Tag Archives: rape

Is the UK’s Online Pornography Ban Going Too Far?

david-cameron-220_1774555fWe know many people were fairly preoccupied yesterday with the news of the royal baby’s birth. But here is another story from the day that is going to affect far, far more people.

UK Prime Minister David Cameron announced a new sweeping government plan to ban (or at least dramatically reduce) viewing of online pornography. The plan, due to begin by the end of this year, will force Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to block all pornography-related search terms and websites. Individuals wishing to access pornography on their own Internet connections will have to contact their ISP directly in order to opt out of the program. “Extreme pornography” (such as content depicting rape scenes) will be entirely prohibited. Specific measures will also be taken to locate and prosecute viewers and distributors of child pornography.

So far, so good? Maybe not. Cameron appealed to the very sympathetic cause of protecting childhood innocence, but many are calling such blanket measures a violation of privacy rights. Here are some of the arguments:

1. First there’s the idea that the Internet should be a freely accessible source of information (in the broadest sense of the word). If people wish to restrict certain areas of the Internet in their own homes, then that is their prerogative.

2. Many raise the issue of who will determine what is “pornographic” versus what is informational, artistic, or just regular news (will risque images of celebs count?). Also, many mainstream movies are quite graphic, even depicting rape, child abuse, etc. How will these be evaluated?

3. Some argue that censorship of any sort is like a gateway drug for the government. Ban online pornography now, and what other online viewing habits will start being regulated as well?

4. One of the biggest concerns is that Cameron’s plan doesn’t actually address the pornography industry, sex trafficking, child abuse, or violence against women. It seems to be a way of painting over the issue, when there’s still a really dirty wall underneath.

Cameron’s ban qualifies as what is colloquially known as a “sumptuary law,” or a law intended to enforce morals and control certain consumption habits. This has included certain styles of clothing, food, and various “luxury habits.” The argument could be made that if you ban the material associated with the improper habit (ie. alcohol, revealing clothing, or, in this case, pornographic websites) then the behavior will necessarily decrease.

On the other hand: “Guns don’t kill. People do.”

What do you think?


Thumbnail image credit: James Blinn/Alamy

Radical Responsibility



“Why would God allow this to happen?”

I heard this questions, in many forms, in many variations many, many times. At last I responded. This time it was about a five-year old girl who was raped with an iron rod and died. Why would God allow this to happen?

“Maybe because God considers humans to be responsible adults who don’t need supervision, but can make their own choices, design their own lives and create their own reality” I responded “maybe because God acknowledges their freedom to do so. Humans are free to choose, some choose pain, others don’t — all create their experience of life with their choices.”

And the inevitable response came:

“But the 5 year old little girl didn’t choose all of this for herself. What does God have to say about that?”

 And … and it gave me pause. It gave me pause not because I didn’t have an answer to that – I have an answer and it is a good one — but because I was not sure my answer would be an acceptable one. I was not sure it would be a hand-able one.

I said:

“God might say: you choose your own faith, you create your destiny and your life in ways you don’t yet understand. You chose where and how you will be born and you choose how, and when, you die. Your life is called ‘your life’ not ‘God’s life’ for a reason. That you are not aware of choosing and creating doesn’t mean you don’t choose and create.”

Is that too much? Is it too much to say? Is it too much to expect from a five year old, from a fifteen year old, from a fifty year old?

But, you see, God just might see humans differently than humans do. God just might know the unlimited power humans wield and with which they create their reality, their world, their life. God might know that there is no limit to what humans can do, to what they can be. God might know that the human world looks and works like it does because humans say so, believe so, relate so.

God might know, at last, that it is nothing more than an outward projection of humans themselves. A name, a concept to which humans assign that which they, themselves, truly are — the ultimate, unlimited creators.

All humans, even those who are five years old.

Is this too much?

Denied an Abortion – What Now? A Study on the Effects of Unwanted Motherhood

Screen Shot 2013-06-14 at 3.05.08 PMIt may have been one spontaneous night with an ex, never to be replicated; or perhaps a traumatic moment of violence and sexual abuse. She could be unemployed, ill, very young, or already a bit creaky in the joints. Maybe she has other kids at home and a partner in active duty, in prison, in the hospital, or deceased. And in the midst of working, paying bills, job hunting, taking care of children, doing homework, or whatever her daily responsibilities include, the tender belly and light periods get pushed to the back of her mind – until it’s too late.

