A few years ago, I was having some car trouble and rode the bus everywhere. My baby and I were headed back home after running an errand across town. A group of boys climbed on the bus, sat down, and began to chat among each other.
They engaged in the sort of “locker room talk” that is deemed acceptable for them to say anywhere and everywhere, because no one interrupts it. They described ignoring girls’ boundaries and crossing lines that shouldn’t be crossed. At the time, I was still processing my rape, and began to feel fearful of these boys who clearly thought rape wasn’t actually rape, but harmless fun. One of the boys said, “That’s not right. That’s not sex, that’s rape!” The boys in his group kept shooting him down, but he insisted, “That’s rape!” The entire bus was quiet, as I assessed how safe it would be for me to speak up with my baby in my lap.
I had ample time to say something, and everyone riding the full bus had ample time to say something, yet we didn’t.
This is an example of rape culture. Silence is the most powerful weapon in a rapist’s arsenal. It is what allows rape to continue, unchecked and unacknowledged.
To the boy on the bus who challenged rape culture: thank you.
Keep speaking out.
Keep telling your friends they’re wrong.
Keep challenging their mistaken ideas about sex and consent.
I’m sorry I didn’t tell you this to your face, but I was too scared of your friends to say anything. I was scared because a boy who also thought rape was “harmless” had raped me. I was scared because I didn’t want it to happen again. I was scared because I was alone with my baby, and far from home. I was scared because everywhere I go, society tells me my safety is far less important than that of my rapist’s.
When I think about the way you stood up for me, even though you didn’t know you were standing up for me, I wish I’d thanked you and stood with you when I had the chance.
When I was raped, there were several other boys around. Not one of them stopped my attacker. Not one of them stood up for me. The detective I reported the rape to, didn’t stand up for me: he believed my rapist immediately when my rapist said I consented. My ex-boyfriend at the time didn’t stand up for me: he focused on his own feelings, instead of being there for me. My next boyfriend didn’t stand up for me: I asked him for help when I was having a hard time dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and he decided to call the cops on me, like I’d done something wrong.
Amid all these people who didn’t stand up for me, there were those who did. They were the people who helped me recover and gave me hope. There was the therapist I found for free at a rape crisis center. There were the countless other survivors who shared their stories of strength and recovery. There were the advocates who worked to support sexual assault and domestic violence survivors. There were the activists who fought for legal rights for survivors. There were the folks who talked about consent and why it matters. There were the countless people I met along my path who spoke out about sexual violence and who learned all they could about how trauma affects survivors to provide them with the best services possible.
I count you, the young man on the bus who spoke out, among those who stood up for me.
Please keep using your voice to call out injustice, because every voice counts. I need every voice possible to stand up for my rights, whenever and wherever possible, because my voice continues to be drowned out among the many who believe my rights are an option.
Thank you for being a man whose heart and conscience wins out over the pressure to conform. Whoever raised you taught you well.