One day she will tell you that she has had enough

Content Warning: Rape, sexual assault, suicide, and violence

Recently I heard the song “Face Down” by The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus (play it before you read…) and using the lyrics as inspiration, I started thinking about this blog post:

Do you feel like a man
When you push her around?
Do you feel better now, as she falls to the ground?
Well I’ll tell you my friend, one day this world’s got to end
As your lies crumble down, a new life she has found

Facedown in the dirt

When I was 16 we moved from Illinois to Texas. This was just months after my grandmother, who I was extremely close to and who was a paragon of faith, committed suicide. Even though this event was devastating to me, I did my best to fully engage in my new home and community. I went to church every time the doors were open. I was actively involved in my church choir, mission trips, youth group activities, VBS, and Sunday School. I was also a student council officer, school choir member, National Honor Society member, and an AP student in the top 10% of my class. I was what many would call a good kid.

When I was 17, I was raped. 

From The Nowhere Girls

I can’t move I can’t breathe I don’t want this I don’t want this anymore I want to push but my wrists are pinned down and my pants are off and it’s too late it’s too late it’s too late to say no.
Her last solid memory is pain.
Then black. Then nothing.
She is nothing. She disappears.
A thought: I did this to myself.
A thought: It will be over soon.
A thought: I’m going to die.
Sometimes the only thing worse than death is surviving.
A voice in the darkness, giving her a new name:
Slut (Reed, 2017, 62-64).

Some people would have called him my boyfriend. Some people would call him my abuser. Some people would have said he was my friend. Some people would have said I was trying to be a good Christian and help a troubled boy. To this day, I don’t know what I would call him. He went to my church. He was in a band. We were counselors aides together. He abused me verbally, emotionally, physically, and sexually. He spread rumors about me. He said I had been pregnant and had an abortion, and he said I had masturbated with a Colt .45 beer bottle. While singing on stage at my school’s baccalaureate ceremony, my fellow graduates yelled up at me “COLT .45!”, because that had become my nickname. He literally made my senior year a living hell.

One day in the spring of my senior year, he left me a note in my locker threatening my life. He said he had a gun. Up to this point, I had kept my struggles and the abuse hidden from adults. Due to this threat, one of my friends forced me to tell an adult at school. I ended up telling a judge about our history together, what had happened, and he issued a restraining order. By the time I was 19, I was entrenched in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and depending on the day, I was either attempting to stay alive or trying to die.

From Shout: A Poetry Memoir

Rape wounds deeply, splits open
your core with shrapnel
The stench of the injury attracts maggots
which hatch into clouds of doubt and self-loathing
the dirt you feel inside you nourishes
anxiety, depression, and shame
poisoning your blood, festering
in your brain until you will do anything to stop
feeling the darkness rising within
anything
to stop feeling-

untreated pain
is a cancer of the soul
that can kill you (Anderson 2019, 69)

Every action in this world will bear a consequence

This month I turn 40. Years ago, there were many days that I would have never believed I would make it to 40. I’m telling you about my rape and subsequent struggles in my life because it’s important. There were years I kept this, my sexual orientation, and my mental health struggles, locked in the proverbial closet. Now, as a high school librarian, I find myself needing to give these issues a face. I fear for the consequences if I don’t publicly address these issues and talk about how they impact my job as a school librarian and my work with students. This post is full of resources school librarians can use in their own libraries however is fitting for their communities.

In an article in School Library Journal, Mahnaz Dar writes about Laurie Halse Anderson’s book Shout, cited earlier in this post. In the article, Dar writes:

But she [Laurie Halse Anderson]  also attempts to reach a different kind of reader: the high school boys who were left mystified by Melinda’s descent into hell. Why, they asked, was her rape so devastating?

Anderson initially responded with disbelief, but as she visited more schools, she realized how common this attitude was—and that she had an opportunity to instill some empathy. “They’re kids,” she says. “They’re kids who can grow up to be damaging adults, but they’re still kids, right? Launching an anger on them doesn’t help anything.”

Instead, Anderson began listening to the boys, understanding their harmful misconceptions about sex and rape. Our culture often sees rapists as strangers lurking in the shadows. But most rapes, she says, “are committed by the guy in your algebra class, or your grandfather, or the friend that you made at college” (2019).

