Nearly every woman I know has experienced some type of sexual violence or abuse…including me.
It’s so common place that I count myself lucky that it wasn’t worse; I’ve heard the first hand stories of terrible trauma, often at the hands of people with intimate access and trust.
Sitting down to write about One Billion Rising, I intended to add my voice to the growing global chorus of awakening women and men. And then the memories of my own violations began to sprout from the keyboard like sow thistle.
There was the older creepy kid in the apartment complex who tried to lock me and my brother in his apartment to play show and tell. I was frozen with fear and sobbing uncontrollably—I begged him to let us go.
Thankfully, my ferociously courageous little brother kicked that kid in the shins until he let us leave.
I remember the boy I had been friends with in art class, who tried to rape me my freshman year in high school. He didn’t get very far, because he sorely underestimated my strength and determination not to let him have his way.
It was terrifying. But the aftermath was far worse; I was blamed for his choices and behavior. I managed to avoid ever seeing him again until our 20th high school reunion. He said hello; the shock and pain of his teenage attack throbbed to the surface like a hot muscular scar. I reflexively said hello back, astounded by the absurdity of standing in front of my attacker all these years later.
What do you say?
You hurt me. Not once, but twice. You lied to everyone and blamed me for your beastly behavior. What do you have to say for yourself?
I realized that an apology would have meant a lot; I did not expect to get one. Then I saw his gorgeous wife—did she know about him? What if he had changed?
He is a doctor in Texas now. Primum non nocere (first, do no harm).
I wish that had been the last mortifying transgression on my body. Another friend in high school betrayed my trust and friendship by setting me up with a boy who wanted to lose his virginity to me. She played along with his game, watching me fall hopelessly in love with a lie. To him, I was a means to and end. How many boys grow up thinking that way?
Fortunately, he only succeeded in breaking my heart.
In college, I met a hunk of guy at a party and when he wanted to move too quickly past first base, I decided it was time to go. He got really rough and it scared me.
“What’s the matter with you? All the girls want me.”
I lost a pearl earring in that wake up call.
Even in Sweden, where most men are fairly egalitarian in their relationships, a guy tried to feel me up while I was asleep. And when I was in the corporate world, I had a few harassing dates with men who just could not understand why the date was over.
And in this world of atrocious crimes against women and girls, I count myself lucky.
Our daughters deserve better. This should be the year of Vagina Valentine’s, a proclamation of unconditional love and respect for all girls and women. Our vaginas are not invitations to be assaulted, fondled, grabbed or abused in any way. Ever. We should be honoring the sweet life giving nectar that is yours, mine and ours.
Sending a Valentine should not be about getting into a vagina but honoring the sacred dignity and inherent humanity of every woman and girl who has one.
Thanks to Eve Ensler, the award winning playwright of The Vagina Monologues, founder of City of Joy, One Billion Rising has galvanized millions of men and women from all walks of life and positions of influence to push for life saving changes around the world.
On February 14th, we are all urged to do whatever we can to rise up and take back our planet, our hope and our right to a peaceful, healthy world.
One billion women are in more danger than any soldier in war.
As Thandie Newton explains in her recent interview, violence against women is species suicide. The perpetrators are often victims of massive trauma in their own lives. Standing up for girls, heals boys as well. The cycle must to stop.
We may never fully understand what provokes the perpetrators of violence towards women and girls, but we can certainly raise awareness and consciousness so that more of us know, without any doubt, that it is wrong.
There are thousands of campaigns all over the world, implementing whatever strategies and policies are most needed in those areas. We can begin in the United States by celebrating our Senate passing the Anti-violence Against Women Act.
Eve Ensler started V Day 15 years ago on Valentine’s Day, to bring awareness to the global epidemic of rape and abuse against women. Her wildly successful play The Vagina Monologues allowed women and men to begin speaking about female sexuality and experiences with liberating boldness.
The way we treat women and girls is absolutely reflected in how we treat the earth and ourselves. Isn’t it time to see the feminine, our daughters, sisters, mothers, wives and Mother Nature herself as inherently worthy of protection and unequivocally valuable to our shared future?
We are all connected in this; what happens to one, happens to all.
The time to get up and be part of this global revolution is now—I’ll stand by you, and all of the women and girls of the world.
L. Peterson is a writer, photographer, and mother to four precious souls. L. is passionate about the earth and human potential. In her treasure box are photos of loved ones, seashells, and mysterious keys.
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Assistant Ed: Lori Lothian
Ed: Bryonie Wise