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Hey survivor – pay attention. We are under attack.
I know right now you think it’s not that big a deal. You probably think, like I did once, that you can shrug it off forever. But you’re wrong. We all have our limits, and I don’t want you waiting around to find out what they are. Believe me when I say that you could die.
It wouldn’t be an accident. It’s what the world expects. In movies, news, and whispering gossip, we learn that survivors don’t exist – but victims do. Suicides, and drug addictions. Jail, and mental wards against our will. Death row just for men – what petition of mercy for a killer did you ever hear (designated terrorists excepted) that didn’t include every gritty detail of his molested childhood?
They are waiting for us to die, and we know it. For as long as you’ve been a survivor, this is a weight you have carried. Remembering, privately, words like “except,” and “anyway.” Living for us means defying, and thriving is beating the odds.
Think about what they make us go through – the polite society of normies all around us, with their shocked panic whenever one of us announces being in the room. Think about the weight of fitting in, pretending we aren’t who we are just to make them feel at ease.
We lack the privilege of community. We have no automatic allies and we’re randomly distributed. But it is hard to find each other, because we lack the privilege of even group identity. We don’t dare throw parades to celebrate being alive; our joy can and will be used against us, even in the court of law. Can’t be that traumatized if you went to a party.
And because we’re not a group, and because we’re not in the open, we don’t get to lead on any issues that affect us. The burden of doubt (thanks, society) keeps us so busy defending and proving and playing the part we think will be accepted that taking political command is practically taboo. Can’t be that traumatized if you’re able to talk about politics.
And we are under attack. We’ve always been under attack – we’re used to it. But suddenly, right now, it feels like we’re getting somewhere. If we don’t join together and learn how to defend ourselves, as a group, #metoo will fade into thin air, like so many other reckonings. We all know there’s nothing this world of normies would rather see than for us to get buried again.
Think about the ways they’re trying to shut us down. Think about Project Veritas.
This is a think-tank founded by James O’Keefe. Donald Trump is among its many funders. The latest project it pursued was named, “To Catch a Journalist” – as an apparent diametric to Chris Hansen’s Dateline NBC program, “To Catch a Predator.” Hansen’s show had investigators catfishing child-molesters to help police arrest them before real children could be harmed. O’Keefe’s project was instead supposed to catfish investigators so as to discredit molested children and help a child-molester win a Senate race.
Project Veritas accordingly sent a woman to the Washington Post with a made-up story about having been raped by Roy Moore, impregnated as a teenager, and forced to have an abortion. It didn’t work, of course; the paper followed the woman back to Project Veritas headquarters and wrote about the failed attack on journalism. So, great. One attack against us didn’t succeed. But, my people, think about – just think about – the depth of the ever-present media attack against survivors.
O’Keefe was able to fool NPR. He fooled ACORN. He fooled Planned Parenthood. He didn’t fail in fooling the Washington Post because they’re better detectives. He failed because this time the story he was trying to sell was rape – and that’s a story nobody wants to buy.
Anyone who thinks doubt is a rational response to a news story relating to rape just has no idea what the world is like for survivors. Even O’Keefe, who made a conscious decision to lead a smear campaign against us, was not able to prepare for that denial – and he controls a billionaire-funded think-tank.
Every time we get the slightest bit of traction toward a preferential option, the powers invested in rape culture pivot hard to take us down. They’re not even subtle about it.
In a series of tweets dated November 29th, editor-at-large Ijeoma Oluo of The Establishment described an email exchange, followed by phone call, from USA Today. They wanted her to write “the opposing view” to a piece that would argue that, though it’s good victims of sexual abuse are now coming forward, due process must still occur.
Oluo responded that, um, she also believes in due process – but she could write a response: “I’ll happily write about how their priorities are skewed and that the due process that’s missing is the due process for the women coming forward.” She continued that, “if anything, these stories of years of abuse are testament to men getting more than due process. And maybe instead of immediately trying to recenter the concerns of men because, like, 5 white dudes got fired, we should wonder about the countless women whose careers never even got off the ground because when they were harassed, there was NO process, let alone due process.”
