This morning, as I sit here in my handmade-space of contemplation, I find myself reflecting on the woman I was as the new year dawned in 2001. I can easily imagine that if someone had asked me then, I would have described myself as an average hard-working single mom, just doing her best to raise her kids. I still had my youngest daughter, a freshman in high school, living with me, and I worked a lot to make ends meet. I was definitely crafty and made a few extra dollars each year selling various items in my sister’s gift shop during the holidays, but in no way would I have considered myself an artist. A year later I would be off on a journey of self-discovery that would lead me to writing these words today.
I am certain there are many that experienced a major transition of sorts in 2001, or the months and years afterwards. The events that would occur later that September only challenged me even more deeply in my own experience of the event we now name as 9/11. By September, I would have sent my youngest to live in Virginia. By September, as the twin towers disappeared and the news warned of anthrax attacks, I would be panicked that my efforts to PROTECT my daughter had, according to what I was hearing on the news, put her in even greater danger.
In February of 2001, my 14 year-old daughter, Amanda, went to a party with her boyfriend. I went on to bed. I had to be at work very early the next day, and Amanda’s older sister and her husband were home, too. I was furious the next morning to discover Amanda was not home, and her sister promised to stay home with Amanda until I could get back home. I was hoping to leave a bit early from my waitress duties, and I deliberated on how to handle this situation. Amanda was given a lot of freedom, because she was usually very responsible. I was worried … and furious.
When I arrived home, I was not prepared for what would unfold. I learned my daughter had been drugged and raped by several of her peers at the party, then dropped off on the side of the road some distance from the house to walk the rest of the way home. During the morning, Amanda told her sister what had happened. Her sister had been raped by an officer while in the Navy, and Amanda felt safe talking to her. When I got home and learned of this crime, we immediately went to the hospital and called the sheriff.
In the days to follow, the attacks from peers protecting the perpetrators escalated to the point where Amanda’s well-being, both physical and mental, was in jeopardy, and she decided she wanted to go and live with her father in Virginia and put it behind her. In Ohio, a minor need not pursue criminal action against her rapist, and the sheriff’s office is obligated to do so on her behalf. At least that is what we were told.
After the rape in early 2001, Amanda and I both relied on the experts to guide us, and the law to protect her. I admired my 14 year-old daughter who had the courage to tell the truth of her brutal experience, despite the threats of peers and the critical judgements of others. I was still very much a mother, worried about my young daughter and how this event would impact her. This was in the days before the ease with which we can video chat with nearly anyone through cell phones and wifi, as is common today. In the aftermath of 911, Amanda was living within close proximity of Washington D.C. and this boosted my fears and worries to even greater levels. Amanda seemed to be doing well, most of the time, though, and I gradually accepted the fact that for the first time ever, I had free time when I wasn’t working. I was single, and I knew I just wanted to get to know myself …. first.
It was in that need to reflect that I first gave myself the freedom of expressing myself as an artist. In the confusion and darkness of those days, I began to play with little scraps of fabric. Scraps of color sang the worries, fears, and hopes of my bruised heart as I tuned in to the waves of inspiration I had no trouble feeling. Today, one of the mandala quilts I did in that time-frame is the motivation for this blog entry, because it was inspired by the courage, strength, and integrity I see in my daughter
In February of THIS year, 2013, Amanda had already most certainly ‘bloomed’. She was a graduate of the University of Virginia with a degree in philosophy, she had studied at the Ayn Rand Institute, she was a remarkable mother to her six-year-old daughter, and she was in a relationship with a man that made her very happy.
I had certainly had a bit of a bloom myself. I was establishing myself as an artist, I had awakened to the fact that the experts I had relied on earlier in my life were likely corrupt, if not absolutely evil on some levels, and I had just discovered the trivium method of learning.
