I’ve never been raped.

By: Anonymous

I’ve never been raped.

Not in your technical dry as dust definition: Penetration no matter how slight of the vagina or anus with any body part or object or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person without the consent of the victim.

I’ve never been raped.
But I hurt in my heart for those who have.

No I’ve never been raped.

But I remember at age 4, being grabbed by you, a grown man, held down and tickled, begging you to stop until I couldn’t breathe.

Just as I thought I would die from lack of air, I summoned up enough breath to say, “I will pee on you.”

Still, you did not stop until I gathered enough strength to pee on you, even though I didn’t have to. I remember the sly smirk on your wife’s face as she said, “Well she warned you.”

But I was never raped.

No I’ve never been raped.

But I remember the two boys who grabbed me at age 7 as I walked home for lunch from school (yes we could do that in those days). One of them lived in his family’s business, a funeral parlor, and they threatened to tie me up and hide me downstairs with the dead people. I fought and I screamed and sat down on the sidewalk, but they dragged me along. Until one of them saw my tears of fear and said, “We have to let her go.” And the one whose family owned the funeral parlor didn’t want to but he couldn’t pull it off without the other boy.

But I was never raped.

As later I refused to go back to school. My mom received a phone call and afterwards said it was the funeral parlor boy’s mother and the other boy, the one who let me go, told her what they did. She said she had talk to them and they would never do it again. My mother telling me I would have to go back to school and how I begged her not to make me. She said I had to. I had to go back and face my abductors and I remember the look on her face like I was the one to blame.

But I was never raped.

One day at age 10, I walked that same street home from school. The street was under repair and workmen were in the street. Two boys came out of the house as I passed. They were younger than me and asked for my help with getting a broken wagon to the garage. Suddenly , as I entered the yard, an older boy showed up. The three of them began dragging me to the back of the house, threatening to throw me in the cellar and lock the door. I screamed for help as they carried me by arms and legs. I thrashed and fought while the men working in the street just laughed.

I began to cry and the older boy, I will never know why, decided to let me go.

Walking home another boy saw me crying and came up to me. I told him to go away, but he just offered me a piece of gum and asked me to sit down. We split a piece of juicy fruit and he just sat next to me in silence until the tears passed. I wonder all these years later if it was him showing up and witnessing my shame that scared the other boys into letting me go.

But I was not raped.

No, I was never raped, but came close one night at 17. A party in the woods, a kegger. I had to go to the bathroom and was told to go to the woods on the other side of the parking area. Walking past a car, the door opened and a large man pulled me in and began attacking me, trying to get my clothes off. He was older, in his 20s, big and strong. I fought, but could not get away. So I told him he would be accused of statutory rape because I was only 17. “I don’t believe it,” he said. “Look at my drivers license,” I said, defiance in my voice. He saw I was serious and let me go.

But I was not raped.

No, I was not raped when you invited me to your Pentecostal church, you on my left your wife on my right as she began speaking in tongues.  Later you told me how jealous you were of your wife because she got the spirit and you didn’t. But the spirit had told you we were meant to be together and you used your religion and adulthood to seduce me on the front seat of your family car.

But I was not raped.

No, I was not raped, when again at age 17, you, a friendly acquaintance called me over to your car and asked me to look in and see what you had on the seat. You pulled me in through the window and sped down the highway and told me you would throw me out at 70 mph unless I gave you oral sex. And afterwards you drove to pick up your girlfriend, whom you called “No No Nanette.” And she knew and I knew that I was the young bait to make her stop saying no.

No, I was not raped when my husband and I walked into a mutual friend’s wedding dressed in our finest and his best friend undressed me with his eyes and said, “Oh girl you look fine tonight.” Said it in a way that let me know I could not trust to be alone with him. It was then I decided to be fat.

I was not raped. But all of you have shown me by your actions you consider my body just a tool for your own satisfaction, that there is not a soul in this human package that can be frightened, scared, or shamed, only taken. No, I was not raped. Assaulted, bullied, used, crimes of sexual violence, but not raped.

Why doesn’t it feel that way?

:: untitled ::

By: H. D. 

I wanted to talk about a major issue I have with the gender neutral bathroom debate Re: men using the opportunity to assault women. I’m troubled by a lot of what I’ve been reading. I’m sorry for every single girl among us who has felt like her story wasn’t truly heard, and for anyone who feels they didn’t get a chance at justice.

