Trigger warning: the content to follow is graphic, difficult to talk about, and even more difficult to deal with.
I’ve spent a solid week agonizing over how to begin this article and the only thing I can conjure up is this: you are not alone. This both upsets me and emboldens me.
“Embolden” is a term a beloved professor and I decided on together in an effort to take the word “power” out of the equation. Power is what got us into this situation and we need to be bold to get out of it. That’s why you’ll rarely hear me call myself or others “empowered”. I fail to see where power has anything to do with making a positive change. As we find ourselves moving deeper into 2015 (we’re already one-fourth done with the year?cray cray, right?!), I’m seeing so many positive talks surface about self-love, acceptance, and tolerance for all. But there’s one thing that is less bright and uplifting to talk about that I still feel gets shafted when it’s time to talk: the topic of sexual violence and assault.
That includes, but is not limited to, anything that’s forced upon a person in a sexual manner. It doesn’t have to be under the typical umbrella term of “rape”?our comfort zones and violated hearts know it goes much further beyond any scope. What will it take for the West (the only place of experience I can comment on personally) to realize its battle on victim-shaming is not yet won? Not only are we continuing to make rape the dirtiest word in the English language, but we’re putting it in a box on a shelf of the most heart-wrenching warehouse in the world. People don’t want to touch it with a 10-foot pole, much less have earnest discussion on prevention, awareness, and healing. I’m curious on how to broach the subject, because the moment something quite so heavy as sexual violence is mentioned, people grimace. They shut down, awkwardly excusing themselves from the situation. “What a buzzkill,” they’ll murmur. “It’s so uncomfortable.”
Pardon my French, but you’re damn right it’s uncomfortable!
Why is it, though? Why can we talk about our bodies, loving them, accepting them, but not pardoning them from the shame? We let others put us in the box in the warehouse, too. Things can change. And they just might, if we figure out how to take the world’s most uncomfortable subject (save for religion) and turn it into a daily discussion, creeping into our living rooms when we least expect it.
A new show that I find myself obsessed with allowed one miniscule moment of an episode to make a very strong point: the conversation needs to start young. It needs to be had frequently and candidly, but handled in such a manner that the fear surrounding it sheds away. Fresh off the Boat is a new sitcom from ABC featuring a Chinese immigrant family adjusting to life in Florida. Set in the 90’s, the father and head of household addresses “The Talk” with his oldest son who decided to take it upon himself to find a “dirty movie” for his friends. His mother’s response to their talk? Spot-on, hilarious, and maybe just what the doctor ordered for this candor-phobia illness we all seem to have.
I’m not saying it is this simple, but it is most certainly a good place to start. I’m beginning to feel that topics approached with humor might actually end up sending the strongest message. This is absolutely not to say that the topic of sexual violence is humorous in any way, but if we ever hope to have men and women who report their assaults right away, and the stigma relieved from the term “victim”, we need to talk about it more. This is just one of many ways to do that. I am fortunate enough to be vastly aware, or overly aware maybe, of the topic at hand. I consider myself fortunate because I had a support system like none other in place to get me on the long and enduring journey of loving myself after the storm of assault came through my own life. I am fortunate enough to have joined a sorority in college whose philanthropic dedication was for domestic and sexual violence victims. I am fortunate to have experienced what I did so that others, perhaps, might not have to.
Let’s weigh in.
Featured image via Project Unbreakable, a photography project aiming to give a voice to survivors of sexual assault.