Schrödinger’s Dick Pic and My Quest for Legal Justice

One morning last August I woke up and checked my phone to find an email with a picture attached. It was a picture of a penis. Not how I wanted to start my Sunday. 

Infuriatingly, many women know this exact sensation. Some of you are even desensitized to it. Somehow I made it past 30 without getting an unsolicited dick pic. Until this one. I won’t describe the dick (it was nothing special) but I will describe how I felt 

First, disgusted. Second, confused and immediately after, sad. I tried to laugh it off as pathetic, but that quickly devolved into rage. Someone had the notion to text me a picture of their dick in the small hours of the morning and followed through on that impulse, and now because of this disgusting person, a dick is permanently burned into my memory. I couldn’t imagine the absolute audacity of someone feeling like they have a right to do this to me. I still can’t.

My husband was supportive. My friends were supportive. But I was still so sad and enraged about it that I could barely breathe. Even typing this, my pulse is climbing. So I called the National Sexual Assault Hotline (1-800-656-4673) and they put me in touch with someone local who volunteers to listen to whatever anyone dealing with any type of sexual assault might need to talk about.

In addition to telling me I didn’t cause this, and I had a right to be upset even though this incident was fairly minor, which I knew but appreciated hearing, she told me that this was actually a crime. Like, not just a moral injustice, but an actual, theoretically punishable, crime.

I am probably not the first person this guy ever sent a dick pic. I am, disappointingly, probably not the last. I thought maybe I could use my white privilege as a righteous weapon and make this disgusting, troubled individual face some consequences for this dick pic instead of just shouldering them all on my own. I am so tired of living in a world where women have to endure the cost of men’s actions, you know?

So I went to the police station. I had never been to a police station before. I’ve never even been pulled over. I nervously approached the counter like I was ordering at a new restaurant where I didn’t know the rules for building my sandwich, cleared my throat and said I would like to report a crime, please. 

The woman at the desk arched her eyebrow when I told her the crime. She was waiting for me to finish. Someone sent you a dick pic and…? This crime doesn’t get reported a lot, I guess. The two women behind the glass had a giggle about it while they entered it into the computer. You have to fill out a form. They asked for my social security number, which honestly just seems like a trap to catch undocumented immigrants, or at least discourage them further from reporting crimes. Although I felt gross and uncomfortable, I felt slightly buoyed by the idea that I was standing up for women more vulnerable than myself. Women with more to lose by walking into a police station. I didn’t want this person to ever do this again, so I slogged through my own humiliation to put justice in motion. 

A few days later a detective called me on the phone and told me this wasn’t actually a crime, and I fought back a nervous lump in my throat to read him the exact statute that had been violated. He hadn’t heard of it. If I hadn’t had this information I would have been rebuffed. 

I had to go back to the police station and give a statement. The detective has admittedly probably seen unspeakable horrors and was not at all phased by my little story, and he showed that plainly enough on his face. I felt a little stupid, like I was wasting everyone’s time, including my own. But I held tight to the knowledge that I was a victim of a crime. If they could just find this guy, I reasoned, I would press all of the charges. He would think about me and feel gross and sad, the way I do when I think about him. 

The picture landed in my email, but it was actually texted to my Google Voice account from another Google Voice account. I got one to make campaign calls because it’s an anonymous black hole you can make phone calls from without people knowing who you really are. Which also makes it a great way for people to anonymously send pictures of their genitals to unconsenting strangers. The detective said he would get a warrant but braced me for the fact that they probably wouldn’t find anything. I should be used to managing my expectations on things like this, and yet somehow I find myself constantly disappointed. 

Google came through with the warrant and they found him. Sort of. 

The detective said the phone number belonged to an older man who most likely texted me the picture by accident. The man, the detective continued, was a little senile. He had recently lost his wife and was possibly grief stricken. He sounded very sorry, I’m told, and the detective decided to leave it alone. I didn’t feel like that was his call to make. 

I know I said I wouldn’t describe the dick in the photo, but I think I do have to describe it a little, I’m sorry. It’s relevant, I swear. It wasn’t really an old person dick that landed in my inbox. I’m not a detective, but that seems like a clue. And if he was so senile that he sent me a dick in a fit of grief induced hysteria, how does he work a google voice account? Maybe someone who wasn’t the owner of the phone plan sent me a dick. He could have Nancy Drew-ed this a little. But he didn’t ask. 

I don’t care whether it was an accident or a regrettable mistake. This dude should be more careful with keeping his dick out of the wrong hands, so to speak. But if it was an accident, why the sob story about losing his wife? Another detail about the dick pic will make this clear: it was a white dick. Or at least a white passing one. He was granted the benefit of a doubt for not committing a crime, and simultaneously forgiven for the crime itself. Schrödinger’s Dick Pic.

