This is an excerpt from a blog that I truly admire- one that sticks with the soul. Jane Sloane is the author. You can find the full text here.
“I love being in San Francisco, and especially living in Sausalito – in the area called the banana belt due to it being the sunny side of the city – and feeling so happy to be near water and trees and a yoga studio and hanging out near the boats. I’ve now found a nearby cafe called ‘Fred’s’ (“been here since 1966”) where I can read the Sunday New York Times over a slow ‘eggs and many cups of tea’ breakfast.
And yet the front page of The New York Times, with its story of a 16 year old Dalit girl in India being mob raped, is a stark reminder of what’s happening to women and girls in the world and what’s at stake as a result. This girl did not report her rape and it was only due to her rapists crowing about their conquest via images on their mobile phones that her father saw them and committed suicide and the Dalit community rose up in response. It’s hard to know how much this communal response is due to a father’s shame or to a violation of a girl’s human rights and having her integrity and innocence stripped away.
The progress that has been made has been achieved as a result of three decades of campaigns by women’s groups achieving important changes in the rape law and in the rules governing the police in their dealings with women. However, it is only those women who are organized, and have the backing of a collective to fight the system, that are able to respond effectively.
Here in the US, young women born into more fortunate circumstances, and who go on to a college education, perhaps at one of the highly regarded colleges such as Amherst, also face the possibility of being raped. The likelihood is aided, in this case, by the cultural laws of the campus where bureaucratic attitudes and red tape have silenced women who have been raped and allowed some to end up in psychiatric wards while their rapists graduate with honors. The latest Amherst rape victim to speak out, Angie Epifano, ended up withdrawing from her studies and going to Europe.
Epifano’s story was a story familiar to many college students. A study by the Center for Public Integrity found that 95 percent of rapes on college campus go unreported to an official. Meanwhile, a 2010 Boston Globe investigative reportof Massachusetts schools that included Salem State College, MIT, Northeastern, Tufts and Amherst from 2003−2008 revealed Justice Department documents of 240 reported cases of sexual assault. Out of those 240 reported cases, only four students were expelled from their respective institutions, according to the Globe’s report.
Before Epifano’s story became public, an underground fraternity at Amherst had printed T-shirts featuring a cartoon of a bruised, bikini-clad woman roasting like a pig over an open fire. Epifano’s experience, when she finally reported the rape, was of being sidelined by the very people she was told she could trust. This included a social worker, a counselor and a college administrator. Epifano was told that it was too late to seek a disciplinary hearing because she had no physical evidence and she couldn’t change dorms because everything was full. She was asked if she was sure it was rape and then she was sent to the nearest hospital and encouraged not to return. It was while in this psychiatric ward that she finally told her story of being raped at a group therapy session. She wrote later:
“Silence has the rusty taste of shame,” a fellow survivor once wrote.
I had been far too silent, far too ashamed.
That night I told them everything.
For the first time I told my story and I was not ashamed.
Later that night, as I lay in bed—still in an adrenaline induced state of wakefulness—I heard my roommate whisper my name, and then, a question.
“Are you still awake?”
A long pause. She’d been in the meeting.
What was she thinking? What would she say?
“I just wanted to tell you, I…I know how it feels. My uncle raped me when I was 15. The police never arrested him. Rape “wasn’t their top priority.” It still hurts…You’re incredibly brave to talk about it…I rarely do.”
She was 42 years old.
I did not sleep. That night I realized that from then on I could not stay silent—if not for myself, then for my roommate.”
When Epifano went public with her story, and shared that “silence has the rusty taste of shame,” dozens of other students came forward with similar stories and hundreds more rallied in support of these young women. It is this momentum from these young women speaking out and mobilizing that will likely be the catalyst for real change to a system that has silenced them. Stories of how they were silenced by college administrators ranged from “Are you sure it was rape? He seems to think it was a little more complicated.” to “Why don’t you take a year off, get a job at Starbucks, and come back after he’s graduated?”
In a special trauma ward in Birmingham, England, Malala Yousafzai, the 15 year old Pakistani girl who was shot by the Taliban for championing her right, and that of all girls, to get an education, is slowly recovering. Her dream is to be a politician and she will realize this dream only if she is protected from the Taliban which still intends to kill her.
Malala’s father, Ziauddin Yousafzai said “They wanted to kill her. But she fell temporarily. She will rise again. She will stand again,” he told reporters, his voice breaking with emotion. Malala has become a powerful symbol of resistance to the Taliban’s efforts to deny women education. Public fury in Pakistan over her shooting has put pressure on the military to mount an offensive against the radical Islamist group.
“When she fell, Pakistan stood and the world rose,” Malala’s father told a press conference. “This is a turning point. In Pakistan, for the first time, all political parties, Urdus, Christians, Sikhs, all religions prayed for my daughter.” He added, “She is not just my daughter, she is everybody’s daughter.”
Malala’s father is standing strong with his daughter in her fight for an education and in facing down the violent acts of the Taliban.
I reflect on all this, from my quiet and lovely space in Sausalito. And I’m more convinced than ever of the importance of investing in women’s rights organizations and movements in order to strengthen women’s collective leadership to advance women’s human rights.
The message from these stories is that we are stronger together. Movements build social change. Women’s collective leadership and movement building helps to drive and secure social change. Movements that are led by the brave, brave, brave Malala Yousafzai’s and Angie Epifano’s of this world.
Leaving Fred’s, my new favorite coffee shop, I returned home to a hula hoop I’d recently bought myself to reinstate that mind-to-hip meditation I began when I was a girl. I spun my hoop down to the shared garden space outside my apartment and, as I was practicing, a girl in red Dorothy shoes ran over to watch.
‘Can I do that?” she asked, her eyes sparkling. “Sure you can,” I said smiling and handing her the hoop. And soon she was wheeling and flowing and laughing with such grace and confidence that I hoped she never had cause to falter and lose that beautiful, fluid sense of life in all its possibilities by virtue of being a woman.”