The Gauntlet Has Been Thrown (Both Barrels)

{You should read yesterday's story The Wall before reading this. In the four years since I wrote Both Barrels I have gained a fuller understanding of how daunting change will be, and how programmed and trapped so many "professional victims" are. I thought about ameliorating the words, but my goal, my hope, my prayer, my call to rage is action, and for that, I would risk burning the world to the ground.}

The Hyperion Chronicles
"Come and Get Me"

#352 Both Barrels

A little girl was raped in your neighborhood yesterday.

How did you feel when you read that sentence? Were you uncomfortable? Did it bother you to read it? Did you resent me for writing it? Did the whole experience make you upset at all? If no, why not? And if so, just one more question: why didn’t you feel that way yesterday.

When it comes to the standards of safety and well-being, Western society has come a long way. Despite a grossly myopic misunderstanding of history, most are far better off now than in centuries’ past. There are still places where it is dangerous to walk at night, or to walk any time with an unfavorable skin pigmentation, but the very fact we recognize this and show concern speaks to the vast improvements made, as it used to be the plight for everyone everywhere.

But there is one place that—shockingly—has not gotten safer, or maybe it has, but the progress lags so far behind the rest of society that the failure is more glaring. I speak of the home. Every day women—and men—and especially children, are subjected to waking nightmares from which they cannot escape. And while we have all the programs in the world that are supposed to fix the problem, there is a still a culture of permissiveness, an unwillingness for many to get involved.

“It’s not my business.” This is the rationale, the excuse. How many women have you known in an abusive relationship? How many times did you hear some lame excuse about how she tripped, or wondered why she stayed with someone who terrorized her? We’re all part of this problem.

It starts early.

A little boy, a little girl, is often abused in the home; a close relative or a trusted friend. Fully functioning adults are scarcely capable of separating the myriad feelings that come from such a personal betrayal. For children it is almost impossible. The damage inflicted runs deep; the scars last forever. And those children learn a warped sense of right and wrong, how to behave, and the proper expression of love.

The boys can look forward to a lifetime of crippling emotional problems, alienation from society, and an unsympathetic world that still often views male emotions as the domain of fags. Sadly, these boys will often grow up to become abusers themselves, perpetuating the violence in an endless cycle of futile attempts to exorcise their own pain.

The little girls have it no better. Often the sexual abuse gets confused in their identity and how they relate to males. Daddy only loved me when I let him do this. Therefore, other men will only love me if I do the same. It seems simplistic and condescending, but how many of these girls become sexually permissive when they hit their teens? Are they all just loose women making bad choices? Or do the roots run much deeper?

Adulthood doesn’t hold much more promise of peace. If she’s lucky, a woman can expect to have difficulty relating to boyfriends or a husband. Many, though, unwittingly end up again and again with men who continue to abuse them emotionally, physically, and sexually. They cannot figure out what they are doing wrong. Worst of all, they bring monsters into their own home who end up doing the same to their children, as was done to them, their mothers, and grandmothers before them.

The numbers are so staggering that they become abstractions. One in three girls is sexually abused by the time she is 18. No, wait. I just read a study claiming that number is blown out of proportion. The real figure is more like one in four. Thank Christ. Please cancel my moral sense of outrage and allow me to go back to my uninterrupted daily life.1

Don’t care for my words? Don’t appreciate my tone? Why is this the thing that bothers you? I know not your heart individually, but I do know that we as a society are failing. Why we are not angry enough to commit murder is beyond me. Oh, people get up in arms every once in awhile. We hear on the news of a little girl abducted from her home, and the cable channels cover it obsessively for awhile, but eventually they move on to something else, and we too let our attention wander. What about the children in your own neighborhood? The ones who don’t have television crews camped out on the front lawn interviewing neighbors, and scads of volunteers looking. What about the kids who were not abducted, but wish they could be? Are you out looking for them?

Then there are the worst offenders: those who know something might be up, but complicitly stay silent. You know the woman may be in a bad situation. You shake your head, but do nothing. You know that the man shouldn’t be trusted around children, so you keep your own away from him, but neglect to tell anyone else.

This is especially true in extended families. I have news for you: it is not just the wrong side of the tracks that produces abusers. It is everywhere: even yours. It happens so often that it sometimes becomes a joke. I remember Chris Rock in a comedy routine talking about how every family had “that molester uncle.” The audience laughed. It was funny because they knew it was true.

Why, you might ask, are these abusers not exposed? I really don’t know, but my guess is denial and embarrassment. What it comes right down to is the unwillingness of people to venture outside of their safe little homes. If they are lucky enough to have escaped it themselves, they certainly don’t want to think about what their friends and neighbors might be doing behind closed doors. People don’t want to admit that someone they have known and lived with all of their lives might be committing these acts; that there are wolves among them.