I knew this but hoped it wouldn’t be true this time: White people can straight up just commit crimes and get away with it.  But I allowed myself to hope that with such a clear violation of a very specific law, with my evidence, and my willingness to come forward, that the owner of this dick would suffer a small fraction of the pain he had inflicted on me. But in a battle of white privilege vs white privilege, male privilege usually breaks the tie. It was apparently naive of me to expect law enforcement to, I don’t know, enforce their own laws. I appealed to a pro bono lawyer who said he would look into it, but it’s been almost a year and I don’t think anything is going to happen. 

So why am I dredging up this gross nonsense now? Tell me you’re starting to connect some of these dick dots. 

For one, with growing calls to defund the police, I’m getting a lot of whining and self righteous finger wagging from folks who say we need to think of rape victims. “Who are they supposed to call?” Google how many rape kits are rotting in storage lockers in your state. Here in South Carolina, as of February, there were “1,258 sexual assault kits in line for testing, the oldest of which was submitted in 2016.” These people don’t chime in with support for rape victims on any other topics. I felt humiliated just talking about a dick in my inbox. I can’t imagine the guts it would take to describe a rape in detail, over and over again, only to have it reach the same conclusion as my story. And statistically, that’s what would happen.

Cops aren’t doing a good job of preventing these crimes, and our criminal justice system does an appalling job at punishing them. I’m sure there are people out there who’ve had positive experiences with law enforcement in the wake of an assault, but that doesn’t change the fact that the vast majority of perpetrators won’t see a day in jail, or the fact that reporting a crime like this was, in my and others’ experiences, almost as bad as the incident itself. I want to believe there is a better way to hold people responsible for crimes than the way we’re doing it now, and I don’t want conversations about defunding the police to be derailed in the name of people who are harmed by the status quo. 

Speaking of which. Do you ever get brave and read the comments on news articles about the murder of a Black person by the police? I try not to, but sometimes I can’t help myself. Inevitably, a white person will chime in and say that if the person in question had only followed the law, they would still be alive. In a “free” country, a lot of people take it as a given that, violating the law, any law, justifies murder. Except, obviously, for white people.

Every time I read a comment like that, I flash back to the piece of paper in my little police report folder where I wrote the law that had been violated. I don’t want the owner of the dick to slowly suffocate face down on the pavement under a cop’s knee. But I didn’t even get so much as a weak apology. 

I don’t feel protected or served, and if you’re eager to assume someone murdered by police must have done something to deserve it, something tells me you don’t either. 

That dick is still in my inbox. I can’t bring myself to delete it, because part of me hopes that the sender may yet face consequences and I don’t want to get rid of the evidence. 

But then I remember that Brock Turner only served three months in jail for rape. That dick is probably here to stay. 

The Last Taino Indian Has Not Yet Been Born

Photographer: Kiki Vassilakis
Photographer: Kiki Vassilakis

the other day a sister asked me
what does the diaspora feel like?
a question i’ve never thought of before
yet it invoked fleeting memories of
a home that was out of my reach
like the sand slipping through my fingers on the island of Borinken
i grasp at something that will never be mine

it’s a complicated blend of
lineage and forced genocide
of comfort and violation

it feels like love letters never sent
to a home that always offered dinner
but not belonging

just like the time my partner’s family
wrote me off as too angry
too rude
too expressive
because people like me should let the white folks discuss politics

it feels like never being black enough
or brown enough
or white enough
stuck between here and there
but never whole enough for both

it feels like the time you
forced yourself inside of me
because you thought you had a right
to re-colonize this body
it almost broke me

BUT ALMOST DOESN’T COUNT

resiliency runs in my blood
blood that my ancestors shed at the hands
of murderers and rapists
but i am the living testament
to surviving
to revolting
to existing when no one else wants you to

there’s a myth you probably learned as fact in grade school:
all of the Tainos were wiped out
conquered by columbus himself
an old civilization lost to disease and war

IT’S A FUCKING LIE

the diaspora continues with me

The Power of Pee

Tonight is the third night in a row I have left the support center I volunteer at once a week, needing to pee. There is a perfectly acceptable bathroom that I have access to before I leave, but I never use it. There is always this little voice in my head, as I watch the minutes crawl to the hour when I can leave that whispers, “At least this way if anyone does attack you on your way home, you can pee on them.”

I am reminded of a drunk driving course I had to take in high school in which the woman leading it told us all not to bother asking our speeding friends to slow down, but simply to threaten that we were about to vomit because no self-respecting speed dragon would ever wish to ruin their upholstery. This was directed at all of us, regardless of gender, when she said it. I remember being shocked and then impressed by how simple a threat it would be to carry out. Of course, nobody likes vomit on their upholstery; that’s expensive and time-consuming to clean up. Equally so, vomiting is a bodily function we don’t always have control over. Nobody could blame you if you did vomit due to fear of speed, you wouldn’t necessarily evoke the label of ‘wuss’ in the same way as you might if you cried. Vomit is more serious and much more unsettling than tears.