Every day in our library I hear boys engaging in discussions where they use derogatory terms like “hos” and “THOT” to describe girls. “THOT is a slang acronym standing for ‘that ho over there’ or ‘thirsty hoes over there,’ and is used as a synonym for vulgar slurs like slut, bitch, or whore. This should go without saying, but THOT is a sexist term” (Dictionary.com 2019).  At first, my reaction was to tell them they cannot talk like that in the library. This was not wrong. However, now I have started engaging them in conversation about why I am asking them to reconsider the hateful words they are using. I tell them parts of my story and why their words, even if used in jest, leads to normalizing behaviors that reinforce toxic masculinity and rape culture.

Rape culture is the social and cultural ways in which we trivialize, normalize, and naturalize rape and sexual assault. This includes cultural practices like the way we talk about sex, sexuality, gender, and sexual assault, the way we portray people and sexuality in the media, the laws and institutions we have created, and the beliefs we ascribe to in our daily lives (Rape culture — Cultures of Consent, 2019).  

Toxic masculinity is real, and our elementary, middle, and high schools are a breeding ground for it. Age does not exclude anyone. “Toxic masculinity is loosely defined as masculine traits and ways of thinking or behaving that negatively impact both men and society as a whole. More extreme, obvious examples include misogyny and homophobia but it takes more insidious forms like a need for dominance, fear of showing weakness, performative violent tendencies, sexual entitlement and aggression, and controlling behavior” (Dictionary.com, 2019).

Pull up your library catalog. Go ahead, I’ll wait. Type in rape. How many results? Try rape culture. Try sexual assault. My guess is that you have more books than you would have thought on these topics. Have you thought about why those books are in your collection? The slides with information from PAVE provide important definitions and statistics regarding the frequency of rape. You can also see more statistics from RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) here.

Heed my lecture

In The Nowhere Girls, previously referenced in this post, is about a group of high school girls who decides they are going to put a stop to rape culture in their school and their town. 

This is just what guys do. This is just what girls have to deal with. But we refuse to accept that anymore. We are done letting guys decide what they get to do with our bodies. If this has happened to you, it is not your fault. We are here for you. We are here for all of us. Together, we are so much stronger than this bullshit we’ve been putting up with for far too long. Together, we can change it (Reed, 2017, 136-137).

The #MeToo movement has brought sexual assault to the forefront of popular culture as a term used for empowerment and to interrupt sexual violence.

The ‘me too’ movement supports survivors of sexual violence and their allies by connecting survivors to resources, offering community organizing resources, pursuing a ‘me too’ policy platform, and gathering sexual violence researchers and research. ‘Me Too’ movement work is a blend of grassroots organizing to interrupt sexual violence and digital community building to connect survivors to resources.

As the ‘me too’ movement affirms empowerment through empathy and community-based action, the work is survivor-led and specific to the needs of different communities.

Tarana Burke began ‘me too’ with young Black women and girls from low wealth communities. She developed culturally-informed curriculum to discuss sexual violence within the Black community and in society at large. Similarly, the ‘me too’ movement seeks to support folks working within their communities to attend to the specific needs of their community/communities, i.e. supporting disabled trans survivors of color working to lead and craft events/toolkits/etc. with other disabled trans survivors. Together, we can uplift and support each other to strengthen a global movement to interrupt sexual violence (Me Too Movement, 2019).

Toxic masculinity has turned this term of empowerment into a joke as I hear students saying they just got “Me Too’ed.” This is unacceptable in our spaces. Karen Jensen wrote an excellent post on her blog Teen Librarian Toolbox about the effects of toxic masculinity. In her post she said:

We have to teach our boys to learn to accept no as an answer. This is something the media is horrible about, even the YA books that we read. We romanticize the notion of pursuit, of wooing. If a girl says no, you pursue her until she says yes. We celebrate those stories.

This is part of the nuanced conversations people are asking us to have about sexual harassment and sexual violence. But at the foundation of all of this is toxic masculinity and how men internalize rejection.

