• The woman that Brock Turner raped behind a dumpster in Palo Alto courageously published her story, and ignited a fire.  Woman after woman, sharing stories of sexual abuse, rape, sexual assault, sexual harassment.  The ‘statistics’ say that one in four of us are survivors of assault.  My personal experience indicates that the true numbers are much higher than that.

There are a number of reasons that the statistics aren’t remotely accurate.  Sometimes, our brain shuts down and we don’t remember what happened.  Sometimes, we don’t realize that what happened to us was rape until long after the fact.  Sometimes, we know right away, but don’t tell anyone because we feel ashamed or embarrassed.  Sometimes, we tell people, but they don’t believe us, or urge us not to report.  Sometimes we tell people, they urge us to report, and the police decline to pursue the matter.  Sometimes, the police build a case, which feels like another violation, and it settles out of court.  Sometimes, we go to court, put up with our morals, clothing choices, and character being ripped to shreds, and the rapist gets off.  Sometimes, the rapist is found guilty, but is only given a slap on the wrist.  (I’m talking about you, Brock Turner.)

There are so few stories that have fair and just endings to them.  Sharing them would seem to only cause us more pain.  But this week, we’ve been shown, quite remarkably, that there is a point to speaking up.   While the two Swedish students are heroes, so is the woman who, without flinching, told her story from start to finish and shared it with the world. In the face of that kind of bravery, others of us are inspired to speak, and a feeling of solidarity starts to spread.  A righteous rage builds in the hearts of survivors, all women, and male allies.  We find the courage to rise up, to speak truth to patriarchy, to claim our power to DEMAND change.

We are not faceless, nameless statistics, we whose bodies have been violated.  We are human beings, facing irreversible consequences, and our lives and our stories matter.  I have read every account I’ve come across, opening my heart to the pain, the shame, the fury that results.  And I offer my story in solidarity.

I was raped at the age of 15 at a Unitarian Universalist youth conference.  I didn’t call it rape at first, because when I refused to have intercourse because he didn’t have birth control, he ‘allowed’ me (i.e. forced me) to perform oral sex instead.  When it was over, I wanted to die.  This was my introduction to sexuality, and it’s colored and limited every relationship I’ve had since.

Typically, when I tell people what happened to me, they tell their stories in return.  These stories, though buried deep, are often festering.  They burst out when it becomes clear that I am a survivor, too- and so won’t minimize, shame, or further harm the person I am listening to. Yet I’ve also been censured, admonished that it’s not appropriate to force people to face the ugliness of what I endured.  So many of us are so very attached to the illusion that the world is a safe place for women, who will be romanced and revered and respected.  I get it.  I want that world, too.

But the only way to create that world is to  let go of the illusion and forge the reality, with our rage and our tears and our deep, desperate hope that our daughters might not have to live through what we did.  We must teach our children about consent.  We must teach our children how to accept responsibility for their actions.  We must expose the rape culture to the light of day.

I’ve come to believe that Patriarchy rests at the core of many of the world’s most difficult challenges.  Patriarchy drives war.  Patriarchy enables environmental degradation, because it places ‘man’ above ‘nature.’  Patriarchy trains some human beings to see themselves as ‘better’ than other human beings, making them vulnerable to racism and heterosexism and trans-phobia and other forms of oppression.

If we want the world we are longing for, we have to shatter the patriarchy.  We women need to claim our stories and our power.  We need to claim our righteous rage and our deepest dreams.  We need to rise, together, hands joined, to say, “no more.”  Whether it’s ‘one in four’ or I am right and it’s far, far more, even one in four million would be one too many.