Break the Silence

Last week I talked a lot about what this month means to people, from Poetry to Autism Awareness. Though both of these are very important, if you live on a college campus or have been affected by this kind of situation, you may also know that this month raises perception to one more thing— Sexual Assault.denys-nevozhai-191635.jpg

Whether you watch Netflix, read the book, or found out some other way, people have been raving about the show 13 Reasons Why, based on the 2007 novel by Jay Asher, since it came out on Netflix on the 31st of last month. The show follows the suicide of high school junior Hannah Baker, 13 tapes telling the story of why she did it, and how her actions impact the people around her life. Not only does the show shine a light on several topics that many people do not talk about, but it also vividly depicts the main subject of my blog post; the show reminds us how prevalent, misunderstood, and damaging sexual assault can be.

Considering that I currently live on a public college campus, these numbers are important to pay attention to— according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, “Among undergraduate students, 23.1% of females and 5.4% of males experience rape or sexual assault through physical force, violence, or incapacitation.”

1 in every 6 American women (16%)

3% of American men

“321,500 victims (age 12 or older) of rape and sexual assault each year in the United States.” – RAINN

It doesn’t happen to just women, or college students, or young people… It can happen to anyone and it truly changes people’s lives.

There are countless impacts this kind of interaction can have on a person, ranging from PTSD and mental health issues, to drug use and a strain on personal relationships. This month was brought to light back in the 1970’s by women in England before it spread to San Francisco and NYC in 1978 for the first time in the US. The month became a dedication in the 90’s and since then the rates of sexual assault has gone down by half.

Change has happened. But it is not enough.

The reason I brought the book/show, 13 Reasons Why, into this post is because oftentimes, the term sexual assault is misunderstood. Kind of like misunderstanding what not hearing the word “no” means.laura-aziz-78175.jpg

Not hearing no does not— and never will—  mean yes.

In Jay Asher’s novel, the character who commits the assault on several accounts does not consider what he did against the law or wrong in any sort. For some people believe, if the victim does not expressly and verbally say no, then it’s okay. The problem with this is that the only thing that means yes, is yes. Both victims in 13 Reasons considered their attacker a friend, or at the very least, a peer from school. Neither saw what happened to them coming. Even if they did, they may have had no true power to stop it.

When it comes to any kind of big situation, we generally think of the natural fight or flight response. That being said, in many cases the response is actually fight, flight, or freeze. Problem is, most victims end up doing the third option, not because they cannot fight back but because it is their natural response. Freezing happens to 88% of rape victims and though it is not the victim’s fault, it ultimately leads to the next issue: Victim blaming.

Though it is part of Title 9 and conversation about sexual assault has picked up over the years, it is something that many victims stay silent about when they do not have to. Why? Because, they blame themselves. Whether it ties into dress code idea of female rights, saying that showing our shoulders should not be distracting or mini skirts don’t mean that we are “asking for it”, once it happens, many people still do blame their own actions— men and women alike.

But let’s be clear. If this has happened to you, it is not your fault.

I have seen college campuses with T-shirt confessions on them with sayings from “It stays after you walk away” to “I told you no multiple times but… you did it anyway.” As unfortunate as it is, this is not an uncommon occurrence. For those who have experienced it, it is important to know that not only are you not alone, but your voice is allowed to be heard. There is a reason people who have been through a sexual assault are called victims and they are also people who have to live with what has happened to them. To some people, that is the hardest part. But it isn’t about what you did or didn’t do, it isn’t even about what you decided to wear…miguel-mateo-212333

At this point, it is only about where you go from here in raising your voice, and the support system you have to get you through it. No matter what people go through or the lives that they lead, the support system they have is everything to their future.  

I would like to believe that every person in this world holds all the power they need to achieve what they want— there are a select few events that may happen in our lives that can take that power away from us. Sexual assault is one of them. So today I am breaking what is left of my own silence on the topic, reaching out to anyone who has had this happen to them and raising awareness for those of us who have not. It is time to raise our voices and our heads to the issues going on around us every single day, what we see and more importantly what we do not.

