where life's not empty, it's restless.

Archive for the tag “rape”

A Girl, Alone

DSC00865If he’s still alive, he’s old and probably fat by now. That guy I try never to think about. His face has faded, but I remember him as a little doughy. That guy who did to me what I could not bring myself to call rape at the time.

I was traveling alone. I’d missed the overnight train from Geneva to Paris. He offered me a spare bedroom; swore I’d be perfectly safe. To my 19-year-old eyes, he looked trustworthy, this 30-something pilot in an expensive trenchcoat. So surely it was my fault, right? When I woke up in the wee hours of the morning and he was on top of me?

Judge me if you will. Call me stupid and naïve; that much is fair. But who ever judged him? No one. Yet I knew I didn’t have a story to tell a Swiss police officer. So I got on the train and went back to my study-abroad dorm room in England, feeling a little wiser and a lot older.

When I got back to the States, I wrote a short story about it in which I tried to be very Hemingway-esque, starkly describing what happened but leaving out all details about how I felt. Because of course I didn’t know I felt. Or rather, I felt so many different feelings I didn’t know which was the real one: shame? Anger? Sadness? Outrage?

They were all real and they have all been flooding back to me this month, which has not been a good one for the one out of four American women who harbor memories of sexual assault. First, there was arrest of the head of the Air Force sexual assault prevention program—on charges of sexual battery. Then, just two days later, the Pentagon released survey data revealing in 2012, an estimated 26 thousand active service women and men were sexually assaulted, up from 19 thousand in 2010.

And now we have Amanda Knox out on her book tour, being interviewed by piranhas like CNN’s Chris Cuomo, who so relished interrogating her about the rumors of her “deviant” sex life. Never mind she’s been convicted of murder in Italy, jailed for four years, acquitted and now may be tried again.

No wonder I found myself fuming recently when I saw a TV commercial in which two dads exchange those “boys will be boys!” looks when they catch their sons spying on a female neighbor from their treehouse. What if the ad showed little girls watching a man undress? Would we think that was adorable?

In his eagerness to pry salacious details out of Knox, Cuomo reminded me of the boys in the commercial. But Knox’s long legal nightmare has taught her how to remain calm in the face of the ugliest accusations.

“I was sexually active. I was not sexually deviant,” she said, clearly and without elaboration. In that instant, she became the grownup in the room and Cuomo the prurient child, still stuck in his adolescent treehouse.

Collective outrage over military rape may be what takes us to the tipping point where we can no longer tolerate the double standard inherent in an interview like Cuomo’s. I hope so. Because this is about more than raising boys to treat women with respect. This is about raising girls to understand: shame and guilt need not be their default emotional settings. So when a soldier is groped, she doesn’t immediately think it must be her fault. Or when a naïve girl from Seattle is interviewed by Italian police, she can’t be bullied and intimidated.

Or when another naïve Seattle girl sets out to see the world, she won’t spend the rest of her life thinking what happened one night in Geneva was ALL her fault.

Radio lovers: you can hear the Restless Nest commentaries every Tuesday at 7:45 a.m. on KBCS, streaming online at and on the air at 91.3 in the Seattle area.  Podcasts available.

Here’s nest artist Kim Groff-Harrington’s website.

The Invisible War

The other night, I walked out of the SIFF Cinema Uptown smoldering. I had just seen a film called The Invisible War, and I was angry.

I was not alone. Everyone who walked out of that Women’s Funding Alliance-sponsored screening had what you might call a smolder-y look. Because what we’d just watched bore vivid witness to one of those facts that are meaningless until you start attaching names and faces to them. In this case, the fact is this: one in five women in the United States military have reported being raped. And no one’s willing to guess how many more have been raped but have not reported it, out of legitimate fear, as we saw depicted in this film, of what it would do to their careers.

As long as “rape victims” are referred to collectively and anonymously, they are not human beings that we need to personally worry about. But once you’ve seen a woman tell her story on camera, you can’t go back to how you felt before you saw her. Phrases like, I screamed and screamed and no one came; I woke up and he was on top of me; He threw me so hard he permanently damaged my spine have a way of lodging in your brain.

These were women who wanted to serve their country. Young idealists. Soldiers as fit and fearless as the men with whom they served. They reported being raped because they believed justice would be done. In nearly every case, “justice” turned out to be protection for the perpetrator and the end of a career for the victim. One was even told that rape is an “occupational hazard” of military service—meaning, apparently, that a good soldier tolerates it without complaining.

I believe the women in The Invisible War spoke to filmmaker Kirby Dick because they know that telling their stories, out loud and on screen, is now their best remaining option for moving people to action.  And painful though their stories are, these soldiers are crystal-clear about what happened to them.

But as the General Petraeus sex scandal continues to unfold like a season of Dallas, what’s disturbing to ponder is the number of women who feel they can’t talk about what happened to them in the military because maybe it’s not so crystal-clear. They’ve heard Republican politicians trying to parse phrases like “forcible rape,” as if there was some other kind, so they know how far they’d get with a story of what they felt they had to do to keep from being raped; a story of how deployment turned out to be a moral trip through the looking glass into a wonderland where marriage and family and ties to home meant nothing and if you didn’t play along, well, then your fellow soldiers might not have your back.

One of the military’s anti-rape PR campaigns features the slogan, “Ask her when she’s sober.” What if she says no when she’s sober? Then what?

And now we profess shock, shock! That General Petraeus, the man at the very top, the role model of all role models, married for 38 years, was embroiled in an affair. How ironic that one of the charges leveled at many of the women in The Invisible War was adultery: not because they were married, because in most cases, they weren’t, but because their attacker was. Married. So… the victim was charged with adultery.  Now we really are deeply through the looking glass.

Tolerance of rape as an occupational hazard in the U.S. Military must end. But so must tolerance of an alternate moral universe, in which female soldiers are pressured to play along—when they’re sober, of course—because if they don’t, who knows? they could be raped. And then accused of adultery.

Radio lovers: you can hear the Restless Nest commentaries every Tuesday at 7:50 a.m., Thursdays at 4:54 p.m. and Fridays at 4:55 p.m. on KBCS, streaming online at and on the air at 91.3 in the Seattle area.  Podcasts available.

I loved teaching Intro to Memoir Writing so much I’m teaching it again this winter at SCCC. Starts Jan 2. Six Wednesday nights. Spread the word!

Here’s nest artist Kim Groff-Harrington’s website.








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