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4.05.2009

Take Back The Night

Last Friday was my first Take Back The Night and it was more than I ever expected it to be. After volunteering at the shelter for a few hours after class I went with M. to a special presention for community leaders on sexual assault presented by Michael Domitrz. Despite being a small group the audience represented at least five local agencies committed to helping victims of sexual assault and domestic violence and I was really happy with the turnout. I enjoyed Domitz's presentation but I wasn't particularly impressed and I had trouble seeing how most of his points applied to our agency. The main focus of his presentation was improving public relations and establishing community support, which thankfully has not been a problem in our area. Our campus does an amazing job with promoting awareness and educating students about sexual assault and has a very effective peer advocacy group. Our agency, Womens' Aid, is also very well-known and supported by the community along with several other organizations. I think that the struggle that most agencies have is not educating the community about our services, its the lack of resources we have to provide those services...but I'll save that for another post.

After the private presentation the auditorium filled up to about three hundred students and Domitrz gave his "May I Kiss You?" presention. This is where he won me over. I had been expecting this presentation to the same as the other half dozen sexual assault presentations I've heard since middle school and was surprised when it made me reevaluate how I thought about consent. I realized "May I kiss you?" was more than a gimmick, it was a revolutionary concept. For years the discussion surrounding consent could be reduced to the simple slogan, no means no, but how many times are we taught to ask, to give our partner a choice? Two days later and I can't shake that simple, frustrating question from my mind. The idea that we should respect our partners and ask for permission before engaging in any intimate contact with them and then honor their choice should not be not a revolutionary idea.

When Domitrz shared with the audience his experience as the brother of a sexual assault survivor and how it changed his family and inspired him to devote his life to prevention and education it made me appreciate him on a whole new level. He then encouraged everyone in the audience to contact a loved one and let them know that if they are ever assaulted that they'd be there for them. While he wanted the audience to open the door for a loved to ask for help, to be there and listen, but he also emphasized that it was important to make sure that they have the resources they need and that they should not try to become their counselor, for their sake and yours. This is something I struggle with. So many of my friends and family members have been sexually assualted and its difficult for me to refer them to someone else. It feels as though I'm rejecting or neglecting them. But I know, even with my training, I'm not in a position to offer that sort of support. I wish I wasn't so painfully aware of my limitations.

I was still preoccupied with these thoughts after we gathered for the march but once it began I got caught up in the excitement. I've never particapated in any sort of rally or march before and was skeptical about their impact. But after marching across town, hearing the honks of support from passing cars, the 'hell yeahs' of passing students, and even picking up a few new marchers on the way, I saw things differently. If the effect that such fierce support had on the many survivors there, providing them with encouragement and strength, isn't a meaningful message then I don't know what is. The march ended with a speak-out downtown. Even though we were all exhausted and had only planned on gathering for an hour or so, there were so many people who wanted to share their experience that we run way over time. By time I got home it was almost midnight, my feet were aching and my head was spinning, but I'm so glad I went. I've been feeling burned out lately and needed to rediscover that spark...

1 comments:

meninmytown said...

My name is Keith Smith. I was abducted, beaten and raped by a stranger. It wasn't a neighbor, a coach, a relative, a family friend or teacher. It was a recidivist pedophile predator who spent time in prison for previous sex crimes; an animal hunting for victims in the quite, bucolic, suburban neighborhoods of Lincoln, Rhode Island.

I was able to identify the guy and the car he was driving. Although he was arrested that night and indicted a few months later, he never went to trial. His trial never took place because he was brutally beaten to death in Providence before his court date. 34 years later, no one has ever been charged with the crime.

In the time between the night of my assault and the night he was murdered, I lived in fear. I was afraid he was still around town. Afraid he was looking for me. Afraid he would track me down and kill me. The fear didn’t go away when he was murdered. Although he was no longer a threat, the simple life and innocence of a 14-year-old boy was gone forever. Carefree childhood thoughts replaced with the unrelenting realization that my world wasn’t a safe place. My peace shattered by a horrific criminal act of sexual violence.

Over the past 34 years, I’ve been haunted by horrible, recurring memories of what he did to me. He visits me in my sleep. There have been dreams–nightmares actually–dozens of them, sweat inducing, yelling-in-my-sleep nightmares filled with images and emotions as real as they were when it actually happened. It doesn’t get easier over time. Long dead, he still visits me, silently sneaking up from out of nowhere when I least expect it. From the grave, he sits by my side on the couch every time the evening news reports a child abduction or sex crime. I don’t watch America’s Most Wanted or Law and Order SVU, because the stories are a catalyst, triggering long suppressed emotions, feelings, memories, fear and horror. Real life horror stories rip painful suppressed memories out from where they hide, from that recessed place in my brain that stores dark, dangerous, horrible memories. It happened when William Bonin confessed to abducting, raping and murdering 14 boys in California; when Jesse Timmendequas raped and murdered Megan Kanka in New Jersey; when Ben Ownby, missing for four days, and Shawn Hornbeck, missing for four years, were recovered in Missouri.

Despite what happened that night and the constant reminders that continue to haunt me years later, I wouldn’t change what happened. The animal that attacked me was a serial predator, a violent pedophile trolling my neighborhood in Lincoln, Rhode Island looking for young boys. He beat me, raped me, and I stayed alive. I lived to see him arrested, indicted and murdered. It might not have turned out this way if he had grabbed one of my friends or another kid from my neighborhood. Perhaps he’d still be alive. Perhaps there would be dozens of more victims and perhaps he would have progressed to the point of silencing his victims by murdering them.

Out of fear, shame and guilt, I’ve been silent for over three decades, not sharing with anyone the story of what happened to me. No more. The silence has to end. What happened to me wasn't my fault. The fear, the shame, the guilt have to go. It’s time to stop keeping this secret from the people closest to me, people I care about, people I love, my long-time friends and my family. It’s time to speak out to raise public awareness of male sexual assault, to let other victims know that they’re not alone and to help victims of rape and violent crime understand that the emotion, fear and memories that may still haunt them are not uncommon to those of us who have shared a similar experience.

For those who suffer in silence, I hope my story brings some comfort, strength, peace and hope.

My novel, Men in My Town, was inspired by these actual events. Men in My Town is available now at www.Amazon.com

For additional information, please visit the Men in My Town blog at www.meninmytown.wordpress.com