The much publicized Steubenville, Ohio rape case earlier this year was the impetus for Amanda to begin to speak about her rape 12 years earlier. She broke her long silence and began writing, and with the help and support of her fiance, Tim, they began doing research on her case …. and the investigation that never happened. I won’t retell that story here. You can read all of the details by visiting a website we created for her efforts. www.survivorspeaks.com/ or follow her on twitter @survivorspeaks.
Tuesday, Mother Jones featured a story about Amanda’s case as the lead story. You can read the Mother Jones article here. The timing of the article was likely due to the contact Amanda and Tim had with the group of activists known as Anonymous. Early in the research and investigations they themselves did to find out what happened to her case, they reached out to the loosely organized group of hackers to see what help they might offer.
Within hours of publication, many other media outlets published their own reports, only slightly paraphrased at best, in most cases. So many opinions, and no one bothered to ask her any questions directly. So many assumptions made by those commenting.
I was once a mainstream news junkie of sorts. I gave up that bad habit some time ago, seeing the propaganda for what it is, and avoiding exposure as much as possible. I have had a front row seat this week as I watched the feeding frenzy begin as media outlets across the world picked up the story, and offered opinions on my daughter’s character, or even well-meaning words of support based on erroneous assumptions.
For example, from Mr. Conservative:
“Stevenson had her chance twelve years ago – and chose not to take it. The fact that she was young and vulnerable then doesn’t mean that she gets to waltz into the public forum twelve years later, announce, “I’m all better now,” and launch accusations against men who might be guilty but who, if innocent, have no way to clear their names from these terrible accusations.
Right now, there are three – no, make that four — ways to view what happened twelve years ago, and none can be proven: (1) Stevenson may indeed have been drugged and raped, which is a terrible crime; (2) she may have gotten herself drunk and stoned, at which time neither she nor anyone else was coherent enough to know about consent; (3) she may willingly have participated in group sex, something she now regrets; or (3) Stevenson is a liar and nothing happened.
As I noted above, this case is completely different from Steuvenville, which happened recently and involved photographic evidence. This is also a different case from what happened to Rehtaeh Parsons, who hanged herself after pictures of her rape went viral in her school. What Anonymous did in this case, based on nothing more than the say-so of one women about events that alleged happened more than a decade ago, isn’t justice, it’s a travesty of justice.”
To which Amanda replied:
Hey there...My name is Amanda Stevenson and your story is about me...only you didn't do any real journalism you just hi-jacked information from other places without investigating. The point is that there WAS evidence...there was a rape kit...I have hospital and child services records to prove that. The local law enforcement discarded the original case file...my rape kit was allegedly destroyed in a vandalism that happened at the police station where it was housed, though after asking countless times...I have never been given official documentation of this. The similarities with Steubenville are that I was raped by my peers, treated like I had done something wrong and local law enforcement for some reason (yet TBD) didn't pursue the investigation to it's end... and further- didn't acknowledge that this had EVER even happened until Anonymous posted a site and within hours were urgently trying to contact me. Prior to that, they didn't even have my name in their system any longer. The Ohio Attorney General's office is now investigating and prosecuting this case- they tend to not be requested to get involved by local authorities when crimes didn't happen. So- if ANY ONE is going to jeopardize a fair trial more than Hocking County Law enforcement already has by not retaining documents and evidence- it's the MEDIA for reporting FALSE information. I am available for an interview, there is NO EXCUSE to report blatantly false information and to steal details from other reporters. If you'd like to speak with me....I'm not that hard to get a hold of- many reporters....real journalists, have found a way. How about you give it a go.
And another opinion:
Brenda Freestone · Top Commenter
Let's see, YOU chose not to press charges or give the police information, and now that becomes their fault HOW? Also, 12 years ago the public climate regarding this type of incident was MUCH different. Waiting 12 years and then deciding you are "able" to press charges...really? And what was a 14 year old doing at a HS party drinking. Behaviour really does have consquences.
Thank you for taking the time to lend your thoughts to this- the more honesty we have about how we really think about these issues, the more likely we are to resolve misunderstandings and actually have a chance of resolving problems...so- because I tend to respect my fellow human beings...I'm going to show that respect by taking every point you've made seriously, intellectually, and responding in kind. It is, very much, attitudes like the ones you are revealing here that we need to change- rape mythology. So, to start with your first comment...
