Writing

Sexual Assault: Explicitly Inexplicit

Picture this.

You eagerly stand in a dimly lit studio in front of a gray backdrop. You feel excitement because you finally have the chance to be back in front of the camera and pursue a unique hobby. You have finally become more confident in your appearance. This is the next step in furthering your career goals. Suddenly, a tall dark skinned man with glasses, long salt and pepper dreadlocks, a white tank top, and cargo shorts walks into the studio with his camera. He asks if you are ready to continue the photoshoot. You skeptically tell him that you are ready. In your mind, however, you feel uneasy. This tall dark-skinned man has been a little handsy with you for the past hour, but you dismiss this uncomfortable feeling. In your mind, he is just an eclectic artist. In your mind, you wonder why there is no makeup artist in the studio as per usual, but nevertheless, you remain silent. The tall, dark-skinned man interrupts your thoughts and tells you to turn around and face the backdrop. You hesitate, but you follow his instructions anyway. Suddenly, the tall dark skinned man pushes you into the corner and blindfolds you. He takes a rope and ties it around your forearms, pinning them behind your back. You don’t quite know what is happening. He, then turns you around and brings your hands towards the front of your body. He places an ice cold set of handcuffs around your wrists. You shakily ask what he is doing but he doesn’t respond. You hear the camera begin to take pictures. In an internal panic, you still feel unsettled and unsure of what to do.

After a few moments, the man walks over to you and yanks your halter dress down to your waist. He smells like a combination of sweat of tobacco. The top of your dress becomes untied. Your breasts are exposed. You struggle to pull your dress back up. The man walks back over and pulls your dress back down, as the camera snaps once more. Because of the blindfolds, you remain unable to see exactly what is going on. Your half naked body shivers from the air conditioner. The man comes closer, and tells you he knows what how to get what he wants from you. He begins to insert his fingers into your vagina. You immediately close your legs, but you are unable to stop him because of the restraints. He then places his mouth on your breasts. You anxiously ask him what he is doing and why. He refuses to remove the rope that holds your forearms behind your back. Slowly, he works his way up to your mouth, and kisses your lips. His breath reeks of cigars. You tell him to stop, but he continues. He bites your ears. You ask him if he does this to all of his models, and he replies, “I’m doing it to you.” The man tells you that he wants you to feel all that he does to you, so that you can portray this feeling in your pictures. You beg him to remove the restraints. Finally, he removes the blindfolds. He tells you that no one will know what really happened behind the camera in order to get these “beautiful” pictures. You wonder if this is art, or if you have just been sexually assaulted. Do you take your chances and try to escape, or do you stay in hopes that it will all end very soon? These were all of the thoughts running through my mind.

As a natural skeptic, I wondered how I could have ended up in a predicament like this one. When professing my extreme discomfort to this photographer, he insisted that I was simply uncomfortable with my body, and that I was taking things too personally… and I believed it. Deep down, I knew what had just happened to me was completely wrong, but my mind was in a panicked state. My mind was in such an impaired state that I ran from his studio, leaving my bra behind.

I felt like a harrowed Cinderella, in that, It was not until a few days later, that my best friend at the time told me she saw a Facebook message from the photographer, stating that he had my bra still in his possession.

In the end, I chose to remain in his studio, in hopes that I would make it home in one piece, both mentally and physically. While I escaped without any physical harm, I was emotionally scarred.

I was unable to differentiate between what actually occurred in that present moment, versus what the photographer alleged. As an already anxious, depressed, and mentally debilitated individual, it was easy for this man to manipulate my current mental state.

Upon returning home that evening, my roommate cried at the graphic description that I had just created in her mind. She too was unsure of how to interpret this horrific event. We were both so anxious and emotionally confused, that she convinced me to go and seek help. The next day, I went to the emergency room, still unconvinced that I had been sexually assaulted. When I began reciting the story to the triage nurse, however, she immediately took action. By law, the hospital employees are required to call the police. I wondered what I had just gotten myself into. With every single day that passes, I still wonder. At that point, I had spent a week in a psychiatric hospital struggling to make sense of what had happened to me, while also attempting to sort through the rest of my complicated life circumstances. While everyone around me was adamant that I had been sexually assaulted, I was still unsure. I made excuse after excuse; insisting that it was just art. I even considered the notion that maybe this photographer was just a typical eccentric artist who was simply trying to evoke genuine emotion for my photographs.

