How Could I Not Be Aware?

Post Date: May 1st, 2013

It’s April 30 and I just learned yesterday that April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month

I’m troubled that I didn’t know, considering the book I’ve just written. How Wendy Redbird Dancing Survived the Dark Ages of Nought is about many things–race, family, identity, and religion–but its basic story is that of a young woman who survives the trauma of sexual violence. My book is part of awareness because I have met so many survivors over the years whose stories made me cry, wonder, and pray. Out of the unanswerable questions about human evil and horror we perpetrate on one another, a story emerged that I had no choice but to tell.SAAM logo

Talk early, talk often. Prevent Sexual Violence. SAAM’s slogan resonates because I just wrote a portrait of a noncommittal and wandering mother who never broaches such subjects with her daughter. The greatest sin of omission we can commit as parents, guardians, and educators is not talking about these issues. If we don’t discuss with our children and teens their rights to their own bodies and ways to keep themselves safe, then they will flounder at best and risk trauma on their own. And what child or teen knows how to deter a sexual predator or an assaultive partner?

Though talk won’t guarantee 100% safety, it will shine the light on a subject that thrives in the dark. It will force perpetrators to stop, one by one. Let’s try talking

It was about the time that certain U.S. congressmen started rationalizing rape or explaining it away that I knew How Wendy Redbird Dancing Survived the Dark Ages of Nought had something timely to say. It’s an old, old story, the threat of sexual violence, the ignorance about why it happens, and the hatred of the victims. We must stop blaming or ignoring those who seek help or speak later rather than sooner.  We must stop getting squeamish or offended that someone wants to raise something so “awful” or “ugly” or “inappropriate.” What’s more inappropriate–the discomfort of this discussion, or rape? What’s more unpleasant–allowing a secret to be said, or living day and night with the terror of it? 

When Wendy finally finds someone who will listen to her, her first thought is to blame herself. She says, “I am supposedly a smart girl, an old soul. Smart girls know better.” Is it any wonder, when certain legislators running this country would tell her the same lie? It’s your fault someone raped you. You brought this on yourself. 

There are college women unwelcome on their campuses who are now fighting back. There are military personnel who are saying, Enough. And everywhere we turn, in every community great or small, there is a child or a teen who is looking for someone to ask him or her the right question so the words may finally flow. 

Talk early, often, and now. It may be the last day of April, but the awareness can grow anytime, anywhere, no matter what the season. 

Writing Prompts

  1. What is preventing me from having a conversation with someone who needs to know how to be safe?
  2. What have I read, whether fiction or nonfiction, that might pave the way to a conversation about respecting one’s body, the bodies of others, and keeping oneself safe? 
  3. What responsibility do educators have to talk about these subjects? What is the right time and place for these conversations, and who should lead them? To Kill a Mockingbird, for example, addresses incest and rape. 
  4. How would I answer these questions if I were reading a work that shared scenes of sexual violence? How might I adapt these discussion questions–designed for Mayella Ewell and Wendy Redbird Dancing–to another work of literature or nonfiction?
    1. Why doesn’t the survivor tell the truth about her trauma?
    2. When she speaks, what does she say? Why?
    3. What does the setting of the story tell you about why the survivor doesn’t tell the full details of her story?
    4. Does the community have a responsibility to the survivor?
    5. Place yourself in the shoes of the survivor or someone else in the community and explain what you might do and why.

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