Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Tragedy of Errors: A Story of Rape and Consent

I lost all hope. I couldn't defend myself. I had been helpless. I had decided long ago that no one would ever rape me again; he or they or I would die. But this rape was necrophiliac: they wanted to fuck a dead woman. Why? I was scared. I thought that being forced and being conscious was better, because then you knew; even if no one ever believed you, you knew. Most rape experts agree: how can you face what you can't remember? I tried to hammer through the amnesia, but nothing broke. I was so hurt.
--Andrea Dworkin, feminist author

In bed almost naked. She wears white-trimmed orange panties, with an ember hole in its cotton side; and a bare panty-liner under her abnormally dry opening. Glasses too, glasses without which she would be blind, glasses that survived, albeit loose and crooked, the yellow Yonkers motel room.

An aroused nipple, the hard tip of her tongue left-shifts, pushes between two teeth. The present emptiness swells belly deep. Between thumb and index finger, a large, flat gray-gold earring.

The television belches rudely, buoying words and colorful flashes into the hot air of the studio apartment. The words are words she could comprehend elsewhere. Not stuffed behind closed blinds, between dark walls.

It takes so much energy to think about all the ways she could have stayed conscious that night.
Less Henny. More No. Pushing the pointed earring hook into the palm of her hand, she ponders absent Shakespearean muses, beautifiers of tragedies, and dries her blood with the bed sheet.

Photo by Xiomara A. Maldonado

When she awoke that morning (the one that followed its drugged night lover like a stalker) her carpeted steps were shaky and lazy. She wondered at the surprising, loopy trail of LifeStyles and Trojans and NYCs ripped open around her clothing. First, her childhood lime green panties decorated with small and large blue stars. Second, her black bra and v-neck blouse. Third, her tight light blue jeans fighting the pull over her ass; her worn out shoes. At the end of the trail, the mirror, the bathroom light reflecting her eyes, the dark bags like shit-filled pampers under them.

She almost didn’t remember him fucking her in the shower. But he had left the gold holed ovals there, her 99-cent earrings fading in the flood of bathroom floor. A flash feeling of him beneath her beauty-marked back, lifting her by her ass, pulling her, pushing her. up and down. as if she were. free weights, heavy and dumb.

So much energy to try to remember more before, the moments after the amnesiac shot: the leaving, the cab ride, her wrapped-up-in-a-white-sheet No. He left her with nothing more than these bits and pieces of story; his biblical name; and pelvis-punching gonorrhea.

Her remains-- cheap earrings and washed blue-starred panties-- brief memories of Grievous Bodily Harm shoved into a messy, unlit closet. She remains--undressed thighs tightening, tongue-tip sucking, infecting the open wound.

Copyright 2009 Xiomara A. Maldonado

I'd love to hear ways to improve the story. I appreciate your comments!

"Sexual assault is sexual contact (not just intercourse) where one of the parties has not given or cannot give active verbal consent - i.e., uttered a clear 'yes' - to the action" (Sexual Assault 18-3-402 CRS).

According to Feminist.com, of the 18% of women who have reported surviving a completed or attempted rape, 54% were under the age of 17 at the time of sexual assault. With the U.S. Justice Department's estimation that 74% of all rapes or attempted rapes in America go unreported to law enforcement officials, one can estimate that the actual number of women who have survived sexual assault is much higher.

Aside from statistics, my personal interactions with adult and young women throughout my life has taught me that instances of sexual assault occur far too often to be talked about so little.

