Why We Don’t Report

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I smiled and he called it an invitation.

I didn’t smile and he called me a bitch.

I laughed at his inappropriate joke and he said I agreed.

I didn’t laugh at his inappropriate joke and he called me repressed.

I showed my emotions and he said I was unstable.

I hid my emotions and he said I was cold.

I dressed one way and he called me a whore.

I dressed another way and he called me frumpy.

I told him to stop touching me and he said I was uptight.

I didn’t tell him to stop touching me and he said I wanted it.

I had too much to drink and he said it was my fault.

I didn’t drink anything and he said I was a prude.

I wore make-up and he said I was looking for attention.

I didn’t wear make-up and he said I should try harder.

I raised my voice and he said I was hysterical.

I kept my voice calm and he said I wasn’t really upset.

I told him I didn’t want to talk to him and he said I was a dyke.

I talked to him and he propositioned me three times in five minutes.

I stood up for myself and he said I was bossy.

I didn’t stand up for myself and he called me a pushover.

I ate a cheeseburger and he told me I was pig.

I turned down dessert and he told me I was too skinny.

I dyed my hair and he said I was fake.

I didn’t dye my hair and he said I should make an effort.

I spoke up at a meeting and he said I was shrill.

I didn’t speak up at a meeting and he said I wasn’t a contributor.

I cried and he said I was moody.

I didn’t cry and he said I was dead inside.

I ignored him and he called me a tease.

I paid attention to him and he wouldn’t leave me alone.

I told him to stop calling and he threatened me.

I took his calls and he said that meant I wanted him.

I told them it was sexual harassment and they said I was not a team player.

I told them it wasn’t sexual harassment and they said I was an enabler.

I told them he raped me and they asked what I was wearing.

I told them he raped me and they asked why I had gone out alone.

I told them he raped me and they said I was just fantasizing.

I told them he raped me (years later) and they asked why I’d waited so long.

I told them he raped me and they told me not to destroy his life.

I didn’t tell them he raped me and when they found out, they called me complicit.

I told them he raped me and they called me a liar.

The Death of Personal Responsibility

mea

I thought it was just Twitter, but apparently there is nothing you can post on Facebook that isn’t subject to provoking someone’s existential angst. People will make it all about themselves, use it as an opportunity to “educate” you about some non-issue, invite you to check your privilege, suggest you’re not being nice, police your tone, or flat-out tell you you’re wrong. Trolls and gatekeepers don’t care about starting productive dialogues, they just want to be right, even at the expense of making things worse instead of better. Everyone’s entitled to their opinions, of course, but words have consequences and we need to be aware of just what it is we’re saying, and what kind of messages we are sending to society at large.

I just don’t understand people’s need to shame some of their peers, and choose to die on some random, unimportant hill for others. I’m referring to a rash—no, an epidemic—of people sticking up for virtual strangers no matter what they’ve done. Today, I saw two different posts in local Facebook groups that I follow. In the first, a woman posted a photo of a motor vehicle (no license plate) with the information that the driver had raced right past a school bus that was stopped, with its lights flashing and stop sign fully extended, loading children. She suggested that if anyone knew the driver, they might remind her that her behavior was reckless, dangerous, and selfish. Many people reacted to the post with the angry or sad emojis, but there was more than one person who immediately leaped to the driver’s defense. It’s always the same: you don’t know what that person is going through.

Really? That is a valid and legitimate excuse?

Of course people have issues. People have problems. People have cares and worries and fears, often beyond anything we can imagine. So we try to be understanding. We try to be kind and tolerant. We try to be patient. To have empathy.

But there is no excuse whatsoever for putting the lives of children at risk. You are running late? Leave earlier, or just be late. You’re distracted? Don’t drive. Personal issues don’t trump the law and every person who gets behind the wheel of a motor vehicle has an obligation and a responsibility to operate it safely.

