In most of my posts on this blog, I have tried to educate, inform and inspire. I want you to engage with and care about the issue of sexual assault in our communities. I have been amazed by the number of you who have reached out through email, text, phone and facebook to tell me (and Jess, and Erich, and Kyle, and the rest of our team) what amazing work we are doing. It means more than I can say.
Today, though, I do not have education, information, or inspiration. Today, I have fear, exhaustion and rage. And, I promised that I would share the process with you, as it happens.
Today I got a phone call from a well-meaning friend telling me that our team needs to watch out for the possibility of being sued for slander. That sharing our experiences inside the framework of restorative justice, hoping to foster healing for both perpetrator and survivor while keeping our community safer, could still lead to a lawsuit. That we need to be careful.
I need to be clear that I believe this person was acting in good faith. That they thought they were saying, "I think what you guys are doing is great, and let me help you avoid the potential for nasty legal trouble."
Here is what I hear, though: "By speaking out, you are opening yourselves up to a lawsuit. It is dangerous to name perpetrators publicly, and you probably should not do it. The small chance that you might get sued is more important than preventing rape."
I'm sorry if that sounds dramatic. I'm sorry if it sounds ungrateful. I'm sorry if it sounds like I am reframing their concern for our well-being in a way that is totally unfair.
The thing is, I was scared.
I was scared because I was worried that my livelihood would be threatened, was I going to be able to pay my mortgage, how long might a lawsuit take, would I be able to still do my job well with the stress of it, how long would I have to postpone having children while I deal with this, what future might I have been able to build for myself and my family if not for this money?
All of that, whipping through my head at a thousand miles a second.
And then, in a moment of clarity, I asked myself: is it worth the price of $10,000, or $100,000 (which would be insanely high for a slander case of this nature) if I can issue a warning that prevents more people from being raped?
The answer is an unequivocal HOLY FUCK YES. And that's when I got mad. Full of rage, really.
I'm mad because of the insidious ways in which rape culture works. Because after I was assaulted, there was no way that the criminal justice system could have helped me. The perpetrator would have said the sex was consensual. I would have said it wasn't. There were no eyewitnesses. I hadn't gotten a rape kit done. I was too busy surviving the assault on my personhood, on my bodily integrity, to think about blame or punishment. I was bleeding and sobbing. I was surviving.
And five years later, in speaking out to keep other people safe, and to encourage perpetrators to get help so that they can become safe people to have in our communities, I'm liable for slander?
That is bullshit.
I have to say, I think it's incredibly unlikely that someone whose name we have not published, and who we have not shamed or made into a monster/sociopath, would be able to win a slander suit against either Jess or I. When Jess and I spoke this evening, we agreed that this process is worth the risk. That through our silence we are complicit in future assaults, and that we will not do it.
But I am mad that there are people who are (with the best of intentions) intimidating our team into silence. I am mad that silence is still positioned as being so much safer. Safer for whom, exactly?
Through all of this, I have been trying to remember this thing that Tara Hardy said at one of our planning meetings: "Take out that little person inside you called Fear. Tell her thank you, for letting you know that you are doing something so important. Tell her that you need her to take a break for a while, but that you will talk to her in a couple of weeks."
Fear, thank you for this reminder of how important this work and this process is. Anger, thank you for reminding me of how high the stakes are, and how much I care.
Exhaustion, thank you for reminding me to retreat from my spinning mind back into my tired, happy, beloved body, and finally get some rest.