[Editor’s Note: When this was originally posted, due to the large number of people attempting to access it simultaneously, the blog crashed. I have recreated it here.]
by Petula Caesar
As I spend more and more time examining the people, events and politics that make up Baltimore’s performance arts scene, the more I find great stories about great talents. But I also find other stories. This is one of those other stories. It is an important story, and needs to be told and openly discussed by men and women alike. But in particular, I am hoping that men will read this story and consider the women they love, like, and respect in their lives as they do – their mothers, sisters, girlfriends, home girls, cousins, aunts, best friends, co-workers, and on and on and on.
It is the story of sexual assault against women.
Over the past month or so, I have been approached by a couple of women who alleged to be victims of sexual assault, and that their assailant was part of this city’s performance arts community. I put a post on my Facebook page asking other women to share their stories, and soon my email and inbox were flooded. These women’s stories had great similarities – these were artists they befriended by seeing them frequently at open mics around the city and similar events. These women often had high opinions of these people and their work. After using that familiarity to get to know them, a level of trust was established that was horribly violated by the assault. None of these women ever reported their assaults to the authorities – all feared they would be “shamed” because they all felt they bore some responsibility for their assault. At the bare minimum, these women felt they would be condemned for what some might consider “lapses in judgment.” But no one, male or female, should ever have to pay for a “lapse in judgment” by allowing their bodies to be violated as some kind of karmatic punishment, payment, or comeuppance.
I got these statistics from the Rape and Incest National Network, and I am going to apply them to a fictitious open mic.
At least one out of every six American women have been the victims of an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime (14.8% completed rape; 2.8% attempted rape). (Prevalence, Incidence and Consequences of Violence Against Women Survey, National Institute of Justice and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1998). That means if you go to an open mic that has 60 women there, at least ten of them have been the victims of an attempted or completed rape.
Approximately 66% of rape victims know their assailant. (2000 NCVS). Approximately 48% of victims are raped by a friend or acquaintance; 30% by a stranger; 16% by an intimate partner; 2% by another relative; and in 4% of cases the relationship is unknown. (2000 NCVS). That means if you go to that open mic with those ten women who were victims of an attempted or completed rape, more than six of them knew their assailant in some capacity. (This also means if you know a woman well enough to know most of her friends and acquaintances, you could know her assailant.)
About four out of ten sexual assaults take place at the victim’s own home. Two in ten take place in the home of a friend, neighbor or relative. More than half of all rape/sexual assault incidents were reported by victims to have occurred within one mile of their home or at their home. That means of those women at the open mic who were victims of an attempted or completed rape, more than half were in what they considered a safe place – their home or the home of someone they were familiar with.
All of this points to very small degrees of separation between these women and those who assaulted them in many cases. This is quite frightening, especially since most of us in the performance arts community around here, whether performers or spectators, don’t think there could be these types of individuals in our midst. Most men don’t think they have friends like that – they feel their circles are primarily made up of fine upstanding men who would never do such a thing and who would kick the ass of anyone who did. Most women think the men they know are not sexual predators, or that the men they know don’t need to “take it” to “get ass” as it were. And those who have been victims of predators say nothing for fear of having to explain why they went to the venue in that outfit, why they talked to him so long, why they didn’t know he was a sexual predator, why didn’t their intuition go off, why they decided to go home with him at 2 a.m., or why they just didn’t go along with the program since they had to know what he wanted.
I am not entirely sure what we as the “village” should do about this. But I do know it starts with conversation. Discussion. It starts will all of us speaking openly about our experiences, without fear or shame. It starts with victims being brave enough to speak out, and those of us around them supporting and honoring their bravery. It starts with MEN having this conversations, and not remaining silent because this is a “woman’s topic”. It starts with men checking other men to make sure they are truly being honorable in ALL their interactions with women, and especially checking the ones that they know aren’t. I want this space to be a safe place for everyone to begin their discussion, share their stories, and be brave. To that end, I offer you one woman’s story of assault. She is one of several that have been shared with me, but she was the first willing to publicly disclose her story.
If you have any comments, feel free to reach out to me at email@example.com.
“Several years ago, I was attacked by one of Baltimore’s spoken word artists. He had a birthday party, and since we were born in the same month, he invited me to come through. There were only five of us there — three men and two women. We played some game, a game that I lost, and I had to drink a shot of Jack. I don’t drink, but I wanted to be a good sport. A few minutes after I took my drink, the birthday boy, his friend and the other woman, went to a corner to “discuss the next game”. I stayed on the couch and played with my phone. The friend left the “huddle” for a second, came over and kissed me right on the mouth. I liked him so I didn’t move away. I ended up disrobing and getting together with his friend for a little bit.
I know I should not have messed with his friend, played the game, or even come to the party, and that’s what I was thinking when birthday boy came into the room and tried to grab my butt while I was getting dressed. I hit his hand and told him ‘no’. He tried again, lifting my tunic. I hit him again and told him to stop. He told me, “I wanna see your ass”. I kept telling him ‘no’ and telling him to ‘stop’. Then he grabbed me and pinned me to a wall with his body and started groping me. I kept saying ‘stop’ and trying to get him off of me. He tried to pry my legs open telling me, “You let my man’s get it. I want some too.”
The next morning, he texted me. “Thanks for coming! You’re a trooper!”
I have felt dirty and powerless every since. My stomach literally turns at the thought of him…literally. I have thrown up when his name is mentioned. I smell him when I see pics of him with my friends. If I run into him at a venue, my legs go weak but I want to run or fight. I can’t do any of it. He sees me and he sneers. I’m so tired.
But I am also angry. Nobody wants to hear us “whine and be victims” but they will sit in the audience and applaud the man responsible. Speaking up is seen as complaining, meanwhile this “activist” is onstage trolling for more victims. Some of those I have told about this have continued to support him, ensuring that rape culture and acceptance remain alive and thriving in Baltimore’s art scene.”