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Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Compliance is Not Consent

In this current atmosphere of he said, she said the voice being heard is often not the victim. In an era of sensationalism and being first to report, the truth often lies somewhere between maybe and plausible.

We as a nation watched as a woman, with nothing to gain, spoke her truth against a man with everything to lose. The world listened, but did it hear? As the smoke settles other women have come forward, only to be blamed for ‘jumping on the band wagon’, as though the tragedy that played out in front of us was something to attain. Their accusations diminished by their timing alone. These women disparaged and reduced to mere attention seekers. After all, no one would wait to report the most humiliating, catastrophic moments of their lives. Their allegations referred to as nothing more than ‘timely’.

In recent weeks a man stood before a judge, accused of inappropriate sexual contact with an 18yr old boy. The victim claiming, he reached into his pants and groped him without his permission. The sound byte of his attorney blatantly asking the investigating officer if the victim ever said ‘NO’, did he ever say, ‘I do not consent to this’, now looping across the 24 hour news cycle we all live in.

A growing list of men coming forward, proclaiming they too were victimized by this same man when some were merely teenagers. Again, the echo of ‘why did you wait’ reverberates through the media, the coffee shops and gossip circles.

The heartbreaking docu-series Surviving R. Kelly completed its run and once again we are slammed with a barrage of ‘Why didn’t they come forward before?' 'They are just looking for attention'. When did the victim become the accused? Sadly, always. Time hasn’t changed the perception of who is at fault when sexual advances, conduct and rape happen. Time, still proclaiming it’s too easy to accuse someone. Is it?

Time. The taker of the moments, the minutes and the memories of our lives. Stealing the joy, the love and often the memorable. What time does not take, however, is sorrow, fear and despair. Those are the things that get ingrained into our very breath. The things that darken our days, overshadow our joy, seep into our souls and haunt our dreams.

Time does not judge us, or condemn us, nor does it release us. Time does not take our nightmares and hide them away in the crevices of a day celebrated, or in the shadows of a successful career, nor in the paths of a life well lived. Trauma is seldom hidden in the dark where it happens, it dangles its presence whether or not its victim moves forward. Echoing its pain in a moment of happiness, often reminding its keeper on the heels of laughter, pilfering the moments often held dear, replacing them with reminders the past is never really that far.

Every 98 seconds in America someone is sexually assaulted, and every 8 minutes that victim is a child[i]. Statistically 34% of children molested and raped are by family members, or a friend of the family[ii]. The very people charged with protecting you, hurt you.

We teach our daughters to say 'No'. We teach our sons, 'No means No'. ‘No’ is an interesting concept. We teach our children to ‘tell’. If someone touches you, tell. If someone treats you badly, tell. Tell your parents, tell an adult you trust. ‘Tell’ is another interesting concept. We take these lessons and we mix and mingle them with other words and phrases; ‘don’t be a tattle tale’, ‘don’t tell your father no’, ‘listen to me or else’. Childhood; a messy complicated world of contradictions.

When something bad happens to anyone, if she/he is sexually assaulted in any way the first question often asked is ‘did you say no?’. That is often followed by the usual list of inquiries to determine your validity. Not the validity of the incident you are reporting, but your validity as a person. Perhaps you were asking for it. Certainly, there is something about you that holds a deep seeded desire to be held against your will and violated in the most intimate of ways.

This will be determined by what you were wearing, whether you were flirting, if you were drinking, if you knew the alleged offender, had you dated him previously, had consensual sex with him previously, if you’ve ever been sexually active with anyone, and of course, how many sexual partners you have had.

Keep in mind, of course, you will also need to explain why you are telling, why you are reporting this incident to anyone. Do you have a vendetta against the accused, are you trying to ruin someone’s life, and of course, was it really that bad? This will be followed by the request for you to explain why you didn’t tell sooner. Even if it happened last night, you will be asked why you didn’t tell sooner. You will be demanded to explain whether you screamed, or fought, or tried to run. After all, if you were in danger you wouldn’t have remained silently still and allowed it to happen.

All of these things a requirement, a prerequisite to ascertain your legitimacy as a witness to your own assault.