Once discharged from the psychiatric hospital, I spent the rest of my summer in an intensive outpatient program. Four days a week, for two hours a day, I met with a group of 4-6 individuals who were in similar situations as me.

While everyone told me nobody needs to know what really happened to me, I decided that I wanted people to know. I went through a phase where I was embarrassed and ashamed. I felt alienated and peculiar. In the long run, however, this experience forced me to rebuild myself starting from my most basic foundation.

So many of my friends, and even strangers, came to me and told me about their anxiety, depression, and even some of their sexual assault stories. It is surprising to me how prevalent sexualt assault, depression, and anxiety are within my friend group. Yet, no one discusses these issues because mental health, rape, and assault are considered taboo. It was not until a catastrophic event like this one took place, that my friends began to speak up about the personal experiences they went through, along with the rest of the women in this world.

Experiences like these come down to power and control. If you permit the pain and the negativity to take control of your mind and your body, you will never see your way through. The strength and understanding that you gain from taking charge of your thoughts and your reactions, will override these negative experiences each and every time.

This entire ordeal has pushed me to work on myself, and cut negative people and harmful behaviors out of my life, while also creating a greater awareness of myself and of those around me.

While I was incredibly disappointed and nervous about making drastic life-altering changes, like deferring my enrollment in law school, for example, I am happy that I finally have a chance to rest, relax, and decide what I want for myself. I have spent years molding myself into everything that everyone else wanted from me, and I have put everyone else before myself. I have also seen who was really there for me in my time of need, and who definitely was not. I felt bad for putting myself first. I then realized how ridiculous that sounds. I learned that if I do not want to respond to text messages, then that is okay. If I cannot make an event, or drive my friends around, then that is okay, too. Society makes you feel like having feelings is abnormal, and that showing those feelings is a sign of weakness. Social media has also perpetuated the idea that everyone is happy and living life with no cares in the world. In actuality, everyone is dealing with their own personal struggles.

It pains me to know that there are so many women in this world who suffer in silence out of fear of being judged or being perceived as a liar. In the words of my therapist, FUCK what other people think.

I would like to say that I am surprised so many women keep silent when it comes to sexual assault and rape; but, I am not. It is incredibly bothersome that very few people believe or defend its’ survivors. Society looks down upon these individuals, and labels them as “victims” who are either after money, attention, or both. My question is this: why would anyone want to falsify such graphic and horrific incidents? I do not know one person who would willingly spread such sensitive information about themselves, especially if that information was untrue. In reality, if the hospital employees and the Women Against Rape advocate had not urged me to come forward, I probably never would have done so…or maybe not for a very long time after the fact; much like many of the women who have recently come forward. Coming forward is just as hard as keep silent, if not more.

Society shames women for staying quiet, and in the same breath, they shame us for coming forward. Once we as women come forward, the word “victim” is carelessly thrown in our faces. This word drives me insane. Society expects us as “victims” to sit at home and never leave the house ever again. For some reason, we are no longer allowed to do the things we once enjoyed because we are somehow more susceptible to being “victimized” once again. God forbid we wear a dress that reveals our legs, or we show our shoulders or chest ever again…

After the assault took place, people looked at me like I was crazy when I went back to working, vacationing, and hanging with friends over the weekend. I was told that I was a “victim” and that I should be staying home and keeping safe in a closed environment. If I were a man, however, I would be praised for resuming my daily activities. Nevertheless, several others encouraged me to be brave, and resume the activities that once brought me happiness. Since the sexual assault, I enjoy spending time with friends and partaking in my regular activities more than ever before.

It bothers me that social media decides which issues are relevant and important. Sexual assault has been a very real concern for many years in several circles across all professions. The fact of the matter is that it will unfortunately continue to be a point of contention for years to come. It is my hope that matters of sexual assault do not dissipate once social media decides that it is no longer a hot topic. Now that men (and some women) are publicly being held accountable for their actions, I would like to see a societal shift in the way we interact with one another, both in the workplace and in our homes.

Why Black Women Struggle With Vulnerability

Black women are never happy. Black women never cry. Black women never show their weaknesses.

We work tirelessly to provide for not only ourselves, but also others. We are the epitome of strength, and the backbone of our communities. Still, we are underestimated and oftentimes, ridiculed.

There is an unspoken belief that if we as black women show our true emotions, we are somehow weak and damaged for doing so.

After spending a week in a psychiatric hospital and partaking in months of therapy, I learned that all of these outdated assumptions were completely untrue.