So it is bizarre and frankly a little frustrating that when it comes to rape, THIS is the line people are drawing in the sand as “too much risk”, THIS is the one incredibly rare scenario where people are speaking out in protest and actually advocating for the potential victims. I noticed there’s a distinct and surprising lack of the usual doubt, scrutiny, victim blaming and rape apologies and after a lot of thought and reading, I came to a troubling theory why: Obviously first and probably foremost, it’s because this is an easy cover for people to justify their transphobia and if there’s anything that makes ignorant people uncomfortable, it’s the thought of transgender people among them. (Don’t worry amigos. It used to be the same with openly homosexual people just a generation ago.) But secondly, and this is the one that really bothered me, it’s because it supports the comfortable narrative of what rape “is supposed to”[sic] look like: The menacing male villain in an act of random insanity or perversion preys upon a stranger-an innocent and sober girl with nothing questionable or sexual in her background who was just minding her business in the well lit place at the wrong time. Anything outside of that and they eat you alive. So these phantom rapist hypotheticals are not only perpetuating hate and prejudice against trans people, they’re furthering the stupid and enduring myth that what rape REALLY looks like is a dramatic and violent jack-in-the-box attack by a stranger in a public place. I’m not saying that doesn’t happen, because it does. But people are generally very quick to blame even a hypothetical woman if she’s raped outside those circumstances and when all of a sudden the usual allegations of the woman making it up, leading him on or dressing like a whore are gone, you have to wonder why. What changed?

Think about it: in all the posts I’ve seen regarding a cis male allegedly raping a woman who knows him, the responses are always predictably critical of the woman, scrutinizing her every move and motive, and generally the lucky rapist has more than a few Devil’s advocates on his side. They seem to ask questions not to glean insight or to hear her side, but to go down the “legitimate rape” checklist, seeing if her rape fits all the criteria before they even consider blaming her attacker. Well were you drunk? Didn’t you text him the night before? Well if you didn’t want to have sex, why was he in your bed? In the case of the hypothetical man pretending to be trans to rape a woman, the victim is nothing more than a crime scene who did all she could against an unprovoked madman. This is problematic because it removes all human elements from the victim and from the story, and frames the definition of rape to be an exclusively obvious act; an outright assault on an innocuous woman who, as a requirement, did literally NOTHING to perpetuate it and absolutely EVERYTHING short of death to stop it. If there’s any less effort on either part, then the rape is now out of the comfortable narrative and she is met with contempt and suspicion. It also dehumanizes the rapist, making it seem like the only men who rape are hulking, imposing, criminally minded cave men who one day snap on a random woman. This is important because it means the opposite traits prove he is NOT a rapist, and if he’s not a frothing, deviant, perverted, intimidating guy-if he was a clean cut youth minister, or a young handsome baseball player for instance-then he couldn’t be the bad guy could he?

Now, the cut and dry image of “legitimate” rape has become the only acceptable circumstances if you seek justice, and only qualified women may apply. Drunk? Your fault. In his apartment? Your fault. Have a lot of sex before? Your fault. Didn’t get his blood under your nails in the fight? Your fault. Took a shower after and messed up the rape kit? Your fault. Too scared to report him immediately? Your fault. Because thanks to the spread of the “respectable rape scenario”, all your classmates realize the boy from school you said hurt you so badly couldn’t possibly have done it-not when you willingly met him for drinks and even flirted with him over texts. Not when he plays rugby and has a beautiful girlfriend. Everyone saw your arm around him at that party. All of a sudden, your story has human elements to it-he’s not a mindless beast, and you’re no ingenue-and thus, it becomes a tall tale meant to stir up trouble for the young man. The “man pretends to be transgender woman to access bathroom and attack women” scenario is tilting at windmills in the worst way possible, because it’s obscuring the uncomfortable truth of what rape actually looks like with a ridiculously far fetched smear campaign against trans women- and that’s much more dangerous than a phantom bathroom assailant.

A man pretending to be a woman to sneak into a bathroom to rape an unsuspecting woman is not the enemy here. The culture that allows THAT to be the only type of rape that gets recognized or planned for is the enemy.
Look at the football player who assaults several women but is allowed to remain on the team because no one is paying 80 dollars a ticket to watch a woman receive justice.

What about the man who learns from media influence that a woman’s agency is just a lock on her vagina, and he can wear it down with the right combination of drinks, half truths and contrived lines to finally get past it. Who can she go to to for comfort when he finally forces himself inside her over half hearted protests and quiet resignation? Who will believe her when her story is so, so, far from the knife wielding stranger in the bathroom?
When a college fraternity brother drugs and rapes another student, the problem isn’t the act itself, vile and unforgivable as it is. The problem is that he’s surrounded by a culture where roofies and rape and coercion and women being used for sex are all punchlines, and a woman saying she was raped is met with disbelief, disgust, contempt, ridicule, and above all else, permanent skepticism. How can anyone ever be expected to stand up and say “my story has more to it than being overpowered in the bathroom by a stranger, but what this man did wasn’t right”, knowing that what will invariably be discussed is not the actions of the rapist, but her performance as a victim to make damn sure that she got as violated as she feels.

