On Monday, October 22, a University of Utah track and field athlete was shot and killed by her former boyfriend. She broke up with him after learning he had lied not only about his name and age, but his past criminal activities. In 2004, he was convicted of forcible sexual abuse and enticing a minor. He served 8 years in prison, and was sent to halfway houses twice after violating his parole. After the breakup, he began harassing her and she filed a report with the University Police, who did not tell parole officials.
The “he” and “she” in this scenario refer to a recent heinous murder that made news for a day and soon became overshadowed by other awful, heinous news. We cannot continue to sweep stories like this under the rug. Nearly 3 women in the U.S. are killed each day by a current or former intimate partner. About 77% of all homicide victims are men, but men also perpetuate 86% of all homicides, and their targets are often women they know; wives, girlfriends, current or past lovers. Women are twice as likely to die at the hands of a man they know than a stranger. Worst of all, when we dare to leave, we are often in greater danger.
“We tell women repeatedly to leave the abuser, leave the abuser, leave the abuser, but when she does she increases her risk of homicide,” said Susan Sorenson, a professor of social policy at the University of Pennsylvania who researches violence prevention.
Physical violence is the most tangible form of silencing. Verbal violence and abuse is another. Actions, assumptions, and laws regulating women’s bodies are all less immediate forms of silencing, but just as insidious.
It is easy to wonder why abused women don’t leave. It is much more uncomfortable and unsettling to understand that leaving may directly result in violence, or that going to the authorities does not automatically guarantee safety. When women speak up about sexual assault and harassment, we are barring our most vulnerable, abused, and fragile selves. When we speak up about equal pay, or cat calling, or being emotionally manipulated, we are told we are over-reacting. Often, we are told none of it is a problem. To not be believed or valued is a deeply painful living extension of a toxic patriarchy that not only turns a blind eye towards sexism, but opens the door and takes its coat.
Women have lived in relative silence for centuries. In 1920, women were (on paper) granted the right to vote in the United States. That is less than a century ago. To ignore the violent sexism that has plagued women for hundreds of years is short-sighted. To claim that equality has been reached is dangerous and wrong.
When a university student reports harassment to the campus police, she should be heard. Her fears are valid, and need to directly result in action to protect her.
Author Rebecca Solnit writes, “Being unable to tell your story is a living death…Silence is what allows people to suffer without recourse, what allows hypocrisies and lies to grow and flourish, crimes to go unpunished. If our voices are essential aspects of our humanity, to be rendered voiceless is to be dehumanized or excluded from one’s humanity. And the history of silence is central to women’s history.”
We all have voices, but not all of our voices are heard. Some voices are granted more credibility based on very little; age, race, sex, country of origin, physical appearance or ability. Voices tell stories, and stories can save your life. Perhaps if women’s voices were heard and believed and respected, this violent silencing would end. I started this blog because the weight of my trauma and pain was overwhelming. I wanted other women who have struggled with eating disorders, self-esteem, confidence, or silencing, to find a place of understanding and refuge. The act of telling my story has given it voice, and I consider myself privileged to be able to create such a platform. Not everyone is privileged like I am. Not everyone is heard.
Again, Rebecca Solnit says it better than I, “We are our stories; stories that can be both prison and the crowbar to break open the door of that prison. We make stories to save ourselves or to trap ourselves or others — stories that lift us up or smash us against the stone wall of our own limits and fears. Liberation is always in part a storytelling process: breaking stories, breaking silences, making new stories. A free person tells her own story. A valued person lives in a society in which her story has a place.”
My heart aches for the countless women who are not heard, who perhaps never were. But it is not enough to empathize and ache. I have made a financial contribution to RAINN, (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization. RAINN works in partnership with more than 1,000 local sexual assault service providers across the country and operates the DoD Safe Helpline for the Department of Defense. If you’d like, you can donate HERE.
If you want or need a place to tell your story, let me know. Contact me through this web page, or message me directly on Instagram: @the_prosiest.
My final thought is this: hearing and valuing the voices of others does not make your voice less heard or less valued, it simply makes you a kinder, more empathetic human. There is plenty of space for all of us.
So much love,