While surfing the Net tonight, I came across an absolutely terrific Web site called RebeccaGuns. The blogger (Rebecca) is a blogger, shooter, and partner in a holster-making company specializing in gear for women. She has lots of good stuff to say, and you should definitely check out her blog.
While I was reading, I came across a post titled “Women, Guns and Sexual Assault” that was so well done, I just had to comment. And in order to do so, I’m rethinking an earlier decision I made here. I’m going to share more of my story, more of the details of my own encounter with violence, because this topic is just too important not to talk about. I do so with some trepidation, because I know some people from my “real life” read this blog, but…as I said, this is too important not to talk about.
So, if you’re the squeamy type, you might want to read Rebecca’s post but not follow the “continue reading” link here. If you’re okay with reading difficult stuff for the sake of being better prepared, I’ll see you on the other side of the jump.
There are two chunks of Rebecca’s post that I want to respond to (but, really, read the whole thing.) She tackles the myth that guns don’t help stop rape thusly:
There is a perception that a gun will turn a sane man, or woman, into a crazed, trigger-happy criminal, or that a gun is a gross over-reaction to the threat of rape. I contend that the gun is a great equalizer. Why do only criminals, police and nut-cases get to have guns? Do we, the potential victims, not get access to these same implements, so that we might properly defend ourselves? In fact, might we have these tools so we no longer have to be victims? Maybe we can take some action in preserving our own safety instead of just staying in well-lit areas and hoping for the best.
Apart from the issue of empowerment, I want to underline that those who say things like “just lay there and wait for it to be over”, or “stay out of dark alleys and don’t wear revealing clothes” fundamentally misunderstand the character of most rapes. Even the old advice to “stay aware of your surroundings and trust your intuition” is somewhat problematic, because most rapes are not committed by a stranger who drags you into a dark alley. The overwhelming majority of rapes are committed in familiar surroundings, by familiar people. In over 90% of rapes, the rapist is someone known to the victim. The creepy guy loitering in the dark alley might set off your alarm bells, but the guy from two apartments down who you see in the laundry room and walking his dog in the evenings surely won’t. Telling women to “stay aware” doesn’t help them without an idea of what, and who, they’re supposed to stay aware OF.
Which brings me to my story. I’m not going into it here to feed people’s lurid imaginations, but to highlight just how utterly incomplete most of the platitudes people spout to women about avoiding rape are. I’ve mentioned here that I was a victim of violence multiple times, and now I’m going to talk about two of those times, and about the lessons I learned from them. You see, I have survived, among other things, a (completed) rape at knifepoint and another (attempted) rape at gunpoint.
The assailant in the first case, which took place at a summer camp, was someone I was acquainted with (though I can’t say I knew him well). The rape took place in the daylight, in the open. I hadn’t seen or sensed anything out of the ordinary leading up to it, and would not have registered my rapist’s presence in that location as anything unusual. He was a member of the camp community, and I didn’t sense anything, leading up to the blitz attack, that prickled my awareness. (Would I have sensed something, if it happened now? I’ve no idea, and it really matters little at this point.)
Conventional wisdom says “don’t go out alone at night.” But I wasn’t attacked at night. Conventional wisdom says “don’t dress provocatively.” I was wearing long shorts and a T-shirt, hardly provocative attire by any standard. Conventional wisdom says “don’t go anywhere alone”. Mea culpa, perhaps; the picnic table where he attacked me was a hundred yards or so distant from other people. But it was across an open grassy field and hardly secluded. Conventional wisdom says “be aware of your surroundings.” But all I saw was someone I recognized, a member of the community in which I’d spent nearly ten summers, someone who belonged there every bit as much as I did. What, precisely, would conventional wisdom have had me be aware of?
Conventional wisdom says “submit, surrender, just lie there and wait for it to be over.” Or, sometimes, “just lay back and enjoy it”, though this latter attitude is thankfully becoming less common nowadays. I took this piece of advice, and all it got me was a 20-year struggle to learn how to feel safe, two decades of passivity, disempowerment, and learned helplessness, and a lingering “body memory” trigger around people touching my throat. Tell me, dear conventional wisdom, just exactly how your advice helped me.