Forcing trans women to use the men’s bathroom is not keeping men OR rapists out of the women’s bathroom, it’s keeping WOMEN out of the women’s bathroom, and it’s perpetuating an ideal crime that invalidates other people’s stories. A woman’s safety, inclusion, and right to basic human dignity (Mystifyingly defended in the context of a public bathroom but not her own bedroom) does not come with ANY stipulations.

I am now unsilent

By: Anonymous

From the time I was old enough for anyone to listen, I’ve felt an insatiable drive to lend my voice where there wasn’t one. I’ve felt like a warrior, screaming among the crowded streets of an underdeveloped world to all the people walking about, ignoring the mute. It was an obsession, seemingly from the outside and its motivation wasn’t conscious. Revered by some, annoying to others. For me, it was community service. A “do-good” service that felt instinctive.

Baylor University has recently been in the news concerning their unjust treatment of sexual assault victims. The kids were upstairs playing, my husband was at work, and I was downstairs reading the accounts that made the world stop for so many women, girls really. After I was finished, I began to sob … uncontrollably sobbing. Shoulder jerking, heart paining, breath raping, snot string sobbing.

It was at this exact moment I realized the birth of my voice. The voice I lent to so many others was fueled because I didn’t have one for myself. My voice wasn’t some divine soul driven instinct. It was about empowerment, control, and self-worth.

I was 14. I went with my cousin to a high school party at an apartment clubhouse. They had Boone’s Farm Strawberry Hill. I don’t remember how much I drank, but I remember I blacked out. Before we even left, I was in the bathroom paying homage to the porcelain God. I remember a friend, although I don’t remember who, was holding my hair, but at some point she tired of this ridiculous scene and rejoined the party. She probably stayed longer than I would’ve.

Someone knocked on the closed bathroom door. I was too drunk to give consent of passage, but they walked in. It was a boy in a grade above me. I didn’t know him but I knew who he was and I still know his name. He laughed at me and I can’t say that I blame him. I can’t remember if he shut the door, but what happened next is a burned scar time will never forget. He started taking off my pants. This was no easy feat because, after all, it was 1990 and the eighties style of painted on acid washed pants were still all the rage at my school, not to mention I was bent over a toilet barfing. I can still hear the echo of my voice in the porcelain bowl. “Stop.” “Don’t.” I started to cry. It wasn’t a ferocious cry. It wasn’t a cry fueled of anger. It was a cry of defeat. Loud enough for him to hear, quiet enough for no one else to come. I stared into the toilet the whole time. An occasional tear would ripple the waste water my head had become intimate with. He left and I didn’t even pull up my pants.

This story remained unspoken to anyone, lofting in the back of my hidden memories, until the night I read all those rape accounts at Baylor. My husband came home from work and found me. Eyes swollen. Memories streaked across my face. A lifetime ago. So, at our family table, where my kids share their school day stories, I shared the dirty secret I had hidden for over 26 years from myself. A girl who didn’t have the courage to have a voice for herself spent the next two decades lending her voice to others, and now I know why. Thank you Baylor survivors. I am forever indebted.

Coming Out

By: Prerna Bakshi

12 years old.

Come here, he said. Look what I’ve got for you, he said. I wanted it to be a surprise, he said. I’ve been planning to show you for days, he said. I’ve made sure it pops out as soon as you unwrap it, he said. I bet you’ll open your mouth as soon as you see it, he said. You might scream, he said. You might cry, he said. You might say I shouldn’t have, he said. But I know you wanted it, he said. So don’t be shy, he said. Come here, he said. Come and lie down with me, he said. It’s under these sheets, he said. Get your head under there, he said. Start looking, he said. Don’t come out until you find it, he said.

I hadn’t come out
until now.

This piece first appeared in Sick Lit Magazine. “Coming out” is also included in Bakshi’s full-length collection, Burnt Rotis, With Love.

How Does a Perpetrator Become an Advocate?

bu title ix

By: Keith Sena, published with permission.  Originally posted here on April 8, 2016.

Since my university’s sexual assault issues publicly exploded earlier this semester, survivors of rape in the Baylor community have published their accounts.  At least two, Stefanie Mundhenk and Cailin Ballard, did so with blog posts.  Another one, Pamela Ruffner, did so with a speech during a chapel service on February 8 immediately following a candlelight vigil.  A current Baylor student, Payton Massey, published her account of being raped before coming to Baylor.  I’m sorry if I missed any.  I personally know at least one current Baylor student who was sexually assaulted but has not publicized it.

As important as their accounts are, they each tell only one side of the story: the survivor’s side.  I’m not implying dishonesty on their parts.  I fully believe their accounts, and have utmost sympathy for them.  All I mean is that sexual assault necessarily involves more than one person.