After a few minutes’ conference with editors, the low-level representative from USA Today again called Oluo, explaining that they wanted her response to focus on how she just doesn’t believe in due process and is fine with a few innocent men losing their jobs to expedite the reckoning.
Oluo refused. Her November 30th article describes the same incident, and the thoughts that ran through her mind after the call had ended.
“Did this really just happen? Was I seriously just asked by the third-largest paper in the nation to write their ‘feminazi’ narrative to counter their ‘reasoned and compassionate’ editorial? Was I just asked to be one of the excuses for why this whole ‘me too’ moment needed to be shut down?”
Oluo asks us, in the end, to consider how often we are suckered into supporting this kind of narrative.
If we count the ways that journalism works against survivors, we find ourselves in the thick of a pervasive gaslighting campaign. No one bats an eye when we come across a sentence like, “Los Angeles radio anchor Leeann Tweeden made allegations that Al Franken groped her as she slept.” Allegations made by Tweeden are referenced on internet, TV, and printed press as the subtitle or introduction to the picture in which we clearly see Al Franken groping her.
Similarly, one teenaged girl among several made allegations that R. Kelly raped her. Allegations – despite there being a widely-viewed and mocked video of it happening. Things that we see with our own eyes are generally called facts, not allegations. As the news, you should know the difference.
And yes, I’m aware that publications have legal departments requiring the insert of such disclaimers. That’s my exact complaint: this isn’t accidental. How have we allowed judges who rule in favor of rapists who sue, lawyers who believe certain truths are impossible to defend, and papers that fear telling hard facts about abusers, but think nothing of telling us, impulsively, over and over, that survivors could be lying – even when we can’t be?
The word that other groups of people might use for these events is “defamation.” We survivors are, publicly, constantly, and by conscious decision disparaged. “Allegation,” “accusation,”
“supposedly,” “accuser” – these have become codewords. Some are hardly used outside the context of sexual abuse, and never replaced within it. Articles don’t introduce survivors as “plaintiffs,” “indicters,” or “statement-givers.” We don’t read about “reports,” “cases,” or “accounts” of sex abuse, nor reference to “facts in question” or “disputed testimony.” It is important, in the news, to signify that special kind of justice that only has to do with rape.
The coding is more than just widespread – it’s active programming. In response to Roy Moore’s abuse of a teenage girl, David Hall, chair of the Alabama Marion County GOP, offered: “It was 40 years ago. I really don’t see the relevance of it. He was 32. She was supposedly 14. She’s not saying that anything happened other than they kissed.”
The injection of doubt here has to be kneejerk; Hall’s usage of the word “supposedly” serves no legal or rational purpose. He literally isn’t saying that he doubts the woman’s story, and in fact by his downplaying the severity of sexual abuse in the next line we’re given to understand that he has no problem with believing she was kissed. What the adverb tells us literally is that Hall doesn’t believe in her – the survivor – as a living human being.
Supposedly she was fourteen when Moore was 32. How can we really know? What makes us so sure she moves through time at the typical rate, or that she’s existed alongside other people who counted her years as she grew? She could be any sort of creature, who cares what Moore did.
Hall’s efforts to mythologize are unconscious, and are unconsciously accepted by a society that has forever been subject to systemic gaslighting. We are trained, all of us, to doubt survivors claiming to be ordinary, while at the same time to believe survivors capable of impossible monstrosity. I have seen better people than Hall reflect the training.
Immediately after 2016’s election, I took to facebook, posting furious screeds against the president-elect and the people who handed him power. I came closer to some of my friends, who shared my anger, and blocked many others, who didn’t. One acquaintance who became a closer friend asked permission to copy-paste some of my messages (my security settings compromised the “share” feature). I said yes, and saw many of my messages re-posted on her wall. But once, I noticed a very long post had been edited. The change was subtle – just one word. Instead of a “KKK-endorsed child-rapist,” the message now called Trump a “KKK-endorsed accused child-rapist.”
Though she’d credited me by name as the author of the message, and used quotation marks at the beginning and end to make clear that they weren’t her words, my friend included no note on the edited portion. I did a double-take; I had to revisit my original message to check if I had actually used that word. I hadn’t.
