In October, it will have been 20 years since I wrote my first Uncensored column. The subject of that column was sexual assault, a topic that I’ve covered again and again. The column was written in response to a series of ignorant letters to the editor written about rape by men from the Boulder community. There had been a series of rapes on or near the Boulder Creek Path that previous summer, and a U.S. servicewoman who had been taken prisoner during Gulf War I had been sexually assaulted.
Responses to these incidents were revolting — and sickeningly predictable. The victims were blamed in all cases, both those who’d been dragged into bushes, beaten and raped and the one who’d been shot down, imprisoned and raped. Women were told to stay off the creek path at night if they didn’t want to “get raped.” Further, we were told that any woman who served in the military should “expect” to get raped. After all, war is a job for men.
Reading these letters enraged me so very much that I turned on my boxy little Mac Classic and pounded out a response. And thus began Uncensored — and my journalism career.
Though those letters were the catalyst, what truly drove me to respond was something much deeper, much more private. I am a rape survivor.
As I revealed in this column a few years past, I was sexually assaulted in 1974 at the age of 10 by the father of a classmate after knocking on her door and asking if she could play. Her father told me she wasn’t home but invited me in to wait. We were alone. He assaulted me on the living room floor while Soul Train played on the television. For a long time, I remained silent.
The grief, despair, fear and rage created inside me as a result of that single, brief experience have been with me ever since. The event was a watershed. Quite simply, there was before, and there was after. Fourth grade had been a year of running on the playground, trying out swear words, and getting in trouble for kissing a boy in class. Fifth grade was a living hell, a year of night terrors and depression, of deep confusion and self-loathing.
Grief. Despair. Fear. Rage.
There is not a rape victim on this earth who does not recognize those emotions. They stayed in my heart as I got older, affecting my choices, my relationships, my very perception of life. But something happened when I wrote that first column. When I put words into action in an attempt to speak out for other victims of this terrible crime, the emotions that had left me feeling broken and weak transformed into a source of strength. And my voice, once silent, became powerful.
But however far we’ve come since 1974, we still have a long way to go. The same kind of victim-blaming that drove me to write my first column is alive and well. Women who are raped are still shamed and blamed for how they dress and when and where they walk. And recently Fox News pundit Liz Trotta suggested that women in today’s military should just “expect” to be raped.
April has been designated Sexual Assault Awareness Month in the United States with the theme, “It’s time to talk about it.” Gov. John Hickenlooper signed a proclamation asking us all to “recommit ourselves not only to lifting the veil of secrecy and shame surround sexual violence, but also raising awareness, expanding support for victims and strengthening our response.”
On Tuesday, April 3, the Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault (CCASA) will hold a rally from noon to 1 p.m. on the west steps of the state Capitol in Denver.
Please come and join your voice with mine.
Editor’s note: At the event, Boulder Weekly Contributing Editor Pamela White and Fort Morgan Times Editor John LaPorte will receive CCASA’s Excellence in Media award for their work as journalists covering the issue of sexual assault.
To learn more about sexual assault and what you can do to help create change, visit www.MovingtoEndSexualAssault. org. For more about Sexual Assault Awareness Month and the schedule of events at Tuesday’s rally, go to www. ccasa.org. For help, call the rape crisis hotline: 303-443-7300.