What if a perpetrator were publicly honest about what he did?  What if he were remorseful and changed his ways?  What if he became an advocate for survivors?  What might such a process have entailed?

I have not studied anything directly about how a sexual assaulter can change their ways.  All I offer here is one person’s account, purely from personal experience.  How similar other accounts may be to this one, I am not sure; but it can give insight.  Some might call it a story of repentance, and whether you see religious overtones in repentance is your prerogative.

Why did he commit sexual assault?  How did he become that way?  What prompted him to change?  How has he established a good reputation since?

How is his victim?  Does she remember what he did to her?  Does she realize it was assault?  What would she think of who he has become?

He knows some of the answers, and wishes he knew the rest.

This account is mine.  About 16 years ago, when I was about eight years old, I sexually assaulted a girl.  Despite my age, I knew what I was doing.  In my childhood I was often more aware than people gave me credit for.  I did it just because I felt like it, for no particular reason.  I knew I was not supposed to do it, and I expected it to dislike it.  I consciously intended to violate it—which was no big deal for me, since I did not recognize its personhood.  I do not remember whether I viewed its body as specifically mine for the taking, or generally public property—maybe a little of each.

It became distressed and ran away, which simultaneously entertained me (because it was quite a reaction) and disappointed me (because it was over so quickly).  It happened at the YMCA I went to every day after school, but I do not remember being punished.  I did not know its name, and I am not sure whether I had seen it before or whether I saw it after.  Had it died the next day, I would definitely not have cared, and probably not have noticed.  It was spur-of-the-moment, not premeditated.

A short time (maybe a few weeks) later, I similarly assaulted another girl.  Whereas the first girl I assaulted was about my age, this second girl was a teenager.  Now I use the pseudonyms Uno and Dos, respectively, for them.

I assaulted Dos in the shallow side of a pool.  It did not appear distressed or run away.  It seemed thoughtful for a moment, and told me calmly that I should not have done what I did.  Then, as if it had been thinking for a moment and finally decided what to do, it grabbed me.  Since it was physically stronger than me, it dragged me to the deep end.  From our conversation immediately preceding the assault, it knew I could not swim.  I was scared, and helpless to escape its control.

With its captive’s undivided attention, it spoke sternly.

With its captive’s undivided attention, it spoke sternly.  It did not hurt me, raise its voice at me, or demean me.  It just explained in greater detail why I should not have done what I did.  Since I knew resistance would have been futile, I stayed still and quiet, listening.  I do not remember even in paraphrase anything she said, but I remember how she affected me: She made me realize the wickedness of what I did.  She showed me that such actions would not be tolerated.  She made me respect others’ bodily autonomy.

Then she asked me whether I wanted to return to the shallow side.  I thought it was a stupid question.  Of course I wanted to return to the shallow side; I had not even wanted to leave the shallow side in the first place.  I kept those thoughts to myself, and simply replied, “Yes.”  She returned me to the shallow side, and let me go.  I never saw her again.

I was ill-behaved, but I’ve always been teachable.  Until that point, nobody had taught me to respect others’ bodily autonomy.  My childhood sorely lacked the raising I should have received, and constructive discipline like Dos gave was rare for me.  I am not sure what about my childhood contributed to me committing sexual assault; a good starting point for understanding my childhood may be my first note about sexual assault.  In retrospect, I am incredibly thankful for what Dos did.

Since Dos disciplined me, I have never again sexually assaulted anyone.  More than just scaring me, she changed my attitude.  If she had merely scared me, I would have probably picked weaker victims after her.  I could have easily escalated to rape and premeditation, especially having started so young.  Had Uno responded in the way Dos did, I probably would not have assaulted Dos or anyone else after Uno.  I still think Dos’ question was stupid, but that’s probably because I am still not mature enough to admit to myself that she had a good reason for asking.

Eventually I forgot all about these incidents with Uno and Dos, and did not remember for most of my life.  Even though I no longer committed sexual assault, I still had a lot of latent and patent misogyny.  Like most males of any age, I was not self-aware, meaning I did not realize how my maleness affects how I view the world (it does not usually go the other way around for women).

Then in the summer of 2014, I became open to gaining self-awareness.  At that time I chanced upon Dianna E. Anderson’s Twitter account.  I was not sure I agreed with anything she said, but I felt drawn to pay attention to her as though what she had to say was important.  I’ve always been teachable, and Anderson has been critical in my developing self-awareness.

Then in August 2014, I transferred to Baylor University.  Since my first day on campus, my experiences here have catalyzed the process of opening my mind.  I got involved in the unchartered Baylor Feminists.  I learned about the ingrained societal structures that helped create the misogynist I used to be.  Some feminist women came to recognize me favorably as a feminist.

