Saturday, March 31, 2012

Because I will no longer be silent - by Lisa Slater

I need to tell you that my heart is racing as I think about posting this story. I need to tell you that I desperately want to edit it. Edit out my fear, my vulnerability and my shame.

I also need to tell you that the sharing of these stories is a fucking powerful thing. I need to tell you that your silence is not protecting anyone. The importance of these stories is that they happen to so many people - men and women - and somehow no one thinks it can happen to them until it does. 

I need to tell you that I am beginning to confront my fear of speaking up. I am starting to believe that things could be different - I am starting to believe that a "sea change" (as Chris Gilpin calls it) could be underway. I am watching people step forward, speak out, boldly standing up for safety and accountability in their community.

This story is the beginning of my involvement in the struggle for building safe space at Van Slam.

Edited to add: The perpetrator in my story is not the same person as the perpetrator in Jess' story. I share it in the hopes that people will begin to address the culture of violence in the slam, instead of trying to attach blame to a single person. I share it in the hope that we can begin a process of establishing safety and accountability. Also, if anyone wants to know who the person in my story is, please feel free to contact me backchannel.

In late 2006, I had moved to Vancouver from Ottawa and had quickly become immersed in the poetry scene. That fall, a poet who I already knew asked me if I wanted to go out for dinner with him, which we did. After dinner, we went to join some friends at the Brick House and had a couple of drinks (we were drinking pitchers, but I probably had three beers). One of the people at the Brick House was a friend of mine who was staying at my house.

The man who I had gone to dinner with told me that his buses weren’t running any more, and asked if it would be okay if he stayed at my place. He shared a cab with myself and my houseguest to get to my apartment. When we got there, he insisted that I make the raspberry chocolate martinis that I had mentioned earlier, and we proceeded to have about three or four martinis each. Each time we finished one, he insisted that I make another round. At this point, I was extremely intoxicated and decided to go to bed. My houseguest was staying on the sofa bed in the living room, and I suggested that the other man stay on the floor in the living room. He insisted on staying on the floor in my bedroom instead.

Once we were in my bedroom, he insisted that it would be better for him to sleep in my bed. I climbed into bed and he climbed in after me. We turned out the lights. A minute later, he told me that he had taken off his clothes and was naked. I didn’t say anything, as I was confused and surprised and drunk. Then he climbed on top of me and I could feel that he had an erection, and I was scared and confused. I thought “he’s going to have sex with me without a condom” and I was really freaked out. I didn’t want to get pregnant or get an STI. I told him to put on a condom and he grabbed one from the bedside table drawer. He put it on, and then he penetrated me. I was numb and confused and desperately wanted it to be over.

The next day I woke up and I was very groggy and confused. The man acted as though everything that had happened the night before had been completely normal. When I went to the bathroom, I was bleeding profusely from my vagina as a result of the forced penetration, which continued for several days.

The next day (two days after the incident), I went to the poetry slam. I was extremely uncomfortable with the idea of seeing this man. I told a few people that this man had raped me, and they mostly kept the man away from me. I told the man that what happened the other night wasn’t okay with me and wasn’t what I wanted. I never saw him again in Vancouver, but I heard that he moved to another city and is involved in their poetry scene. I had told a few people about the basics of what happened and that I had been sexually assaulted by a poet, but I never talked about the details of the incident with anyone. To this day, thinking about that night makes my gut lurch. To this day, I am afraid of the idea of seeing him in public. To this day, I don't know how I should have done things differently in the aftermath - how I could have kept other people safer - whether he has done this again and again, and how I can make sure that he doesn't.


  1. Lisa, I can't begin to express to you how sorry I am that this happened to you. There are also no word to describe how much respect and admiration I have for your courage in sharing your story.

    I know we are many provinces apart, but if there's anything I can do to support you, you only need ask.

    *So many hugs*

    1. Thanks Nadine. The best support is to spread this message far and wide: speak up.

      It would be amazing for you to write something about this on your blog and then link to our blog. I would love to hear your perspective.

  2. I don't know how to say this right, but I am just so overwhelmingly proud of you and the allies you have found in the community. Proud and inspired. And I mean proud as in proud to call you all friends.
    I have always respected the hell out of you, and this movement you guys have started has only reinforced what a strong, beautiful, and brilliant person you are.
    Thanks for speaking out, and because of you, someone else is not going to have to go through this.

  3. Sorry! I didn't mean for that to be anonymous. This is Nora Smithhisler.
    Love you.

  4. So important to note that it is more than just a solo person or singularity of event, but that slam, as other spaces, is inherently unsafe in a variety of ways.
    Yet also, to speak those individual incidents to a cumulative whole.
    My stomach lurches,too, sorry you experienced that.- Karen G.

  5. I am sorry Lisa that this happened to you especially in such a tightly knit community. It took years for me to share my story with people and I know it require bravery.

    We knew each other when you lived in Ottawa, you were my introduction to a different lifestyle and I appreciate that to this day.
    - Kristina Hall

  6. Lisa,

    This is Sean. I remember that day (not the exact date but the day you came to the slam) I remember you taking me outside and telling me that your rapist was inside. I remember losing my cool and asking you what you wanted me to do. I remember thinking that it would be a first offence and I wouldn't mind going to jail for you, to somehow avenge your assault. You were one of my best friends.

    I remember you asking me to not do anything. I remember checking in to see if you were sure. I remember never speaking to that individual again (and directly, purposely not engaging him)and I remember him leaving the community shortly after.

    I'm still not sure what I should have done differently and I've been spending the last couple of days thinking about it, thinking that I wasn't a good friend...thinking about my own history of trauma, not sure if I'd ever have the courage to confront my abusers. And I'm very proud of you for coming forward with your story.

    What should I (as someone who considers himself an ally) have done differently? I thought that asking someone what they need done was the right answer, but now it sounds a lot like silence.

    I think the list that you and Jessica are putting together is important. I would like to see it in part because I'm now thinking it was under my watch.

    I would also put it out there that anyone who is need of a cousellor to speak to Vicki Reynalds at WAVAW. I just did a Grief and Loss workshop with her last week and I had asked her about safe space workshops. She's going to be doing one for the Terminal City Rollergirls in the next little while and is a great one on one counsellor as well.