YOU SAID: Let's see, YOU chose not to press charges or give the police information, and now that becomes their fault HOW? Also, 12 years ago the public climate regarding this type of incident was MUCH different. Waiting 12 years and then deciding you are "able" to press charges...really? And what was a 14 year old doing at a HS party drinking. Behavior really does have consequences.
It is not the rapists fault that I "chose" not to press charges- though, it is their fault, as well as the poorly constructed legal system in this context, that I lacked support, advice, and safety...it is their fault, that I felt, very much so, intimidated by the peers who had drugged and raped me one by one (not to mention the 20 or so who were in the house while it all happened and did nothing). It is, and I'm sure you can understand this, quite terrifying to go through such an experience.
I did not CHOOSE to get raped. I chose to accept an offer to go to a high school party, as a high-schooler, with peers who I had grown up with. This is a community of 500 people. These families go generations back and are very tight knit. I went to a party, I did not get wasted, I had a drink and smoked some pot...as a matter of fact, I was extremely well behaved. I did not lie to my family about where I was- they knew I'd be at a party- but, I guess they were idiots, like many of the kids there whose parents knew- to believe it'd be safe. It is natural to think nothing bad is going to happen when your kid is with peers in such a small community...my family allowed me to go to this party- and do many things with freedom, because I was a responsible kid- by BIGGEST positive quality was that I was and still am honest to a fault...I cannot lie to my parents, I have never been able to and never did- thus we had a lot of trust. Keep in mind, this trust we have, especially in the mid-west...is part of the problem. In exactly the places we think are ideal for raising our children...our safe communities...rape, abuse, misogyny is rampant.
I didn't wait 12 years and decide I was able- 12 years later I was offered support from my fiance on this matter that I had never received before in quite the way he offered it...it's the kind of support victims of this sort of thing should expect from society at large...but, we have a long way to go to learn how to provide that. His support actually convinced me that I did need to face it. I had evaded this for 12 years because it feels like death to confront it- you have to literally fight against yourself to face such trauma- no matter how much you want to deal with it, to heal, to move on...every time you think about it, your brain has an automated flight response, even though you are willing yourself to stay and fight it. So- I had decided I would start researching sexual violence, it's impact on the psyche and the issue at large and discover what happened to my case.
I ended up having to move away because of the victim blaming and slut shaming that happened at school afterwards, much like what you're doing in your comments, (keep in mind that in the course of the current investigation I have found out for a fact that at least one other girl was assaulted by the same guys...she also left the school). By the way- your comments at 14 in the aftermath would have shattered me...I would have felt more alienated and heartbroken- but now, I'm able to respond with strength and even understanding (I mean really, it's not your fault you have been raised in a culture that perpetuates these attitudes).
After I left, I didn't know what happened to my investigation and as is common with sexual violence, I happily evaded it. So, I did want to know whatever happened- why did the investigation stop. (Keep in mind also that when a minor is raped the state requires an investigation to be pursued on the minor’s behalf, there are many reasons for this- and by the way I AM WITHIN the statute of limitations).
Now- hours after the offer of support from my fiance- I found out about Steubenville and was dumbstruck that this had happened to another girl...and in my home state. That was the first time I realized (as, I said I evaded the issue before) that this happens and had happened to other girls and I honestly felt OBLIGATED to speak out...I felt responsible and ashamed of myself for not having the courage at 14 to speak out...that because I had kept silent...guys like that and shitty law enforcement were still able to get away with rape. I was, in fact "ABLE" at this point to pursue it- but the mere fact of my current stability and courage was not the REASON I chose to pursue it.