This is one of the reasons as a teen/YA librarian I am an advocate for having policies and procedures in place and enforcing them. The policies and procedures should be reasonable and help everyone receive a maximum benefit from and safety in the library. But having rules and failing to enforce them, that can do more damage than having no rules at all. It’s a delicate balance enforcing rules and knowing when to let them slide and give grace, but letting them slide can be damaging. The thing is, we have to do the work of making sure we have the right rules, for the right reasons, and consistently enforce them (Jensen, 2019).

The students and educators who walk through our doors every day who are sexual assault and rape survivors have invisible wounds and scars. We won’t know who is carrying the weight of these experiences with them, but we can make sure our spaces are safe for everyone. 

Guys, we know you can do better. Call out sexism when you see it. Tell your bros their rape jokes aren’t funny. When you hear guys talking shit about girls behind their backs or bragging about their lays, call them on it. Help girls when you see them being harassed or taken advantage of. Be the bigger man. Don’t keep silent when you know something wrong is happening. Don’t look the other way… Our strike is meant to get the attention of those of you who think you are off the hook, those who do not rape but who allow it through your silence about those who do, through the tiny things you do every day that make girls feel like they are less than you, that makes girls feel afraid. Even if you do not rape, you feed rape culture by not actively trying to stop it. It is time for you to know this. It is time for this to end (Reed, 2017, 149-151).

A pebble in the water makes a ripple effect

In the last year I have read I Have The Right To: A High School Survivor’s Story Of Sexual Assault, Justice, And Hope by Chessy Prout, The Nowhere Girls by Amy Reed, Tradition by Brendan Kiely, Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston, and Shout : A Poetry Memoir by Laurie Halse Anderson. These books were difficult reads for me personally, but they helped me and they will help many of our students. This school year I pulled these books and others about rape and sexual assault and made a display.

Creating a culture of consent starts with our youngest students and has to be enforced. 

Ending rape culture begins with educating our communities about how these cultural practices create an environment where sexual assault thrives and offering forms of communication and frames of reference to make choices consistent with the belief that all sexual contact should be enthusiastically wanted (Rape culture — Cultures of Consent, 2019).

Chessy Prout’s memoir is a powerful read. Every school librarian should read it. Every middle school and high school kid should read it. In the Author’s Note she delivers a powerful message:

It’s important to recognize that justice comes in many ways, shapes, and forms. That’s why advocacy is so important–whether it be in the public arena or private. It allows victims and survivors to find peace and justice in their own way, at their own pace.

Consent and sexual assault/rape education also needs to be taught in schools from as early as kindergarten all the way through high school. Conversations about consensual touching—”Can I hug you?”— are appropriate for children as soon as they can start communicating. Waiting until college is just blatantly too late.

Too many sexual assault victims are bullied into silence, which is why I want to remind you that you have the right AND responsibility to stand up for the survivors in your community, to make sure none are left behind (Prout, 2018, 380).

Chessy Prout reminds us that creating cultures of consent in our schools and in our libraries is important. How many of us have dealt with kids touching each other in play or in anger? We say things like “keep your hands to yourself” or “we don’t touch others” or something else along those lines. A culture of consent involves talking to kids about why we don’t touch others without their consent. 

  • Consent is clear, coherent, willing, on-going, and a conversation.
  • If you have to convince them, it’s not consent.
  • If they don’t feel free to say no, it’s not consent.
  • If they aren’t sober, they cannot consent.
  • Being in a relationship is not consent.
  • Silence is not consent.
  • The absence of no is not consent.
  • We’ve done it before is not consent.
  • Flirting is not consent.
  • Consent is the difference between sex and rape.

She said, “I finally had enough!”

I survived rape and abuse, and I promised myself a long time ago, I would never let anyone do that to me again. Now I have a voice and place in education and I can do my part to help other survivors and my own students. As I build relationships with students and get to know them, I earn their respect by being real with them and talking about my scars. I was hurt and some of our students are hurt. I can help my students change their words and behaviors. I finally had enough.