It’s kind to suggest we should offer grace. It’s wise to suggest we should consider what someone else’s life might be like on any given day. When someone deliberately bumps my cart in the grocery store, or yells at a service provider, or cuts in line, it’s okay to let it go. It’s wonderful to practice grace and assume the best. But when it comes to automobile versus human, there are no do-overs. It’s not okay to say, “whoops,” and move on. The possible outcomes are too severe, and they are permanent.

In the second post, someone related that they had narrowly missed hitting a dog that darted into traffic. Several steps behind the dog, was an owner, leash in hand. The law in our community is that dogs must be leashed. This is for their safety as well as the safety of others. Immediately, other people began to clamor that the original poster did not know the whole story. Maybe the dog slipped out of the house, or jumped a fence, or any number of other, more innocent possibilities. These could all be true. But why the dog was off leash would not change the outcome if the driver had hit the dog. Calling attention to these issues is not necessarily “judgy,” as someone rather judgily suggested. If we are going to continue to push the you don’t know what other people are going through scenario, then we shouldn’t assume we know why a person makes a particular post. ‘The dog was off the leash accidentally’ is believable and true, but the original poster just wanting to call attention to a safety issue is not believable or true? Her only motivation was to shame and judge? Nope. You can’t have it both ways. If you’re going to insist on extending grace to one person, then you must extend it to all people.

A few months ago, I posted an anecdote where a woman literally shoved past my child on the way to the (one-person, and only) restroom in a store, slamming the door in my child’s face. My only reason for posting the story was that it was so incredible and I thought I might see some solidarity from others who might empathize and believe that it is bad behavior to take advantage of a child that way. Most people agreed that the woman’s actions were in poor taste. But I got plenty of the you don’t know what she’s going through variety of responses. Maybe she had a medical condition. Maybe she really, really had to go. No one considered that my child might have a medical condition (she doesn’t). No one considered that my child really, really had to go. (She did). And she got there first.

All these knee-jerk reactions online are essentially people blaming the victim. We are seeing the death of personal responsibility, not just by the perpetrators who think their time and their feelings and their physical needs are more important than those of others, but a whole group of other people out there who agree with them and their behavior. That is what is most disturbing to me. The person who takes a handicap parking spot may have forgotten to display their permit. The man who parks in the fire lane to drop off library books or dry cleaning might have mobility issues. The woman who darts around a school bus might be running late. The person who takes up two parking spaces at the grocery store might be a teenager learning to drive. I can have empathy for others without being stupid, because none of these things matter. We have rules and laws and yellow lines painted on pavements for a reason.

This problem is even more insidious when it comes to victims of crime. How dare a man operate a motor vehicle while being black? What did that woman do to make her husband hit her? Why didn’t the young man in his own apartment not respond to verbal commands by a police officer? What was that rape victim wearing or drinking? Why was that young woman jogging by herself?

We are asking the wrong questions, and creating sympathy for the wrong parties. We are normalizing bad behavior and blaming victims for things that are no one’s fault but the perpetrator’s.

When everyone blames the victim, and everyone comes up with excuses for the guilty, we have an awful lot of people who begin to believe that any excuse for wrongdoing is a good one, and that no one will be held accountable. Even our president is not being held to any standards of decency or personal responsibility. If he can’t or won’t govern his own words and actions, why would anyone else feel the need to behave appropriately?

God forgives us and calls on us to forgive others. But he has given us commandments to follow, too. No commandment that begins with Thou shalt not continues with the word unless. No caveats, no excuses, no wiggle room.

Empathy is great. Kindness is so important. Trying to understand the struggles of others is a wonderful exercise. But we can do all these things without excusing bad behavior. We live in a civilized society. It is still up to us to say: No. This is wrong. This will not happen here. It’s okay to be annoyed. It’s okay to be angry. And it is vital to speak up. Our safety, security, and well-being depend on it

No More Silence

neverun

Archaeologist Eleanor Blake has no intention of relying on a man for her happiness; she needs only a trowel and a dig site to feel fulfilled. But in 1985, an attempted sexual assault frightens her into giving up field work. She hides behind her desk job at the Smithsonian—safe, but unhappy with the limits she’s placed on her career.