Whatever their reasons, these are the women who discover their pregnancies late in the game, determine their best course of action is abortion, and upon medical inspection are turned away from the procedures they desperately want or need. How do these women, the ones forced into motherhood, fare and what are the effects of their denied abortions?

This question provides the foundation for an ongoing study, called “The Turnaway Study” run by Diana Greene Foster, an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of California, San Francisco. Researching abortion clinics around the country, Foster’s study aims to determine the differing effects, if any, between women who seek late-term abortions and get them versus women who seek late-term abortions but are denied them, most often due to timing. (Individual states’ and clinic’s limits vary, but tend to fall sometime in the second trimester.) Such effects might range from the psychological and emotional, to socioeconomic factors, to long-term physical health. In essence, is there any statistical evidence to prove that women are any better or worse off for keeping a baby, even if they wholeheartedly wanted to terminate the pregnancy?

This study lands in public discourse at a time when pro-life advocates preach the many dangers to women’s mental and physical health resulting from abortion. It isn’t a hard line of reasoning to follow, especially given the hormones that are already being released in early pregnancy. But, as noted in a thorough article published in the New York Times, the psychological and health effects of carrying a pregnancy to term – and then, of course, raising a child – can be just as overwhelming, if not more so.

Based on Foster’s study, women in the turnaway group suffered greater health effects, including increased hypertension rates and chronic pelvic pain, as well as socioeconomic effects that left them below the poverty line three times more often than the women who received abortions. Both groups, however, Lang points out, began with similar life circumstances.

Only 6.6 percent of near-limit patients in the study and 5.6 percent of turnaways finished college (nearly 30 percent of adult American women have a bachelor’s degree). One in 10 were on welfare, and approximately 80 percent reported not having enough money to meet basic living needs. A majority, in both groups, already had at least one child.

These are interesting statistics on several counts. First of all, women seeking abortions later in their terms share a baseline social disadvantage that includes less education, lower income, and, now, pregnancy on top of their other responsibilities. In being forced into motherhood by denial of an abortion, these women experience all the physical strains of pregnancy and childbirth, as well as the often-overwhelming financial burden of another mouth to feed. No one sets out to someday get an abortion, but when it comes down to it, some women feel this is their best option – and the results of Foster’s study might give us cause to concur.

Both Foster and Lang are mindful of the politically-charged nature of this research, though. Foster does not consider herself a pro-choice pioneer, but rather a concerned ob-gyn, interested in determining what is best for women’s health.

The purpose of Foster’s study is not to set policy by suggesting new or uniform gestational limits. She notes, however, that there are ways to reduce the number of women seeking abortion at an advanced gestational age by improving access to reproductive health care. But Foster sees herself as a scientist, not an advocate. She did not set out, she says, to disprove that abortion is harmful. “If abortion hurts women,” she says, “I definitely want to know.”

Truth be told, there is no pro-abortion movement. Nobody “supports” abortion, of course, because ultimately we would hope to live in a world in which people who want to have children do, and those who don’t, don’t. The point is rather that women know what is best for them and their families, and childbearing may not factor into that at the moment.

It’s a delicate topic, though, and one that certainly warrants further discussion. Let me know your thoughts in the comments section below!

Tornadoes, Bombings, and Kidnappings – How Tragedies Activate Our Higher Selves (Part 2)

PrayClick here for part 1.

Author Seth Godin shares that, in today’s world, big change doesn’t happen top-down – by governments or companies deciding what to do. Big or epic change happens from the ground up. It happens as thousands of people decide how they want something to be and then go do it. We can influence this string of tragedies between people by a creating a groundswell of respect and appreciation by people who recommit to seeing the good in others, valuing others and using their unique abilities to see and solve today’s challenges.

Tragedies get our attention. Tragedies interrupt our daily flow – they demand us to step into larger and more responsible roles. When life is fine – we are less intentional in our approach – almost going through life in autopilot. In these moments, we are less focused on how we can connect with each other more significantly or find ways to live more safely on the planet. But when something unusual – painful and tragic – happens, we dig deeper, find resources within ourselves and work more significantly with others to give, improve, support, and care. We are more responsive and more compassionate.