Face down in the dirt
She said “This doesn’t hurt!”
She said “I finally had enough!”
One day she will tell you that she has had enough

Author’s Note

#MeToo has empowered survivors to talk about their experiences. In the past, our society said we needed to keep it secret and perpetuate the idea that rape and sexual assault are taboo topics. We rarely talk about rape and sexual assault because it makes people uncomfortable, but I’m done keeping secrets. We need to normalize people talking about rape and sexual assault, not continue to hide it where it breeds shame and guilt in survivors. I want educators to understand that our students experience versions of what I went through. I want school librarians to know that this happens. It is happening right now. It is awful and kids may not survive it. However, telling the details of our experiences makes it real for everyone and helps other survivors. I would like to give a special thanks to my students who spoke to me about what’s important to them and gave me feedback on this post. I see you. I’m here for you.

Today, things feel heavy and equality seems unattainable. This is my poem, Elizabeth Acevedo. I know poems like the one below by Laurie Halse Anderson are powerful and hopeful. My hope is to be heard. My hope is for healing and empowerment. My hope too is that one day these poems will be obsolete because we help our children and teens know better and do better.

From Shout: A Poetry Memoir

#MeToo
Me, too weak to fight him off
me, too scared, silent
me too, disassembled by the guy
who……..

mis understood
mis taken
men tion my name
to my mi sery siblings
as we support
report
reveal the violence
they desperately want
us
to conceal.

Me to be stronger,
you to stand taller,
we to shout louder
than they thought
we could (Anderson 2019, 200)

Resources

  1. Chessy Prout I have The Right To: https://www.ihavetherightto.org/pages/recources 
  2. PAVE: http://consentis.org/
  3. National Sexual Assault hotline: 1-800-656-HOPE (4673) / https://www.rainn.org/ 
  4. National Child Abuse Hotline: 1-800-422-4453 / https://www.childhelp.org/ 
  5. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255 / https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/  
  6. #MeToo K12 Resources: https://stopsexualassaultinschools.org/metook12-resources/ 
  7. Himmelstein, Drew. 2018. After #MeToo: Educators seek strategies to teach students about consent. School Library Journal. Retrieved 4 November 2019, from https://www.slj.com/?detailStory=after-metoo-educators-seek-strategies-to-teach-students-about-consent 

Elementary Recommended Books

  1. Consent (for kids!): boundaries, respect, and being in charge of you by Brian, Rachel ISBN: 9780316457736
  2. Can I give you a squish? by Neilson, Emily ISBN: 9781984814777
  3. Sex is a funny word: a book about bodies, feelings, and you by Silverberg, Cory ISBN: 9781609806064
  4. Let’s Talk About Body Boundaries, Consent and Respect: Teach children about body ownership, respect, feelings, choices and recognizing bullying behaviors by Jayneen Sanders  (Author), Sarah Jennings (Illustrator) ISBN: 9781925089189
  5. So Done by Chase, Paula ISBN 9780062691781
  6. Teddy’s favorite toy by Trimmer, Christian ISBN: 9781481480796
  7. No Hugs! by Deirdre Prischmann (text) & illus. by Sarah Jennings ISBN: 9781681524153
  8. Wait, What?: A Comic Book Guide to Relationships, Bodies, and Growing Up by Heather Corinna (text) & illus. by Isabella Rotman & Luke B. Howard ISBN: 9781620106594
  9. Maybe he just likes you by Dee, Barbara ISBN: 9781534432376
  10. Will ladybug hug? by Leung, Hilary ISBN: 9781338215601

