On Surviving—and Speaking Out

Sexual assault isn’t fun to experience—or write about. But April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and it’s long past time for people around the world to pay attention.

I spent 15 years doing documentaries for the Feminist Majority on some dark stuff—including domestic violence, campus sexual assault, rape kits by the thousands going untested…

After working on the injustices of sexual assault—screaming about the pitiful 13 percent conviction rate for perpetrators, watching colleges deny the problem as fraternity boys ran around campus yelling “No means Yes. Yes, means Anal”—I realized, for the first time, that I had been date-raped in my teens. Nothing violent, just too much booze, and a guy I really liked who wanted full-on sex when I wanted to smooch. He won.

In my book, The Road Not Taken, my protagonist faces sexual assault, but she is victorious over her rage: she finds a way to use the anger to make her stronger. I didn’t want to write a Victim. I also didn’t want to use rape as a trope, or use it flippantly to create conflict. But I wanted to show the resiliency that is required for women to claim their lives. Her attackers want to intimidate and stop her on her journey to change—our attackers want to intimidate and stop us—but she refuses to give misogyny that kind of power.

Sexual assault has always been used in war—and now it is again in Ukraine—as a special way to humiliate your enemy before killing them. In places like Congo, it’s used as a punishment and so-called “corrective” method for LGBTQ+ women. And it’s still happening, in every community in the US, at epidemic rates.

We’re surviving. But so is patriarchy. That’s why I think those of us who know the violence it sews too well need to keep talking—and writing—about it.

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