I don’t think the revision was a conscious enough decision on her part to consider asking my permission or explaining to her audience that there had been an edit. But it was a change she went out of her way to make – on her own, no legal departments forcing her. This is the self-replicating power of steady programming against us. My sensible, smart-mouthed friend thinks the word “rapist” so dangerous that it can, if written once over the internet with no disclaimer, do more damage to the President of the United States of America than she would wish on her very worst enemy (who is, at this moment, the President of the United States of America).
It’s no wonder that we aren’t a faction. In poisonous moments, we have been told that the most dangerous thing in the world is for us to open our mouths. Now everywhere we go that message plays on repeat.
The irony is that, when it comes to sex-crime, survivors are the only group with a vested interest in justice. People act like we’re out here trying to kill you. We are the ones who can save you.
In a world where survivors’ voices lead our responses to sex abuse, I predict a great emphasis on restorative justice. This is because, from experience, we are the only ones who seem to realize how normal is a rapist and how overlooked each survivor. We’ll figure out quicker than the rest that the sheer scale of rape makes any other kind of justice logistically impossible.
Justice to a survivor also has to be restorative, because the special stigma that sex crimes carry for us becomes a toxic obstacle to healing. We need to be supported and believed. And we’ve seen time and time again that unless our abusers stand up in public and admit what they’ve done, no amount of evidence will be enough to make most folks believe us. We don’t have the luxury of prioritizing retribution. Our survival requires that we center concerns on our own immediate safety and the safety of our communities. We want to know that these crimes won’t keep happening, to us or to anyone else.
Can you, who are not survivors, decide for us under what conditions we might begin to feel safe? If not, then I suggest you stop doing what you do in trying to defend us: stop controlling what we say.
It is notable, and not surprising, that #metoo became a big movement at the urging of non-survivors. I mean, I don’t know what your twitter feed looked like when it first took off, but I remember so many tweets asking us to come out of the closet, now, as a demonstration of the scale of sexual abuse – written by people who identified being unable to do so themselves, due to their lack of personal victimhood.
I’m not saying allies don’t have a place in our movement. What enabled us to come out en masse was the sudden societal permission, after all. Guilty as survivors always are about everything, it made sense to speak out when it was for a good cause – not just us being selfish thrusting our nasty problems in other peoples’ faces. But I couldn’t participate. Just weeks before I’d written out a full disclosure on my blog, and I wasn’t yet in a place emotionally where I could brave another outcry.
This is not something many allies seem to understand; wanting to be believed does not mean our stories should be available on-demand, much less for the satisfaction of those who need to be showered with personal proofs of statistics we told them already. And this is not the point of our movement – it’s not our job to save the normies from their own programming they haven’t done work to dismantle.
For a non-survivor who has nothing to add to our conversation, the right thing to do is stop talking. Those willing to do the harder job of being our allies can use their own stories instead of demanding our proof. We’ve all seen sexual abuse, harassment and gaslighting. Assault has occurred at awards shows, on gameshows, and improvised moments during mainstream comedies, without much or any an uproar. Did you even see it, normies? Did you, and did you know that it was wrong, and yet say nothing, to keep things nice and polite?
That is the proof you were asking for. Use that in our defense. And good, if it’s hard for you to share it. Learn from that shame what it’s like to be in our shoes. Learn the feeling of being powerless and out-of-place, and bring that up next time you hear someone suggest there are people crying rape for attention. Nothing about you is so much bigger and more dignified that you would have reason to fear speaking up where we would be spared embarrassment.
It’s telling, and typical, the form of #metoo. Across the internet, survivors were given the job of divulging raw, personal data. And institutions were given the job of deciding what to do with it. In the void between us – scattered, providing survivors on the one hand, and on the other hand the looming keeps of power – our allies have been stepping. Directing political winds, proclaiming on our behalf what they want our movement saying.
It’s a problem.