As I leave the building that’s located in a small cul-de-sac just off a busy main road littered with takeaways, pubs and bus stops, I keep my head down as I head to my car. My hair is always down – no ponytail, no extra allure to grab onto – my hands are dug into my pockets and my phone is always speed-dialing my mother or my boyfriend, usually on speakerphone. I used to live in a dodgy neighborhood, two cities ago, where being followed was almost a rite of passage one should expect to go through, especially if one is female and in her twenties. I used to be able to escape to the local grocery store where there was a security guard on the door if it happened back there, or I could call one of my male housemates to come and meet me at the end of the street. Here I live alone and whilst there are several pubs along the road, there are plenty more dark alleyways without security roaming.

It never takes me any more than about 100 steps to get to my car. I always arrive early to scope the closest parking spot. Every night, as I take a big deep breath before I leave the building, I wonder what life would be like if I felt safe in my skin, in my gender, in the patriarchy that fills me with terror every time I leave my door. What would it be like if I didn’t hold my breath every time someone walks too closely behind me in the street, if I didn’t panic dial my partner whenever I get off the bus in the dark, or even if I could tie my hair back without thinking about it.

What could I be accomplishing if I wasn’t worrying about my bladder and whether or not I need to use it as a weapon? What on earth makes me think that if I’d peed before, I’d have been protected by urine?

It’s a topic I would never bring up to my co-workers, although I know they fear unlocked doors at work and feel uncertain of the giant, dark old building we work in. I don’t think it’s something I’d feel comfortable discussing with my friends either, not because I think it would be met with derision, but rather because I think it would be met with understanding. The fact that someone could understand me thinking of using my bladder as protection, that it might not be such an unreasonable idea to forego using the bathroom, this might make the world outside seem just too scary for me to bear.

Because if even that chance, that shock, that minute of horror could give me an opportunity to escape, to protect myself, I might never use a bathroom again.

Kesha: A Bridge to Truth

*Trigger Warning: descriptions of sexual abuse

On Friday, February 19th, a New York judge denied pop singer Kesha’s injunction against former music producer Dr. Luke. Part of an ongoing legal battle since October 2014, Kesha is suing Lukasz Gottwald, known as “Dr. Luke,” for a decade of sexual, physical, verbal and emotional abuse, which allegedly began when she was just a teenager and left high school to begin a music career in Los Angeles.

The injunction would have made it possible for Kesha to continue recording with Sony, but not with Kemosabe Records (Dr. Luke’s label). Kesha’s lawyer, Mark Geragos, had originally asked for the injunction because her career had been hold for a while (since the lawsuit began) and, if she didn’t return to record soon, her career could be irreparably damaged. NY Supreme Court Justice Shirley Kornreich denied the injunction, saying,“You’re asking the court to decimate a contract that was heavily negotiated and typical for the industry.” Because Dr. Luke had invested 60 million dollars in her career and had agreed to allow her to let her record without his involvement, the judge stated that this decimated her argument, adding, “My instinct is to do the commercially reasonable thing.”

Sony has refused to produce her music unless she agreed to work with Dr. Luke. Thanks to the judge’s decision, Kesha will be required to continue working with the music producer. However, Sony and Dr. Luke have argued that the agreement allows her to create more records without Dr. Luke’s input or presence in the studio, while maintaining her original contract. In their eyes, that should be good enough for her.

kesha

When Kesha first began her lawsuit, Dr. Luke responded with a counter lawsuit, saying that the singer was just trying to extort him in order to get out of her contract and defame him. Dr. Luke has worked with other big names in the past, including Katy Perry, Britney Spears and Kelly Clarkson. Kesha said that during their ten-year relationship, she allegedly suffered a number of incidents. In one occasion, he made her snort a substance before getting on a plane, where he then assaulted her while in the air. Another time, he drugged her with GHB (gamma-hydroxybutyric acid, known as a date rape drug) and she woke up hours later in his bed, naked with no memory of what had occurred.

Dr. Luke has denied all charges of sexual abuse and says that Kesha is suing because she is frustrated with her stalled career. “His attorneys have argued that Kesha’s claims came too late and are too vague, the harm is overstated and that she’s not likely to prevail on her discrimination, harassment and hate crime claims nor beat his ones for allegedly breaching a contract and committing defamation.”

In an Instagram post on February 18th, Kesha wrote, “I have nothing left to hide. I did this because the truth was eating away my soul and killing me from the inside. this is not just for me. this is for every woman, every human who has ever been abused. sexually. emotionally. mentally. I had to tell the truth. so the outcome will be what it will be. there’s nothing left I can do. it’s just so scary to have zero control in your fate. but this is my path this life for whatever reason.”