Eckhart Tolle shares in his book A New Earth, “As unhappiness increases, it also causes an increasing disruption in your life.” And when the pain is great, we change. When tragedies strike, we are shaken out of our normal, self-centered worlds and have a glimpse of our greater humanity, greater suffering, and greater need. In this moment, we connect to what is best in us and we solve, invent, work together, and let petty differences disappear. Remember the unity we felt after the Boston Marathon bombings, 911, the Oklahoma tornadoes and hurricanes Katrina and Sandy.

The planet and people are the greatest sources of our tragedies. We can’t do much about the planet other than to understand it and use our collective genius to work together to learn how to live safely on it. We can however, learn to be more focused on each other’s greatness as the way to discuss our differences instead of attack, to work through problems instead of shooting or bombing, and to consider that every life is as valuable and important as every other life, regardless of faith, career, social status, or ethnicity. We are each born awesome; when we each are able to know ourselves and know our world, we can then unite to connect the best of ourselves to address today’s needs, challenges, and opportunities. Our problems and our solutions are in our humanity.

As my mother used to say to my five siblings and me when we complained about some physical attribute we inherited from our family that we didn’t like (long arms, unruly hair, Italian nose), “Look deeper. You have enough of the right stuff to make a profound difference in this world. You have what others need in the way of ideas, intellect, compassion and awareness to invent what needs to be invented and to learn to see the divine abilities in every other person.”

What if each of us learned to respond in “tragedy-mode” even when there were no tragedies? What if we cared more for others to help them reach their potential and soar in life instead of taking them down? What if we used our amazing intellectual abilities and wisdom to develop ways to keep people around the planet safe, regardless of what the planet was doing in its life cycle, then hurry to respond if something larger than our solutions happens?

Tragedies have the ability to help us discover and live what is best in us. The better question is why must we wait for a tragedy to access our more expansive, wise, and compassionate selves? If they are present in tragedy, then they are also present in happier and less dangerous times. All we need to do is to call on them.

So, maybe tragedies occur to remind us that we have greater power and influence over the outcomes of things than we think. That perhaps tragedies exist to show us that we have what we need to proactively stop future tragedies from happening. It is our choice to show up each day respecting and caring about others, and understanding our world to know how to live in it safely and wisely. And when the unavoidable humanity and planet collisions occur, that we quickly, wisely and compassionately respond.

Deepak Chopra: The Fear Factor – How Scared Are People?

F.E.A.RBy Deepak Chopra, MD and Jim Clifton, Chairman and CEO of Gallup Organization

Over the past decade the word “fear” has become all too familiar. After 9/11 critics of the war on terror called it fear-mongering. After the financial crash of 2008, living in a climate of fear became the lot of millions of people who lost their jobs, retirement accounts, and homes. But what about the most basic fear, which undermines society itself, the fear of bodily harm, either through crime or terrorism? Walking the streets in countries around the world carries a real risk of being attacked. The incidence of kidnapping has skyrocketed in Mexico and South America. The shocking rates of rape have come to light in India. Religious factions in the Islamic world create havoc and death for ordinary citizens.

In the face of such violence, the prevalence of fear can have a profound effect on the health, well-being, and economic development: if a society is in a constant state of fear, it won’t produce anything good.

Since this issue has such strong implications, Gallup’s World Poll set out to quantify fear of bodily harm. The usual measure, police reports and crime statistics, aren’t particularly reliable, since what they report is how many criminals were pursued or caught. If a city has a lousy police force, it doesn’t catch many criminals, and thus it may appear that there isn’t much crime. (Ironically, if a reform-minded mayor brings in an effective police chief, and the chief does a great job at arresting more criminals, it can present the appearance of crime going up.) A contributing factor is non-reporting. Statistics don’t reveal the large number of victims who don’t go to the police after being robbed, raped, or assaulted on the streets. Sad to say, unreported crime is a major factor globally.

In trying to give governments a more accurate picture of crime and fear, Gallup scientists found one survey question that gets to the heart of the matter: “Do you feel safe walking alone at night in the city or area where you live?” The answer to that single question tells leaders almost everything they need to know about their citizens’ sense of safety. People who feel unsafe are preoccupied to the point that their well-being deteriorates. Over time, fear worsens how their entire lives will turn out.

The results of our research are stark. We found that women in sub-Saharan Africa, for example, don’t feel safe walking just 100 meters from their villages, possibly because they fear being raped or beaten. As a result, they can’t walk to markets to buy or sell goods. In the event that their fear is lifted, these women would increase Africa’s GDP a little or a lot with their lost economic activity.

