After reading this week’s Women AdvaNCe Voices column, ‘Breaking Free From Our Rape Culture,’ I began to think: what if the Steubenville or UNC-Chapel Hill sexual assault survivor had been me?
I, too, have been amazed in the past couple of months by the change in speaking about rape and sexual assault. Rape is actually getting air-time in the mainstream news: and it’s not all been bad. I’ve been horrified, inspired, angry, proud, and confused depending on who I have been talking to and what news outlet I’ve been reading.
I’ve simultaneously been wondering what women’s rights activists can learn from the gay rights movement, which this week has two cases, California’s Prop 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act, in front of the Supreme Court that have many of us biting our nails, hoping that equality prevails.
Harvey Milk, a gay rights activist, argued “We will not win our rights by staying quietly in our closets… We are coming out to fight the lies, the myths, the distortions. We are coming out to tell the truths about gays, for I am tired of the conspiracy of silence, so I’m going to talk about it. And I want you to talk about it. You must come out. Come out to your parents, your relatives.” He made the point that people are more likely to empathize with gays and lesbians if they know someone who is gay or lesbian.
Maybe you have heard this statistic before: 1 out of 5 women have been raped. It’s more common than smoking. The numbers are shocking, but they aren’t nearly personal enough.
I know many women who have been sexually harassed. I know many women who have been sexually assaulted. And, I know many women who have found themselves in that awkward gray area, where they felt physically uncomfortable with someone who was a friend or a boyfriend.
I broke my own silence the other day when I told one of my male friends just how many women I know who have been violated. I also told him that I don’t think I would have the courage to go through a trial the way the Steubenville rape survivor did or to challenge the system like those amazing women at UNC-Chapel Hill.
What I do have the courage to do, however, is to start talking with my friends in spite of the stigma. If 3.4% of Americans are gay or lesbian, and breaking the silence has become a powerful way for the gay rights movement to move toward equality, it’s something we must consider. There is power in telling our stories, and those of our friends and relatives who have survived sexual assault in all its forms. I choose to break the silence. Do you?
Meera Bhardwaj is an organizer, former Fulbright Scholar, and coffee enthusiast.