The Shaman

I recently came across an open letter to a man I once thought I knew. His name is Colin Garland, the owner of Raven Adventures/The Global Classroom.

The letter, written by a woman only two years my senior, details the multiple encounters she had with Colin, all of which were manipulative and abusive, and many of which involved rape.

It was a challenging read. However, the difficulty did not lay in struggling to believe the author’s account of her experience with Colin. Instead, I was forced to sit with the pain that came with remembering my time with this man and how all of his actions fit so neatly into the pattern of abuse described by the author. There was no relief in the realization that my gut instinct over our last few interactions had been correct.

I met Colin through my highschool ecology teacher Will Kiendzior. We dedicated a class to showcase the myriad adventures Colin had been on in Costa Rica and Mexico. We were invited to embark on his annual trip with students from my highschool to Central America to explore and learn about his conservation efforts.

Yesterday, before his website was taken down, I scrolled through all the pictures of former students, all about 16 years old. Some I knew personally. I wondered how many have had similarly alarming and abusive experiences with him. I felt sick to my stomach.

Admittedly, it was not my time spent with Colin in Mexico that makes me uneasy. Though tainted now, I thoroughly enjoyed the trip. Still, I have a distinct memory of affection and praise with which he showered my best friend. He marveled at the symbols she drew in the sand, saying they were rich with meaning and that she was clearly in tune to something greater. After we got home, she spent weeks corresponding with Colin through email. I was envious of the attention she received. I was frustrated that he didn’t see that I too felt I had something deep, primal, and attuned to something beyond myself.

Six years later I was in Israel when I received a message from Colin, telling me that I had been on his radar. He told me that he had been thinking of me for a long time but had hesitated to reach out. We made plans to see each other the next time he was back in Massachusetts.

In the time before he made his return I began to confide in him about my history of depression and the difficult childhood that had led me there. In fact, I later posted a short series on this blog entitled “Letters to Colin” that I copied from those letters that unreservedly and unapologetically detailed my disjointed upbringing and early introduction to mental illness. It was clear that I sought to heal in some way and Colin appointed himself the one who could do it.

It wasn’t long after that that he told me I was a woman coming into my power. He told me tales of my psychic ability. He urged me to travel with him, to allow him to teach me the ways of a healer. He spoke of Native American customs, of the medicine wheel, of shapeshifting. He told me that I simply hadn’t made love until both me and my partner had shifted into the form of a dolphin. He of course, was the one to teach me.

I remember that he was hesitant that I wanted to bring my boyfriend the night I agreed to come to his house for a healing session. I remember that up to that point, and for some time after our messages on Facebook somehow made me uncomfortable. In nearly every message he told me how much he loved me and how beautiful I was. I pushed my misgivings aside. After all, Colin was a Healer and wanted to help me. I was certain that the issue lay within myself; I wasn’t used to being loved so purely. I wasn’t being open. I needed him to heal me. I thought of the time I had heard that Colin had slept with a former classmate of mine, nearly 30 years his junior. I pushed the thought out of my head, convincing myself I did not understand the experience or the depth of Colin’s love and shamanic powers.

Now, when I reread our messages and see how I exposed my vulnerability to him I am uneasy. I realize now that this was not a safe place; his intentions were more sinister than I initially knew. While I thought I was seeking solace in a wizened old friend, I was playing squarely into the grooming tactics of a well-rehearsed predator.

I believe that as humans, we all have a deep-seated desire to be seen. We feel that there is something more we can offer the world, if only we had the means to let that part of us out. And I imagine this is particularly true of women, as we frequently have to prove ourselves as worthy and capable in ways that men do not. Colin Garland, pseudo spiritual leader, has found the perfect way to prey on young women and girls via this innate human condition. He fancies himself a shaman and uses his influence to create a harem of women to exercise his manipulation, abuse, and assault.

There are countless women who have had similar experiences with this wannabe cult leader. I am fortunate that my own did not escalate past this degree. Please consider the ties you have to this man and others who exhibit this behavior within your community.

 

A page has been set up as a platform for other victims and their supporters. Please share widely.

UPDATE: Another woman has written of her abuse at the hands of Colin Garland. TW – sexual assault

 

Note to self.

When he posts those kind of pictures –yes those ones— the kind you asked him not to, he is the person you were afraid he could be.