The same effect can strike closer to home. One of us, Jim Clifton, lives in Georgetown, an affluent neighborhood in Washington, D.C. Several years ago, Georgetown had a serious crime spree, and people started going home directly after work, and once home, they tended to stay in. As fear spread about walking alone after dark, spending on everyday things like shopping and dining out decreased significantly. The neighborhood’s economy suffered until law and order was restored through an ambitious effort by local law enforcement.

These are just two examples of fear’s pernicious reach. Leaders who want to dramatically reduce fear among their citizens would be wise to make the Gallup fear metric central to their strategies – our findings are as important, we feel, as police reports and crime rates. Here are  some of the basic findings:

% AFRAID  (to walk alone in their neighborhood)

Venezuela         74%

Afghanistan     60%

Russia               50%

Congo               50%

Mexico             44%

India                 35%

United States   25%

Canada             16%

China                 16%

Hong Kong       11%

Americans deserve to be shocked to find that a quarter of their fellow citizens are afraid to walk the streets. Gallup tracks the fear score of U.S. citizens nightly and finds huge variance by city. For instance, in the U.S., the three big metro areas with the least fear are Minneapolis, Denver, and Raleigh — with about 20% of their citizens reporting they have fear walking alone at night. At the other end are Memphis and New Orleans, where more than a whopping 40% of citizens say they fear walking alone at night.

Fear is sometimes correlated with actual danger, but that’s not the real point. Fear is personal and subjective. It gains its power, as terrorists well know, through the perception that you are in danger.

We feel that any government which believes in open communication should publish the fear index for their city or nation, aiming to start a dialogue about how to reduce the causes of fear. Just as important is to close the gap between perception and reality as far as risks are concerned. That 25% of Americans are afraid to walk alone doesn’t mean that one out of four of us are in danger of bodily harm.

Gallup doesn’t aim its research at endorsing specific solutions. A rigid law and order society like Singapore isn’t the same as the United States, nor is the enforced conformity of China. On the other hand, the perception of fear, as it arises in the individual, has known causes. People become more afraid when:

  • They feel isolated and alone.
  • Their surroundings undergo rapid change.
  • Minorities and outsiders are labeled “them,” who are totally unlike “us.”
  • Support structures begin to deteriorate, including police, fire departments, churches, and designated services for the poor and elderly.

In other words, a high score on the fear index calls for better solutions than clamping down on civil liberties and sending the police out on random stop-and-search patrols. For any leader who cares about this issue, we’ve built consistent sampling frames across 160 countries that represent the vast majority of the world’s population, and Gallup analysts again found huge variance in the hearts and minds of citizens by region.

Globally, the implications of this data are fascinating. Imagine how much different a person’s peace of mind is in Venezuela, where 74% are afraid to walk alone at night, or in Afghanistan, where nearly 60% are afraid, versus Canada (16%) or Hong Kong (10%). Think about how much more psychological energy a society has when people don’t live with chronic anxiety. In countries like the U.S., even under conditions many consider a climate of fear, one only has to witness how an anxiety level that is relatively low impacts  entrepreneurship, innovation,  health, and well-being — all the things that make human development possible.



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What Happens When A College Rape Victim Posts Her Attacker’s Name to Internet

Screen Shot 2013-04-26 at 12.54.32 PMAfter months of inaction by local police and her university’s authorities, a 21-year-old college student decided to take matters into her own hands and post her rapist’s name and picture on the Internet. In her article, originally published on XOJane.com, the woman writes:

After my university failed to take immediate action against the student who raped me (despite having been provided with several audio recordings in which my rapist confessed to raping me) and after I became so socially ostracized that I contemplated suicide, it was suggested to me that I did not have to wait for the world to decide whether it would advocate for me or not.

In this young woman’s case, her rapist was also her boyfriend, which unfortunately may have contributed to authorities’ lack of urgency in moving the investigation forward. She nonetheless provided ample evidence of the man’s guilt and suffered the psychological effects of trauma for over a year afterward.

This isn’t the first time social media and the Internet at large have gotten entangled in cases of sexual violence. Some of the biggest recent scandals – from Rehtaeh Parsons’ tragic case to the much-publicized Steubenville trial  – have been exacerbated by leaked photographs and endless debates across social media platforms. The quick spread of information on these sites has also allowed the community at wide to think about and discuss these issues, which is perhaps one positive outcome of the phenomenon. It is also heartening to see that some victims are able to break through societal inhibitions and come out in the open to raise awareness about sexual violence. Too often are victims silenced, perpetuating an overwhelming culture of shaming and excuse-making.

