Girls Write Now is an organization in New York that pairs at-risk high school girls with professional women writers for a mentor relationship that lasts an entire school year, up to four years. Girls Write Now is having a show this friday (January 18) The young women writers will be reading their work. See the link. Its $10.
What does she look like? You know who I am talking about. We hear the names on the news sometimes but dont see a face. Sometimes we dont even get a name. The media will often say “a woman”. That child who’s sexually abused? That woman who’s raped? I can tell you. She looks like your girlfriend, wife, mother, aunt, sister, and any other woman in your life that you have cared about. For the woman, she may look quite a lot like you. Statistics say one out of every four women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime. We don’t see a lot of the victims. Most of the time, she is right next to us. Hopefully, if you are one of the four that when you look in the mirror you don’t see a victim either. I hope you see a survivor. In my work inside prisons, dealing with the victimizers I often wonder about the women I read about in the offense conduct of Pre-Sentence reports. Almost every day, a court documents crosses my desk, telling the tale of yet another woman who’s been battered, beaten, raped, sexually assaulted, and even murdered. An unscientific guess tells me that over 90% of the men I deal with have some type of domestic assault in their past. Either arrested or told to me in a group setting. Some are even getting visits from their victims. It’s important to note that experts say there’s a link between child abuse and sexual assault. I happen to think they’re right. I often wonder what happened to that woman, that left her so vulnerable that she tolerates a relationship where she gets beat up. Sometimes I know there is no reason or rationale and it could be a coincidence – but quite often, it’s because she was a victim of another kind of abuse, while still a child. I say this because of what the experts say: A 2002 report says that 75 percent of women who reported being raped were under age 18, with 37-percent of that group being 11 or younger. And anyone who’s spent much time working with battered women knows that the experience of childhood abuse can linger on – often in the form of more abuse, by different abusers, down the road. A few years ago, I decided to volunteer in a woman’s shelter and those statistics looked underreported. I wanted to see the victims of the victimizers I see everyday. I wanted to meet them and ask questions. Maybe find answers to this epidemic. The stories of neglect and abuse are heartbreaking. One woman who was open about her past and was truly a survivor. I asked about any childhood abuse. She said, “Was I an abused child? No, but perhaps I was neglected. Not with regard to food, clothing or shelter, but as the child of a “single” mother (since my parents lived apart much of the time) I experienced neglect of another sort. It’s the same kind of neglect that many parents exercise, by placing their firstborn in the position of caretaker for the younger siblings. As a result of such “neglect,” I was one of at least three siblings who was abused by a child molester.” It didn’t stop there. It not only happened once but twice. Married two different men, many years apart, both of them batterers. She certainly did not go looking for a man who would beat the living daylights out of her. It’s just that when that man – as he did, in her case – came looking for her, her self-esteem was low enough, or even non-existent, she just settled. Settled because she thought that was all she was worth. For the past two years, while speaking publicly about these issues at local colleges or advocacy and awareness programs, I decided to discuss the victims and the victimizers. Then something amazing started happening. Victims started talking to me about their past abuse. They became comfortable enough to reject the anonymity so many victims choose to live with. They felt comfort that someone knew that they did nothing wrong, and have nothing to be ashamed about. The shame belongs to the people who truly deserve it – the child molesters, sexual offenders and wife beaters. Abusers come from all walks of life. Confirming this helped people (especially skeptics) realize that child abuse, rape or domestic violence doesn’t just happen to women on the lower socioeconomic ladder, or to women of a certain color, size or intellect. It also happens to smart, savvy women who have careers and supervise employees, to college-educated women who are doctors, lawyers or scientists. It even happens to mothers and wives. In short, it can – and does – happen to anyone. What’s the justice in all of this? What does rape or domestic violence do to you? It makes you stronger. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting you put yourself in harm’s way just to become a potential target, because there are other ways to gain strength that are far less painful. But I’ve learned that when you use what you’re given – even if it happens to be something pretty nasty – you’ll quickly find yourself on the path to empowerment.
I leave you with this from Sojourner Truth: And ain’t I a woman?
Look at me Look at my arm! I have plowed and planted and gathered into barns and no man could head me. . . And ain’t I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man– when I could get to it– and bear the lash as well and ain’t I a woman? I have born 13 children and seen most all sold into slavery and when I cried out a mother’s grief none but Jesus heard me. . . and ain’t I a woman? that little man in black there say a woman can’t have as much rights as a man cause Christ wasn’t a woman Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with him! If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down, all alone together women ought to be able to turn it rightside up again.