Secondary Recommended Books

  1. I have the right to: a high school survivor’s story of sexual assault, justice, and hope by Prout, Chessy ISBN 9781534414433
  2. The nowhere girls by Reed, Amy Lynn ISBN 9781481481731
  3. Tradition by Kiely, Brendan ISBN 9781481480345
  4. Exit, pursued by a bear by Johnston, E. K. ISBN 9781101994580
  5. Speak by Anderson, Laurie Halse
  6. Shout: a poetry memoir by Anderson, Laurie Halse ISBN 9780670012107
  7. Not that bad: dispatches from rape culture ISBN 9780062851468
  8. Asking for it by O’Neill, Louise ISBN 9781681445359
  9. What we saw by Hartzler, Aaron ISBN 9780062338747
  10. The female of the species by McGinnis, Mindy ISBN 9780062320896
  11. The way I used to be by Smith, Amber ISBN 9781481449359
  12. Girl made of stars by Blake, Ashley Herring ISBN 9781328778239
  13. Some boys by Blount, Patty ISBN 9781402298561
  14. Lucky by Sebold, Alice ISBN 9780316096195
  15. What happens next by Clayton, Colleen ISBN 9780316198691
  16. The Mockingbirds by Whitney, Daisy ISBN 9780316090544
  17. Saints and misfits by Ali, S. K. ISBN 9781481499248
  18. Inexcusable by Lynch, Chris ISBN 9781481432023
  19. What does consent really mean? by Wallis, Pete ISBN 9781848193307
  20. Sex & violence: a novel by Mesrobian, Carrie ISBN 9781467705974
  21. No more excuses: dismantling rape culture by Keyser, Amber J ISBN 9781541540200
  22. Asking for it: the alarming rise of rape culture and what we can do about it by Harding, Kate ISBN 9780738217024
  23. Moxie by Mathieu, Jennifer ISBN 9781626726352
  24. Good luck girls by Davis, Charlotte ISBN 9781250299703
  25. Wait, What?: A Comic Book Guide to Relationships, Bodies, and Growing Up by Heather Corinna (text) & illus. by Isabella Rotman & Luke B. Howard ISBN: 9781620106594
  26. Maybe he just likes you by Dee, Barbara ISBN: 9781534432376
  27. In Case You’re Curious: Questions About Sex from Young People with Answers from the Experts by Planned Parenthood ISBN: 9781632280671
  28. Respect: Everything a Guy Needs to Know About Sex, Love, and Consent by Inti Chavez Perez ISBN: 9780143134251

References

About: Me Too Movement. (2019). Me Too Movement. Retrieved 1 November 2019, from https://metoomvmt.org/about/#history 

Acevedo, Elizabeth. (2019). I use my poetry to confront the violence against women. TEDxMidAtlanticSalon. Youtube.com. Retrieved 5 November 2019, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SJ0G1iCLzCA

Anderson, Laurie Halse. 2019. Shout: a poetry memoir. New York: Viking, an imprint of Penguin Random House.

Anderson, Laurie Halse. 2019. YouTube. (2019). Youtube.com. Retrieved 16 November 2019, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3KbnbBiRvmE 

Dar, Mahnaz. 2019. Laurie Halse Anderson Won’t Be Silent. School Library Journal. Retrieved 4 November 2019, from https://www.slj.com/?detailStory=laurie-halse-anderson-wont-be-silent 

Educate Yourself. (2019). PAVE. Retrieved 10 November 2019, from https://www.shatteringthesilence.org/programs/educate-yourself/ 

Jensen, Karen T. (2019). Things I Never Learned in Library School: Toxic Masculinity and Teaching Boys to Accept No for an Answer, Even in Our Libraries@TLT16 Teen Librarian Toolbox. Teenlibrariantoolbox.com. Retrieved 3 November 2019, from http://www.teenlibrariantoolbox.com/2018/02/things-i-never-learned-in-library-school-toxic-masculinity-and-teaching-boys-to-accept-no-for-an-answer-even-in-our-libraries/ 

Prout, Chessy. 2018. I have the right to: a high school survivor’s story of sexual assault, justice, and hope. New York: Margaret K. McElderry Books.

Rape culture — Cultures of Consent. (2019). Cultures of Consent. Retrieved 3 November 2019, from http://culturesofconsent.org/rapeculture 

Reed, Amy. 2017. The nowhere girls. New York: Simon Pulse. 

The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus – Face Down (Official Video). (2019). YouTube. Retrieved 19 October 2019, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Ux6SlOE9Qk 

What Does thot Mean? (2019). Everything After Z by Dictionary.com. Retrieved 3 November 2019, from https://www.dictionary.com/e/slang/thot 

What Does toxic masculinity Mean? (2019). Everything After Z by Dictionary.com. Retrieved 3 November 2019, from https://www.dictionary.com/e/pop-culture/toxic-masculinity/ 

 

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