Growing up in an extremely religious household, my mother always instructed me to be seen and not heard. I was an inquisitive child, who had somewhat of a “smart mouth.” If ever I struggled with anything, my mother told me to pray on it and ask God for help. I could never understand why my prayers were not answered, and why I still felt alone and empty inside. As one of the only African Americans in a predominately white elementary, middle, and high school, I felt like an outcast. Everyone around me had large, loving, and supportive families, with seemingly everything in the world. My friends lived in two-parent households, and knew exactly in which direction their lives were going. I, on the other hand, was remarkably shy. I was afraid to speak up for myself out of fear of being judged or shamed by those around me. When trying to explain how I felt to others, I received the same response. Pray on it. Talk to God. But nobody spoke with me. Nobody listened to me. Nobody listened to what I had to say. I thought that maybe I was a bad Christian, and that was why God did not hear me. My parents told me time and time again that I was a smart girl, and that I would figure it all out. I was taught that I am a strong black woman, and that I need to be strong for others. In the long run, however, this advice proved to be more detrimental to my mental health than anything else.

I was always the determined, resilient one. I was the friend that everybody turned to when they needed help. I actively listened to others, gave the best advice, and quite literally handed out tissues and hugs when those around me were struggling. In my time of need, however, the same was never done for me.

I acted as a chameleon, altering my personality in order to fit in. I silenced my quirks and hid my true likes and dislikes because I did not want to be labeled as “too white,” ” too black,” or “too ghetto.” While I was always able to maintain a sense of happiness, I still felt like I was at an arm’s distance from everyone around me.

It was not until years later that I learned to communicate more effectively with others, and live my truth. I was giving too much of myself, and wondering why nobody gave back to me. Time and time again, I was told that everyone does not have the same heart as me. I grew up with no wants or needs. I did whatever I was told, in spite of my own needs. I put others before me, and molded myself into what I thought others wanted because I was afraid to be my full self. What I learned is that there is a tremendous sense of vulnerability that comes with being one’s full self and living one’s full truth.

Society makes us as black women feel that we must wear our hair a certain way, dress a certain a way, and speak a certain way in order to fit in. The moment we use a swear word, wear our hair in a natural style, or show a bit of skin, we are automatically seen as ghetto, and unworthy of the professional world, and all that it has to offer. Society wants us to fit in and assimilate, instead of standing out.

Being vulnerable has saved my life. The moment I began to open up to those around me, I found people who listened. I learned things about myself that I never knew. I discovered my likes and dislikes. I found individuals who went through the same struggles that I went through. I learned that it was okay to cry in front of others. I found that I do not always have to be the strong one. Real strength comes from the ability to let your guard down and invite others into your personal space. It is not selfish to put yourself first and do positive things for you. You will find that the internal beauty you have been hiding will immediately shine. I never knew that this beauty was inside of me, but I want to share this beauty with others.

Ethical Porn

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The porn industry is notorious for being the center of scandal and controversy. While porn is no longer the taboo subject that nobody would dare speak on, the industry still faces many limitations, both in ethics and in health standards. In recent years, porn has become a way of life for many people.

As a result of the increasing popularity of the porn industry, regulators are now finding new ways to make the industry safer and somewhat ethical…if that is even a remote possibility in a business like the porn industry.

In an effort to increase health standards and improve cleanliness, a new proposed California regulation states that all of the porn actors would be required by law to wear condoms while performing. The overall goal of legislators is to promote safety amongst the actors, while also setting an example for the viewers at home, in hopes that they will take the same precautions. However, researchers have found that with the increasing popularity of porn, comes a tolerance for mediocre content.

The porn industry is ultimately a media business. All of the content that is being created is based upon demand and viewership. The amount of clicks on a specific genre or video will trigger more of that content to be produced. Much like the rest of the entertainment industry, many feel that quantity is greatly surpassing quality, as the need for more content increases.

Ethics comes into play, as many of the professional actors in the porn industry are now being replaced with “amateurs,” or non-professional, average people. However, these amateur actors are paid much less than the professionals. Within a few short months, the popularity of these “amateurs” will rise and fall, and their career will be over. In order to continue making money in the porn industry, these amateur actors must produce even more demeaning and exploitive material, thus, furthering the sleazy reputation of the porn industry.