Kesha’s fans have been publicly behind her every step of the way. After the judge’s decisions, fans and fellow musicians, including Kelly Clarkson, Ariana Grande, Lorde and Lady Gaga, posted messages of support using the hashtag “FreeKesha.” Even Taylor Swift is stepping up, by donating $250,000 to Kesha to help her with any of her financial needs.

Since the decision, Kesha made a public statement saying, “”All I ever wanted was to be able to make music without being afraid, scared, or abused,” Kesha wrote. “This case has never been about a renegotiation of my record contract – it was never about getting a bigger, or a better deal. This is about being free from my abuser. I would be willing to work with Sony if they do the right thing and break all ties that bind me to my abuser.”

The fact that this story is only now just making major headlines is astonishing. Firstly, why, after almost a year and a half, are people only now starting to pay attention? Secondly, what kind of judge—yet alone human being—would decide that a working relationship in which the employer regularly abuses their employee must be maintained?

Taking away Lukasz Gottwald’s rights and allowing Kesha to break her contract with him would acknowledge that this was overlooked, damaging not only his reputation, but Sony’s as well. Sony doesn’t want to dirty its hands trying to save Kesha. It seems that Shirley Kornreich has decided that when a famous music producer invests in you, you’re supposed to be grateful. Sure, he may try to take advantage of you, but because he spent his time and money on you, continuing to work with him, rather than trying to pull away to salvage the rest of your career and peace of mind, is “the commercially sound thing to do.”

This isn’t an isolated incident. There are the many women who have come forward as victims of sexual assault by Bill Cosby, the numerous victims, including Amber Coffman (of Dirty Projectors), accusing music publicist, Heathcliff Berru of sexual harassment,  the story of R. Kelly preying on teenage girls that broke 17 years ago, not to mention Jackie Fox’s (of the Runaways) heartwrenching story involving her manager, Kim Fowley. The music industry is rampant with cases of men in power taking advantage of female musicians. Most recently, Michael Gira of the experimental rock band, Swans, was accused of sexual assault by singer-songwriter Larkin Grimm. Grimm described Gira as her “beloved, trusted mentor, really my guru.” Lady Gaga’s Oscar performance that spoke to her own experience of being raped, early on in her career, is the latest of these many stories. But it may not be the end, unfortunately.

Why are male producers and musicians given a pass when it comes to these situations? What this and other stories like this have in common is that they all involve a man in power. Is it the fame, reputation and prestige that they carry? The fact that because they’re producing quality work, they should be respected, no matter their actions? We can’t keep idolizing these perpetrators for the fame if they aren’t good people at heart. The Hollywood world has become a strange universe, where we analyze everything from what celebrities eat, to what they wear, how they do their hair or even how they’re “just like us!” Somewhere along the line, we forget that they are just people, just like us. Just because someone (especially a man) is creating brilliant work, doesn’t mean that they can treat people however they want. We need to make the personal political and vice versa. Kesha’s story matters. Larkin Grimm’s story matters. The stories of the women who are sexually assaulted every day matter. We need to stop saying, “Yeah, what he did was awful, but he’s such a good musician/producer/artist though…”

By allowing women in the spotlight to have their stories heard and considered part of a much bigger problematic trend, we open the gateway towards preventing future assaults. If a white musician like Kesha can have her experience as a victim of sexual abuse be negated, imagine how much harder it must be for women of color. As the journalist who broke the story of R. Kelly’s sexual assault stated, “The saddest fact I’ve learned is nobody matters less to our society than young black women. Nobody.” By allowing Kesha’s story to be heard and have her experiences be considered important, not just be a “part of the industry,” it gives other women hope. The fact that Lady Gaga, Taylor Swift and many others are stepping forward to support Kesha is a step in the right direction. Let’s learn from this and try to be an ally for victims, let them tell their stories and allow them to be validated, not shut down.

Battle of The Sexes

Yesterday I had a heated conversation with friends over red wine and cherry tomatoes. We talked about the unspoken realities between the sexes and how a spoken “no” could be taken as a yes. This quickly turned into a boys vs. girls debate.  Although the topics discussed aren’t that black and white, there is some truth in it.

We talked about a girl (a friend of a friend) who is known to spend the entire night talking and flirting with a guy. Then, they walk home together and she ends up inviting him to see the beautiful view from her balcony. Now, for some (dare I say most?) guys, this evening would almost certainly end with two naked people in bed. For a girl, and for this girl specifically, this is not a sure thing. And you know what? That’s perfectly fine. Spending the evening with a guy should never make a girl feel pressured to invite him in her bed.

