Slutwalks - The real benefit of them...

I'm sure if you search for "Slutwalk" on any blog site, you'll get your share of blogs both in support of, and against, them.  It seems almost everyone has an opinion on them.  The day after participating in the Des Moines Slutwalk for the second year in a row, I've been reflecting on what occurred yesterday. There were fewer people there this year than last year and the media didn't cover the event this year.  At first, I was really annoyed that the local media didn't feel the need to cover the event this year.  But after thinking about it, I have some mixed feelings on it.

This year's slutwalk rally after the march was a little different from last year's.  Last year, there were two speakers who had agreed to speak.  They came up, gave amazingly wonderful speeches sharing their stories and providing inspiration for the rest of us listening.  Then the organizer said the mic was open for anyone else who wanted to speak to come up and share their story.  No one approached.  Heather (the organizer) gave some more very supportive an inspirational words, and the group started to break apart to head to the after parties, or home.

This year: again, there were two people who had agreed to speak.  Both of us got up there and said what we had prepared.  But then, Heather mentioned that another participant had just told her that she wanted to speak.  She went up to the mic and admitted that she hadn't really planned to speak until she got to the walk that day.  She told an amazingly heartbreaking and inspiring story of how sexual assault had affected her life.  Then she sat down.  Then another young woman tentatively approached the mic and asked if she could share.  When she was done, another approached.  I lost count, but for almost an hour, survivors stepped forward and shared heartbreaking stories of how sexual assault and victim blaming had affected their lives, many sharing for the first time.  They were met with hugs when they got done speaking, and often throughout the rest of the evening other survivors would walk up to them and offer them hugs for sharing their stories.  There were a lot of hugs, and a lot of tears... But most of all, there was a lot of healing.

We've all heard the negative comments about the name Slutwalk.  That the name should be changed because it is derogatory.  The name "Slutwalk" comes from a specific event.  And yes, that incident involved a completely inappropriate and derogatory use of the term Slut.  But if you had been at the Des Moines Slutwalk yesterday, you would have seen that the point of this event has moved far beyond the term slut.  It is about supporting victims, providing hope, providing inspiration, reminding us that it is not their fault.  That they did not deserve what happened to them.  Generally, that they are AWESOME just for being survivors.

I was amazed and inspired each time a woman (or man) came forward and said "I wasn't planning on sharing this.  It isn't like me to be this open, but all you girls before me have inspired me to share what happened to me."  For each of these survivors, I believe that they healed just a little bit more when they spoke out, and especially when they were met with support after doing so.

The other amazing thing was the VARIETY of assaults represented by the survivors who spoke:

Spousal rape, child rape/molestation, male survivors, rape in the military, alcohol/drug facilitated rape, pregnancy as a result of rape, dating violence/date rape - and those are just the ones I remember off the top of my head.

But, this leads me to the mixed feelings part about the media.  I would have liked to see the media be there because 1) this IS a cause worth covering.  Awareness needs to be raised about how prevalent sexual assault is.  2) If they had been there - they would have seen the true benefit of slutwalks - the support it provides to survivors.  BUT... If the media had been there, many of these survivors would not have spoken out.  It's one thing to come up to a mic when you know that a few fellow survivors/supporters may have cameras taping, it's another thing when there is a media camera facing you.  I know the media cameras were one reason I didn't share last year - the thought of ending up on TV terrified me - I just wasn't ready for that step in speaking out yet.  (I believe that both media stations present last year asked the survivors who spoke for permission to use the video on the air - but that camera is still intimidating).  So, as much as I would have liked to see the media cover the event, in a lot of ways, I'm glad they didn't.  Because I believe a lot more healing occurred because they were not there.  And after all, healing is the best benefit of any event like this.

So, the next time you hear about a Slutwalk event in your area, instead of focusing on the word "Slut" in the name, focus on the fact that it is an incredible opportunity to show up and show your support for sexual assault survivors.  Don't judge an event by its name.  The name has a purpose, but it may not be near as important as the event itself.

How Young is Too Young?

A few weeks ago, I shared my story and testimony at a church a few hours away.  Before I came up to speak, the Pastor gave a short disclaimer mentioning the topic I was going to share about (rape), saying that what I said would be done tastefully, but parents could choose to take their kids to the nursery or another part of the church if they wanted to.  I completely respect his decision to provide the congregation of his church a heads up on the topic for the day, but there was a part of me that wanted to stand up and add my own disclaimer before people had a chance to remove their kids.  Now, I am not a parent, and obviously every parent needs to decide when is the best time is to talk to their kids about sexual abuse, but personally I feel that many parents may wait too long to speak to their kids about the topic of sexual assault. So many parents feel that they can wait until their children are older to talk to them about sexual assault, but in reality, if your child can understand language, I think the topic of sexual assault should be discussed with them.  Often times, parents aren't sure how to bring this topic up so they tend to rely on the church or school to talk to their kids.  Often times, churches and schools don't talk to the children early enough.  A perfect example of this was talked about by Speaker and Author Nicole Bromley on a TV show called "Everlasting Love".  (You can see the video here:  Nicole was sexually abused by her stepfather from the age of 5 until she was 14.  She mentions on this show that the youngest group of students she's been allowed to speak to is 5th grade.  In addition, she first heard about sexual assault at 5th grade, but at that point, she'd been being sexually abused for 5 years!  She needed that information in Kindergarten.  That's something pretty serious to think about with your own kids.  Of course, no one wants to think that their kids can be abused because a majority of children are abused by someone they know.  No one wants to imagine that someone they know could commit such a heinous act.

If you've read the "My Story" page of this blog, you know that I was raped as a 16 year old teenager.  I had heard of sexual assault before that time.  The problem for me was that it was always portrayed as happening to a certain "stereotype" of victim and by a specific "stereotype" of man - stereotypes that I and the guy who raped me did not meet.  However, as a forensic scientist, I know all too well that abuse happens younger than 5th grade.  I've had victims in my cases as young as 2 years old.  I've had numerous victims in cases that are between the ages of 6-10.  Many had been abused multiple times before they actually tell.  One victim came home to tell her mom she had been abused by her grandfather the day she saw a presentation at school (in 2nd grade) - she'd been being abused for 2 years at that point.  Clearly, this abuse is happening at ages earlier than when the schools and churches want to introduce the topic.

In my opinion, children need to hear about sexual abuse (in age appropriate ways) pretty much as soon as they are able to understand a conversation with them.  At the very least, as soon as they are able to speak more than just a few words.  I've often heard parents say that they want their children to be able to remain innocent as long as possible so they don't want to introduce this topic too soon.  I completely understand that concern.  However, wouldn't you rather have a little of that innocence chipped away by your child hearing about sexual abuse, what it is, that it's not OK, and that they need to tell you if someone ever tries anything remotely like it with them; than having the innocent completely shattered when someone sexually abuses your child numerous times before you have a chance to talk to them about it.  It's the sad but true reality of the world that we live in.

If you want resources on what child sexual abuse is, how prevalent it is, or tips on talking to your children - here are some links that you can check out. - A whole host of publications on the topic of child sexual assault. - A great website resource devoted to child sexual abuse. - Another website with resources about talking to your kids about sexual abuse, and with information as to why kids don't talk about sexual assault. - The Rape Abuse Incest National Network has some great resources on sexual assault, particularly this document with tips on talking to your kids. - Another great article about talking to your kids.

As you can see from this sampling of sites, the resources are out there.  If you don't find the information you want, Google the topic "Talking to kids about sexual abuse" - you'll be taken to these and many other resources on the topic.

"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." - Edmund Burke

God Bless!