Filmmakers are also taking financial losses, as many of these free websites steal clips from longer movies, by re-labeling and re-branding these clips as their own. The media only focuses on music and movie piracy; however, these same issues take place in the porn industry. “I can create a film that’s more story-driven and romantic, only to have a clip from it pop up on a tube site, where it’s being called something like ‘big-breasted blonde w#$@&%*! on her knees’,” said adult film director and writer, Jacky St. James. In addition, legislators cannot be certain that the performers are of legal age, and if they have consented to the acts being performed in the videos posted on these free websites.

Proponents believe that the porn industry should be ethically regulated just like every other industry in the world. “Much the way organic produce, cage-free eggs and fair-trade coffee have transformed the way we shop for food, ethical porn is changing the landscape of adult-oriented material, making it easier to enjoy,” reported CNN writer, Ian Kern.

The porn industry has become a way for some to actually celebrate their sexuality. Clinical psychologist, David Ley wrote, “It should be made legally, respect the rights of performers and pay them for their labor, and treat both performers and consumers as consenting, thinking individuals. Also important: Ethical porn celebrates sexuality as a diverse, complex and multifaceted component of being a human being, without judgment.”

Although the porn industry creates much moral and ethical debate, there is no denying that there should be industry-wide regulations to help bring fairness to all of the parties involved in creating and consuming the content. The growing popularity of the industry can no longer be ignored or suppressed deep within the bowels of society, so why not deal with it head-on.

Is The Black Struggle Only For Blacks?

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Rachel Dolezal is continuing to perpetuate this trans-racial persona that pushed her to fame back in 2015. This week, Dolezal announced that she is releasing a book that is due to arrive in stores in March of 2017. The name of the book: In Full Color. Many were rather confused and taken aback by this news, as the book is set to detail her struggle of being black. The summary given on the back cover of the book states, “…she’ll discuss the deep emotional bond she formed with her four adopted black siblings, the sense of belonging she felt while living in black communities in Jackson, Mississippi and Washington, D.C., and the discrimination she’s suffered while living as a black woman.” Is it possible to write a book on the black struggle, without actually being black? Twitter doesn’t seem to think so.

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And the bizarre Rachel Dolezal saga continues. It seems that she is making a mockery out of the black experience. There are several writers of color struggling everyday to get their work published and circulated to the public. A Caucasian woman like Dolezal, however, claims blackness and immediately secures a book deal on a topic that we are not sure she is capable of accurately discussing. This raises questions as to whether or not Dolezal is simply delusional, or if she is just too far deep in her lies to back out now. It seems that the world may never fully know or understand her exact motives, or what truly lies beneath her excessively teased hair. The only thing that we can be sure of, is that there’s a first for everything.

Did Korryn Gaines Do Too Much?

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The fatal shooting of Korryn Gaines has been the topic of controversy for some time. However, not many people are aware of the questionably bizarre details leading up to her death.

Gaines had a long history of disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, and several traffic offenses. Not too long before she was killed by police, Gaines was stopped for having a missing license plate. In place of her license plate, there was a piece of cardboard with the following message written on it: “Any government official who compromises this pursuit to happiness and right to travel, will be held criminally responsible and fined, as this is a natural right to freedom.”

During one of her run-ins with law enforcement, Gaines recorded herself throwing her traffic citation out of the window, badmouthing the police officer that pulled her over, and shouting to her five-year-old son that the police were trying to kill them. Gaines even went as far as to tell the police officer that he would have to murder her before she got out of the car. However, there were no signs of police using force or making any attempt to hurt her at all.

Unlike the rest of the deadly encounters that minorities have recently had with police, the police officer in the video is clearly seen being respectful and polite when dealing with Gaines. It is Gaines who immediately becomes agitated and causes the situation to escalate on more than one occasion.

The final deadly incidence took place a few weeks later when police came to Gaines’ house in order to serve a warrant for the arrest of herself and her boyfriend, Kareem Courtney. According to reports, her boyfriend was wanted for assault.

Although Gaines did not answer the door, police were able to hear a man and a woman’s voice from inside of the apartment, as well as a crying child. The officers then got a key from the landlord and entered her home.

Upon entering the home, the police officer saw Gaines sitting on the floor, pointing a shotgun at him. Her boyfriend, Kareem Courtney then attempted to flee the apartment with his child, however police were able to capture him. Courtney informed policed that Gaines had a mental illness and was unstable.

Police spent hours attempting to negotiate with Gaines, and begging her to surrender. They event brought in her family to help talk her down, but all attempts were unsuccessful.