On the other hand, I don’t think there is anything wrong with a guy hoping his evening ends in several compromising positions. What I do have a problem with is when the guy automatically expects it to happen and if it doesn’t, he leaves, super frustrated, thinking that the whole evening was a waste of time. There is something very wrong with this sense of entitlement. That same guy will probably wind up telling his bros that the girl is a cock tease. This type of guy is like a small child that wants cookies from a cookie jar. Just because he gets one, does not mean he is entitled to all of them. If this reality makes a guy frustrated, he probably didn’t deserve the cookie in the first place.

Expectations are a tricky thing. I, myself, have been in situations with guys where there was confusion about what we both wanted, sexually. Two of these situations involved guys who I saw rather frequently. Initially, there was some attraction between us and some flirtation, but in their minds, this automatically meant that I couldn’t wait to have sex with them. One of them even literally proposed to take my virginity off my hands (Virginity is such a nuisance, isn’t it?). When I told him, “Thanks, but no thanks, I would like it to be with someone I’m in love with,” his reaction made it clear that he had not expected me to turn down his oh-so-kind offer. His only response was, “You know if I wanted to, I could easily make you fall in love with me.” Oddly enough, almost ten years later, the falling still hasn’t occurred. Needless to say, what these guys thought I wanted was far from the truth.

So yeah, thoughts vs. reality: not necessarily the same thing. It’s never okay for guys to assume that just because women act a certain way, it automatically means they’re going to get some. Newsflash: body language and flirtation are not an exact science and, as far as I know, mind-reading is still not a university major. Inviting someone up to the apartment is not the same as inviting someone in for the night. It could lead to something more or not, and both scenarios should be treated as equally plausible options.

Even if a guy finds things with a girl going further than he expected – much more kissy, touchy and exciting that also doesn’t mean he’s going to have sex for sure. I think we can all agree that putting your tongue in someone else’s mouth is not as intimate as putting a penis in someone’s vagina. As a side note, I would like to add that, while blue balls are a real thing, a lady should never feel obliged to relieve the man’s pain. So please fellas, don’t be the kind of guy who makes her feel pressured or guilty about it. 

It’s okay for people to have different assumptions about what certain actions or situations mean, because – hurray – to avoid too much confusion, we have this great gift called communication!

But sometimes, even when we communicate our desires, there can be confusion. More specifically, when we say “no.” Now, of course not all situations are the same and there is a difference between talking to someone you just met and talking to your boyfriend of seven years. But even so, I think a good rule would be: no ALWAYS means no. Not: “She said ‘no’, but her eyes said ‘yes’.” Or “She said ‘no’, but the way she said it sounded more like a ‘yes’.” Or even: “She didn’t say ‘no’ before, so she can’t say ‘no’ now.” This isn’t about offering someone a piece of chocolate. It’s about an incredibly intimate act, that, if there isn’t clear consent from both sides, can turn into a nightmare. Even if someone says “no” but means “yes,” the safest bet is to always assume “no” means “no.”

Throughout the conversation with my friends, a recurring, vital point seemed to be: don’t assume too much. Don’t think of “signs” as an exact science. Because what about men or women who say they just want casual sex? We hear stories from our friends of guys who say from the start that they aren’t looking for anything serious. But then later on, the girl starts seeing signs, leading her to believe the guy does want to date her. So often, she ends up heartbroken when she realizes that, in fact, he never changed his mind about her.

In this scenario, we can’t blame the guy, because he was honest from the start. I think we can say the same about a girl who says she doesn’t want to have (casual) sex, even if you see “signs” to the contrary.

Let’s just remember that when it comes to a situation that could end in sex, we bring our own baggage: experiences, personality, insecurities and so on. Our interpretations are not always going to match.

Even though it goes both ways, women are expected to bend more often to men’s expectations. But why should women have to adapt their behavior to the unspoken desires of men? Why should women stop talking or even dancing with guys unless they’re 100% sure they want to have sex (preferably all in one night)? A girl’s feelings about a situation are just as valuable as a guy’s. It’s not like, if a girl thinks that guys only approach her if they are ready to go steady, this is a universally acknowledged truth. Her assumptions about a guy’s intentions are not his responsibility. Same with guys thinking girls who flirt with them are always ready to go home with them.

My point is that the moment sex comes into the picture, many, many things fall into a grey area. The best we can do is try to be clear about our consent, respect the other person’s choice (even if it changes later) and have lots of consensual fun along the way. In my experience, there is nothing as exciting as being with a man I know I can say “no” to, without having to feel guilty about it.

