During Sexual Assault Awareness Month, “Not for Ourselves Alone” is running a special series called 30 Days of Bodyshaming, designed to give a voice to the many different experiences of girls and women. This series will feature guest posts by professors, writers, a nutritionist, a cartoonist, young girls, and mothers. Gut wrenching and honest, these stories are presented in an attempt to bring about a deeper understanding of the plight of girls and women as we make our way in world that, for us, is hostile at its best and violent at its worst.
by Aviela Deitch
It’s odd; the people with whom 18-year-old young ladies choose to share their secrets. Unnerving, even, when it happens repeatedly. I guess that being a semi-anonymous, 40-something, laid-back mom of six-kid, semi-controlled chaos qualifies me as non-threatening, so perhaps that’s why I seem to qualify as a confidante.
First on the buses, then on the train… so nonchalant, virtually undetectable until they finally catch on that they have already been violated.
Sexuality, for the parochially-raised, religious girl seems to be a non-topic. Not mentioned. Religious teen girls have unwittingly been set up on a gilded platter for sexual predators. The miscreants are aware and ready, though interestingly enough, nobody else is.
Whereas conventional (non)wisdom professes that an uncovered female body is an invitation, a modestly covered one has become an advertisement – a declaration that this girl is too innocent to have the lexicon to report, and often too shy to even begin a retelling.
In high school, my covered legs were a bigger attention- earner than the other girls’ standard, stylish 1980’s leggings. Covered from collarbone to forearm to mid-calf has not provided an escape from the perverts of the world. However, I was raised in the shorts-and- t-shirts world of Midwestern public schools, so whereas the perv who squeezed my thigh on a bus received a quick elbow to the groin, the perv grinding his privates into the backside of a girl raised in an entirely orthodox Jewish world will most likely come out luckier on a crowded train, and here’s why:
Chances are his targets’ extremely limited knowledge in this area, coupled with the all-encompassing taboo and embarrassment of the issue and cultural silence on the matter will keep him in the abusive ring, unhindered, for quite the while. And he knows it.
Back to our story… what did I do when confronted with the same whispered report, once I had heard it weekend after weekend? I translated my assertiveness into the local lexicon and dialed the municipality hotline. After numerous what’s, huh’s, and on-holds-while-consulting-others, it was suggested that this would be a police matter, and that I should contact the police department directly.
Easily done, or easily attempted, anyhow.
Apparently, the police have no problem opening a file on a specific case, but there was no framework to deal with this generalized, yet pervasive situation. It had gone entirely unreported to them. Next call was to the train company, who politely explained that there is a uniformed security crew on the trains at all times, and that anyone dealing with such an attack should simply walk up to the nearest (young, male… translation to an Orthodox girl: intimidating and inaccessible) security staffer and report the issue.
Sounds easy, right? A young lady, just violated, should simply walk up and report it. Doesn’t involve a physical fight, can be done relatively quietly. What’s the problem?
Apparently, the Powers That Be need spelled out what the offenders already know. The report won’t happen. She was uncomfortable, yes. But she’s always uncomfortable in crowded, mixed-gender situations. He got way too close. The back of her skirt might even be damp. But he was dressed just as her father, her brothers, her male teachers and her neighbors dress. That should make him “kosher”, should it not? Couldn’t be. These things simply don’t happen.
And were she to have the courage to even fathom speaking up to explain the situation, should she figure out what happened while the guy is still around, how would she go about explaining? With what courage and with which words? Without even going into what the follow-up might entail, it’s already obvious that this is an impossible situation.
The only solution would be for undercover decoys to be deployed in problem areas to catch the creeps in their stalking grounds. Why is this such an impossible task?
And why, exactly, am I airing this dirty laundry in Chicago? This is an everywhere problem, but my eyes, ears, mouth and keyboard happen to be here, across the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. Clothing either is a non-issue or an every-angle issue, so far as sexual assault on women are concerned, but certainly, skimpy isn’t everything on this front. The problem is the assailants. The problem is the institutionalized denial of the issue.
Some may say this problem stems from some parents choosing to keep their kids so sexually isolated. Whereas keeping the children in the dark isn’t my particular parenting choice, I feel that it can still remain a legitimate choice in some situations. Should women in urban areas not carry handbags? Must all buildings be built fire resistant, as there are arsonists out there? Should every bank deposit require a justification form to be filed, insuring that the money has been earned honestly? The party that should be baring the onus of change is the criminals.
Additionally, the phenomenon of organizations that do have the power to help: police, clergy, politicians and educators (yes, I’ve appealed to all of these… I also have three daughters and they often travel by public transportation) waffling between passing the buck and claiming that cooperation is beyond their capabilities is very unfortunately an international problem.
We and our daughters are paying the price for this and collectively, our feet are very heavy. It’s time we put them down and demand better.
Aviela is a multi-tasking, public-speaking, work-at-home mother of six decently-adjusted, mostly happy children. A life-long Wisconsinite, Aviela lives in the Jerusalem suburbs with her British husband, Israeli kids and Peruvian guinea pigs.