On the other hand, our legal system is supposed to uphold fair trials and “innocence until proven guilty” – so is it fair to expedite this process by proclaiming guilt in mass dispersal via the Internet? The argument could be made that this man’s identity and privacy should be wholly respected until he is actually convicted. We’ll leave it to the cyber masses to judge.

What do you think? Let us know in the comments section below!


Photo credit: mislav-m

How One Doctor Is Giving A Voice to Victims of Rape

Bulbul Bahuguna, M.D., is a Chicago-based psychiatrist and author who has specialized in helping victims of sexual abuse for the past 22 years.

She is giving a voice to the many silent victims of sexual abuse through her sobering book, The Ghosts That Come Between Us. Her main character, Nargis, narrates on the complexities of sexual abuse from a firsthand perspective, giving the reader a rare inside look at the heart of a victim.

In the interview below, Bulbul explains the multifaceted nature of sexual abuse and the importance of female empowerment in healing.

MM: Bulbul, can you talk about the psychological aspects related to recovering from sexual abuse? Does it differ depending on the type of abuse, such as incest versus molest by a stranger or rape?

BB: Sexual abuse can involve molestation or rape, either by a stranger or by a family member. While each patient is different and has her own unique story of abuse and victimization, there are several common themes in her clinical presentation.

Symptoms vary depending on the age of the victim at the time of the sexual assault, age of abuser, relationship with perpetrator, concomitant verbal, physical, and emotional abuse or threats, family constellation and dynamics, level of education, intensity, extent, frequency, and duration of the abuse, and finally, access to a support system or mental health professionals.

Usually, the perpetrator is not a stranger and is well-known to the victim.

MM: As a practicing therapist for 22 years, what are some ways society can begin to de-stigmatize sexual abuse?

BB: Sexual abuse often happens in the secrecy of the home and goes unreported.
It is critical to enhance the awareness of abuse issues, which I hope to accomplish through my novel, The Ghosts That Come Between Us.

The role of social media in furthering the awareness of child and women abuse issues is crucial, and the platforms now available can deliver this awareness at unprecedented speed.

The key is to have such platforms accessible across all socioeconomic strata of society. Fighting the war against child abuse through film, television, and radio is equally critical, as is easy access to mental health in schools and communities.

MM: How do you think this greater awareness could assist victims and societies in the healing process?

BB: People have been coming forth and telling their stories of abuse. This helps other victims have the courage to come forward and talk about their own abuse issues, understand and learn new coping tools to deal with these very difficult issues in their own lives, and take solace in the thought that they are not alone.

All these efforts help reduce the stigma associated with sexual abuse, galvanize people resources, and direct people to getting the right kind of help and attention they deserve.

MM: How did your work as a psychiatrist influence your novel, The Ghosts that Come Between Us, and its main character, Nargis?

BB: I have been a psychiatrist for over 22 years, and have treated scores of patients with abuse issues. I have seen people struggle with family dysfunction and sexual victimization; i.e., having to cope with blame, guilt and shame, as well as secrecy, stigma and self-flagellation, feeling stuck and having difficulty in moving on.

Listening to these heart-wrenching stories helped me to create a fictional character, Nargis, who is molested by her father. I was able to step into the shoes of the protagonist, which enabled me to tell as authentic story as is possible with multiple points of view reflected in a layered manner.

Holding her hand, I walked with Nargis through the same streets, sights and scenes that she did – through agony, hate, and love – through fear, heartache, and longing. Through self-talk Nargis says it all: the most brutally honest thoughts and the most floridly distorted ones as well. Sometimes she expresses feelings that other victims may have also felt, but are afraid to acknowledge.

MM: What are the most effective methods a woman can employ to deal with and overcome childhood trauma, such as sexual molestation?

BB: Empowering a woman is the first step on the path to recovery.

First of all, it is important to recognize that it takes a lot of courage for a victim to talk about sexual abuse. She feels excessive guilt and shame because of her body being sexually aroused.

Often times, the victim has a lot of difficulty with trusting others and does not believe that other people can help. She is afraid that most people will either not believe her, like her family, most likely, did not believe her. Or that most other people will blame her for what happened, like her family probably also did.

