Topics converge: rape, safety, sistersPosted: December 19, 2010
It’s been an odd week.
As a self-identified political liberal, I’ve felt myself somewhat in thrall: multiple American liberals (particularly Michael Moore and Keith Olbermann) have suggested that the allegations that Wikileaks founder Julian Assange sexually assaulted two women are spurious – because his organization has been releasing classified documents to the world, and this is a way for the embarrassed governments to retaliate.
I believe that it’s possible for someone to be a good person, or a person who does good and/or important work, and to do really awful things. (Like, say, Thomas Jefferson: a person who helped craft the founding documents of the United States – and yet, a slaveowner, who apparently fathered children with one of his slaves.) I worry that for prominent people to claim that these rape charges are trumped up or faked just to exact some sort of retribution – when – makes it harder for rape victims to feel like they can report their rapes to the authorities and know that they’ll be taken seriously. (See also: what Sady Doyle and Kate Harding have written. I know people who have been sexually assaulted, and I feel like – for their sake – it’s important to share posts like this.)
So: rape has been in the news a lot. Then why am I mentioning that here, on a blog about growing up and growing older with a sibling with disabilities? Because I am a woman, and because Lily is a woman, and this is a news issue that’s important to women.
I’ve had also a situation at work. A man – senior to me, but without direct authority over me – at my institution has been acting in a way that threw up red flags: trying to get my attention by repeatedly coming to my office and sending me emails, without saying why, over a period of weeks. This week, he finally provided a reasonable-sounding statement about why he was seeking my attention; it wasn’t prurient or an abuse of my work hours, but was a somewhat invasive, unprofessional request. My boss knows about it, and is fully supportive of me, but I still feel afraid that this isn’t the end of the situation; frankly, I feel uncomfortable posting this. But I’m doing it…because it is my story, and I want my readers to know why, this week, I am worried about my ability to be a good, protective big sister.
Because in the meantime, ohhhh, in the meantime, also playing out this past week: my sister’s staffing is still in flux. My parents are worried that one of the people who is supposed to be a last resort caretaker if scheduling holes appear…you know, the way they are a lot right now…well, this person is male. My parents don’t feel comfortable with a man being primary caretaker for Lily. We have no evidence of abuses by people in this program, but the level of trust needed to allow someone to help Lily is very, very high. Among other things, she can’t use the toilet unassisted, can’t dress herself, needs physical manipulation to navigate a lot of furniture; there are just too many opportunities for abuses, uncomfortable situations, and accidents. And we know that men and women with disabilities have experienced sexual and other abuses. Thankfully, it sounds like there are mechanisms in place in this program to ensure my sister’s safety, and her legal advocate is aware of the situation and is in agreement with us.
I’ve been friends with people who have studied feminism much more formally than I have for years and years now. I’ve heard them refer to this idea of rape culture, and while I vaguely sensed that I agreed with the idea, it wasn’t something that I had ever internalized fully. Until this week, that is, when I could almost physically feel what it would mean to be pinned down by someone who was continuing with intercourse despite my attempts to make him stop (which is one of the scenarios that I understand Mr. Assange has been accused of perpetrating, as described in a news article I read). I could feel it without any desire to empathize, without any conscious effort to interpret the news story – it just happened that I was suddenly shaken by fear. And it seemed too easy to believe that it would be hard to report an attack and hard to have it be taken seriously…
It is terrifying to think of myself as needing to be one of the guardians of my sister’s safety, in a society where we imagine danger from strangers but know there’s danger from associates, when I myself feel unsafe, when I am living far enough away that I don’t know what’s going on in my sister’s life to be able to be an effective part of the team that keeps her from harm.
Like I said, it’s been an odd week. It’s hard to know which of my emotions and thoughts are unfounded paranoia, and which are reasonable self-protective fears. If you were in my head, wouldn’t you feel the same?