I have never been raped, but the threat of rape is embedded into my conscious and subconscious. It’s a part of me; it’s a part of being a women in the vast majority of the world.
Recently, I got a treadmill. In the middle of a run, my partner casually walked in and began talking to me. I jumped, nearly tripping on the machine as my heart rate seemed to double. I screamed, yelling that he should never, never surprise me on a run again. Never.
He didn’t understand why I was so upset; he was just asking if I wanted him to pick up a post-run latte for me.
When I’m running outdoors, I explained, I’m on alert for any man who might sneak up behind me. Even though I was running in my own home and even though I heard a familiar voice, I panicked because my brain is so programmed to fear approach during those moments when I’m alone on the trail.
The threat of rape is very real. I feel it in my bones.
Just days ago Judge Aaron Persky sentenced the rapist Brock Allen Turner to six months in a county jail. Persky said that “I think he will not be a danger to others.”
This man drug an unconscious woman behind a dumpster and penetrated her vagina with objects as well as his own fingers and penis. He is the kind of man I’m looking out for on the trails. He is the definition of danger to others.
But instead of justice for his victim, the judge handed out a favor to a criminal. It’s the old boys club where an older white man slaps the younger white man on the back and laughs because boys will be boys. We’ve seen this before in the United States. Our country is built upon these kind of cigar-and-brandy moments that permit one group to dominate the other.
And so girls will be girls, jumping on treadmills when their partners ask them if they want coffee. Going to bathrooms in groups to avoid unwanted advances. Pretending to talk on the phone while in a taxi to keep the driver from taking them to a dead-end road. Carrying their keys between their fingers to increase the impact of an emergency punch.
Jessica Valenti’s new book, Sex Object: A Memoir, comes out on June 9th. In it she explains how sexism impacts women. She writes that, “we know that direct violence causes trauma; we have shelters, counsellors, services. We know that children who live in violent neighbourhoods are more likely to develop PTSD. Yet we still have no name for what happens to women living in a culture that hates them.”
Some may think her words are too harsh. I don’t.
On the treadmill this morning, I listened to Tori Amos’ song Fast Horse on repeat. Tori is known for expressing her experience of rape in the song, Me and a Gun, and her support of RAINN, the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization. Fast Horse has nothing to do with this topic, but one line resonated. She sings in almost slow motion, I am struck by my own rage.
I am struck a rage that has building since early adolescence when I realized that some men see me as nothing more than a sum of my sexual parts. The judge, the rapist and the pathetic sentence made me angry. The tipping point of my rage was when I read the statement from the rapist’s father who defended his son by saying that the poor boy doesn’t even like to eat his favorite steak anymore; it’s not right that he is going through all of this “for 20 minutes of action.”
I am struck by my own rage and the rage of others. Social media is ablaze with reactions to this revolting insult to justice. If we mobilize this rage and use it to create a platform for dialogue, we can begin to take actions to prevent violence as well as to bring justice to victims and all women struggling in this patriarchal culture of violence and subjugation.
Culture is created by the people living in it. Violence against women exists because we chose to create a culture where it is tolerated. Let this verdict be our rallying call for change.
Featured image: Official mugshot of Brock Turner, Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office