Well, I say fuck their embarrassment. Do I anger you with my choice of words? Well, fuck your anger too. Do you understand what I am talking about? A little boy, a little girl—if they are lucky—are asked to touch some adult’s penis. They are touched themselves. At worst their legs are pulled apart and their vagina or rectum is penetrated.

These are ugly words. It is an unspeakably ugly thing. You should be furious. You should have so much anger in your heart at those who do this that you would do anything to bring them to justice. And you should have almost as much anger for those who cover it up, who do nothing. You tell me now my words are inappropriate. My question is, why haven’t you been using them?

So what do we do?2

This problem isn’t going away over night. If I could I’d execute every single child abuser on the planet, but that’s not going to happen right now. We have in place an entrenched system that punishes those who speak out. This must stop. It begins with us. We must absolutely demand that people do not stand by idly while abuse happens. It is now illegal to watch someone die and not at least go for help. It should be no different here.

I know it is uncomfortable; no one likes talking about it. But your discomfort—and mine—is a small price to pay to protect these children. It must be the norm to report this behavior aggressively, and the shame should come for those people who do not.

Women have to play a part too. The odds are I am never going to be sexually assaulted, so I cannot speak to the fear a woman might have just getting out of the car, in a situation I wouldn’t think twice about. I am not passing judgment, and my heart breaks.

But I have seen the statistics. I know how often an abused woman will raise children who will also be abused, and I cannot sit silent while this epidemic continues generation after generation. Somehow, we have to get to the point where victims are not ashamed. If someone is murdered, the name is not withheld, because everyone understands they were a victim. But when it comes to rape, we keep everything hush hush. This is, in part, what lets the vast majority of rapists get away with it.

There is no magic formula to just fix this overnight. But we have to see that as the goal. We have to want to get to a place where without question you would report a sexual crime, just as you would a murder or robbery.

Beyond that, though, there is a generation of women, survivors of abuse, who need help learning how their behaviors can be unhealthy and can become pathology. Understand: in no way am I placing the blame for rape or assault on a girl because of her clothing or how much she might drink. But the fact is that most rapists, these wolves among us, prey on girls who have been victimized in the past; who have unwittingly become professional victims. These girls often don’t make the smartest decisions leading up to things, and they feel guilty afterwards, as if it is their fault, and they don’t report it.

Some victim's rights groups actively ignore this part of the equation, mainly because it makes it seem like women are to blame. I am not saying that. I don’t think anyone who knows me could attest otherwise. But it is part of the equation. For many girls, trouble comes because, despite everything they know, they still like the creep. For those of you who have been there or know someone who has, you know what I am saying is true.

I used to work with a girl, 16 years old. Her dad raped her repeatedly growing up, and then her brother. Now she had a 25 year old boyfriend. He would often rape her too, and on special occasions pass her around to his friends. But she kept going back.

I only wish I were making that up. I want to live in a world where I didn’t have to take matters into my own hands, where that doesn’t happen every day. Where a boy isn’t abused and grows up to be like that girl’s father. Where that girl is not raped by her own father and brother, imprinting upon her the idea that she must let men abuse her to receive love. Where she understands that she is worthy, and that a crime against her is worth reporting and prosecuting, no matter what has gone on before.

We don’t live in that world, but I desperately want to. And so, I take the step of writing this column, knowing full well I will offend many, some egregiously. I do this because I want people to be more aware of what is going on out there, to look for the signs3, to at the very least be available for someone to talk to, and not pass judgment. I do this know that I risk opening old wounds, bringing up pain long buried, and on a personal level I risk losing many of my readers.

Knowing all of that, it is worth it to me. We simply have to do something, and it starts with me. This is what I believe. This is what I feel more strongly about than anything on Earth. This is where I draw my line. This is for what I load my gun, and am willing to unload both barrels.

May 12, 2005

1 This comes from an article I read a few months ago where the author spent the entire time arguing that the 1 in 3 number was a myth, and it was really 1 in 4. My point is: if it were 1 in 5 or even 1in 10, would you be any less mad? That one in ten children are abused by an adult they trust?
3 Here are some of the signs of sexual abuse in kids:

Thanks to Koz, Quincy and Alcott for feedback

You have read this column. There is not now--if there ever was--any claim that you did not know. Your task is to do something, ANYTHING, to make a change. I hold each and every one of you completely responsible from this day on if such a child, such a woman passes your path and you do nothing. You've been warned.

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