Saturday, April 7, 2012

Take Back the Night

(Trigger warning: mentions sexual harassment/violence)

In a heteronormative society, sexual violence rarely makes the evening news (even though studies suggest that  someone is raped every two minutes), and when it is discussed it's generally in the context of cisgender, heterosexual men and women. Even in that limited context though, the way in which it's "discussed" is usually sickening; rape "didn't happen" if people were drunk, if the woman was wearing revealing clothing, and if she didn't explicitly say no. There's horrifying amounts of victim-blaming unless the victim is white and the perpetrator is a person of color. Thankfully, there's been an effort to change these messages, particularly from the feminist community, and the conversations are slowly starting to change as a result. I think that society in general still forgets to consider how sexual violence affects the Queer community though.

I bring this up because this past Wednesday I attended Take Back the Night for the first time ever, hosted by Voices Against Violence (VAV). It's an evening event that raises awareness of sexual violence, offers resources to survivors, and features performances and stories having to do with relationships and sexual violence. I attended knowing I was going to be badly triggered, and that I absolutely needed to go. And VAV did a great job hosting an inclusive event- a comment was made about how people in Queer relationships are even less likely to report relationship abuse or sexual violence than people in heteronormative relationships. This is based on fact; I've read of incidents in which a partner reported the violence to the police, only to be laughed at or ignored. Sometimes both partners are arrested; sometimes the caller is verbally harassed by the officer. This culture has led to severe underreporting of these incidents, putting the whole community at risk.

In addition to the accurate commentary, a few of the survivors that went to the mic and shared their stories were Queer individuals that experienced sexual harassment or violence on the basis of their very identity; that is, straight, cisgender individuals sexually harassed or abused them with the intent to either punish them for their sexual orientation or to change it to suit their needs. That was the most powerful moment of the event for me, because I am a survivor of that scenario.

I came so close to walking up there myself, and I regret that I didn't. People don't expect someone like me to have experienced sexual assault, and certainly not on the basis of my identity as a lesbian; and while I don't think it should by any means be the typical lesbian story, I feel it's an honest story that we don't hear enough. Sexual harassment and violence are huge issues the Queer community deals with, and yet of all the injustices we're dealt, it's probably reported the least. I honestly don't expect to ever turn on the 6:00 news and hear about cases like mine; sexual assault is already underreported in mainstream society, and the media doesn't like stories where marginalized individuals are victimized by privileged individuals (we're seeing this in the case of Trayvon Martin).

I wish I had a perfect solution to this problem, but I don't. I do know that attending events like Take Back the Night helps in that it raises awareness of sexual violence in general and offers resources to survivors. I do know that having conversations about Queer identities lessens the chances of cases like mine from happening. The importance of what we do in Peers for Pride is never lost on me; I like to think we're preventing horrors like this from happening on campus. It seems that education might be the best way to combat rape culture, both in a general and a Queer context. My hope is that these conversations become more common, and that someday the reported cases will be few because the actual incidents will be few.

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