When he tells you to forget him and find someone new, only to punish you for weeks and weeks and months and months when you try to follow his advice, to relieve yourself of the heartache and ashes and rubble he has left behind, he is the person you hoped he was not.

When you are suffering and cannot leave your bed, researching lethal dosages of household medication, and he will not come — when you put down your best friend’s dog and are choking on your tears and you beg for him, but he refuses, he is not the person you loved.

When you plead for him to call you for some reason – any reason- except to feel your lips wrapped around his dick, and he resents you, gaslights you, he is poison.

He is not who you believe he might be.

He is not who you’re sure he could be.

There is nothing to read between the lines of,  “Are we ever going to get another guy?” and days of silence.

He is not your fantasy.

He is only what he does.

 

 

It Never Stops

Two things happened this month.

Two things happened  that reminded me that as much as I speak out, as much as I push back, as much as I try to stand my ground, my body does not belong to me. Indeed, my desires are often irrelevant and my pleasure decided for me. It seems I was created for consumption.

Unsurprisingly, one of these things happened at my job. The restaurant industry continues to be very successful in reminding women that we are mere objects to lust after and harass while breeding men to perpetuate this construct. The restaurant at which I work currently is one of the safest places I’ve been employed. Still, it has its flaws, and it is no exception to the standard Kitchen Culture, despite the owners’ best efforts.

I was confronted by one of the cooks in April. He glared at me out of the corner of his eye as he hunched his gaunt frame over itself to tie his shoe.

“So you’d really never go out with me?” he spat impatiently, as though this was a discussion we’d been having for hours.

What?” I asked, taken aback.

Chris continued his rant bitterly, explaining that he had asked around regarding the state of my romantic life and found displeasure in the results. I stood by and mumbled an apology to his rhetoric.

This interaction marred our relationship, which had previously been friendly, if a bit superficial. As his vitriol refused to wane, so did my discomfort. I was frustrated, not only by being the recipient of such unwarranted venom simply for having a life and relationships outside of my workplace, but by Chris’s manner of ascertaining the details of my life. Never did he speak to me about my feelings or ideas or aspirations or experiences. To him, I was not a sentient being, but a plaything that belonged to someone else.

Over the course of the next few weeks his anger did not subside; it reared its head when I checked my phone for texts or mentioned Matthew near him. But as Chris’s resentment refused to wane, so too did his unwelcome advances. For every scowl there was a plea: “I’ll be good to you. Come on. I’ll treat you right.” The irony was lost on him.

Soon his words and glances no longer satisfied him. One day he came up behind me and begged in earnest for me to allow him to grab my hips. His hands pinched the air as I quickly moved away and gave him a sharp, impatient, “No!” Not long after this incident I found myself trapped by the ice machine as he rubbed his ass on my waitressing apron to the beat of the song playing in the cafe. My threats were immediate and fierce. Still, as he ran to the other side of the kitchen, I was left alone by that ice machine, overtaken by my sense of powerlessness to these situations.

 

*

 

Last week I woke up next to my boyfriend. In the dim morning light our still-sleepy hands found each other’s bodies as we kissed the night from our lips. Slowly, but not without certainty, Matthew worked his way from my mouth, to my neck, to my breasts, and continued downward.

“No, babe. Not now,” I whispered.

“Why?”

Annoyed: “I don’t need to give you a reason.”

He looked hurt. Still, it was too early to have an in depth discussion about consent. I relented:

“Because I haven’t showered, I need to shave, and I don’t feel sexy right now.”

“That’s the reason?” He was skeptical. But after a pause, “I just wanted you to communicate with me, Marie.”

“I don’t need to communicate that to you! I don’t have to fucking explain why I’m saying no!”

Matthew rolled over, taken aback by my sudden fury. I sat for a moment, aware that his questioning stemmed from a place of naivete and not one of dominance or ill will.  I knew his eagerness and commitment to my pleasure and that this situation, poorly handled as it may have been, was a result of that. I sighed, softening a bit, as my hand traced the the curve of his back.

“Babe, listen. Here is my typical day:

I go to work, where I get harassed. I am leered at all day by my some of my coworkers. Then, I walk down the street and get catcalled and harassed in Central Square in Cambridge. Isn’t this supposed to be some sort of fucking liberal bastion?