The reason is...that I love you...yes, you Brenda. I love you merely because you are a human being. I love my daughter. I love every girl I have talked to in the past 5 months who has told me they were raped and did nothing...I love the idea of justice and America and I ABHOR the fact that you, or any other woman, live in a world where this happens and that we live in a country that projects an image of justice and fairness...equality and progressive attitudes...when in fact, lurking in the silence are millions of women who keep to themselves the living murder they experienced...whose rapists never see a day in court.
That's why I'm doing this now. I want our justice system to change...to be what it claims to be...and I want our culture to actually consider women as worthy and deserving as men on all fronts...especially the right to their own body. Now- I am able presently, because of the distance I've had from this...imagine when you were 14. You are figuring out who you are. Imagine going through an intensive investigation where your peers get thrown in jail (and that WOULD have happened, my reluctance then is the only reason those guys have a life now...they should be thanking me)...and the rest of them hate you because it was supposedly you who did it to them...recall, you said there are consequences to actions- I agree...there are...there ought to be consequences to drugging and raping. Had I pursued that in such formative years...who knows what would have happened to me...I can tell you- the path to where I am has not been easy or pretty as it is. Evading doesn't actually work. So yes- now, I am able...because I am a woman whose character is defined by events independent of being a rape victim and that is why it's possible for me to take the cause on now...I still experience crushing moments- but I always come out of them.
Finally- they had all the evidence they needed. They had a rape kit which included DNA evidence...they had a short list of names (6 or so) which included three of the perps and next to one (the one who was 18 at the time) said, "drove victim home"...they had the likely address of the party and they could have easily obtained more evidence had they visited the scene and they actually pursued a thorough investigation. It is not a 14 year old's job who just lived the most traumatic experience of their life to provide them with these details. Further- it's the LAW that they have to pursue a thorough investigation, prosecution...and for GOOD reason, minors are not required to be involved (not even to testify).
I ask you, Brenda- if you or your daughter was pulled into an alley and raped...do you feel that no investigation should be pursued because you don't have a name...because you were knocked out from behind before seeing his face? Or- do you think they should do EVERYTHING in the power to use the evidence you've provided by means of a rape kit to track him down?
Now- I am a mother and I felt like I was Jane Doe's mother, the sadness and regret I felt when I learned of what happened to her...and I am a woman who wants to KNOW I can count on my justice system if something bad happens to me, my daughter or you, Brenda. I have no interest in ruining anyone's life...my interest is for people like you...people in elected positions, people who claim to uphold justice in our country to admit that we have a HUGE problem with how we are handling sexual violence in our country and the world and to start having a discourse about what we do to move on.
I hope you will consider...or continue if you already have...researching issues of sexual violence and the facts. I didn't know them before January of this year. Once you see the real picture...independent of even my own story...there is no way you can keep your integrity intact without admitting this problem is here and that we are all responsible for fixing it.
Thank you again, Brenda, for your time and attention on this.
I’ll close by way of reminding the readers, whether you realize it or not, you probably know someone who has been raped. Rape kills. It kills the mind. Only the strongest can return to a life of happiness, and the way rape is treated in today’s culture, often tolerated, and at times even encouraged as acts permissible on the battlefield, we need to remember that. When you look at your daughter … think about it. What would you do? When you kiss your wife or hug your mom … would you find the courage to speak up? When the authorities fail … do you still continue with the status quo?
My hope as I sit here in my handmade-space is to hear a roar of voices begin to rumble, much like the thunder that accompanies my thoughts as I type these words. Let the gentle rumble of thunder begin to be heard across this beautiful planet that calls us all to speak out on behalf of all victims of this murderous crime. We need change, but until we can speak reasonably with each other, define our terms, check the facts, and treat each other with respect …. until we can move past the tendency to blame the victim at all and in any way, your daughters, your sisters, your aunts and girlfriends, and yes, even your mothers and grandmothers will remain at risk.
By the way, if you know of any real journalists that might be interested in helping with this cause, please contact me at email@example.com. I’ll be glad to help them reach Amanda and Tim. For now, I am grateful. I am grateful my daughter is a survivor …. with a voice … and she knows how to use it!
June 13, 2013
Trades Of Hope