Because when it comes down to it, we are each other’s support systems. And there are people who need us.

For anyone who has been a victim of sexual assault and would like to call the National Sexual Assault Hotline, it is free and confidential, 24/7 at 800-656-HOPE.

woman flowersOn Monday, in light of this blog post, I will be posting a poem I wrote on the topic in my senior year of high school in honor of both Sexual Assault Awareness and National Poetry Month.

Have a beautiful weekend.


This One is For The Women

brooke-cagle-52214It seems that with every month comes something new to discover and a new idea to think about. With March comes Daylight Savings time, the beauty of Spring, and last but never the least, Women’s History Month. Welcome to the celebration of some of the most amazing people I have ever met and the history of the women this nation is built on.

Back in January, I had a small post on the Women’s March, speaking on the Beauty of Standing Up. Just in case you haven’t read it and want to check that out, go ahead and click that link. Last month I told you all about black history, whether it was through poetry, experience, or the help of another perspective. This month, I don’t think I need to tell you all about the importance of Women’s History and how far we’ve come, from the wage battle to the fallacy of equality.

I don’t need to tell you how important women are to each of our lives, both those born female and those not— just take a look at your mother, your sister, your girlfriend, your best friend…

Women are an integral part of this world, I don’t know where I would be without the incredible ladies I am blessed to have in my life.

So here’s to each and every one of them.

Did you know that Women’s History Month aaron-burden-185993.jpgstarted off as just a week in 1978, designated by the the Education Task Force of the Sonoma County (California) Commission in order to educate more people? Fast forward eight years and by then, 14 states had made March Women’s History Month… A year later, in 1987, Congress declared the month nationally

If the history of women in our nation was important enough to go through Congress to add to the monthly celebrations of who we all are, then why are we still struggling to pay attention?

Just like I said that black history is more than a month, and so is Women’s History. There is a wide array of ethnicities, cultures, and people who make up this world that we live in— we ought to be celebrating every single one of them.

Though the definition of a “woman” may be changing to incorporate the circumstances of every person’s life in the 21st century, it does not take away from the incredible potential each woman here in America has. Considering that Wednesday, the 8th, was International Women’s Day, should we still have to fight for the equality that it seems this world knows we deserve to have?

Barely sixty years ago, as a woman, I would not have been admitted to Cal Poly. As a black woman, I may have been hired as cooking staff… Maybe. You noah-hinton-172343see, we’ve come quite a ways from where we used to be in regards to our inclusion as part of society, however, we are still so far behind men that baby steps don’t seem to be enough anymore. Though the genetic difference comes down to a single Y chromosome, apparently it makes all the difference when it comes to wages, career outlook, and even perceived positions of power. 

Women deserve more.

By more, I mean equality in not only the way we work or what we get for working, but in the way we are treated every single day. Stereotypically, women are seen as less intelligent, more emotional, and weak. It still surprises me that people believe women aren’t as strong or capable as men are— have you met my mother? From the woman whom I owe my life (and half my genes) to, to so many others who have changed my life, the this month is a celebration of everything each of us can be. So why not talk about it?

It’s one thing to have a month designated to celebrate a certain group of people, and it’s another thing to actually celebrate it. I feel like there is a tendency to assume we all already know what we need to know, whether it’s the meaning behind this month or the knowledge that comes with it. Let’s be honest, many people believe in the idea that “ignorance is bliss”. Depending on your opinions, sometimes this is true.

When it comes to Women’s History Month, or any culture/group appreciation in general, ignorance is simply just ignorance. Educate yourself. Considering we are in the 21st century, with access to Google and far too much information at the tips of our fingers, there is no longer any excuse as to why we do not know who people james-douglas-730.jpglike Helen Keller and Dr. Sally Ride are. These months are more than a label, the titles are more than suggestions, and these women…

They make up 3.4 billion of the world population.

This is a call for action, to understand why we have this month designated to 3.4 billion people. This is a month where I want to say thank you to each and every woman who has impacted my life, from my teachers to my best friends. This is a time for women empowerment.

May it forever be more than just a month.