We protect ourselves by saying it wasn’t that bad.
It only happened once, twice, when I was little, when I was older, when I was drunk, when I was the only one not drinking, when I was alone, when I was out with friends, when I was in the break room at work, when I was in the military, when I was unemployed, when I asked for a raise, when I was silent, when I…
When you can’t change it, you change yourself. Because it’s better than thinking you can’t change anything. It’s epidemic, people say. So it’s better than thinking it’s epidemic—the abuse of women.
So, you think, if I blame myself, maybe there’s hope.
That things will get better. Because I can change—me.
In a room of forty students I conduct a training to sensitize us. Stand up, I say. Then, sit down if you or someone very close to you has been raped. Many sit.
Molested, battered, sexually harassed at work. Each directive produces more students sitting.
Within less than three minutes there is one person standing. One.
We all blink at each other. And I see these students realize: maybe it was never my fault. Maybe it’s a problem in the world. Maybe I don’t need to be ashamed anymore.
I say—you know what? If you were robbed, you would tell someone. You wouldn’t be ashamed if you were robbed. You would yell—Hey, he stole my purse. Help!
And I look at them and say — you were robbed. Something was stolen.
And on top of it you were told to not tell anyone. You’ll be killed if you tell. No one will believe you. You deserved it. They’ll call you crazy, lying, a slut.
If your wallet was stolen – people would believe you. That’s my story you would say. My wallet was stolen. My car. My belongings. The police are looking into it.
If someone steals your right to sleep with the lights off, then you were robbed. If you are afraid of the dark now, and you weren’t before, you were robbed. If someone steals your right to have sex because every time your legs part, you see the rapist and you freeze, you were robbed. If someone steals your right to go out at night because it happened at night, in the morning, because it happened in the morning, at a bar because it happened in a bar…. You get the idea. You were robbed.
We’re afraid no one will believe us. Because rape is the crime where out of 1,000 sexual assaults, 995 perpetrators will walk free. Three out of four rapes are not reported. Only 20 percent of students ever report a rape and only 28 percent of the elderly.
Had enough yet?
Because right now rape happens very 42 seconds. How long have you been reading this poem?
Because there’s a good chance at least three rapes have happened since you started reading
if you’re a slow reader, at least one if you’re fast.
Someone somewhere was raped, and can you hear the silence?
Someone is afraid to tell. Someone is afraid to be shamed, to be thought crazy, to get hurt worse, to not be believed—if they tell. What happened was bad enough.
Women. Women. Women. And men. And women and children. Rape is a robbery.
A robbery where you are supposed to be ashamed of being robbed.
Rape is that little girl old woman gay man migrant worker high powered executive battered wife street walker soldier housewife teacher student.
The face of rape shifts to include everyone—so many who are not speaking.
It’s well known that if you yell fire you will get more help than yelling rape. Fire.
How do we change it? Because robbery is a crime. And you get to report it.
And you get to maybe get your stuff back.
We are in the velvet dark now.
The bitter strong stars. And we stand solid with the stories. We have a right to be here.
This is how we change it; we think. We are howling at the moon. We are taking the stars into our raised fists. We are cutting the sky with our teeth. We are angry. And powerful. A comet passes through our hair. We light up against that sky.
Rape is a robbery, we say. We have been robbed; we say. We scream into the night, Rape is a robbery.
And then we take everything, everything, everything we have lost—
we take everything back.
In These United States, October 2019
Marie Cartier has a Ph.D. in Religion with an emphasis on Women and Religion from Claremont Graduate University. She is the author of the critically acclaimed book Baby, You Are My Religion: Women, Gay Bars, and Theology Before Stonewall (Routledge 2013). She is a senior lecturer in Gender and Women’s Studies and Queer Studies at California State University Northridge, and in Film Studies at Univ. of CA Irvine.