Then in mid-September 2015, I remembered Uno and Dos.  For about two weeks, I kept the crushing guilt to myself because I was too ashamed to tell anyone.  Slowly I realized I could not handle it alone.

However much I considered whom to tell, it was clear to me that I would choose Audrey Hamlin, my best friend at Baylor University, and one of my greatest feminist influences.  On Wednesday, September 30, I asked her to meet with me, and she agreed to meet with me that very day.  I did not divulge the purpose of our rendezvous, preferring to say it in person.  We met privately in the White Room on the second floor of the Bill Daniel Student Center (SUB) at about 5:00 pm.

With my friend’s undivided attention, I spoke contritely.

With my friend’s undivided attention, I spoke contritely.  She did not turn away from me, interrupt me, or recoil at me.  She just listened patiently in the uncomfortable silences between words.  Once I felt I had confessed sufficiently, I stayed still and quiet, awaiting her response.  She told me she thought no less of me, and felt honored that I would tell her.  Nothing became of it, and we switched to lighter conversation for a few minutes.  Then we parted, and I never felt that guilt again.

I continued feministing.  I’ve always been teachable, and I learned so well that I wrote a guide for men wishing to speak in feminist spaces.

Until February 2016, Audrey was the only person I had told about what I did.  Then I told a group of four other people about it, since I trusted them not to speak of it outside the group.  I had not planned to tell them, but our conversation about sexual assault made it immediately pertinent: One man in the group asked me about holding people responsible for their behaviors that their upbringings have taught them.  I briefly presented my account, and contrasted it with similar behavior from adults, my point being that adults are usually more capable of determining for themselves than more impressionable eight-year-olds.

Between February 23 and March 29, Rev. Kyndall Rothaus and others hosted a series of four events in Baylor University’s Elliston Chapel collectively called Prayers for Survivors.  They were for lament, silence, anger, and hope, in that order.  I attended the first two, and then received the following Facebook message from Rothaus on March 7:

“Hi Keith, we were wondering if you would have an interest in helping with the next prayer service for survivors on March 15?  This one will be a space for anger, and we’re going to have a few different people tell brief stories (less than 200 words, so really short) about their relationship to anger, and in particular we are looking for someone who could speak from the advocate’s perspective and address the anger you feel on behalf of friends who have been victims.  Is this something you’d be interested in doing?  If so, I can send you more information.”

It was the first time anyone had called me an “advocate.”  After thinking for about half an hour, I was sure I had a suitable anger story.  Eight days and three drafts later, I shared mine at the event:

“This university wants chalk messages preapproved, and only from chartered student groups.  I am not eager to break rules; but on the night before the candlelight vigil, I was angry over mistreatment of rape victims and mishandling of their cases.  One survivor said the authorities traumatized her more than her rapist did.  Another survivor gave me nine questions, and asked me to chalk them just outside Pat Neff Hall.  I can’t say I was happy to do it because I was anything but happy; I chalked those nine questions there in anger and disregard for petty rules.  Had anybody approached me while I was writing them and told me to stop, I would have probably flipped them off.  Waco Tribune published the questions.  Shortly thereafter, I noticed the chalk questions had been removed, as if they were hosed off—with no answers given.”

Right after the event, Phillip Ericksen of the Waco Tribune-Herald approached me to request permission for part of an article.  The nine chalked questions had been published here.

Shortly after Prayers for Survivors: A Space for Anger, on the same night, our community had an open mic event at the Waco Hippodrome.  It was called Unsilent: Survivors Speak.  The theme was “Courage is Contagious.”  Jenuine Poetess, another of my greatest feminist influences, hosted it.  Several survivors performed poetry and spoken word there.  Listening to them, I felt my first inclinations to go public as a perpetrator-turned-advocate.

Stefanie drove Audrey and me back to Baylor’s campus after the open mic.  I had a heavy heart during that car ride.  I wanted to get it out of my chest and put it on my sleeve.  I would have sought Audrey’s counsel in the car, except I was not yet ready to tell Stefanie about Uno or Dos.  Thus I let the idea for this note form in my mind for three days without mentioning it.

At a weekly mentor meeting on Friday, March 18, I asked my mentor—whom I had already told about Uno and Dos—about me writing and posting this note. She gave me cautious feedback. Later that day I began drafting it.  After a few hours, once I felt like I had a good enough start and could make it happen, I called Audrey to ask her about me writing and posting this note.  Audrey answered my midnight call, and gave supportive feedback.

This writing process has been incredibly difficult psychologically and emotionally.  I have had to take breaks each time it became overwhelming.  This is why it has taken me 21 days to write.  I am writing it to draw further attention to the issue of sexual assault so it may further be addressed.  In case any Baylor University officials see this note, I have a simple exhortation for them: Mundhenk’s latest post deserves your undivided attention.