Who remembers being 3 years old? Actually, many survivors do. I was three years old when my mother sat me on the lap of ‘a friend’, she had a lot of ‘friends’. These men, whose laps she would set me on, would smile at me and comment on whatever dress my mother had put me in. I would listen as she told them how well behaved I was, how cute I was. ‘She is all girl’ she would say to them, explaining that I would cry if she put pants on me instead of a well ruffled and laced dress. She would tell how my tears would fall if my little patent leather shoes got scuffed, or dirt found its way to my hands. She recited these same things about me to each of these men that visited whenever my father was at work.

This was always immediately followed by her stating how much I liked them, whoever they were. She would insist she saw me flirting with them, and that I had asked to sit on their laps. As she spun her tale of lies, I would sit quietly still. I was an unusually compliant child, I never argued, threw temper tantrums or refused to do what I was told. I certainly never told my mother ‘no’.
These men they would hold me, their hands always managing to find a way under my dress as they touched and fondled while rocking me on their laps – I never said ‘no’. Did my compliance equal consent?

I was 4 years old the first time someone’s fingers found their way inside of me. My mother was there, smiling and straightening my dress. Pulling it down to cover the hand working its way inside- I never said ‘no’. Did my compliance equal consent?

I sat on the laps of many men - I never once said no.

I began to refuse to wear dresses around the age of 6, as my young mind began to understand the vulnerability of being in one. As children do, I blamed myself. Why wouldn’t I? Society certainly would. If I had just worn something less accessible, these things wouldn’t happen. 

I cried a lot as a child, perpetually sad for what appeared to others as no reason. It was said I was just overly sensitive.

I was raped the first time at age 11 – I never said no. Did my compliance equal consent?
My parents divorced and the men visiting my mother became more frequent. By the time I was 13 I had stopped crying. It would be years before I did again.

Another man, followed by another, just another place in time as life moved forward around me. I was 17 years old the first time I said no. My mother’s man of the moment dragged me through her bedroom and into an adjoining room. I fought this time. I said no this time. My mother went into her usual tirade about how I had been asking for it all day and that I needed to stop pretending. This was provoked by my again refusing the advances of this ‘friend’ of hers, and others previously. She couldn’t comprehend that I didn’t want these men touching me, so I must be gay. 

The year prior she had approached a boy I liked and offered to pay him to ‘fuck the gay’ out of me. She couldn’t see that it wasn’t I didn’t want a man touching me, I simply wanted no one to touch me. When he didn't agree she set about finding someone else to do it, and now she had.

As she name-called and berated me through the closed door, I was raped and sodomized. I was left bloody and bruised on the floor; my mother in the next room. I screamed, I fought, and I said no. I said no, and my non-compliance was met with violence.

Only 12% of child sexual abuse is ever reported to authorities[iii]. As a child, I told no one my story. Not my friends, not my teachers, certainly not the police. It would be many years as an adult before I told anyone. Who would believe me? Who would believe that a mother refused to protect her child? Although of those that sexually abuse a child, 34% are family members[iv].  Who would believe someone who never said no? Who would believe someone who remained silent for so long?

I remember the first time I told. I remember it as clearly as the first time I was assaulted. Another defining moment etched into my psyche.  A friend was telling me her story. She was telling me what had happened to her as a child, of all the years she spent in a nightmare waiting for it to end. Her story urged me to reach out, to tell her she was not alone. Her truth did not make my truth happen. It certainly didn’t leave me wanting to experience the horror that she had. Her story merely gave me courage. The courage to tell my truth.

No does means no, but Silence is not permission. Compliance is not consent. Whether you're a child or an adult, the feeling of helplessness is the same. Your age doesn't suddenly make you powerful.

Time does not determine what parts of our history were real, it does not erase the nightmares, nor does it nullify our experiences by simply ticking forward.  It doesn’t matter when you tell your story, it matters only that you do!

We must all tell our stories and we must stand witness to the stories of others. We each must be the strength for those too weak to stand. We must be the comfort for those lost in despair. We must be the courage for those that believe they walk alone.

It doesn’t matter what you were wearing, how many sexual partners you’ve had, if you were drinking or flirting or if you can remember the exact date, or whether you said no.  Time is not the judge. Silence is not permission. Compliance is not consent.

We must tell our stories. We must tell them until we are the loudest voice in the room. We must rise up and speak out until the only sound the world can hear is the sound of our silence breaking.

[ii] National Sexual Violence Resource Center
[iii] National Sexual Violence Resource Center
[iv] National Sexual Violence Resource Center

t.r. mugler 2018

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