of assault at Deen’s hands. Rather than responding with doubt, the adult film industry has taken decisive action: Deen has lost profitable deals with production company Kink.com and sex toy manufacturer Doc Johnson. Further, websites such as Oh Joy Sex Toy are pulling advertisements and links to Deen’s website. Most importantly, the victims have been overwhelmingly believed and supported.

There is still an undoubtedly long road to walk before victims are treated with the empathy, respect and trust that we deserve, but it’s deeply gratifying to see that small, incremental change is happening. With 2015 coming to a close, it feels like people are finally listening.

We survivors will continue speaking out, both for ourselves and for those who can’t or aren’t ready. We will not be relegated to the shadows. We will find strength in each other, and keep pushing towards truth, justice and progress.

 

The shame of freezing during my rape

Author’s Note: This essay was originally published on Hamilton and Griffin on Rights, a site run by Professor Marci Hamilton and Professor Leslie Griffin, which is dedicated to the healthy separation of church and state and the rights of women and children (specifically surrounding childhood sexual abuse). I encourage you to check out the site and the amazing work these women are doing. It is currently the only legal blog that has the majority of content authored by women, and you can find my writing there on the last Tuesday of each month. This post has been republished with permission. 

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I have a recurring nightmare where I am being hunted. It looks like a chase scene from an action movie, except that whenever I try to fight back, my body becomes paralyzed. If I attempt to scream, my throat only releases breathy gasps. Running away? Forget about it. I am weighed down with inaction, and left completely vulnerable to my attackers.

It’s no mystery to me why this nightmare haunts me: On September 11th, 2004, I was raped. I said “no,” but he didn’t listen. I always thought I’d be prepared for such a situation, and imagined myself as somebody who would fight back, or at very least get myself out of there. I was, after all, an outspoken woman and a force to be reckoned with — a star basketball and rugby player of considerable size and spirit. But when the time came to rescue myself, I completely froze. My dissociative state was almost like an out-of-body experience: I could see myself lying there taking it, but I was powerless to intervene. The worst part is that there was another person besides my attacker in the room, drunkenly passed out. If only I’d screamed, I probably could have escaped. Instead, I played dead.

The shame followed me around like a shadow. I remember sitting across from my mother in a booth in my hometown’s tavern on a mild, late December day. It had been over three months since my assault and I was finally home for winter break to recover and decompress from a painful semester. We’d just finished up lunch, and as she was paying the bill, she slid two crisp twenty dollar bills across the table towards me.

“What’s this for?” I asked, confused.

“To get your nails done — one of those acrylic manicures you like. So the next time a man tries to take advantage of you, you can scratch his eyes out,” she said matter-of-factly.

I thanked her, and put the money in my pocket. I could recognize objectively that she was trying to support me and to do something nice for me, but all I could feel was the burning shame that I hadn’t done enough to prevent my rape. I felt that, even in the eyes of my own mother, I’d been an imperfect victim.

Why didn’t I fight back?

It’s a question I ask myself constantly, and one I’ve been asked by a surprising number of well-intentioned friends and family members. I know that they don’t mean anything by it. They’re genuinely trying to understand my state of mind all those years ago; what made me tick during that unimaginable moment when I realized that my body was no longer my own and my worst nightmare was coming to life.

For years, I beat myself up over not fighting back: Why would I just lie there? Why didn’t I fight? Why didn’t I scream? Why didn’t I do something? In my mind, it was as though I had acquiesced to my own sexual assault; “go ahead, I’ll just be quiet and lie here.”

But is that really what happened? Of course not. The true reason I froze is likely the same reason that so many people freeze in traumatic situations: Survival.

The freezing response to trauma is called “tonic immobility,” and it’s extremely common among survivors of sexual assault. According to The Neurobiology of Sexual Assault:

Tonic immobility is often referred to as “rape-induced paralysis.”