I didn’t think so at first. It excited me to read in tweets, “Let’s get #TrumpSexualPredator trending!” “16 women accusing Trump of misconduct deserve justice!” I thought, finally. They’re getting it. Days passed, and I noticed people saying, on mentions of Roy Moore and other predators, “Don’t forget, this is also true of the President!”
Yup, I thought. Don’t forget. Within a week, the hot take had become, “Every liberal celebrity accused has already lost his job, and Al Franken’s under investigation. When are we going to see Trump held responsible?”
Suddenly, I could see the conversation shifting. In the hands of well-meaning non-survivors, we’re steering away from the topics we started with. We’re sidestepping rape culture and systemic abuse to paint our targets on the biggest bad apple.
Do the normies realize, do you think, that a rich-and-famous man without a job can still assault people? Do they understand that we have more work to do in each of the cases they labeled “dealt with” – that the institutions allowing those with power to abuse for all these decades must not be labeled “better” because the faces of scandal are gone? Have they wondered whether these abusers will return, quietly, gradually, after six years, in the slithering way of Mel Gibson?
Today, with eight survivors having come forward against Al Franken, and Democratic Senators suggesting Franken should resign, I am on Twitter reading: “Franken shouldn’t step down until Moore and Trump resign.”
These people are not our allies.
If I thought there was a chance in hell that non-survivors appropriating our momentum could actually bring Trump down, I’d keep my mouth shut. But, being a survivor, I know this tactic is the very least likely to work. It was tried and failed in advance of Trump’s election. Exactly nothing is different. We’re watching it fail again as we speak in Alabama. Using survivors to shame a sex-offender out of office is just the kind of bright idea that only occurs to the normies who, due to movies, attribute to the rape-whistle mythical magical torch-wielding-mob-summoning powers that seriously don’t exist. I’m telling you. Sexual abuse is institutionally protected. You can’t take down the abuser in a seat of power without challenging the institution.
Survivors need to start leading. We can’t depend on allies to speak for us; we are a huge and diverse community. We have more to accomplish together than non-survivors have ever considered. To help with finding political allies in each other, I propose a new hashtag: #ImasurvivorAnd. Because declaring our existence is only the beginning of our movement. We are the ones who should get to decide what comes of it.
Try it out:
#ImasurvivorAnd I don’t know who raped me because I don’t have legal access to my records of time in state custody.
#ImasurvivorAnd I want to know the names of some famous male survivors who did better things than serial-killing.
#ImasurvivorAnd I want the Catholic Church to recognize marital rape.
If you can’t start a sentence that way, you need to take a backseat to those of who can. If you can start a sentence that way but don’t want to because your circumstances keep you in the closet, we can still ensure your political inclusion with a movement designed to identify the politically active among us. The conversations that occur in private will inform the causes we pursue as a faction.
Victimization is a spectrum. So too, we should expect a spectrum of identity in a survivor-lead movement. It is for each of us to decide how closely we identify as survivors and how deeply invested we are in what happens to us as a group. The most inclusive data reports that one in three women and one in six men have at some point in their lives been assaulted sexually, and I’d bet my life real numbers are higher. Non-physical forms of sexual abuse involve even greater numbers.
As with any invisible identity, there are no external qualifications to determine who is one of us. A survivor movement is bound to promote consent culture over patriarchy and the rape culture that springs from it. Structural sexism enables rape. It doesn’t follow that an insignificant number of men and non-binaries are survivors, or that women are excluded from the pool of rapists. Language that is inclusive of all genders is important, because all survivors are important.
For those who felt inclined to shout down men using #metoo, I recommend taking Black Lives Matter for a model. Though white supremacists still point at white people shot by cops as evidence that there’s no such thing as racism, BLM has no problem going to bat for white victims of police brutality. No one’s forgotten for a second that this is an anti-racism effort. If supporting male survivors undermines some element of our movement, we need to make our movement better. We will only work as a faction if we work as a community that supports and hears each other.
We need to stand strong against derailers and doubters who try, time and time again, to control the narrative around us. We need to feel within our rights to tell our tone-deaf allies to back it up and stay in their own lanes. Right now, the ball’s in our court. Let’s never give it back.