I have lately been captivated by the feminist debate surrounding the sex-crimes allegations against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Naomi Wolf has emerged as the most vocal supporter of Mr. Assange in the feminist community. This debate has raised interesting questions regarding the validity of the allegations, the political motivations behind the charges, and our role as supporters of sexual violence survivors in this discussion. I support Ms. Wolf’s opinion that there are political motivations behind the allegations against Mr. Assange and that the recent actions taken by international governments are dramatically atypical. However, I think Ms. Wolf’s latest editorial has gone too far.
In her editorial, “Julian Assange’s sex-crime accusers deserve to be named,” published on the Guardian online, Naomi Wolf argues that the two accusers of Mr. Assange, and subsequently all rape accusers, should be named in the media. She goes on to write that the anonymity that protects victims of sexual violence is outdated and actually hurts women. She argues that this anonymity allows rape myths to flourish and inhibits change. “Finally,” she writes, “there is a profound moral issue here. Though children’s identities should, of course, be shielded, women are not children. If one makes a serious criminal accusation, one must be treated as a moral adult.”
If Ms. Wolf were as well versed in the reality of rape as she claims, then she would understand that rape is a crime of power. Taking away a victim’s right to anonymity only puts the power in the hands of the press and the general public. Let’s not be naïve about what would happen to rape accusers if their names were printed in the newspaper, repeated on television, and opened up for commenting on blogs.
Rape is already one of the most underreported crimes in the world. In the United States, only about 40% of rape victims report this crime to the police. There are many reasons contributing to this, including the cultural stigma against rape that Ms. Wolf claims to be interested in eradicating. However, there are other very real reasons that victims are hesitant to report. The most important of these is a victim’s safety. Nearly two-thirds of rape victims know their accusers, and more than 50% of all reported rape and sexual assaults occurred within a mile of the victim’s home. Many convicted rapists have also been arrested or convicted for other violent crimes, including physical assault.
What would happen if we denied men and women this anonymity? How many people would report rape and sexual assault?
The reality is that of the 40% of rape victims that do report this crime to police, there is only a 16% chance that the accused will end up in prison. This means that in most cases, even when a victim does go through with a criminal prosecution, the accused will likely be acquitted. Does this mean that most people who report rape are lying? No. It just means we are still very much a part of a society that does not understand the true motivations behind rape and does not possess a judicial process adequate to punish rapists.
If we follow Ms. Wolf’s logic, victims who brave the potentially degrading process of reporting rape to an often unsympathetic and misinformed police force should bear the moral responsibility of being named in the media. But when the perpetrators are acquitted, then what? Victims then face a lifetime of potential humiliation from a public that still doesn’t understand the true nature of rape or the failed judicial system of prosecuting this crime.
Let’s not forget the crime of rape itself and the effect that it has on victims. After being raped, victims suffer from extreme shame, guilt, fear, self-blame, and depression. Many victims are terrified to reveal that they have been raped even to their friends and family members. As Ms. Wolf points out, our culture has traditionally blamed and stigmatized rape victims, leading them to stay silent. Adding forced public scrutiny to this burden would only create another obstacle to reporting.
Ms. Wolf frames her argument as a protection of feminism, characterizing the privacy that rape accusers are granted as “condescending” to women.
This is not an issue of feminism. Feminists (and I proudly call myself a feminist) are empathetic to the struggle of rape survivors because rape is perpetuated by a culture that objectifies and demeans women. Furthermore, many feminists are survivors of rape themselves. However, both men and women are victims of sexual violence, and the stigma that rape survivors face is a unique and deeply rooted issue. And the fact is that rape survivors themselves should not be used, against their will, as a tool to end the stigmas our culture perpetuates.
I agree with Ms. Wolf that when survivors allow themselves to be named, they help to end some of the myths about “who” is raped and what a rape survivor looks and acts like. Every time we stand up and speak, we increase awareness and communication about this issue. However, it is an individual decision to speak. One that should not be taken away from us. Every rape is different, every survivor is different. And we each have the right to share our story when the time is right with whomever we wish to share it with. This decision should not be made by the police or a judge, and certainly not by a journalist.
Ms. Wolf presents an argument that is logically interesting and academically worth considering. What it lacks is a connection to the reality of the crime of rape and a true concern for the well-being of rape survivors. It is clear that her primary motivation is to turn Mr. Assange into a hero. But her lofty rhetoric effectively silences the voices of rape survivors, and only serves to delegitimize the issue of rape culture.
Ms. Wolf frequently cites her numerous interviews with rape victims as justification for her arguments. My arguments do not deserve consideration simply because I am a survivor of rape. But it is because I am a rape survivor that I reject her recommendations. To use her own words: “Motivated by good intentions, the outcome harms women.” And men. I respect Ms. Wolf as a journalist and a feminist, but Ms. Wolf does not speak for me. I prefer the right to speak for myself.
-Emily Monroe, End the Silence Campaign
Dec 1, 1979, I was sleeping when suddenly my dog barked. I shushed him then he barked again. I looked up to see a man standing over me in the darkness. I let out a light scream. He pounced upon me, put a knife to my throat and said, “I’m going to kill you, bitch!” I said, “Who are you….what do you want.?” he kept fighting me, as I tried to scream louder, with no response from anyone. This was about 5 a.m. He kept after me, choking me with his hands, putting the knife to my throat. I would pull the knife away from my throat. He shoved my face into the pillow. I got down to the floor. He started hitting me in my stomach, the first pain I felt. I finally asked him, “Do you want to..(have sex)..? He said, “Yes”. I stopped struggling, and he stopped hurting me. I participated. Then as he left, he said he would be back. He had taken my TV, stereo, $18 from my wallet. It scared me that he went through my things and knew my name. I actually convinced him to turn on the light. His face is forever embedded in my memory. I brushed my teeth, but did not use the bathroom, not wanting to lose any evidence.