Next, I go home, and my own boyfriend doesn’t want to take no for an answer. Tell me: when do I get to have autonomy over my own body? When?!

He turned to me, his brown eyes wide and intense, “You do!”

“Do I? Then why should your desires override my consent to my body?”

Pause.

Regret filled his eyes and his apologies were the heartfelt words of someone who has gained new understanding. He laced his fingers through mine as he voiced his last concern, “But babe, that stuff about work? I thought that had stopped.”

It wasn’t often that I spoke to him of the harassment I encountered at work and on the street. The days I came to him, sputtering stories of encounters I had, were the days that I had reached the end of my patience and could no longer ignore it.

“No, Matthew, it never stops.”

 

 

Apparently I’m writing a series on sexual harassment. Bummer.

Related:

Fea

Tales from the Diner

Kitchen Culture: Why I won’t Stop Talking about the Route 9 Diner

 

 

 

An Open Letter to Lindsey Stirling

Hey Lindsey-

I have a bone to pick with you.

Last week you came to Boston and I was fortunate enough to see you at the Blue Hills Pavilion. I have been listening to your music for the last few years and I have been hooked ever since the first song I heard. Your show was beautiful. Sharing your music with some of my closest friends and my very musically-inclined boyfriend satisfied me in a way that not much else can. But the truth is that you said some things that truly marred the evening for me and I haven’t yet let it go.

Towards the end of your set you put down your violin for a heart to heart with the audience. You spoke of how you are often complimented on staying so true to yourself and not being afraid to do so. You confided that you have not always been this way and that you suffered a bout of depression. I wish you had stopped there.

You see, when you continued on to say you were self-absorbed as a depressed person and that you simply had to change your mind, you stopped being helpful. I could no longer identify with you because I was instead disappointed and somewhat insulted. I believe you when you say that you practiced changing your frame of mind the same way you practiced your arpeggios worked for you, and I am truly glad for you. But please don’t make the mistake of thinking that it is that simple for everyone.

I have now been aware of my depression for over a decade, though I suspect it was present even in my childhood. I am as well-versed as anybody could be in the routines of self-care. I try to sleep well, eat well, hydrate, do things that make me feel good, enjoy the sunshine, etc. But the fact of the matter is that sometimes none of these things work and sometimes I am simply not capable of doing any of them. I promise you that if I could think my way out of depression I would have done so many years ago. Instead, I am left hoping to be functional at best and proud of myself when I go a full two weeks without randomly considering suicide. This is an illness; it cannot always be walked off.

Please know that I do not intend to one up any experiences you have had; depression doesn’t behave the same for everybody. But this is the point that I am trying to make: your experience is not universal. As you must be aware, there is a certain stigma that people who are mentally ill must battle. It is a kind of illness that is not widely understood and often gets brushed off in ways that are harmful – frequently by people who are close to us. We are often misunderstood as lazy or flaky or self-absorbed when we are simply not as able as an average person. It is not about choice; it is about capability. 

Your music has become my go-to writing music and I have written countless blog posts and letters while listening to it. II believe I understand very clearly the emotional messages conveyed in your music that you described to us last Saturday. I understand the deep somber beginnings and the crescendos of hope. You have helped me and inspired me with the beauty of the pieces you have composed more than you could fathom. You have, in your own way, already saved me.

This is why I am asking you, Lindsey, not to insinuate that your experience is the same as mine or anybody else’s. Please do not speak as though you are the authority on depression and the way out. You have such a large audience to hear you; please do not reaffirm the stereotype that people with mental illness need only to think their way out of it and to try harder. Please do not blanket all of us with your statements while neglecting that we do not all feel the same things, we are not capable of the same things, and we do not all have the same resources.

I believe fully that your intentions are only good. When you are next on stage and sharing your struggle with your fans, tell them this:

“Depression is terrible.”

“It gets better.”

“You are worth it.”

Yours,

Marie Billiel

Here are some of my very, very favorite resources for helping people understand depression and its stigmas:

Adventures in Depression By Allie Brosh

What if People Treated Physical Illness Like Mental Illness? via HuffPost

Depression Quest By Zoe Quinn – This is about as real as it gets, folks

Kitchen Culture: Why I won’t stop talking about the Route 9 Diner.