Those sentences describe my as-yet to be published contemporary romance Trowel and Error. It’s a story I believe in. A story I feel needs to be told. A story I want to share. But I’m not sure I will get that chance.

Attempted sexual assault. Do you need a trigger warning? Are you disgusted? Turned off? Already hitting delete on my query? If only sexual assault victims could delete what happened to them. But they can’t. We can’t. I can’t. And it’s downright hard—insulting even—to see so many people (agents) say they don’t want to see a manuscript with a rape. According to RAINN, one in six women will be a victim of a sexual assault or an attempted sexual assault. Every 98 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted. So you can say you don’t want to read about it. You can say it’s “not for you.” You can dismiss it as an empty or lazy or manipulative plot device.

You can say all these things, but you haven’t met me. You don’t know me. And maybe, your attitude is diminishing my experience. Maybe you’re rape shaming me. Maybe you think I’m playing the victim card. Maybe you’re just not interested. Maybe you just don’t care. Maybe you don’t want to bothered, don’t want to be upset, don’t want to acknowledge there’s a problem.

Some people turn their faces away from homeless people. Some people change the television channel when starving children or amputee veterans or abused animals are on the screen. Everyone has that right.

But when you’re in an industry that the rest of the world relies on to give us a window into other people’s lives, that holds up a mirror to reflect ugly truths, how can you not be brave and try to understand someone else’s experience? How can you deny the legitimacy of someone else’s pain and their right to share?

I can’t believe I even have to say this but here it is: A RAPE ISN’T A PLOT DEVICE. It isn’t who a person is. But it is part of that person. You can no more ask a rape victim to disregard that part of their own self than you can ask someone to distance themselves from their race, their gender, their age, their sexual orientation. I’ve often wished there were some sort of #ownvoices designation for assault victims who want to tell their stories. It feels like we need that sort of protection. And yet, no one is saying someone else is more qualified to tell our stories; they’re saying that even we shouldn’t be telling our stories. How sad. How wasteful, short-sighted, and damaging.

There is still so much shame around rape. There is still so much doubt. Rape victims have an enormous burden. To prove it wasn’t their fault. To prove that their clothes or their actions didn’t cause what happened to them. To prove it actually happened.

When someone doesn’t want to see a manuscript like this, it’s as if they are saying my story isn’t important. My experience doesn’t deserve to be shared. I should sit down and shut up. I should keep my experiences to myself. Because they might inconvenience you. They might be hard to read. They might make you uncomfortable. Any idea how uncomfortable I was?

The agents say, “no raped women.” No rape as a means to making a female character stronger. As if a woman who has been raped is suddenly, forever and completely, a raped woman. As if a woman who has been raped isn’t a total freaking HERO for rising above what happened to her. Rape is not her identity, it is not her fate, it is not the end of her story. But you’re saying the story doesn’t matter. That what comes next isn’t important. That you have no interest in finding out how this doesn’t have to be the final word. That women can be and are so much more than what happened to them. And they have stories. Stories that deserve to be shared. Victims need a voice and a platform.

I will use my voice. And I will create my own platform if I have to. But having allies and advocates in the publishing world would help. Having people who won’t automatically reject even a glance at my manuscript because of one thing would help.

One way or another, I will share my story.

And maybe it will help others. And maybe it will make those of you who don’t want to be bothered more compassionate, more understanding, and more aware that survivors should never be branded.

If I sound angry, I am. By saying you don’t want to see it, you’re sending a message that this is bad, this is wrong. No one wants to see this, no one wants to know. Move along. Keep going. Close your eyes. Turn your head. Deny, deny, deny.