In her final moments alive, Gaines pointed her shotgun directly at a police officer standing in her doorway, causing the officer to fire a shot. Gaines fired a shot in return, prompting the officer to fire the last three shots that fatally killed her.

Upon hearing of this incident, the Black Lives Matter movement was in an uproar. Although Gaines was fatally shot by a police officer, was this really a case of police brutality against blacks? It is clear that Gaines had some type of mental issues, as she had many clearly documented run-ins with police, where she continually provoked them, and constantly egged them on for no apparent reason.

In the videos that she posted before her death, Gaines was uncooperative and disrespectful to the police officers who pulled her over. There was no sign of police brutality or discrimination during these encounters. After investigations into the Baltimore County Police Department were completed, it was decided that no charges would be filed against the officer that shot and killed Gaines. As a result, the Black Lives Matter movement was incredibly upset over this decision, as they felt that police were unjustified in shooting and killing her.

At what point is it necessary to gain control over an impossible situation and take matters into your own hands? Gaines was armed and was reportedly pointing her shotgun at her five-year-old son, as well as at police. With all that is going on in the world, is it too difficult to decipher between self-defense and deliberate killing?

Dignity or Disrespect

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After a recent abortion overruling by the U.S. Supreme Court, the state of Texas has now created a new rule, requiring that abortion clinics bury the remains of the aborted fetuses. In addition to the cost of the abortion, the woman undergoing the abortion will also be responsible for covering the costs associated with the burial of the fetal remains.

The governor of Texas has stated that by implementing this new legislation, they are “giving a voice to the unborn.” However, critics believe that this is not a public health concern, but rather a cruel attempt to restrict women from having abortions. The timing of this new rule is a little too convenient to many people, as the state of Texas had just lost their fight to ban abortion. Forcing a woman to not only pay for the abortion, but also the burial costs of the procedure seems to be a form of shaming these women for having an abortion. These regulations were not put into place to solve any rising public health or cleanliness issues, and it poses no benefit to the woman receiving the abortion. This is another attempt to persuade a woman to think first before having an abortion, or sway them from having one at all.

Furthermore, requiring the woman to cover the costs of the burial is even more unconstitutional, according to opponents of the new legislation. Planned Parenthood reports that an abortion can cost anywhere from $300 to $950. Adding cremation and burial costs to that, will mean that women seeking to have an abortion will be spending anywhere from $1500 to $4000. This poses a huge problem because many of the women who seek out abortion clinics are low income individuals who oftentimes have trouble affording an abortion in the first place. Of these low income individuals, a majority are women of color. Knowing that these costs will significantly add up, critics believe that this is a strategic move by the state of Texas to end abortion. The question remains, is this a real attempt to protect the rights and dignity of the unborn fetuses, or is this just another underhanded attempt to take away the personal and constitutional rights of a woman to choose?

The U.S. = The Original ISIS

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It is no secret (or surprise) that the number of hate crimes against minorities has greatly increased since the election of Donald Trump. Muslims have been labeled as one of the most targeted groups in the United States, especially since the attacks on 9/11. Trump has notoriously vowed to ban all Muslims from the U.S. since the very beginning of his campaign. Since he has been elected, however, Trump has somewhat gone back on many of his promises to expel Muslims from the U.S. In spite of these regressions, Muslims are understandably still worried about what Trump’s America could look like. Not only is he surrounding himself with bigots and Islamophobes, but the problematic statements of these leaders have also prompted many vicious attacks.

The most recent attack took place at Ohio State University. A Somalian man by the name of Abdul Razak Ali Artan drove through a crowd of students on campus, slashing multiple people with a butcher knife in the process. ISIS took responsibility for the attack, although no linking evidence was found at the scene of the crime. It was reported that Artan posted on Facebook that he was “sick and tired” of Muslims being mistreated. Trump immediately took to Twitter to inform the world that Artan should have never been in the U.S. in the first place.

Due to the blatant hatred coming from the United States, this causes many to wonder if these incidents are, in a sense, warranted. The U.S. has long been discriminatory and oppressive towards all minorities, especially Muslims. The possibility exists that ISIS, and other copycat individuals are simply continuing to perpetuate the hate that the U.S. has already projected on themselves, as well as the rest of the world. The United States is known for waging war, useless fighting, injustice, and displacing innocent groups of people. Are other cultures simply mimicking what the U.S. has been doing all along?