Still confused? Maybe this Youtube video will help:

Tea consent

How A Series of Tweets by Amber Coffman of Dirty Projectors Caused a Domino Effect of Sexual Assault Survivors

On Monday night, Amber Coffman from Dirty Projectors spoke out on Twitter about an incident in which music publicist Heathcliff Berru sexually assaulted her.

https://twitter.com/Amber_Coffman/status/689241020769280000

https://twitter.com/Amber_Coffman/status/689241386038607872

https://twitter.com/Amber_Coffman/status/689243235986702337

https://twitter.com/Amber_Coffman/status/689245788392669184

https://twitter.com/Amber_Coffman/status/689287391081660416

https://twitter.com/Amber_Coffman/status/689287711878860800

https://twitter.com/Amber_Coffman/status/689289076319490049

https://twitter.com/Amber_Coffman/status/689292700076486656

Some fellow publicists and artists who are familiar with Heathcliff’s behavior spoke out about their own experiences,  including Bethany Cosentino from Best Coast and publicist Beth Martínez. Beth’s incident with Heathcliff goes beyond sexual misconduct—besides sharing her own tweets about her experience, she also released a statement via FADER  in which she gave details of the assault, claiming that he roofied her.

“None of this was meant to bring Cliff Berru down. I replied to Amber’s tweet because I had had a similar experience and I wanted to share my story. I think it’s very important for young women in the music industry—and all industries—to know that unwanted sexual attention is not their fault and not appropriate. You do not have to give in to anything you don’t want to do in fear of not moving higher on the ladder. This is not just the work of one sexual predator—this is the culture in our society of how women are treated that needs to change. I’m glad this story is getting out in the open now, because women have been silent for years about the harassment we face on a daily basis. Every woman I know has multiple stories of harassment and/or sexual assault. The stories you are hearing about Cliff today are not the exception. This is what we deal with as women every day when we leave our houses. What’s unusual here, maybe, is that so many people have faced harassment at the hands of one man. But we’ll start hearing more stories soon from women who face these same situations all the time. And I know that people are listening now, finally. I’ve been dealing with these issues with myself and my friends since I started college in 2000. This is not new. What is new is that we are finally being heard.

I tried to tell my story about getting roofied on Twitter in 2012, and I lost hundreds of followers. I was not heard then, so I wrote a book about it in order to have a way to share my experiences with other women. I never spoke publicly about it again until now, and finally things are changing. People are listening. This is good.”

Although many artists and bands such as Speedy Ortiz and Wavves have shared their support towards the multiple victims and Heathcliff stepped down from his position as CEO of Life of Death PR, it’s important to consider why it has taken many of these women so long to give their account of their experiences. Publicists control the image of the artists, which can make or break careers. He was a man who held enough power to make artists and other publicists fear speaking out about their assaults, despite knowing that his behavior is not only extremely harmful, but also unprofessional.  While the music industry seems extensive, the indie music world is small. Many of these stories are ones that had been shared before, yet weren’t discussed openly until now. It’s difficult to even process how many of these women, including Beth Martínez, had dealt with the emotional trauma of these experiences yet feared sharing them, whether it was due to the risk of losing their careers or dealing with the process of reporting an assault, which often results in women being shamed even more rather than being helped.

Of course, this type of incident doesn’t apply to just the music industry. This can be found in virtually any industry, especially when there is a man in a position of power. Just a month ago, Stoya used Twitter to discuss her own experiences with sexual assault from fellow porn star and ex boyfriend James Deen. She received plenty of support, but was also met with criticism from people who believed James’ allegations of Stoya being mentally unstable and lying about her assaults. By speaking out about it in such a public way, she helped other victims share their own stories. As Beth Martínez said, it’s good that people are finally listening, yet this doesn’t change that some men are capable of getting away with acting in such a way, no matter if they’re famous or just that one guy you went to college with.

Unfortunately, this is our reality. According to statistics, 1 in 6 American women are raped during their lifetime. While some men do experience assault, women are more likely to do so. I can honestly say that most of my female friends have experienced some sort of sexual assault or harassment. As a rape survivor, I know how difficult it is to be open about these incidents. As women, we are constantly judged and blamed for our own sexual assaults, to the point where people question the validity of our experiences. Even after experiencing my assault, it took me years to recognize assault because it had become so normalized, from men who forced themselves on me without my consent, to men who attempted to get me drunk in order to try to take advantage of me.

In order to change how sexual assault is treated, we need to continue speaking out. This shouldn’t apply only to cases involving famous or powerful people; every victim of sexual assault deserves the right to be heard and gain the justice they deserve. By speaking out about this, it creates a space for survivors to feel validated. When stories like these open up, it seems to be a domino effect. One victim allows themselves to be visible, which in turn helps another victim feel validated enough to open up their story. Recently, one of the largest examples of this has been with Bill Cosby’s victims, with the number of accusers rising to 55. I believe  the main reason why so many women have shared their stories of abuse and assault was because other women had created a visible space for them to exist. Without these survivors speaking out firsthand about her experiences, we may never have heard from the other numerous victims. It may be easy for the public to ignore, or not hear about one assault, but it’s hard to miss over 50 survivors recalling their stories with the same aggressor.

