On 2L, My Cynical Self, and the Possibility of Another World
Tonight as I waiting for the bus in the cold, I read Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha’s Yes Means Yes essay “What it Feels Like When it Finally Comes: Surviving Incest in Real Life.” Later, in my warm apartment, I took in some of the blogosphere buzz around the recent sexual violence against a University of Michigan law student. I am proud of this woman for writing publicly about her experience. I want her to know that, like so many other people, I believe one hundred percent that this was NOT HER FAULT. After reading hers and others writings, I felt a vague rumbling of remorse in myself about my initial cynical response to her story of abusive response from the police.
Most sexual assaults that are reported to the police are not charged. I believe in Cook County, IL it is less than 20%. I have supported a survivor after she had been kicked and spat on by the police shortly after her rape and battery, others after being blamed, laughed at or called names by the police or state’s attorneys, another kept waiting in a cold, bare interrogation room without blankets or food for hours, others merely intimidated or dismissed. I believe, with every part of my self, that the law is a mechanism of (often oppressive) social control, that the police * will not * have your back, and that the prison industrial complex is a violent institution. This institutional violence dictates that it will never be an appropriate mechanism for ending rape.
But what do you do? What do you do when you’ve experienced something so awful and so humiliating that you need to do everything in your power to prevent this particular violence from happening to someone else? What is in your power? Sometimes, in my rape crisis worker days, my head would get stuck on this futile, awful question: “If I was assaulted tomorrow, would I, knowing everything I know, report it to the police?”
There is, of course, no right or wrong answer to this question and I certainly am not aiming to open up discussion about the merits of reporting or not. I am furious at a culture that sets us up to fail. There are a million ways that our world creates situations in which people, even after weighing all the options, find that all the options are absolute shit. People respond in the best ways that they know how.
The violence against 2L is, unfortunately, not unique. What is less commonplace is that she has refused to be silent and that her situation has caught the attention of the media. Our world might not look radically different if every survivor reported to the police. Our world sure as hell would look different if every survivor used their communities, their blogs, their bathroom stall walls and their creativity to name names and resist shame.
Tonight I was sitting with my conflict about my own responses and then realized that Leah Lakshmi had already written what I was struggling to articulate. She said, “If we all said out loud how common the secret catastrophe was…what would it mean? If all the rage and memory and experience of what we lived through came screaming out, wouldn’t the world split open?”
We need to split open our world; to explode the model that offers us only the binary options of staying silent or relying on the police. Some of the pieces of that explosion might be ‘zines or public art, some might be letters to the perpetrator’s wife/rabbi/pastor/priest/parents outing him as a perpetrator, some might be mutual friends holding the perpetrator accountable, some might be graffiti, community notices or Wanted posters. I’m curious what other pieces folks could come up with if we prioritized dialogue and organizing around this question. What do you think? What have you seen work? We need those pieces.