Civic Duty

I had Jury Duty this week.

I wasn’t really too upset about it because my work pays for a few days of it and I’ve never seen the inside of a courtroom outside of binge watching SVU. I got there and was selected for the jury pool for a case. We went in and the judge made a speech about how this is important and why jury duty is what it is and how if you think that the courts let cases off easy then you should WANT to be there making sure things are done justly. The buzzwords were citizenship, duty, fellow man, justice, community, service etc.

It was a remarkable and moving speech.

Then we went on lunch break and I went downstairs to the cafeteria and ordered a salad and some honeydew melon which came in crisp plastic packaging. I ate across from a handsome lawyer who asked if I minded before joining me. We sat and read together, me a novel, him some sort of ledger or file, in comfortable air-conditioned peace.

Then I went back upstairs and seated myself on a bench by the window outside the courtroom’s double doors to wait for role call, and court’s resumption.

I opened my book again (Enchanted Islands by Allison Amend, highly recommend btw) but I’d read well over 100 pages that day already, so I looked out the window instead of reading. Behind the courthouse, there was something going on on the ground. I couldn’t tell at first what I was looking at. It seemed like some sort of farmers market or something, which for my location wasn’t unheard of. The city the courthouse is located in is full of art walks, markets, craft fairs, etc. From 9 stories up, it just looked like a group of tarps.

The more I looked, though, the more clear the picture became and eventually I realized I was looking at a makeshift shanty town of tents and tarps. Homeless people trying to get out of the California heat any way they could. It was like a small city of downtrodden individuals right behind the courthouse in plain view.

The judge’s words about how being here was important came back to me. How giving up a workday, or our normal routine was so important. We had covered the case by that point and it was basically two men arguing over the terms of a contract and whether a fineable breach was made by one party.

Looking at that shanty town, and then turning to watch one of the two hard-faced businessmen stride back into the courtroom with his lawyer, in suits so clearly expensive that the cuff links could have fed all the people below me for a WEEK, I felt a roll of guilt and indignation in my stomach.

How can someone say that deciding if there was a breach in a business contract that didn’t result in losses significant enough to alter the course of a business, or anyone’s day to day wages or way of life be CIVIC DUTY and a SERVICE TO YOUR COMMUNITY while addressing starving citizens WITHIN EYESIGHT isn’t even on the table.

Don’t talk to me about civic duty when in plain view of city officials, lawyers, politicians, judges, POWERFUL men and women, every day people struggle just to avoid exposure to the elements and nothing has been done. In view of people who could ACTUALLY DO SOMETHING about it, people IN OUR COMMUNITY have suffered. They’ve suffered long enough that there’s a veritable VILLAGE of them grown up behind the building.

Like with a lot of my posts lately, there is no good answer. I have no silver lining. This is just an angry cry that something needs to be done, and a comment and observation of just how skewed our priorities are in this country.

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Stanford (graphic content, sexual abuse trigger warning)

I’ve done a lot of crying the past day or so.

Its been on and off since I read the closing statements from the Stanford case. I can’t stand that that asshole is getting off with 6 months in county. He ruined someones life but because his  body holds value, “justice” has favored him instead of his victim.

That’s not purely why I’m crying.

I don’t think I’m quite that selfless. I read each new development in this case, and so many other women’s stories, and the nasty comments perpetuating rape culture and I cry for women as a whole who are in this place where they are violated and then revictimized every time something like this happens. I also cry for myself.

I was attacked at the end of my high school year. By my boyfriend. He was in the 6’2-6’4 range, taller than me even in my highest heels, and on the track and field team. Star athlete. Maybe thats another reason Stanford is so triggering for me. He was massive, six pack abs, in the gym 6 hours a day minimum, biceps like pythons. He could wrap both of my wrists completely in one of his hands and have a secure hold.

Our relationship had very clear lines. I was a virgin and didn’t want to have sex before marriage. He knew this. We’d been over it in no uncertain terms but after prom he pulled over his truck at the end of my street to kiss me good night and kissing turned to groping and when it went too far and I told him to stop, that night, he didn’t. My wrists went in one hand and the other hand found its way down, hiking the skirt of my gown. I remember my elbows and shoulders protesting the awkward angles they were put in.

At what point he opened his pants, I still don’t know, though I’ve replayed the night thousands of times. I could feel him shoving himself at me. That sensation of only having a thin, thin, seamless layer of pale blue microfiber between him and my virginity.

I can hear my voice, like it belonged to someone else. “Stop it, what are you doing. Stop, stop, STOP STOPITPLEASESTOPYOURHURTINGME” getting more breathless and shrill and scared with each syllable. I had got my hands free, but then he had me by the upper arm, the hip, I would slip free, he would grab me again, and one hand was clumsily trying to drag my panties to the side.

Ignoring me.

He was just so big. All those muscles I’d thought were so pretty were just, muscles. Weapons of my destruction. I am not a small girl, though I was a swimmer. I was lean but athletic and I’m tall myself. I wasn’t used to feeling so delicate. At one point it occurred to me that he could actually hurt me, break bones, bloody me. That had never been a part of my reality before: physical powerlessness.