I calmly called the police. I felt that i had caused it because I’m the one who had to ask. I knew that was the only way I could survive. The police pointed out that my hands were bleeding and that I did the only thing I could. I called a friend who accompanied me to the hospital. The rape kit did prove that I had indeed bee raped. I had surgery that afternoon to reapir some tendon damage. I assumed I would return to my apartment, but quickly realized I would never be able to go back in there.
While I was in the hospital a friend and my brother moved my friend and me into a shared apartment. I was terrified of the dark, and being alone. I finally left that apartment, and stayed in my car for about three months. I would go to someone’s door as it got dark, and ask if I could stay that night. I had two dogs. I knew I was in no condition for that responsibility. So my brother took them to stay with hi until I felt stronger.
My mother was in a nursing home. I knew she probably would not survive knowing I had been hurt so badly. My brothers said they would support whatever I chose to tell her. I lied to her and said I had fallen on some broken glass. I still live with that lie, 29 years after she passed on.
I was recommended a therapist who turned out to be miraculous. I saw him for several weeks. I then decided to stay with a friend in Florida for a few weeks. While i was there, the use of my paralyzed hand returned. I was joyous. I also got some reprieve from reliving the nightmare daily as I went about. I started keeping a journal, which I left with my therapist. I don’t want to read it again. I resumed therapy when I returned from Florida. I also found a job, working as a nurse in a small hospital. Then I found an opportunity to share a woman’s home, very close to the hospital. I worked very hard to restore my trust and confidence. But I was determined I would not let some insignificant piece of dirt ruin my life.
I have no idea where this man is today. I would be willing to bet he is not alive. A lifestyle like that does not assure a lot of longevity. I have long since risen above the incident, but it never leaves. I am infuriated every tinme I hear of someone being raped, especially children. I was 35 at the time. I am thankful I wasn’t a child, nor an older person. I knew I would recover. With excellent loving support of family and friends, an excellent therapist, and my own will and determination, and the grace of God, I have grown from the experience, more every year. If my story can encourage others, I will have served a meaningful purpose. Thank you for reading my story.
A few weeks ago, our region was shocked by the brutal murder of three women and the wounding of nine others at an LA Fitness Center in Collier, PA. There are few who would disagree that a heinous crime like this, motivated by an intense hatred of one gender, is unforgivable. However, focusing on single events like these can blindside us from the reality that we live in – the reality that across our country, thousands of women fall victim to violence every single day.
In instances of extreme tragedy, communities can unite – with help from the media and our community leaders – to demand justice for victims of violence. And this is both justified and absolutely necessary. But let’s not forget about the victims that suffer in silence. Every day, women are beaten, abused, assaulted, raped – all in silence and with little hope of justice. Let’s use this tragedy as an opportunity. An opportunity to unite as citizens and demand that violence against women be ended for good.
Click below to read yesterday’s op-ed in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:
And keep checking back to the site! Changes are underway!
A friend mentioned how important it is to talk about the very real problem of rape and sexual assault in the military. A few months ago, I wrote a blog entry about this problem when my sister showed me an article on BBC. Here is the link to the article:
This is something that we need to talk about, especially since so many of our men and women are serving their country right now. That’s all I have to say for now, but I will return to this topic in the future.
This passage stuck out to me in Jennifer’s story:
“I made some poor decisions, but I am not to blame. When I was going through training at the East Texas Crisis Center I was told something that I repeat to myself every time I start to mentally play the “If only I’d…” game (which I still play to this day) and that is: ‘Just because you leave your door unlocked, doesn’t give someone the right to come in and steal your things.’ “
So many of us point to each of our actions that came before our sexual assault, trying to come up with a logical reason for what happened. We say “If only I didn’t have that last drink,” “If only I didn’t let myself trust him,” “If only I hadn’t kissed him,” “If only I fought back harder,” and so on until our brains are exhausted.
Jennifer’s words truly reveal the error in this thought pattern. Rape is not a punishment for poor judgment. Rape is not a punishment for drinking too much. Rape is not a punishment for kissing. Rape is not a punishment for trusting.
We are not to blame.
Women still comprise only a small percentage of military troops, about 1 out of 10 in Iraq. In a new book titled The Lonely Soldier: The Private War of Women Serving in Iraq, Helen Benedict interviews 40 women who served in Iraq.
Of the 40 interviewed, Ms. Benedict discovered that 28 were raped, sexually assaulted, or sexually harassed while serving their country.
In its 2009 annual report, the Department of Defense estimates that 90% of military sexual assaults are never reported.
Now that the government has acknowledged this disgrace, will anything be done to protect these brave women who risk their lives for the love of a country that is ignoring them? We can only hope.
Read the article on BBC:
“Every 2 minutes, another American is sexually assaulted. 1 in 6 women & 1 in 33 men will be victims of sexual assault or rape in their lifetime. This is an issue that affects us all.” (www.rainn.org)
As much as we would all like to believe that we are safe from rape and sexual violence, we are not. Most people are uneducated about the reality of rape.
Whether we would like to believe it or not, it is a sad reality that affects you, your friends, and your family.
Check out www.rainn.org to learn more about rape facts, statistics, and common misconceptions. Also, check this site in a few days for a page on rape myths and other important information – it’s coming soon!
So if this is such a big problem, what should we do?
I believe the first thing to do is TALK, TALK and then TALK some more. When an issue is condemned to silence, it grows like a virus ignored, spreading across our community and infecting everyone. It is time to end the silence and start talking, time to open up the lines of communication that have been quiet for too long.
It is time for you to SPEAK.