by Terry Byne
Mention “rape culture” and most people think of places such as New Delhi, where a young woman was violated with a pipe on a moving bus by a gang of six and left to die like roadkill in 2012. Or Cairo’s Tahrir Square, where 60 Minutes reporter Lara Logan, while covering turmoil in Egypt in 2011, was stripped, groped and passed around like a tray of hors d’oeuvres among 300 men for about 40 minutes.
People tend not to reference their communities, workplaces, houses of worship, their own homes.
Yet statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention remind us sexual assault is everywhere, and probably where we least expect it: Nearly one in five women and one in 71 men report experiencing rape at some point in their lives.
In 2012, I learned my baby girl was one of them.
She wasn’t a kid. She was in college, but a sexual neophyte. Like many rape survivors, she didn’t have a name for what happened to her until years later. She’d done everything she could to hide the painful secret — like a wounded bird feigns strength near potential predators to avoid getting finished off.
Rape culture is all around us. We live in the sick of it. It’s here in the newsroom, where more than a handful of women shared their rape stories with me after our family’s soul-flaying news broke.
So a moviemaking deity gets accused as a pedophile, and we pass it off as more drama, the defamation-of-character churn from a famous couple. I did — until I readthe open letter to the media by Woody Allen’s adopted daughter with Mia Farrow. Dylan Farrow grew up in a family accustomed to the limelight, but her words describe life lived under a cloud. To me, her words rang true.
It took my Cassy years to find her words. She was a dean’s list scholar at Northwestern University majoring in linguistics, but for more than three years, she couldn’t find the words. Then they sputtered out, first in volleys of misdirected rage, then a poem, finally a 38,000-word open letter to the Internet: “I feel that sexual assault victims should not be so vexed by the shame of what happened to them — and by the fear that they won’t be taken seriously if they spoke out about it — that they’re forced to keep it inside and allow it to fester and eat away at them. … I wish to help shatter the silence … by shattering my own.”
It got us all talking. Reclaiming words helps a rape survivor to heal. In the endless aftermath, my daughter participated in Project Unbreakable, in which sex abuse survivors get photographed with a representation of the words their rapist wielded against them.
In her letter to The New York Times, Dylan Farrow challenged readers to think of their favorite Woody Allen movie. Movies are our buffer for reality, our one-way mirror of self-detection. Then she launched into a horror story of sexual abuse by a Tinseltown emperor with no clothes. Her focal point: the nestling of her miniature hand inside her dad’s, the rhythm of her brother’s toy train. (Allen denies the allegation.)
My daughter’s rapist followed her home from the movies. He won her trust over coffee.
Who knows whether abuse occurred in Dylan Farrow’s case, whether at the hands of a doting father or as a story planted by a vengeful mother? What mother couldimagine such a script for her child? Who would indict the seemingly guileless Allen without evidence? Either way, burden of proof is probably the least of Farrow’s burdens.
My plea: Never assume you know the truth. Talk to your children. Teach them “yes,” teach them “no.” Even more, listen. Believe what they tell.
What you learn may prove to be everything you always wanted to know but were afraid to ask.
Byrne is a copy editor on the universal news desk. Follow her @terryism on Twitter.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.