It seems like I hit a nerve.

In the months that have followed my publishing of Tales from the Diner, I’ve received more attention than I ever anticipated. As a writer, I feel satisfied; I got my 15 minutes of fame and all of the views and shares I could hope for. As a writer, I am proud and I am content. But this is not about me as a writer; this is about me as a victim of sexual harassment and assault. This is about the many women who have shared this experience, which is one that is unfortunately not limited to the Route 9 Diner.

There were three main responses to my post:

The first was one of gratefulness. I cannot begin to count the number of responses I received, not only from readers local to the Hadley area, but internationally, who thanked me for sharing my experience. I was contacted by many young women who worked at the diner after I had moved to Boston, retelling their own stories and thanking me for sharing mine. I have heard more accounts of restaurant sexual harassment from women around the country than I know how to stomach. Both men and women have thanked me for pulling back the curtain on the severity of what goes on behind kitchen doors at their favorite cafes, diners, and late-night burger spots. Their gratefulness is matched by my own; knowing that people are unaware and eager to hear our experiences and to make choices based on the information relieves me and encourages me to keep speaking. The stories we have to tell are important. We cannot be silent.

The second response was one of anger and resentment. For the most part, this reaction came to us from current employees, many of whom we witnessed enduring incidents on par with our own. Out of the 13 accounts that were written, three were taken down or left unpublished due to the current staff’s aggressive response. I had screenshots of my facebook account posted with commentary and I was slandered in a variety of places by staff members I’ve never met nor interacted with. My friends received harassing texts and facebook messages in response to their own accounts. Some of our former co-workers were bullied into dissociating with us.  We were told that we asked for the harassment and assaults and that the men who did it were only acting like our older brothers. The weeks that followed my coming out about the horrendous environment of sexual harassment and misogyny at the Route 9 Diner were difficult, but the truth is that the rabidity of these responses only solidified my stance that it was time to talk about what happened to us. There was no more room for silence.

The last kind of response I read was one of acceptance and complacency. For me, this is more disturbing than the blatant aggression of the Route 9 Diner staff. More than once I read a comment on a blog post or a news article citing “kitchen culture” as the reason for the abuse; “that’s just the restaurant industry.” Even now, as I tell my new employers the horror stories of the walk-in cooler, they nod gravely and remain grim but unsurprised. It’s easy to pass off the anger of my former coworkers as misguided or deluded, but the widespread acceptance of rampant sexual harassment and assault of female restaurant workers is egregiously problematic and inexcusable. It is this acceptance, this unspoken green-light, this established and unquestioned kitchen culture that is most disturbing to me. This is why I will keep speaking. This is why I will not be silent. This is a conversation that we need to have.

Speak. We are listening.

Tales from the Diner

I have a secret. I have kept it for years. It is the kind of secret that you don’t dare tell, if not for fear of the possible consequences, for fear that no one will listen. Both outcomes are unwelcome and damaging in their own right.

My friends and I have shared this secret and all its grisly details over eager sips of coffee after long overnight shifts, our voices heightened in our rage and our exhaustion. I had hurriedly whispered conversations with my coworkers during hasty smoke breaks and bathroom trips. These were girls with whom I had nothing in common – save our employment and our secret. Sometimes we exploded. Sometimes we wept.

It is not that I am weary from this business of silence; I have not broken. But I realize now that I have no reason to let my anger lie dormant. The injustice has become unpalatable.

For five years I worked at a popular all-night diner in Hadley, Massachusetts. For five years I was sexually harassed on a near-daily basis.

My introduction to this behavior was almost immediate. Within my first month, I found myself being yanked to the back room of the kitchen, towards the walk-in cooler. After a week of my soft-spoken refusals, Emilio, a cook nearly twice my 18 years, intensified his efforts. Like a predator, he waited until the midpoint of my overnight shift, when everybody else had gone home and my manager’s attention was held rapt by the late night tv reruns.

He strode out from behind the line, blocking the narrow path between the dishwasher and the refrigerator, “C’mon, baby. Let me give you a kiss.” It was not a suggestion.

His hand, which he had reached out in some semblance of an invitation, closed around my wrist. His grip tightened with every step I dragged my feet. His fingers were snakes: coiled and unyielding. I tried hurriedly to regain my strength and my voice as we neared the walk-in cooler.