Unsilent Blog Monthly Spotlights

The Unsilent blog will consider non-fiction narratives (in the form of poetry, prose, personal essay, memoir, etc) on any subject at any time.

Sometimes people like to plan ahead or have a theme/goal to work toward.  Somtimes courage needs a little heads up.  To that end, please peruse the loose schedule of spotlighted topics for each month throughout the year (if we’re missing any important themes please be sure to let us know)!

At the start of each month, we’ll post a call for narratives and list the themes spotlighted for that month.  Again, we will consider and publish non-fiction narratives on any theme or topic at any time; you don’t have to wait for the month.

JANUARY
• Codependency
• Slavery & Human Trafficking
• Psychological / Emotional Abuse

FEBRUARY
• Black Lives Matter
• Teen Dating Violence
• Intimate Partner Violence
• Bloodstories

MARCH
• Womyn’s Herstories
• Deaf Culture & Experience
• Self-care & Radical acts of Self Love

APRIL
• Autism Acceptance
• Arab-American Experience & Identity
• Child Abuse
• Sexual Assault

MAY
• Mental Health
• Lupus/Invisible Illnesses
• Asian-Pacific Experience & Identity
• Spiritual Abuse

JUNE
• LGBTQ PRIDE
• Belief/Faith stories of inclusion/exclusion
• Eating/Feeding Disorders

JULY
• Abilities/Disabilities Acceptance
• Migration Experiences
• Body Image
• Illness and/or Injury

AUGUST
• Survivor Stories
• Parenting & Child-Free Identities
• Community Violence

SEPTEMBER
• Latinx/Hispanic Experience & Identity
• Suicide
• Self-Harm

OCTOBER
• Cancer
• Domestic Violence
• Infant Loss & Miscarriage
• Bullying

NOVEMBER
• Police Brutality
• Racism
• Indigenous/Aboriginal/First Nations Experience & Identity
• PTSD

DECEMBER
• Family
• Trans* Experience & Identity
• Peace & Global Violence
• Grief & Loss

To sum up: please for sure do send in your truths.  Any time.  Any topic. As often as you need to.

I have learned too many times what love is not

By: Stefanie Mundhenk

My Abuser shows up everywhere
But lately it’s been in the boys that I love
The face of one, the arms of another
I’m always shocked when I see him
And he always laughs a little and says “Oh, Darling, didn’t you know?
You can’t escape me. I am always here.
I will turn his loving fingers that trace down your spine into claws that grip your arms, vice-like when you fight.
I will change the hands that used to run through your hair into brushes that paint bruises on your skin
I will change his smile into a Cheshire cat grin, and all the perfect things that he says now will make you sick when they become the placating words he says after he throws you up against the wall with his powerful arms that used to hold you quite warmly.
And you will be confused because on some nights, I will turn him into the enemy, but he will still bring you flowers just because it’s Thursday or hold you until depression finds another stomach to rest in.
This will happen to every single boy you date, until you begin to question your sanity, but not before others do.
They’ve already started to ask why you see smiles like the Big Bad Wolf baring his teeth and insist your claim that you feel burned by touch has to be an overreaction.
They don’t understand why you can’t shake the feeling of adrenaline shots on skin-to-skin contact
And neither do you.
After all, abuse is the only crime where the credibility of the victim is on trial as much as the guilt of the accused. It’s the only crime where the question in court is ‘Did it even really happen?’ rather than ‘Did we catch the right guy?’”

When people question my reality,
I want to ask them; have you ever loved the wolf? Have you gotten close enough to see what he looks like in the second before he devours you whole?
As he paints me red and brown it becomes apparent that I was only created to be his canvas
His fingerprints on my ribcage are the boundary for my heart of ashes, instructing it to never stray too far from him.

I’m getting to the end of this poem and wondering when I switched from my abuser’s voice to my own

He laughs a little and says “Oh, Darling, didn’t you know?
You can’t escape me. I am always here.
The lines between you and I begin to blur until, years later,
It’s just you beating yourself up
I pass the torch of abusing onto you”

And like a good little victim,

Good girl
Doesn’t-make-a-scene girl
Never-overreacts-girl
Quit-being-such-a-baby girl

I have not yet put it out,
Now I’m
Gas lighting myself when I’ve chased away everyone
That used to do it for me
Or never really did
I’m still not sure whether
I’ve ever really suffered yet
Beyond the confines of my own mind

I spend a lot of nights staring at the leftover antidepressants in my medicine cabinet
Holding a bottle of whiskey
And I wonder when I started drinking myself to sleep and why I cannot seem to just give up,
Why I can’t raise my white flag in the wind and admit that life, for me, is really over

People tell me all day that I have not yet given up because I am brave, but in all honesty
I think I cannot die because
I’m drenched in so much sin that
Even the devil is afraid of me