It’s incredible to see so many supporters of all genders deciding to do everything in their power to make the survivors’ stories be heard and respected. If these reactions to assault continue to grow and expand beyond listening to celebrity victims, there will be a positive change in how sexual abuse is treated, and perhaps will lead to better after care of assault victims.

No Tea Means No Tea

Trigger Warning: Consent and rape situations discussed

I recently watched this video that explains how, if a person is struggling with consent, to think of it like making a cup of tea. It explains how a person can say “No thank you” and you shouldn’t make them tea, force them to drink tea or get annoyed at them for not wanting tea.

It also illustrates how someone may say, “Yes!” to tea but after you bring them the tea, they change their mind. “Sure, that’s kind of annoying, as you’ve gone to all the effort of making the tea. But they remain under no obligation to drink the tea. They did want tea. Now they don’t. Some people change their mind in the time it takes to boil the kettle, brew the tea and add the milk. And it’s okay for people to change their mind. And you are still not entitled to watch them drink it.”

What makes this video so effective is it’s simplicity and its clear-cut examples that help viewers understand why consent is so important. The neutrality of the drawings are equally helpful because they are not assigned a specific gender, which opens it up to many different types of situations, rather than just heterosexual cis couples.

If we just thought of sex as any other act, like drinking tea, the rules would become much clearer. You wouldn’t force someone to go on a roller coaster or watch a horror movie if they decide that they don’t really like these things. As the video says, “Whether it’s tea or sex, consent is everything.”

#SolidaritywithStoya: How a Tweet Changed Our Perception of America’s (Former) Favorite Male Porn Star

Porn power couple Stoya and James Deen quietly broke off their relationship a few months ago, without sharing any details about it. To fans, they seemed to be a picture-perfect couple within a controversial industry. This changed last weekend when Stoya opened up about being sexually assaulted by former partner James Deen on Twitter.

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Since then, Tori Lux,  Ashley Fires, Kora Peters, and Amber Rayne have shared their own sexual assault experiences perpetuated by James Deen, whose real name is Bryan Sevilla. While any instance in which a male celebrity is accused of sexual assault and has numerous victims speaking out about it disturbs me, this one especially made me feel sick. I interviewed James Deen in February, where we discussed the porn industry and consent. He was adamant about the importance of consent throughout the interview, which made me believe that he’d be the last person to ever consider committing such a heinous act. Despite keeping their personal lives under wraps for the most part, Stoya and Bryan seemed to be a normal, loving couple who respected each other. The fact that there are more than three women speaking out about their assaults is surprising, to say the least. I knew he previously posted a controversial rape joke on Twitter, but I foolishly believed that he would never seriously do anything like that.

Although I’m not into porn and don’t consider it to be sexually pleasing for the most part, I did enjoy watching James Deen’s self-produced porn. Knowing that he has been accused of sexual assault by multiple women changes this; I cannot look at him the same way ever again. We are so used to hearing male celebrities being accused of assault and then either ignoring these stories or finding out that they’re false that we turn the other cheek when there’s a high chance that it actually happened. I honestly do not want to believe that he lied to me , but I cannot help but think that this rings true. Stoya has received support from many women (causing the creation of the #solidaritywithstoya hashtag on Twitter), including fellow porn star and James Deen’s ex-girlfriend Joanna Angel. While Joanna hasn’t released her own official statement about her history with James Deen, she wrote a tweet saying “He’s dead on the inside and dead to me . He’s literally the worst person I’ve ever met . That’s all I’ll say for now.” Sydney Leathers recently shared to The Daily Beast that Joanna warned her about him, “She told me when I first got into the business that I should avoid him—that he has boundary issues, basically that he tries to break women.” Ashley Fires’ statements about her experience with him matches Joanna’s warning. Here is an excerpt of what she told The Daily Beast:

“The reason I put him on my ‘no list’ was because he almost raped me,” said Fires. “The only time I’d ever seen this guy, he walked into the green room at Kink [studios], picks up Jessie Cox like a caveman, grabs her by the hair, and takes her off somewhere… and I can only imagine.”

“Later on that night, I was getting out of the shower of the communal bathroom at Kink, I reach for my towel to dry off, and he comes up from behind me and pushes himself and his erection into my butt,” she continued. “He pushes me against the sink and starts grabbing on me and I was like, ‘No, no, no James, no,’ and he released me from his grasp, and says, ‘You know, later if you want to fuck around I’m in room whatever-it-was. I was like, ‘Fuck you.’ I didn’t even know this guy, he was so out of line and entitled with my body.”

It’s important to note that none of these women have anything to gain from revealing this information. If anything, this may cause them to lose some fans. Although Stoya is recognized by many for her writing and is a relatively well-known porn star, James Deen holds more power in the media. He is often regarded as a “feminist porn star,” even if he has spoken against that title before. He initially received plenty of support from female fans on social media, but more Stoya supporters are responding to the tweet and speaking out about not believing him, offering some hope that he won’t get easily get away with his behavior now that was brought to public attention.