It is important for her to understand what happened: that the victim was not the instigator of the crime.

MM: What is the first step to preventing sexual abuse as a society?

BB: Society can prevent the tragedy of sexual abuse through education, education and education, of both men and women.

As a National Trustee of the American India Foundation, a leading charity involved in accelerating social change in India, we work with local NGOs in India to empower women through education and livelihood to help families. This promotes self-esteem and self-reliance in women.

MM: Do you feel the stigma of abuse is diminishing?

BB: People across the globe are working toward a society that does not discriminate based on gender. The stigma of sexual abuse is slowly diminishing, and there is a greater willingness not only to get help but also to help the victims and survivors.

The recent national outcry in India against the gang rape of Braveheart speaks to this societal change, and it is a tribute to the Indian media that it did not disclose her name. Millions of men and women came out on the streets demanding that rape cases not languish in court for 10 years, but be put on a fast track for justice.

But there is a lot of work ahead. Silence only enables the crime.


Photo credit: Bulbul Bahuguna

photo by: Katie Tegtmeyer

Rape Culture: Bay Area Teens Publish Exposé and End Up on NPR

1-art-verde-rape-culture-coverRape is a heavy topic for teenagers to take on in a school magazine or newspaper. Some might even say it’s too advanced or inappropriate in such a setting. The reality, though, is that 80% of rape victims are under the age of 30; and 44% are under 18. So perhaps the problem is that teenagers aren’t discussing this critical issue enough.

In the latest edition of Palo Alto High School’s Verde Magazine, several brave young journalists confronted rape culture head on, focusing specifically on two recent cases from their own school community. The featured piece, “You can’t tell me I wasn’t raped” by Lisie Sabbag, discusses at length the ways in which victims are often blamed for their attacks (and called names like “attention whore,” “liar,” and “slut.”) According to an online survey cited in the article, more than 25% of students questioned agreed that a woman who is raped while drunk is responsible for her assault. These numbers are deeply troubling. By silencing victims, protecting perpetrators, and ascribing to a “boys will be boys” ideology, Sabbag argues, both boys and girls – and society at large – perpetuate a culture of rape.

The nature of high school journalism, even in the largest of schools (Paly hovers around 1,800 students), is that the community is small. Those affected by a certain piece of news in New York City are bound to be dispersed and often anonymous. In a high school setting, almost everyone is affected in some way, and anonymity is not always guaranteed. Sabbag took measures to ensure the two girls included in the article remained anonymous, along with their attackers – also members of the community. But it is a delicate topic in the hands of an unpredictable audience, and too many victims have further suffered from the coverage of their attacks.

But as the students discussed this morning on NPR’s “Forum,” they believe it is essential to create public discourse around sexual assault and rape culture. We applaud these young journalists for confronting the issue courageously and tactfully, and hopefully their work will inspire broader discussion about rape in our culture.


Photo credit:  Paly’s Verde Magazine Staff

May “Damini” Rest In Peace

Damini, the name given to the 23 year old gang rape victim in Delhi, has died. She was flown to Singapore a few days ago in an effort to address her grave condition, and perhaps, remove her from the fury boiling in the streets of Delhi.

I am writing this from my IPad in Delhi, heartbroken, having just read the announcement about her death. For the last week much of the conversation in our homes and with friends has revolved around her tragedy and the circumstances around her death. While her attack was so extreme and vile, it highlights how unsafe it can be for women in India. As a mother of two young girls, my paranoia for their safety , which often seems crazy, sadly seems more than justified.

The reality so far in Delhi has been that the protests were confined near India Gate, and life in Delhi has continued as normal. We will see if more unrest unfolds today. There is no question this young woman’s tragedy has begun a conversation. The inane statements of the President’s son, Abhijit Mukherjee, himself a Minister, about the protesters being “painted and dented” women justifies to me a call for his resignation. It’s a mindset that girls should not dress and speak in certain ways, exhibit too much independence or confidence, that needs to be changed at every level of society. (Sadly much of the conversations in the past week have been about other cases where women were gang raped after being at a bar or out too late at night.

So, with sadness and prayers, may Damini rest in peace. May her family find some solace in this meaningless tragedy that her tragic end will not be forgotten.