Love Letter to My Body

By: Anonymous

when he told me
my long legs would
look really good
if I just lost some weight
and maybe I should join the
volley ball team
I made a silent pact with myself
to not get thinner

when he told me
my face would be so pretty
if I would just lay off the snacks
I began sneaking food

when he told me
my body would look nice
in a two-piece
if I’d only put in the effort
I made it my mission to keep
my belly soft and round

when he told me
if I just wore some make up
took some care with my hair
maybe the boys would date me
I opted for neatly tucked
hair buns and
non-glossy chapstick

because you see
when a wolf reveals
his preferences
savvy prey
disappears herself

I don’t know how I knew
at thirteen
to read between the lines
how to translate the language
he was speaking
into:
“cover up”
“blend in”
“stay plain”
“do not attract attention”
“your generous curves and ample figure are your armor”

I don’t know
how I knew
to know these things

it didn’t happen
until my blood came

a changing body
a newly cycling self
a gaping wound
maybe that is why–
my bleeding drew him

maybe he wanted to mark his territory
stake his claim on
my blooming breasts
be the first to
taste my waters

in scoffing snarls
his eyes mocked
when I recoiled from
his arrogant displays
his greedy grooming

some girls dreamed of
dates and dances
I carefully constructed escape plans
defense plans
take-all-my-poems-and-run-through-the-night
plans

some kids wish for
outfits, cute shoes,
shopping sprees at the mall
I hoped someone would
kidnap me
on the walk to school
heart pounding at every
car that slowed
thinking
“maybe THIS will be my liberation”

because when home is an
unwakeable nightmare
the worst things imaginable
seem entirely manageable

because when home is a
snake pit
anywhere else feels
safe

because when home is a
palpable darkness
cold with a calculated cruelty
even hell’s flickering light
seems inviting
warm

Recognizing and Recovering from Trauma: Lessons I’ve Learned from Sexual Assault and Rape Survivors

By: Keith Sena, essay originally published on February 17, 2016

Two nights ago I received an email from someone with whom I seldom communicate.  I’ll call her Bayonet, since it sounds almost like bane would with a feminine ending (“bane-ette”).  For almost my whole life until recently, Bayonet was a major part of my life.  Now she wants to know, “How are you?  I have been wondering.  How are you feeling about your classes?”  The questions are simple, and so are the answers, yet I can hardly bring myself to respond.  How do I answer those questions from a person who has caused me immense suffering?  How do I communicate with her, when I know the only reason she is no longer hurting me is that I have distanced myself from her so she is no longer able to hurt me?  How can I tell her I am still recovering from what she did to me, when I know she would take it personally and berate me for saying so?

Bayonet is one of the main two people who have caused me trauma.  The other one I will call Grizzly. They have both been extremely abusive to me.  All the trauma Grizzly has caused me is from my time as a toddler to when I was 16 years old.  (I am 23 years old now.)  Since he has changed for the better, and I have taken great strides to forgive him, he and I pleasantly communicate often.  Two nights ago he and I shared an inside joke over the phone.

Even though Grizzly and I have a good relationship now, I am still affected by what the person he used to be did to me.  While coming off fluoxetine (generic Prozac) a few weeks ago, I had three nightmares about Grizzly.  In one of those nightmares, I slashed my throat in a suicide attempt.  Upon waking, I had to run my fingers down my neck to be sure I had not cut myself; then I got out of bed with a renewed appreciation for life.

Most of my childhood was being hit and yelled at.  I experienced my parents’ divorce when I was four years old, and then the divorce of my father and stepmother when I was 12 years old.  The happiest time of my childhood was my 72 hours in a mental hospital, since nobody hit me or yelled at me in the mental hospital.  I was there on a “5150 involuntary psychiatric hold,” but it felt voluntary since I was eager to go there to escape my terrible domestic situation.  I am only scratching the surface of how these experiences have formed me as a whole person.

I have not always recognized my trauma when I have experienced it.  When a person has been accustomed to living with trauma for almost their entire life, how can they see trauma for what it is?  I suppose the answer may be different in each case.

In my case, the answer was listening to a speech when I was 21 years old.  The speaker said humans enter the world afraid of only two things—darkness, and death.  I do not remember being afraid of darkness or death in my childhood, but I remember being afraid of Grizzly.  The fact that Grizzly terrified me in my childhood so much that I forgot about fearing darkness and death put into perspective for me the trauma he caused me.

In the weeks before that speech, I had been experiencing what I would later look back on as the beginnings of recognizing my trauma.  During those weeks, whenever I thought about what Grizzly did to me, I would start shaking and taking rapid, shallow breaths.  (Later I learned to call these occurrences panic attacks.)  I did not understand why those memories affected me that way; it made no sense to me that something from the past would cause me such distress.