At some point he released my hands and started grabbing my legs and buttocks. Trying to pull me onto him.

I remember his one solid thrust and my panties were still half covering me, so they mostly stopped him, but it still hurt. A sharp warning burn between my legs and I let out a squeal like some sort of pathetic piglet. I just kind of flailed at him. One hand, the other, both, my knee grazed ribs or a hip. He stopped briefly.

I sucked him off.

I figured it would give him what he wanted sex-free. And I could go home and lock the door behind me. And everything would go back to normal.

But it didn’t. When my dad asked how things went when I came in from prom, I lied and pasted a smile I hoped just looked sleepy and not scared on my face and said things went great. When I woke up in the morning I couldn’t believe what happened had happened.

The more I thought about it the more upset I got. I felt betrayed by my boyfriend. I felt scared. I’d never been physically overpowered before and until it happens you always think “I’d just kick ’em in the nuts.” “I’d just thumb-drag their eyes.” I watch movies, I’ve read articles on self defense. I should be fine.

It’s not the same.

I knew what he did was wrong. Without consulting anyone, I knew it was wrong. But I was a big reader. I love Alice Sebold. I owned a dog-eared copy of Lucky and I know what victims of sex crimes go through even when they’re clearly the victim. Even when the rapist is a violent stranger.

As a teenager I knew about victim-blaming. How women are accused of asking for it. Liking it. Bringing it on themselves. I knew because he was my boyfriend, and because it was prom night, because I agreed to pull over for a kiss goodnight, and because I agreed to oral sex in lieu of penetration that he would never be found guilty. That it would be my fault and all I’d do by coming forward would be to make it public knowledge. Everyone would know I was a whore.

So I watched the bruises on my arms and buttocks and hips and thighs fade with the burns on my knees from his car seat. I didn’t report him.

I was in dance, though, and my friends saw the bruises when I was changing and asked.

I told a few of them.

That was one of the worst parts to this whole story.

A friend, MY friend, told me I might be mistaken. She asked me if I was sure. My boyfriend was best friends with her boyfriend, she’d set us up in the beginning and she encouraged me to give him a second chance. She said she was sure he didn’t mean it “like that.” He’d never hurt me. He’s a nice guy. Maybe he was just drinking. She knew what kind of crowd he hung out with. Maybe that was the case.

So I stopped talking to people about it early on. I hid it. And continued letting it hurt me.

Fortunately he didn’t go to our school so I didn’t have to see him every day. Avoiding him was easy.

I told him I didn’t want to see him. That I needed to think. He tried to tell me it wasn’t like what I said, that he’d never hurt me, he loves me.

He showed up at my last dance show with a dozen red roses. Like ugly red flowers could fix what he’d broken. My friend and her boyfriend were smiling next to him. She wanted me to come get dinner with them. A double date. And he’d come by himself, so the drive over would give us time alone to talk.

I said I’d check with my parents.

I called my mom and quickly and quietly said: M_____ is here, he wants me to go somewhere with him but I don’t want to. I will explain later but can you come get me and pretend you’re making me come home? Please, please come get me.

She sent my dad. I remember I was wearing intentionally mismatched Chuck Taylors, one purple, one black, because I stared at my shoes as I tried to find words to explain things to my father. “At prom he tried to get me to do things I didn’t want to do. I didn’t want to be alone with him. I don’t want to see him. I have to break up with him.”

I told my mom about the same thing. I downplayed. They still don’t know what happened.

He harassed me for a while after that. Would show up at the house. Text and call. Get friends to text and call. He got a new girlfriend and for whatever reason she started calling and texting. Telling me I was trash.

Because HE attacked me.

I felt like trash for a long time. Because of how the events played out I wasn’t sure if I still counted as a virgin. Something I’d planned on giving as some sort of preserved gift to my soulmate someday was tarnished, if not stolen. I struggled with this for years.

Between the lack of clarity and the PTSD-like symptoms that would happen any time I was remotely intimate with anyone I spiralled as I began college. I hung out with people who were anti-relationship. One night, drinking at a friends dorm with a couple friends, a guy got me alone in a room. He kissed me and I fell backwards onto the bed. He climbed on top of me and started groping me. He was heavy and my leg was bent under me. I couldn’t get the leverage to sit up. My friend was off with some other guy. I panicked.

He unhooked my bra, tonguing my cheek instead of my mouth, since I’d turned my head away. He was drunk and fumbling and didn’t noticed I’d frozen in fear when I realized I couldn’t get up. He didn’t notice the silent tears streaming down my cheeks á la PTSD. He hadn’t even noticed when I’d stopped kissing him. I choked a bit on a sob and begged “let me up.”

He said “oh, you wanna be on top, huh?” Even when I sat up and started backing towards the door he didn’t realize there was anything wrong. I heard “where you going?” before I shut the door behind me.