Finally, with the space between me and the cooler reduced to only two feet, I found myself: “Fuck off!” I pulled away and raced out the backdoor of the kitchen where I was met with the few lingering tables in the dining room. I searched their faces, wondering if they had heard my shout. Their expressions remained unconcerned as they giggled drunkenly over their milkshakes. I am not sure if I was relieved.

I crossed the dining room towards the front of the restaurant, my hands still shaking behind my back. I found my manager’s body draped across the counter, her unwavering stare focused on the years-old show that filled the unpopular 3 am television slot. Her laughter came out in harsh cigarette-stained breaths.

“Emilio’s such an asshole,” I tried to sound casual, “he just dragged me to the walk-in to try to kiss me.”

“What a pig,”  Jessi scowled before turning her attention back to the tv.

I was relieved to find that the incident was passed on to the senior manager, Nikos. When I came into work the next evening he sat me down in the furthest booth and asked me to recount what happened. His brown eyes wandered as I repeated my story. When I was finished, he looked back to me and said, “Well, I really do apologize for that.” It was the same practiced line he used with unhappy customers. Still, I was grateful for the acknowledgement.

The owners never spoke to me regarding this, although I presume they witnessed everything when they checked the cameras’ footage from that night. Emilio continued working his shifts.

The truth is that there was such consistent harassment from the cooks that in the next few months it became background noise. I grew accustomed to being greeted by a chorus of “mmmmmmmmm” when I entered the kitchen, complete with licked lips and hungry stares. There were days that it was more bothersome than others. Some days the cooks would be angry and tell me, “no tienes tetas,” when I asked for my tables’ food. My days were so commonly punctuated by stares and sexual comments that I wrote it off as part of my job; it was just another bad tip or difficult customer. I spent shifts coaching a coworker on the many reasons she should leave her abusive boyfriend. I told her to stand up for herself and that there was no reason for her to endure the things she had. Then I walked over to the window to pick up my food, narrowly avoiding having my hand licked. There wasn’t so much as a flicker of awareness of my hypocrisy.

After a year of working there, I found myself in another precarious situation. I had graduated to daytime shifts and worked with many of the diner’s veterans. Carlos, who was at least 40, had taken an instant liking to me. “Hey precious…” he cooed when I arrived in the morning. “For you? Oh yes, anything!” he simpered when I asked him a question. I told myself that if I regarded his flirting as being harmless, it could only be harmless. I was too new to the shift to realize that he was purposely doing this in front of the waitress he was sleeping with.

One day, Carlos followed me into the walk-in cooler and set his gaze firmly on my lips as he approached me. I could hear the prep cooks snickering outside as they turned the lights off.

Then on.

Then off.

Carlos stood between me and the door. “Can I bite your dimples? I love your dimples, Maria.

I declined nervously, his pockmarked face only inches from me.

I didn’t tell anybody immediately. Part of my assimilation into life at the diner had been realizing and accepting that things like being trapped in the walk-in sometimes just happen. When I mentioned it to Jessi and Nikos they seemed unfazed. At the moment it seemed that anything regarding Carlos was deemed as part of his relationship drama, of which I had unwittingly become a part. Days later I was asked, “If you don’t like Carlos, why did you grab his dick?” I had no idea where that rumor started. No one was interested in what happened to me. Carlos was not punished.

Eventually in my tenure I became less complacent.

On my 21st birthday I reluctantly agreed to work the 6am shift for Yael, the head waitress and my neighbor. I was greeted warmly by Marcos, Yael’s husband, who was cooking that morning. He congratulated me as his arm found its way around my shoulder, pulling me in for a hug. I reciprocated unenthusiastically. As I tried to release the embrace he pulled me closer. He relinquished his hold only when his lips had found my neck, leaving a trace of saliva that I could not unfeel.

“Elias, can I talk to you?”

The owner looked up from his paperwork expectantly.

“It’s about Marcos.”

He furrowed his brow as he agreed to speak to me in the office – a rare occurrence for the waitresses.

After listening to what had happened, he sighed. “This isn’t the first complaint I’ve had about him.”

“I know.”

“What do you want me to do?”