After the speech, my experience gradually made more sense to me.  While I could not stop the panic attacks, I finally understood them.  For years, I had largely hidden the memories of the abuse from my consciousness; but they were being dragged onto the showroom floor of my mind against my will.  I stopped trying to fight it, and resigned myself to letting the panic attacks run their course; they are mostly done now.  From this experience I derive my working definition of trauma: lasting distress from past unpleasant experiences.

While I was coming to recognize the trauma Grizzly caused me, I was being terribly mistreated by Bayonet; it was further injury inflicted upon longstanding injury.  However, the abuse she inflicted on me in my adulthood was never physical; thus it was harder to recognize as abuse.  She often manipulated me into thinking I was responsible for her misbehavior.  She is an expert at taking things personally and assuming the worst.  She is not big on consideration for others.  Many of the ways she abused me pertain to my autism spectrum disorder, and are not easily understood by neurotypicals.  She repeatedly suggested—in all seriousness—that I am autistic because of a demon, and that I need this autism demon cast out of me; she even gave detailed, deductive reasoning for why she considered me possessed.  She is not a difficult person; she is an impossible person.

While she was abusing me, I recognized a little of it; but much of it eluded my recognition for years.  The biggest help in recognizing it has been living in Baylor University’s Honors Residential College (HRC).  The people here tend to be kind, caring, respectful, friendly, and plenty of other synonyms one could mine from a thesaurus.  The picture accompanying this note is from our most recent community dinner.  Living in community with them and consistently experiencing how they behave has put into perspective for me how terrible of a person Bayonet is.  Once I recognized my trauma from Bayonet, I had to deal with it along with my trauma from Grizzly; accordingly, during my first year in the HRC, I had chronic insomnia, chronic panic attacks, and chronic suicidal thoughts.  The HRC community has been invaluable to my ongoing recovery.

However, I could not have articulated my experience this clearly without having heard and read testimonies of sexual assault and rape survivors.  I have never been sexually assaulted or raped.  My intention here is not to portray myself as having it as bad as survivors of such heinous violations of personhood; on the contrary, I am convinced they have it worse than I do.  From what I can tell, they have all the same effects of trauma as I do—though for different reasons—plus more.  I have never cut myself or attempted suicide in real life, as many of them have.  Neither have I had PTSD, as many of them do.

At least some rape survivors feel like their bodies are no longer their own; one described her body as a crime scene that she inhabits.  However much my body was hit, I never felt like it was not my own.  I cannot comprehend what sexual assault and rape survivors experience, and words cannot adequately convey it.  While I sympathize with them, I am incapable of empathizing with them because I have never experienced what they experience.

Let me emphasize it again: I am neither diminishing the experiences of sexual assault and rape survivors, nor overstating my experience as if it were as severe as their experiences.  My intention here is to draw, with acknowledged limitations, comparisons between their greater trauma and my lesser trauma to understand the phenomenon of trauma in general.

I’ve often heard sexual assault and rape survivors attest these two points:

1. Because of lack of education about sexual assault/rape/consent, they were not aware that what was done to them was sexual assault or rape.

2. As a coping method, if they know it was sexual assault or rape, they tried to repress their memories/feelings and behave as if it did not happen so as not to be affected by it.

An example of the first point is a survivor account I read.  Long after her rape, she was in a college classroom listening to a lecture.  The professor was explaining sexual consent.  Right there in the midst of the lecture, she realized she was raped.  She had to leave class early.

Examples of the second point are two survivor accounts I read.  One wrote, “I just shoved these feelings as deep as they would go assuming I would be better off trying to deal with everything after I graduate so I would be distanced from the incident and that my grades wouldn’t suffer from trying to handle the repercussions.”  Another wrote, “I had blocked my assault out of my memory […].  I just didn’t want to think about it.  But […] I could not go any longer forcing all of these dark memories down and hoping they would just go away.  Because they never would.  I just wish I would have known that earlier.”

Their testimonies help me understand my experience.  Comparable to the first point, because I did not know how people were supposed to behave, I did not recognize how badly Bayonet was mistreating me; yet it still affected me without me realizing how bad it was.  Comparable to the second point, I had suppressed my memories and feelings about what Grizzly did to me; but trauma does not just go away unacknowledged, and must take effect eventually.  I suspect these points correspond to common human reactions to traumatic experiences in general.

Now I’m going to cry myself to sleep.

Pulse

By: C. T. H.

when you speak
your words wrap
tight hands
around my gasping throat
stifling me in
choking silence

when you look
your calculating eyes
over my body
surveying the geography
you think you own
your greedy gaze
scorches

when you touch
your poison arrows
wither life
traces of death
scarring everywhere your
fingers
trespass

i am here
against nightmare odds
every breath a rebellion
every
heart.
pounding.
pulse.
a revolution