I’ve always been fascinated by the phoenix – this complex, beautiful bird that rises up out of ash and adversity to fly and obtain new life. Across the world, in different religions, cultures and oral tradition, the phoenix appears, always rising, always some symbol for rising to renewal, rebirth, the dawning of a new era. In China the phoenix is Fenghuang. In India, Garuda. No matter what name it’s given or form it takes, the phoenix is always rising, rising. I guess for me, the bird itself is not what intrigues me but rather the notion of rising up out of tragedy, pain or suffering, however difficult to find wings, in order to fly toward something new and better.
As a victim of sexual assault, I have often visualized myself as the phoenix in my darkest hours, particularly when I was younger. I would close my eyes and imagine feebly pulling myself up, slowly stretching my frail wings and looking up to the sky. I’d shake off all the dirt and debris, take one last look back, then rise, up into the sky away from the painful memory, rising up and up into a new, brighter day without a shadow or hint of what was left behind. No scars, no wounds, no traces – all strength and determination and grace and perseverance. There’s no victim here. I’m a phoenix.
I’d like to think that maybe the team behind the VDAY campaign thought of the phoenix when they decided to ask one billion people to “rise” on Valentine’s Day, 2013, as part of a global activist movement to end violence against women and girls.
Maybe this wildly ambitious call to action was inspired by a vision for one billion women to rise up like phoenixes together, side-by-side, in every country, on the same day, at the same time, up out of our painful collective past and into a new day, where we no longer tolerate being raped and beaten, where we no longer tolerate being humiliated and punished for being “damaged” and where we no longer tolerate the systems and cultural traditions and governments that protect the aggressor and prevent justice.
Even if they weren’t thinking of the phoenix, VDAY is asking us to rise. And we, Boston GLOW, are asking you to rise with us here in Boston on that day (along with 13,000 other organizations across the globe).
This is why I’m rising.
1. I am rising for Joyti Singh, the 23-year old female medical student in India who was gang-raped in December by a group of men on a moving bus and later died from the unimaginable trauma she suffered in the attack. I am rising for the three out of her five attackers who have been publicly advised by their attorneys to plead “not guilty” to all charges against them. I am rising for the metal rod used in the assault which injured her intestines so badly they had to be removed altogether. I am rising for the flight to Singapore for three abdominal operations to address the severe wounds in and around her pelvis which ultimately failed. I am rising for this innocent and brave young woman who suffered cardiac arrest and a brain injury, too, and still struggled to stay alive but in the end lost her life because of the brutality she suffered.
2. I am rising for India, which recorded 24,000 cases of rape last year, a figure that represents a 25% increase in reports of rape in the past six years.
3. I am rising for Sohaila Abdulali whose NY Times piece “I Was Wounded, My Honor Wasn’t” encourages us to retire these archaic beliefs and cultural traditions that punish the victims of rape and tell us these victims should be humiliated for becoming damaged goods, having dishonored their fathers, husbands and brothers. (This is 2013 people. Make it stop.)
Reflecting on her own experience with rape in India at 17 years old and in reaction to the death of Joyti Singh, Abdulali writes, “Rape is horrible. But it is not horrible for all the reasons that have been drilled into the heads of Indian women. It is horrible because you are violated, you are scared, someone else takes control of your body and hurts you in the most intimate way. It is not horrible because you lose your “virtue.” It is not horrible because your father and your brother are dishonored. I reject the notion that my virtue is located in my vagina, just as I reject the notion that men’s brains are in their genitals.” I am rising in hope for a cultural change in the reaction to and punishment of victims of sexual assault in countries all over the world.
4. I am rising because according to the US Department of State, in 2010, there were 12.3 million sex slaves around the world, most of whom were women and girls. I am rising because the average entry age of American minors into the sex trade is 12-14 years old. I am rising for the many victims among these who are runaway girls that have already experienced sexual and domestic abuse and thus fled their homes.
5. I am rising for the over 29 million women in the U.S. who say they have suffered severe and frightening physical violence from a boyfriend, spouse or other intimate partner. That includes being choked, beaten, stabbed, shot, punched, slammed against something or hurt by hair-pulling.
6. I am rising for girls in America, ages 16-19, who are 4 times more likely than the general population to be victims of rape, attempted rape, or sexual assault.
7. I am rising because only about 3% of rapists ever spend a day in jail.
8. I am rising for 1 out of every 6 women in America, who will be a victim of sexual assault, and thus 13 times more likely to abuse alcohol, 26 times more likely to abuse drugs and 4 times more likely to contemplate suicide.
9. I am rising for Boston, where preliminary data from the City Police Department shows that 273 rapes were reported in 2012, which is an increase from 2011. I am also rising because only 54% of rapes are reported to the police, so this number is probably more like 420. I am rising for Massachusetts, because as of January 7, 2013, there were approximately 10,000 registered sex offenders living in the Commonwealth. Almost a third of these are categorized as "Level Three," meaning they are multiple offenders and considered "high risk" because they are "likely to commit a sexual crime again," yet are living among us, walking free.
10. I am rising for myself, because 1 in 3 women globally will be raped or beaten in her lifetime, and because I am Over It.
See you on 2.14.13.
If you or someone you love has been a victim of sexual assault and could benefit from legal support and advocacy, please contact the Victim Rights Law Center.
The Victim Rights Law Center is the first law center in the nation dedicated solely to advocating for the civil legal needs of sexual assault survivors. The VRLC provides direct legal representation to victims of rape and sexual assault in Massachusetts. If you have been raped or sexually assaulted, we believe you have the right to make your own choices about how to respond to what has happened to you. Our goal is to give sexual assault victims information regarding their civil legal needs to reclaim their lives.