The Stanford case, about a woman who was raped, has been on my mind. Obviously, adult themes. Obviously, tread with caution.
Have you ever taken a self-defense class? I have. I’ve taken a few, a few classes dedicated, especially, to young women like me. We’re young women like the ones you know, from college or church or the office.
Do you want to know the common thread of advice from these self-defense classes? Because all of them are a little different, approaching “physical safety” from a variety of techniques.
Sometimes they talk about the best pressure points where to hit your attacker. Sometimes they give tips about things like keeping men’s athletic shoes and bags in your car, so that potential attackers, scoping a parking lot, think you’re an athletic man-driver instead of what you really are, a woman. Sometimes they have you lie on mats, legs wide, in case you’re ever unfortunate enough to end up in the position of sexual assault, and you learn to kick this way or that, or to put your hands here if he’s choking you, or here if his hands are covering your mouth, or here if he’s groping you breasts.
But that’s not the common thread.
Last night I read the testimony of the Stanford woman and the father of the rapist and then the friend. Lord, have mercy.
I don’t usually use my blog as a social commentary. I feel neither the need nor the inspiration.
The common thread, taught at every self-defense class I have ever attended as a single young woman in gyms and gathering spaces shared with other single, young women is this: do whatever it takes to make yourself the less-desirable victim.
The words or phrasing may be different–but the message remains the same. When an attacker is on the prowl, do the things that make you harder to attain, harder to attack, harder to conquer.
Tell him you’re menstruating. Pee on yourself so you’re smelly and wet. Yell loudly, drawing attention, hit and scratch and kick. Make him think you’re crazy or contagiously sick or STD-infected or that your husband (a fictitious husband) is waiting somewhere, nearby.
This is your goal: be the least-likely victim. Make the attacker think, “This one is not worth the effort.”
Then, we’re told, the attacker may pass us by.
I read that letter and I mentally completed the phrase, something I’ve never done before.
“Be the less-desirable victim,” is how we are taught…
“…and let someone else be the one he attacks.”
That is how the phrase never ends, out loud. But, that’s the train of thought now, isn’t it?
I’m trained, now, to be the girl who acts fast. I know the toughest parts of my body and how they can reach the softest, most sensitive places on a man. I have practiced punches, the phrases that are supposed to alert passerby in multiple languages, the ways to stay collected.
Why? Fingers crossed, I’d be a harder victim. But, then…who becomes the next target?
I’ve worked in the city of Detroit for years. I love it here. I feel called to it. But there are stories I rarely tell. Once a man followed me to my car for weeks. Then he started parking his car right next to mine. He would ask me questions which, I know now, were typical of “groomers.” “Grooming” questions assess a victim. How connected is she, to people to care about her? Does she have a family? Friends/ Is she fit? Is she looking for opportunities/ love/ etc.?
I eventually told the higher-ups in my workplace about this man. Most of them, dad-like, took the claims seriously.
One, though (oddly enough, a woman), asked me, to my face, in front of a group, “But you’re so friendly though. Were you inviting him?”
What. The. Actual. Cuss.
On, you’re friendly. You know the names of the homeless who line our streets. You exchange hard candy and small talk with the senior citizens who live around here. You wave at the two deaf men who work on the block, and sign simple, made up signs with them.
Are you sure you weren’t asking for it when a man approached you every day, threatened your personal safety, accused you, endangered you?
It’s probably your fault.
That moment opened wide for me the window of victim-blaming.
“I’ve seen you talking to people before.
You probably led him on.”
This whole situation, where in a city of sex trafficking and prostitution, an older man endangers a young woman, watches her leave work every day, follows her, confronts her, makes her feel guilty or confused or any other uncomfortable qualities. It’s probably her fault. Probably. Would he have anything to do with this?
What. The. Heck.
A security guard was assigned to my case.
He began asking me out, every other week.
I didn’t want to go out with him. He was older. He didn’t seem to mesh with my personality or preferences.
But, what a situation to find yourself in when you’re in your early-twenties.
This one guy is dangerous.
This other one blames you for the danger in which you find yourself.
And this one, assigned to protect you, has his own, personal agenda.
The system had no space for my well-being.
In those moments, I began to understand all of the levels of being a victim.
I’m Catholic. I go to confession. I have sat in the confessional and mentioned days/ things/ situations where I’ve said to a strange, threatening man,
“Oh, my husband…”
“Oh, my boyfriend…”
Only, no husband exists, no boyfriend exists. Only I exist, solo and fending for myself, and, sometimes, in those moments of apprehension, the fictitious characters are trotted out. And I lie. I lie to men’s faces about nonexistent relationships. They back off.
And then, I tell my confessors.
I watch my confessors furrow their brows.
“He said WHAT?” they ask.
“He asked WHAT?” they say.
They tell me to say what I need to say. They tell me to be safe.
They shake their heads or wipe their eyes or growl, through their teeth, about the thought of it all. Then they extend their hands and their prayers–well-wishes for my well-being.
I read the Stanford letter.
I thought about my training.
I tried to pinpoint where she went wrong.
Was it because she went to a party?
What it because there was alcohol there?
Was it because of her cardigan?
Was it because she drank too much?
She made decisions.
I’ve been in places. I have made decisions. I have looked back at sketchy situations and realized that I was a prayer and a stroke of luck away from sexual assault or worse. One singular prayer. One singular stroke of luck.
She was the weakest victim that night. She was and I wasn’t. And I could tell you that I don’t drink, and maybe that’s the magic thread that leaves us on two different ends of the rape spectrum. But, I don’t think so. Even on the street, on the way to my car from my office, I’ve been endangered. This isn’t good enough for me.
I have friends and cousins and a sister and coworkers who are worthy of parties and fun and safe travel and nights on the town and all else.
And maybe I’m a louder screamer or a harder kicker or a faster runner…but, one may still end up a victim, won’t she? And no one wins. No one wins if I’m safe but she’s not.
Lord, have mercy.
We’re told that this guy was an athlete. We’re told he had a shot at the Olympics.
Sports cannot become our god in this moment. He used the strength he built to harm a woman in a way that will haunt her for the rest of her life.
And, it could have been me, instead of her. It could have been you or your sister or your coworker of your friend or your daughter.
That night, this young woman from Stanford was the victim. There were other girls at that party. Who knows what they did that she failed to do. Maybe they danced to a different song. Maybe they ate different food and consumed their alcohol at a different pace. Maybe they were taller or heavier, and she seemed the easiest to drag or carry or any number of things.
I don’t know.
But, it wasn’t me, and it wasn’t you. So maybe we should just pat ourselves on the back and thank our lucky stars and go on our merry way.
Not me. Not you. Not her.
I’ve taken the self-defense classes.
And I’ve lied about a husband.
And I’ve removed “girlie” paraphernalia from my car.
I don’t drink at parties. I have a degree. I teach at a youth group.
But, I, too, wear cardigans.
What will it take before I am the easiest victim? A few years older and a few minutes-per-mile slower?
In some ways, I am her. What I mean is: that could have easily been any one of us. And I think we all know that. And that’s why this is so intense. That’s why this is so important.
Because if I’m safe but she’s not…nobody wins.