I ran, literally. Grabbed my purse, jacket, and shoes from the common room and didn’t stop to put them on. I dashed into the hallway and when the ding of the elevator startled me I bolted to the stairwell before the doors could open. I ran down the stairs and sprinted across campus before stopping to put shoes on my bleeding feet at an intersection, waiting anxiously for a car to pass so I could run on.

I lived off campus in my sorority house and I sprinted all the way home. Not far, but far enough that I pulled muscles in my legs and could scarcely breathe by the time I was locked behind the door. I was crying in the shower by the time my friends realized I’d gone missing.

I avoided men for a while after that. Too scared.

I also developed a bit of a phobia about being without my undergarments or wearing anything that wasn’t 100% full coverage.

The couple times I tried to date I either had a panic attack in front of them and they never called again. Or when I tried to tell them I didn’t want to have sex before marriage, the ensuing questions led to uncomfortable questions I didn’t have the right answers for.

 

Finally I couldn’t stand it any more. I was no longer clearly pure but I’d never had sex on my terms. I wasn’t dirty but I had a fine layer of dust. Damaged goods. I thought I may as well do it once for me and be able to give a straight answer when asked. Not being a virgin was better than explaining I’d been assaulted and because of the gory details wasn’t sure myself.

I just wanted to forget the whole thing. I would have sex with my next boyfriend.

My next boyfriend was abusive.

My next boyfriend left me with actual scars on my body and a fractured rib that never healed properly.

My next boyfriend thought dragging me downstairs by the hair, beating me with objects from his bedroom,  and then raping me was fun. My next boyfriend forced me to have sex with his friend.

My next boyfriend knew I had an eating disorder and would use his genitals to make me puke and then say he was helping me keep my figure.

Because I consented to being his girlfriend, to normal consensual sex, to giving him what was left of my virginity, to a little slap and tickle experimentation early on in the relationship before it got abusive. Because I stayed with him. Because we broke up and I went BACK to him more than once.

There’s not a jury in the world that would convict him for anything he did to me.

Because I grew up in a society that believes women are asking for it, I had no hope of help when I needed it and over the years I grew so damaged that I am still recovering. If I had any hope of quick and just action when I was attacked the first time, I would not have put myself in situations that damaged me further.

Because I live in a society that thinks consenting to a relationship is consenting to anything a partner cares to do to your body, I lost hope that I could successfully escape my abuser.

Because I live in a time where there are rallies held to legalize rape, a time where judges that will suggest that because a rapist is young, and an athlete and a scholar and has not raped before, he is somehow exempt from just punishment for his crimes, a time where men will pull my hair, put their arms around me, and make lewd comments about me either to my face or behind my back in public places, I find myself unable to sleep soundly or feel safe going through my day to day life.

This and more is EXACTLY why I feel like it’s a mans world and women like me are just living in it. We’re trapped. 
There is NO WAY to be the change I want to see here because I am not a man. I am not the active party in these scenarios. All I can do is wait for someone else to act or cross a line and defend myself. 
I don’t want to mark escape routes in every situation. I don’t want to carry mace or other weapons. I hate that I’m in the market for a handgun. I don’t want to carry my keys in the shiv position when walking alone at night.
I will give all the support and solidarity I can to survivors who are victimized over and over again by our messed up society, but I am so tired of being forced to.
I will celebrate every win, but it shouldn’t BE such a big deal when a rapist is found guilty. Justice being served should not be the minority situation.
I want change. I want justice. I want to feel safe in familiar places. I want the law to be an actual deterrent. I want real equality for women.
But it is so very very hard to cling to hope for the future with things the way they are.
I wanted there to be a happy ending to this post, but for the time being there is not.
We NEED a change.
But I see no clear solution.
So to close, my beauty in negative spaces is this: I am not in the situations I was in before. I am lucky to have survived. I am lucky to be looking BACK at what has happened. I have also grown a lot. I have grown physically stronger to better defend myself. I can knock a heavybag over with two punches or a single kick. Elbows and knees are better for defense though. I have gained coping skills to manage panic, and push it down long enough to either defend myself physically or verbally depending on the situation. I’m learning to value myself like I hadn’t before. I am damaged, but I am not completely broken. I still have use. I can still be functional.
It is taking a really long time but I’m coming out of this.
Most importantly I am talking about my past. Its therapeutic for me, and it educates and empowers others depending on the situation. I’m taking away the power that those events had over me, I’m taking away the power that rape culture had over me. I am using my voice. I was silent when I should have leveled charges at the men who violated me. I can’t go back and change that.
But I will not maintain the silence. I will share the distasteful things that happened to me and say it is not my fault. I did not ask for those things. I know the truth. I am blameless. I said no. I asked for them to stop. Their actions were their own. They have nothing to do with me. I will not forgive myself because there is nothing to forgive. I will accept that I have been wounded, and focus on the things that let me heal.
I will build up those around me that they may avoid similar hurt. I will support and nurse those who have been wounded. And I will hope and strive for a better tomorrow.