Tuesday, April 1, 2014

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month

I wasn't aware of this before somewhat somewhat recently, but April has been nationally dubbed "Sexual Assault Awareness Month". So, what is sexual assault, exactly? It is everything up to and including rape and sodomy; unwanted advances, touching in a sexual way without consent, any violence used to force sexual contact. That pretty much sums it up.

If I could spread one message this month, it's this: go out and buy a gun, knife, or some pepper spray right the fuck now if you are a woman. Learn how to use it. Take a self-defense class. I'm serious. Fuck any other method of rape prevention. This is your best bet, in my opinion, and I'll explain to you why.

It is hard for me to write about this topic, as I have had first-hand experience with the issue that's now plaguing many parts of the world, especially in the Middle East. There has been a lot of talk lately about "rape culture", what promotes it, what defines it. Much of the focus has been driven to the fact that many are assaulted by people they know, and not necessarily in the sense commonly portrayed by the media involving some character with a Snidley Whiplash mustache or a ski mask attacking you in an alleyway or off some city sidewalk. Unfortunately, that is indeed still the case for many, myself included.

Now I cannot fully say that I am a victim (nor would I wish to) since I was able to fight off my attacker. I can, however, say with full certainty that I completely understand how terrifying a situation like that can be.. how it can sneak up on you even when you feel most prepared.

It was a few years ago; I was working in DC at the House of Representatives. I somewhat enjoyed my job and made decent money for once in my life. Despite everything else in my life having been on a downward spiral for several years prior to this, I was finally beginning to put the pieces back together from my new "home" (really, a room in my grandmother's home after being put out one too many times by my psychotic, abusive, and pathetic excuse for an ex) in Alexandria.

Mind you, I was just beginning to piece my life back together. I hadn't gotten very far. I had still lost almost everything, and had no car. Therefore, my only alternative at the time was to take the bus. I usually woke up at 3am, got to the bus stop at 4:10, and waited for the bus to arrive at 4:25, since it was my preference to get to the office at 5 every morning to get a head start on work without any of the day's usual meaningless distractions; such as staff meetings, quite possibly the biggest waste of time and taxpayer money that there is yet no one knows about it. Anyway, I digress.

Like any other morning, I got to my stop, got on my phone, and called someone to chat while I waited - which seemed to always give me the false impression that I was safe. Not long after I began the call, during a brief silent pause I began to hear the sound of crunching through the leaves behind me. It took a moment for me to notice that it was actually the sound of somebody running in the grassy patch behind me. Instantly, my gut became unsettled and I knew something wasn't right. I turned around to see someone hidden behind a ski mask running right towards me from a crooked, awkward angle. I had enough time to scream "Oh fuck", braced myself, and put my fists up for what would be the most intensely frightening fight of my life.

The smart thing for me to do would have been to start running into the street and right down the center line, putting myself in a more visible location to make myself harder to chase. I, of course, being the brazen fool I am, for some reason figured fighting was my best bet. It paid off.. barely. I escaped, barely. And not without getting a broken hip after being thrown on the ground multiple times. Luckily, I escaped with nothing worse than that, besides the trauma that follows some stranger attacking you, fighting you, and threatening to kill you. At 4 in the fucking morning.

Soon after the attacker had accepted defeat and fled, I frantically searched the surrounding area for the contents of my purse and tote bag, as well as my glasses, which had all been flung different directions in the scuffle. Again, the smart thing to do would be to leave the area as quick as possible, but after that happened I wasn't exactly in my right frame of mind. Thinking back, not having my right mind about me was what helped spare me from anything worse than a broken bone.

He never got what he was after, whoever it was. That's what mattered to me. A jogger passed by soon after I had recovered the most important things from the ground. I was a coming off a heavy adrenaline rush and without any thought, I said I'd been attacked and asked if he could help me find a few things I was still missing from my bags.

The jogging man tried to snap me out of my fog and insisted we just try and get away from the immediate area towards help. I tried to walk, and made it about 500 feet before I suddenly realized that walking had become staggeringly painful. I could walk no more. Right on time, and a moment too late, an officer on patrol passed by which the jogger quickly flagged down.

I never did get his name, but the jogger stayed with me the whole time as the small stretch of road quickly filled with police cars and search dogs until the ambulance came and whisked me away. Whoever you are, I'm glad you were there.

All the phases after that get blurry, partially thanks to the heavy painkillers mercifully administered to me at the hospital. Siting in a hospital for hours, dodging news cameras circling my home like buzzards over a fresh corpse, a clandestine meeting with the detective in a parking lot like some really bad movie. Suffice it to say I didn't make it to work that day, despite my protests.

I implore you, women of the world.. consider carrying a weapon with you at all times. The only weapon I had on me at that time was a stiletto heel in my bag. It did some damage. I can promise you though that had I had a more effective weapon at my disposal, that person would not have walked away, and I wouldn't have had to experience the guilt that came with hearing from a detective that the suspected assailant had attacked a 60 year old woman three months later - and her own experience was much worse. Maybe because she looked more vulnerable. Whatever it was, he's now evolved into a rapist who thinks he knows how and when to select his prey. I still don't know if they ever caught him.

If you ask a police officer what you should do to protect yourself, you know what they'll tell you? Carry a whistle. I'm sorry, a fucking whistle?? That's the biggest load of bullshit I've ever heard. If you don't want to carry a gun, at least get some pepper spray, but for goodness sake do not rely on anyone who tells you a whistle will protect you. It won't. And these things happen a lot more often than you think.

Carry a gun. Carry a knife. Carry pepper spray. Put your keys between your fingers and be ready to whip those bitches out like brass knuckles. Whatever you do, don't just assume it's never gonna happen. There is no guarantee.

I did not write this to garner sympathy or attention. So why write openly and publicly about such a deeply personal experience? A part of it is because I am tired of being silent about it, as if it were something to be ashamed of. It isn't, and nor is it for anyone else who has gone through something similar, because it is not your fault. I write this in part to prove that to you.

I am also writing this because I believe women are discouraged from carrying weapons, wrongfully. There is the belief being perpetuated that it is more detrimental than helpful to carry a knife or firearm, as it can be taken away from you and used against you. I say, not if you know how to use it. Educate yourself on how to handle whatever thing you decide to carry with you so that if the time ever comes you need to use it, your actions will be instinctual and you won't have to think. Have it in an easily accessible place, because then it matters not who is the better with the weapon; it only matters who is the fastest to use it.

Obviously, there are no guarantees there, either. I am willing to bet, though, that you will fare far better with a tool to defend yourself than with nothing. My biggest regret is not being able to eliminate the threat before it could do any harm, and not being able to prevent harm from coming to others. Like the actual event, it will haunt me forever.

If I encourage just one of you to never go anywhere unprepared, then this piece has achieved its intended goal. They even make pink guns for ladies worried about aesthetics. Just get something, anything you can fall back on if need be. This problem will never go away, but it'll certainly make it a lot harder for them when most of their targets can and will defend themselves.

Be safe, ladies.. and gents. In this dangerous world, may you always be safe.

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