I stared at him, dumbfounded. “Elias, that’s Yael’s husband. They have three children. Yael is my friend. Don’t ask me to make the decision about what happens to her family.”

He nodded gravely and agreed.

Nothing changed. Nothing, unless you count the small addition to the lightswitch by the walk-in cooler, that now prevented the light from being turned off. But when had anybody at the diner ever been afraid to harass us outside of the dark?

It has been nearly two years since I left that job, and there is hardly a week that has gone by that I did not consider writing this. As I became more serious in the endeavour, I began to consult friends and other former coworkers. Together, we unearthed a mountain of experiences that were both horrendous and routine:

“One time Nikos made a joke about raping me.”

“One time Carlos oinked at me for an entire eight hours.”

“The other manager, Bobby, used to constantly text me, ‘show me your tits.’ He even wrote it on my facebook wall. When I told him to stop he told me I probably had gross elephantitis tits.”

“The cooks used to refuse to give me my food unless I showed them my tongue.”

“Marcos used to massage Emma even though she told him to stop multiple times and one time he bit her neck.”

“Carlos kissed my neck.”

“One of the cooks cornered me in the walk-in and when Bobby found out he told me to get over it.”

“Both the owners, Elias and Andreas, used to laugh at the comments the cooks would make about the waitresses’ bodies after they left the kitchen.”

I have always known that this behavior was unacceptable. I have understood that it’s unfair that it happened and I have wished that something had been done about it. However, I was also a young adult with no support from my family, and I prided myself on my grit. I was grateful for my reasonably-lucrative job, where I had become a shift staple, in a difficult economy. I naively accepted the entire package.

Recently, though, I’ve realized that I don’t actually owe my previous employers anything. After five years of good, full time work, they were not doing me a favor by continuing to employ me; it was only a natural business relationship. I believed that because they liked me, I must not betray them. But now I ask myself: how much could they have really liked me if they allowed their staff to repeatedly sexually assault me?

I can aver that the environment at the diner is no different today than it was when I left. My silence will achieve nothing except to protect and perpetuate the things that are allowed to happen there. I refuse to participate any longer.

Some days I am ashamed that I did not stand up for myself. It is difficult to forgive that weakness. But I am doing my best to make up for it. I am shouting now that I have the strength to shout. I am encouraging everyone else to share their stories. I have a beautiful, impressionable 16 year old sister. And for god’s sake, the lesson I teach her is not going to be one of silence.

Note: all names have been changed as a super nice favor, but if you’re interested, I’d be happy to disclose the information privately.

UPDATE 10/29: My amazing friend Jaime Young has written an account of her own experiences, which I highly recommend you read. Check it out. This girl is my sounding board and plays a very central role in encouraging others to find their voice.

UPDATE 10/30: Another waitress has bravely shared her story.  Also, I find this one particularly hard-hitting, as she explores not only the sexual harassment, but the really awful way the owners treated the waitresses. Oh, and yet another waitress has spoken out.

UPDATE 10/31: Another account has come to light, this one also exploring the verbal abuse and poor food safety. 

UPDATE 11/1: For everybody following these updates, this is a must-read account by a former manager. And this one is an account of a waitress who started working there in 2007. This is not a new issue.

UPDATE 11/2: The accounts of the terrible working conditions just keep coming.

UPDATE 11/3: And yet one more  former coworker has added her voice.

UPDATE 11/4: After an article in the Daily Hampshire Gazette, another waitress has stepped forward.

UPDATE 11/6: Another former waitress has written her account, trying hard to emphasize that nothing ever changed.

Thank you to everyone for the support. It is so appreciated.

Stop saying I shouldn’t get raped because I’m somebody’s daughter.

When I was 18 years old I was sexually assaulted.

In the warm summer months following my high school graduation I basked in the sunshine of my newfound adulthood. I had a car, a steady job, and the freedom to leave town for weeks at a time. I returned home infrequently, and these trips were almost always in the name of social calls. 

On one such occasion, I attended a party with one of my best friends. We drove along the winding dirt roads of Colrain, in search of our friend’s far-off farm where we would not be disrupted or caught drinking underage. The briskness of the night was a welcome break from the oppressive heat of the August daytime and as we sat around a roaring fire, passing around a bottle of vodka we had soon melted into heaps of laughter. We soon found ourselves running through the nearby cornfield, full of joy and stripped of any restraint our soberness provided. Back by the fire, this loss of inhibition manifested itself differently.