Sexual Violence Statistics

Photo by Xiomara A. Maldonado
  • Every two minutes, somewhere in America, someone is sexually assaulted. (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) calculation based on 2000 National Crime Victimization Survey. Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of Justice.
  • 17.6% of women in the United States have survived a completed or attempted rape. Of these, 21.6% were younger than age 12 when they were first raped, and 32.4% were between the ages of 12 and 17. (Full Report of the Prevalence, Incidence, and Consequences of Violence Against Women, Findings from the National Violence Against Women Survey, November, 2000).
  • Between 4% and 30% of rape victims contract sexually transmitted diseases as a result of the victimization (Resnick 1997).
  • A number of long-lasting symptoms and illnesses have been associated with sexual victimization including chronic pelvic pain; premenstrual syndrome; gastrointestinal disorders; and a variety of chronic pain disorders, including headache, back pain, and facial pain (Koss 1992).
  • Sexual violence victims exhibit a variety of psychological symptoms that are similar to those of victims of other types of trauma, such as war and natural disaster (National Research Council 1996).
  • Rape victims often experience anxiety, guilt, nervousness, phobias, substance abuse, sleep disturbances, depression, alienation, sexual dysfunction, and aggression. They often distrust others and replay the assault in their minds, and they are at increased risk of future victimization (DeLahunta 1997).
  • The FBI estimates that only 37% of all rapes are reported to the police. U.S. Justice Department statistics are even lower, with only 26% of all rapes or attempted rapes being reported to law enforcement officials.

With the knowledge that, throughout our nation, a person is sexually assaulted every two minutes, I believe that it is the human responsibility of Americans to address the issue of sexual violence through educational and artistic methods .

Consent Education to Prevent & Acknowledge Rape
Firstly, all young people ought to be educated about the importance of receiving clear consent for and during sexual activities. In order to prevent the rape of women and assure women that they are not crazy, or in the wrong, or dirty because they were raped, both adult and young men and women must be better educated about consent and emotionally and physically safe sexual practices. I am unsure what is taught in Health class in New York City public schools, but I have seen that this knowledge needs to be an important component of one's life education.

In the meantime, there are great educational resources about consent online.
The Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault, for example, uses its website WhyNotAsk.org to provide consent education and stimulate conversation about non-consensual sex. The CCASA shares the following basic guidelines about consent:
  • If the other person says no, take no as the answer no matter how badly you want to have sex. Even if you think s/he is saying one thing but really means another, or you thought s/he was giving you the green light earlier.
  • If the other person says nothing, take that as a no too, and don't go any further unless s/he says it's okay. Silence can easily mean something other than "yes," and bad judgments in this area are no excuse.
  • Never guess at consent. It's not worth guessing about, for either of you. Even if you're not used to talking about sex, or asking if it's okay, or being asked. Even if it seems like everyone else is hooking up and no one is checking in along the way.
Knowledge about consent is essential to rectifying the unbalanced power dynamic between men and women, or rapist and victim. In addition to the preventative benefits of education, such knowledge helps women to deal with the guilt and shame they feel after an incident of sexual assault. Through education, women can heal and build a healthy, supportive community that works to end the cycle of violence.

Community Education - Sharing Stories of Rape and Consent
Secondly, sharing stories of sexual assault is an important method of education for oneself and one's community. Many women have a story to tell. Some have multiple stories. But how many of these women have never told their stories because they feel ashamed? How many have told their stories but feel shut down and muted because their listeners judged them and blamed them for their victimization? Telling a story of sexual assault is not easy and may incite blame or judgment from third parties, but storytelling helps survivors to cope with the trauma and fear they feel.

By fearlessly sharing stories, particularly through artistic forms, survivors of sexual violence will learn that they can experience personal healing and spread awareness of rape's prevalence and traumatic life consequences. Through the arts, women can re-find their voices and strengthen the community of voices that already speak with power to the issue of sexual violence.

I wrote Tragedy of Errors, the vignette above, in an attempt to depict the burden that survivors bear when unable to share their stories of fear and stagnancy, cheap memories. In my own small way, I am trying to spread awareness of the issue of sexual assault and the concept of consent in order to end the cycle of violence. With the spread of such knowledge, how many women will be less likely to face rape?

1 comment:

  1. that story is off the fucking hook!!! i was reading waiting to see what happens next ... i love the way you give the details its like reading "Memento" ... the fragments allow the reader to be disoriented along with the character/victim, i really think you have something here that can be worked into a longer format ... you know i'm on my short story shit a great way to share truth and learning's ... as my sister says write or die ... blessings, M