It is an autonomic response, meaning that it’s uncontrollable. This is not something a victim decides to do. It is a mammalian response. It is evolutionarily wired into us to protect the survival of the organism. Because sometimes the safest thing to do to protect the safety is to fight back. Sometimes the safest thing to do is to flee. Sometimes the stupidest thing to do is to flee because it will incite chase. Therefore, our bodies have been wired for a freeze response too — to play dead, to look dead, because that may be the safest thing for the survival of the organism. So it is a mammalian response that is in all of us — we can’t control it. And it happens in extremely fearful situations.

Behaviorally, it is marked by increased breathing, eye closure, but the most marked characteristic of tonic immobility is muscular paralysis. A victim in a state of tonic immobility cannot move. She cannot move her hands. She cannot move her arms. She cannot move her legs. She cannot move her torso. She cannot move her head. She is paralyzed in that state of incredible fear.

Research suggests that between 12 and 50 percent of rape victims experience tonic immobility during a sexual assault, and most data suggests that the rate is actually closer to the 50 percent than the 12 percent.

There’s also some emerging data that suggests that tonic immobility is slightly more common if a victim has a prior history of sexual assault. So if he or she had been sexually assaulted as a child and then was subsequently assaulted in adolescence or adulthood, the likelihood of experiencing tonic immobility at those later assaults tends to increase.

Learning about tonic immobility and the neuroscience behind it made me feel infinitely better about freezing in such a perilous moment of my life. It was incredibly healing to learn that my freezing response was both normal and natural. Of course, people will say that I should have done this or that to prevent my assault, and at one point, I might have agreed with them. However, the reality is that trauma changes the way your brain functions — you are not able to think rationally in that moment. You are all instincts and survival, and as much as you think you will be able to choose between fight, flight, and freeze, you don’t have much of a choice at all. Your brain chooses for you, based on complex information you don’t even realize you’ve processed.

Learning to Understand Myself

This past weekend, I was reminded of just how easy it is for me to freeze and lose all sense of power or control over my body. My partner and I went for our monthly massage. We walked into our usual parlour, set ourselves up in our usual room, and waited for our usual masseuses to enter. Everything was going off without a hitch, except, about fifteen minutes into our rubdowns, something bizarre happened: my female masseuse called over a male colleague and asked him to finish my massage. Nobody asked me if this was ok. In fact, nothing was communicated to me at all, and the switch took place so swiftly and quietly that I didn’t have time to process what was happening, much less protest.

My cheeks went hot with rage and fear. I had previously told the staff that I only wanted female masseuses, but I hadn’t bothered to specify anything that day, because I figured why bother saying something when they’ve assigned me a woman anyway? I stared at the man’s feet through the face hole in the massage table, wanting desperately to scream for him to stop — to tell him that he was being too rough and hurting me; to ask for the woman back. My muscles tightened and I internally begged and berated myself to just say something; anything. Instead, I seethed in silence, unable to act.

My partner lay just four feet away from me, completely oblivious to my suffering — unaware that any change had been made, or that I was so deeply affected by it.

As we walked to the car, I felt myself falling apart. I sobbed, and told him what happened.

“Why didn’t you just say something?” he asked, obviously hurt that the entire traumatic experience had happened right under his nose without his stepping in.

“I couldn’t. You don’t understand,” I said through my tears, trying to find a way to understand myself; knowing that there will be many more instances like this, where I long to stand up for myself but simply can’t; feeling so incredibly pathetic and small.

I explained to him why “just saying something” is so terrifyingly impossible to me and why I play dead rather than assert my needs. In the process, I found myself easing up on the self-judgment for a moment and really understanding my own actions from an outsider’s perspective, rather than colored by my fear and shame. At the moment, that really feels like a huge step.

I know my healing will never end. It comes in tides and there will always be something around the corner to challenge my ability to forgive myself. In times like these, I must remind myself of the same mantra I’ve been repeating daily for decades: you did nothing wrong; it’s not your fault.