Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Shedding some light on a dark continent

News out of the BBC on the incredibly shocking, unbelievably disturbing, and morally outrageous findings that one in four South African men has self-identified as a rapist. Half of that group consider themselves serial rapists. 5% of the them have committed a rape in the past year.

Nearly a quarter of Canadian women have been victims of rape or attempted rape. In some developing countries, women are initiated into sexual activity as a rite of passage. Most rapes are committed by someone the victim knows.

I don't think I have ever had a conversation about rape with any of my friends. Women just don't talk about it. I don't know why.

I was first assaulted by a boy in my grade school who attempted to rape me in my friend's backyard. It was weird. We we playing in her yard. He just appeared. We didn't like that boy particularly. Hadn't spent a lot of time around him. He just showed up and was hanging around. At some point, he grabbed me and threw me to the ground. He pinned my arms. I thought he was just trying to be...well, you know how boys are. They want to prove they are strong. They want to make you squirm. Sitting on you was a means of pissing you off and when any other boy had done it, they eventually grew tired of holding me down, let me up and laughed about it. I usually punched them really hard and threatened them with a swift and violent end if they tried that again.

So at first, I didn't suspect that there was any real danger. I was angry and struggling but I couldn't throw him off me. When I realized the futility, I almost submitted. But then he went to unbuckle his pants. I didn't even know what rape was. I was in the third grade or so and I knew this boy from school. All of a sudden it just clicked in my head. He meant to have sex with me right there in Sheila Arrington's backyard. I screamed. I hollered. I fought with all I had. I kicked. I bucked. I twisted. My God he was strong. He must have been seriously disturbed and a victim of abuse himself to have attempted an all-out effort to rape a 10-year-old classmate. But I knew one thing. I wasn't going to let it happen. He finally let me loose when I began screaming for my friend's mother. I climbed to the top of the swing set where he couldn't reach me and I didn't come down until he had left. Interestingly enough, when this boy assaulted me, my friend walked away and went into her house. She did nothing. She didn't get help. She didn't inform her mother. I was on my own out there. I fought.

I won.

I remember yelling at her later. My only other experience with sexual assault was an instance of "date rape" in which some light petting turned into a forced oral encounter involving a co-worker with whom I accepted a date. I didn't realize that what he did was illegal. I just knew I he was a major asshole and I never wanted to see him again. Yeah, I was naive. I don't know what feelings you are supposed to have after having been sexually assaulted, but in both instances, I was relieved it was over and I was mad. I wasn't mad at myself. I was full-on mad at them. Not enough to kill them, but enough to make me never want to interact with them again. I can't imagine someone staying with a partner who raped them.

If there is a bright side, I am happy that I never experienced anything that seriously injured me or scarred me emotionally. But to think that good girls from good homes aren't subject to the same sort of sexual predators that are out there is insane. One of my childhood friends was sexually abused by a choir director at her local church. Religion, education and money aren't enough to protect us from sexual assault. Rich daddy's can't protect their daughters because some of the son's of rich daddies can't be trusted. You just never know behind which eyes lurk the capacity for sexual assault. There are some seriously disturbed young people out there.

Rape, or the prospect of forced sex are profoundly disturbing. At the age of 10 or so, I got an eye's-wide-open introduction to the big bad world out there. Although I honestly think I didn't extrapolate that experience to all boys (thankfully not). I think I interpreted it as "he just wasn't right". Men like my Dad wouldn't do those kinds of things. I still believed there were good men in the world. Men who would protect me. But I remember wondering, after he let me loose, about what life was like in his house. His life must have been a nightmare. The abuse must have been unreal. It's a cycle. I'm just thankful he wasn't able to complete the circle with me.

If it can happen to me, it can happen to anyone. And it does happen to lots of anyones. It is time we, and I do mean the universal collective we, do something to put an end to the assault on half of the world's population. It is time to speak out and speak up. This has got to stop.

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