Wednesday, August 22, 2007

What I encourage everyone to do: Disrupt!

By Shiwali Patel, Boston University 2005 graduate, former Community Educator for Adults and Adolescents at the DC Rape Crisis Center, current law student at Washington College of Law at American University.

It’s an unfortunate reality that sexual violence is widespread to the extent that one in three women worldwide will be a sexual assault survivor. I’ve learned about sexual violence in depth at Boston University (BU) as a women’s studies student and at the DC Rape Crisis Center (DCRCC) where I was a community educator in Washington, D.C. for almost two years. As a student I researched global sexual violence and learned about the horrors faced by many women and children in war torn regions where rape is often used as a tactic of war. Also, to connect more with the issue, I researched campus rapes in the United States and shockingly discovered how so few survivors of rape are supported by their schools.

Another reality I came to understand more clearly as a student and an advocate was societal belief in damaging myths about sexual violence. Adults, adolescents, college students and children have expressed to me, in different ways, many false assumptions about rape. These include: sometimes women are at fault for being raped because “of wearing a short skirt,” “of being too sexual,” “of being in the wrong place at the wrong time,” “men can’t control their sexual urges,” or that “she really wanted it then, but changed her mind and cried rape afterwards.” After listening to this, I would scream in my head thinking, but what if she wanted to wear that skirt? Does this mean that I can’t go anywhere in clothes that I like to wear without being blamed if I’m attacked? How about the many stories I’ve heard about women not reporting? What about children? How are they asking for it? The people who spread these myths disregard the implications of what they are saying- that it’s not the rapists fault for rape, that the victim is to blame, that men and boys aren’t raped, and that rape is just about sexual gratification. All of these are false and in reality, rape is a violent act that is used to overpower and humiliate its victims.

Privilege, power, control, oppression, -ism, hate, have all been a big part of my vocabulary when understanding sexual violence as a community educator for DCRCC. For almost two years, I’ve heard numerous personal stories about victimization, and never did anyone “ask for it.” The pain was real, and so was the healing. In working with the elderly, sex workers, college students, homeless women and men, adolescents, women formerly incarcerated, immigrants and city-wide professionals, I found that survivors often have many reasons for not reporting their victimization and seeking support services. These reasons included fear of deportation, language barriers, lack of trust in law enforcement, shame, dependency on the perpetrator(s), fear of retaliation from the attacker(s), disabilities, and lack of knowledge on the law and resources for help. I’ve also learned that perpetrators were often aware of the barriers and the power they had in silencing their victims.

Thus, to conclude, these learning experiences have only encouraged me to do what I encourage everyone to do: disrupt. Disrupt people’s false assumptions about rape. Disrupt the pattern of most rapists, who rape more than once and get away with it. Disrupt the community that silences its victims. Disrupt the system which does not support survivors. Until we disrupt, we’ll have a heck of a longer time seeing any real and positive change.