The Pregnancy Scare – How I Found My Voice to Demand Respect

There is nothing quite like a trip to the laundry room at 2 AM. Especially if you are tripping barefoot through dewy grass, under guava trees, past a tire swing. Especially if you are burning between the legs and carrying reeking sheets in a massive, infuriating bundle. You will never forget this one, sister.

For two months I thought I was pregnant. “Thought” is too subtle. I dreamt in horrifying wakefulness, every passing minute a sharp reminder. I’m too young. I have no idea how to be a mom. Have a child with that brute? Dear God, no. The days tore through me as I wandered around, disembodied. My belly, my legs, my beating heart – they became possessed, first in my mind and later in the heavy discomfort that literally weighed me down. It was a long, bloodless summer.

I have never been raped. But they say one in four women in the U.S. will be sexually assaulted at some point in her life. This fear has called on me. First when my beloved clutched my neck and showed me just how strong those muscles were. I forced his arm away and held my tongue until…a more appropriate moment. “I’m sorry,” he later said, sheepishly. “I thought you wanted that.” I was left to comfort and assure him all was well. Next time I want to be surprise-strangled in the midst of tender love, I’ll make my desires known loud and clear. Asshole.

Excuses come to mind…. I’m not a prude. It was an honest mistake. He felt really, really bad. And then I marvel at my eagerness to explain his behavior away. It must, after all, be my fault. Part of me still believes this. What wretched girlfriend would so mindlessly mislead her man and cause him the pain of embarrassment? My neck aside, curse the woman who would ever wound a man’s pride. And, to be honest, I’ve kept my mouth shut through worse.

Fear came knocking next on the indigo latch door of a hut in rural New Zealand where was I staying during a 3-month solo backpacking trip. The pillow from which I awoke daily to falling guava pits now accommodated two heads. Months had passed in the span of days, and I reluctantly welcomed an unlikely companion into my fairy house. I had vacillated between disgust and intrigue. His eager, forward advances, flowers on my door, accentuated brushes past one another in the kitchen. The whole seduction at once nauseated and thrilled me.

In truth, I saw it coming. The festive air of night, the dancing, the liquor, my own brilliant and sensual self-awareness. When I finally closed the door of my little hut, I knew it wouldn’t stay shut for long. He came to me like a fugitive, calling gently at first, then stealing in eagerly.

Events spiraled in a wild, painful frenzy. I lost my footing on some astral ledge and slipped through the next minutes in terrifying confusion, trying to keep up. He didn’t notice. He did exactly what he had come to the fairy hut to do. For a sliver of time I existed only as an enveloping cosmic hole. A vessel into which the frantic lover might dump all his longing, his rage, his memories, his guilt, his sensitivity, his insecurity and his hunger. And it was my responsibility to let him do so.

I lay still for a moment, used up. In the past I might have turned to my side and fallen numbly asleep. But rage slowly devoured me. I sat up and faced him, as I had never done a sweetheart before. Words fell like poison from my dry mouth: How dare you? You miserable, pathetic excuse of a man. How dare you abuse me in this way. His shame sickened me. The panic in his eyes, the clammy palms, the hasty retreat.

The crisp night was a welcome relief from my hut, once so lovely and solitary and girlish. My arms laden with sheets, at least I was free. Back to sweet solitude. Back to the night and me. Who knew what the morning would bring? But for the next few dark hours I was free in my fiery, impassioned rage. Free and fierce and licking my own wounds.

In the end, I wasn’t pregnant. But there also wasn’t any blood for the rest of the summer. And my body didn’t feel like my own for nearly a year after the fact.  At least it would never be his again. We agreed to forget the night. As though I could forget, as though I would want to forget. How, after all, could I then raise my future daughters to know the power they hold within their bodies, and the great and terrible responsibility it is to be a woman?

That night will always exist in my archives. And the fear I have tasted, the rage and shame, too. Sixteen and twenty are fond memories, but I would shrink from visiting those eras again. That girl has mountains and friends and new ideas to comfort her now. She knows that her mind and her beauty and her soul are nothing short of holy, and should be treated as such.

By sharing our memories with the intent to inspire and not to frighten, the girls of our past selves and of the future heal and reclaim their power. After all, there is so much to look forward to. The air is still sweet and fresh after dark, and I still welcome the hope of new love. Somewhere beyond the moss and vines, true freedom awaits. And it will find a fierce, warm, and intoxicating home in my arms.

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