Kris, barely my acquaintance, despite sharing my last name and attending the same high school, edged nearer to me on the grass. Wordlessly, his hand found my thigh. Wordlessly, I pushed it away. Five minutes passed. Again, I felt a hand on my thigh, beginning to inch ever inward. “Stop!” I said. He didn’t. I changed seats. Safe. But then, fingers on my inner thigh, tracing the seam on my jeans, up and down. I pushed him away. “Make him stop,” I begged my friend. She scolded him. I moved. He followed. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Eventually, in need of an escape from Kris and an intense and unfamiliar vodka-haze, I escaped to the cab of my friend’s truck to lie down. I breathed deeply, grateful for the solitude and safety. As I drifted off, I was suddenly brought back to consciousness. The door of the truck opened and Kris noiselessly crept in beside me. Immediately, I felt his hands slide up my calves, my thighs, and find their way between my legs. I tried to tell him to stop, bu  my voice and motor skills had been compromised by alcohol, and I passed out thinking, “No, Kris. Stop, Kris.”

My father passed away recently, and in a near-frantic attempt to understand from where and whom it is I come, I have been building my family tree. As it turns out, Kris and I are third cousins. I have always suspected we must be related in some way, though I didn’t imagine it would be so closely. Considering this, I realized that for years I have been looking at what happened at that party an entirely wrong light. The few times I have shared this story, I have presented it as an event where I was groped by someone who had the same last name as me. But truly, the actual story- the actual problem- is that I was sexually assaulted by someone who happened to have the same surname. His actions are not worse because I have learned that we are cousins. His actions are awful because his actions are awful. My relationship to him should not play a role in my worthiness of not being molested. 

When I was 25 years old I was sexually assaulted.

Filled with the spirit of adventure after a particularly difficult breakup, I had made the decision to leave the country and travel the world. A week before I was due to leave, I was frantically finishing up last minute chores and making sure loose ends were tied. I stopped at a self-service car wash, hoping to make my junkpile of a car look at least moderately presentable for my appointment to hand over the title the following day. I had a pleasant exchange with the man cleaning his car next to me, then settled into vacuuming the backseat of my car.

Encouraged by the oncoming summer, I had pulled on my favorite dress before leaving the house. This presented difficulties as I climbed into my car, but I took care against any accidental exposures. As it turned out, my efforts were in vain. As I stood up, I turned to see that the man with whom I’d spoken was barely a yard behind me and had the camera of his phone aimed up my dress. 

“C’mon,” he said, smiling.

“Are you fucking kidding? Get the fuck away from me,” I spat.

“C’mon, it looks good!”

I edged backwards toward my driver’s seat, repeating myself. 

“Well you shouldn’t be flaunting it then,” he growled as he got in his car and sped off. 

Humiliated, heart racing, I hung onto my steering wheel and sobbed. No one else was around.

I spent the evening reciting the incident to my friends. “He probably has daughters,” I told them, “I’m somebody’s daughter!”

 

This line of thinking is a problem.

My worth as a human being is not determined by my relationship to other people (and more to the point: to men.) I am deserving of not getting raped because I am a person; not because I am somebody’s sister and somebody’s daughter and may someday be somebody’s mother. We need to stop acting as though teaching the idea that women should not be harmed because they play these roles in our (specifically: men’s) lives is helpful. Not all women play these roles. Let’s not infer that some women are more worthy than others when it comes to not being harmed.

I understand that this seems like a good tool in getting people to understand women’s issues and the violence that we face. I know that it seems that we’re humanizing victims by reminding people that women who endure harassment and assault are just like the women in our own lives. But listen: if we keep telling men that they shouldn’t rape women because they are somebody’s daughter, we are only perpetuating the idea that women are weak and require men’s protection. 

Stop telling people not to rape me because I’m somebody’s daughter. Stop naming traits I possess that make me more worthy of not being raped. Every time you choose some characteristic of a woman and deem it rape-safe, you are choosing who should not be rape-safe, whether it be based on their clothing, occupation, relationships, or anything else. 

Don’t rape me because don’t fucking rape anyone. Get it together.