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While it’s still hard to ignore that almost 1,000 people have liked his statement, the support that Stoya and the other women have receive so far is extraordinary. When the victims are sex workers, it is more difficult for them to be believed and have their allegations taken seriously. People often believe that sex workers should always expect sex and want it, no matter what. This is obviously incorrect, as boundaries and consent are and should be a vital part of any type of sex work.

In this case, the women are being listened to and supported more than in other similar cases. Kink, a porn production company/BDSM site, recently announced its decision to cut ties with James Deen. The Frisky also announced their decision to no longer publish his sex advice column What Would James Deen Do? and remove advertising to his  production site.

It may not seem like much, but the fact that many large porn production companies are choosing to disassociate themselves from James Deen shows that they care about their female performers’ safety. It’s alarming how the porn industry is more willing to listen to the victim’s stories and cut ties with James Deen, unlike Hollywood, as we have seen with previous cases, such as Terry Richardson, who continues to profit as a celebrity “photographer” despite assaulting multiple women.  I am hopeful that these public statements by the victims will result in something positive, achieving justice.  Nobody should ever have to experience rape and sex workers deserve every right to work in a safe environment where their boundaries and consent are respected. 

Etching

There’s an inside and an outside of me

Each day I attempt to bring them closer

Etch onto my skin the words in my stomach

I can’t swallow them any longer

Each day I attempt to bring them closer

Secrets are sisters of lies and lies fester

I can’t swallow them any longer

The ones already there chew through my stomach lining

Secrets are sisters of lies and lies fester

They stink – to smells cling memories

The ones already there chew through my stomach lining

They burn their way onto my skin

They stink – to smells cling memories

God knows my skin and my secrets hold memories

They burn their way onto my skin

My lips stay closed but they must be visible

God knows my skin and my secrets hold memories

He features on both of them

My lips stay closed but they must be visible

Because there’s an inside and an outside of me

       And he has burned both of them

Dear Chrissie Hynde: Being Raped Is Never Your Fault

In a recent interview in The Sunday Times to promote her new memoir, Chrissie Hynde discussed her experiences with rape.  She was gang raped by a biker gang at the age of 21, who had promised to take her to a party but instead abused her in an abandoned house. While her experience is obviously horrific, her statements on how she felt about her own assault were quite controversial. She claimed that it’s simply “what they [motorcycle gangs] do” and went on to say that it’s the rape victim/survivor’s fault if they get raped.

“If I’m walking around and I’m very modestly dressed and I’m keeping to myself and someone attacks me, then I’d say that’s his fault. But if I’m being very lairy and putting it about and being provocative, then you are enticing someone who’s already unhinged— don’t do that. Come on! That’s just common sense.”

As someone who grew up listening to The Pretenders and a rape survivor, I found her statement to be extremely upsetting. Her views on rape are quite surprising and unexpected from someone who holds so much power as a woman in the music industry. She is one of the first female rock stars and has always been outspoken about not letting sexism stop her from achieving success. Hearing someone like Chrissie Hynde, who is a very prominent female figure in the music industry, blame rape victims and survivors is not only disturbing and angering, but also heartbreaking. Even if it has been more than forty years since she was violently raped, she still blames herself for it. This goes to show how much rape culture is ingrained in our society. While I am offended by her views on rape, I also recognize what she’s saying as a rape survivor.

Many survivors of sexual assault and rape tend to have the same mentality as Hynde’s. Rape isn’t limited to women and anyone can experience it. However, women are constantly told that it is our fault if we are raped. We are judged for it, rather than reminded that it is not our fault. After experiencing sexual assault, I was asked what I was wearing and if I was sure it simply wasn’t something I regretted. As disturbing as it is to hear her say she feels guilty for her own rape, I can understand why she would feel that way.  I wouldn’t be surprised if she had been repeatedly told that if she hadn’t been alone or if she was dressed modestly, she wouldn’t have experienced rape.

It doesn’t matter if you’re walking around buck naked or if you’re covered from head to toe. That will not prevent rape. It doesn’t matter if the rape was violent or not, nor if it was someone the victim knew or a stranger. It is never a rape victim’s fault. While it may be seen as progress in our society to see so many people outraged by her statements, the idea that women deserve rape and are at fault for it is still present. We need to do more to make sure that no survivors ever feel like it is their fault.

Lucy Hastings, the director of the charity Victim Support, said it best in reply to Chrissie Hynde’s comments, “Victims of sexual violence should never feel or be made to feel that they were responsible for the appalling crime they suffered – regardless of circumstances or factors which may have made them particularly vulnerable.”