In my second encounter with sexual violence, conventional wisdom was no more of a help. This time, the weapon was a gun (a rifle, amazingly enough). This time, the location was a college dorm room. This time there were four assailants instead of one. And this time, blessedly, I escaped being raped – and worse – by a sheer accident of timing. Had it not been for the knock on my door which scared them away, I’ve no doubt multiple rapes would have been the best-case outcome for me. You see, they told me in excruciating detail what they were planning to do to me, and had they not wasted time talking about it, they would have already been well on the way toward doing it when Angela knocked on my door for her tutoring appointment. (I never told her how thankful I was for that knock, nor what she saved me from, but I very likely owe her my life.)
But looking at that situation, I’m again struck by how little conventional wisdom would have helped me. I was in my dorm room, in broad daylight. The predators were fellow students, people who belonged there. When they knocked, I’d no reason to suspect anything untoward. “We need to drop off a book for your roommate,” they said, and because there was nothing suspicious in that, I opened my door. By the time I recovered from the blitz attack that followed enough to know what was happening, it was too late. How would any of the conventional wisdom have landed me anywhere but battered, bruised, scarred, or dead?
And how many of us, or at least, those of us who are aware of such things, are willing to bet our bodies, our safety and our lives on being lucky?
The trouble with all that conventional wisdom, I think, is that it isn’t wholly wrong. It is a good idea to avoid isolated locations at night. It is a good idea to avoid getting blitzed on cocktails at a party full of people you don’t know. It is assuredly a good idea to remain aware of your surroundings, even though this advice overlooks the fact that it takes training to learn what to be watching for. None of these things are, by themselves, bad advice.
The trouble is, you could do all these things right, follow all the advice conventional wisdom has to dish out, and still wind up a victim. I’m living proof of that. Avoiding dark alleys at night, not going out in provocative clothing, not letting your drink out of your sight, trusting your intuition – all of those are valid tips that might up the odds for you, but none of them is any guarantee. Sometimes you become a victim because you’re “doing stupid things in stupid places with stupid people”, because you do things to place yourself in risky situations, because you voluntarily incapacitate yourself with drugs or alcohol, because you tune out the prickle at the back of the neck that tells you something isn’t right. But sometimes you do everything right and trouble finds you anyway.
That’s why training myself to use all the tools at my disposal – my awareness, my mediation skills (verbal de-escalation is a useful tool about which I’ll write later), my body, my knives, my gun – is so important to me. When all the avoidance and deterrence fails, when trouble finds me despite my best efforts, I don’t want to be in a place where surrender and submission are my best options. Because, really, they’re no options at all. Placing yourself at the mercy of someone whose actions show them to be incapable of mercy is no solution. Would a gun have saved me? Perhaps, perhaps not. But a gun, coupled with the training and awareness that I’ve developed along with it, would have given me a whole lot of better options than voluntary helplessness.
The other piece of Rebecca’s post I wanted to quote, mainly because I wanted to express my vehement agreement with it, is the part where she wrote:
Most importantly, the act of shooting and owning a gun has a profound impact on the way most women see themselves and the world around them. Shooting a gun is empowering, energizing, stress-relieving and confidence-building. In my experience, women who shoot walk taller and apologize less. They are also sensitive, caring and protective of their loved ones. Women who carry guns have already decided that their lives and their bodies are valuable enough to protect.
To this I would add only that the above is doubly true if you’ve already been a victim of rape or other violence and you’re trying to reclaim your sense of empowerment, energy, confidence and competence. For twenty years after I was raped, I became meek, submissive, withdrawn, terrified. The worst thing my rapist took from me on that terrible July afternoon was my sense that I was worth defending, that I was worth fighting for. That I was worth the space I took up in the world. That I was anything other than prey.
Coming back from that place has been a long, hard, painful fight. I’ve had to face my demons, confront head-on the memories of what happened to me and the scars those experiences left behind on my body and my psyche. Regaining my sense of self-worth has been a huge challenge, and it’s been a long, hard-won victory. And, truly, what I’ve found in the shooting community has been a group of women and men who are kind, generous, giving folk willing to take me as I am and help me to be more than I am. They’re willing to see my potential, even when that’s hard for me to do, and to encourage me and push me and help me to reach it.
And now, I can truly look in the mirror with confidence. I can say, “I am worth fighting for. My body, my soul, my psyche, and my loved ones ARE worth fighting for.” And you know the ironic thing? The very confidence and training and power that make me able now to respond to predatory violence is precisely what’s most likely to make them choose another target. Because if there’s one thing predators want, it’s a weak, helpless, passive, disempowered victim.
So why is it that the people Rebecca quotes in her post, who claim to be all about helping women, are wanting to turn them into precisely that?