Terrorism takes a lot of forms. The obvious ones are suicide bombings, hijacked 747s, anthrax. Until September 11, most Americans thought of terrorism as something that happens on foreign soil, the results of generations of blood feuds or government coup. September 11 was a wake-up call. Terrorism can hit us right here, in our own cities, on our own soil, our own civilians.
But terrorism takes many forms. What about our own homes? Millions of women are on the receiving end of domestic terrorism. Oh no, you’re saying. Another activist with an agenda, looking to turn the September 11 tragedy to her own ends. You are only half-right. Trying to use it for our own ends. It doesn’t reduce the magnitude of September 11 when you take it as a reminder to take a hard look at the types of terrorism that we accept in our own society.
Radical terrorists are easy to vilify. Their actions are highly visible, drastic, and they tend to be quick to claim responsibility. We are quick to portray them as “other,” whether by skin color, religion or culture. It is easy to hate people we frame as “them.”
This is one of the reasons that sexual assault is so prevalent. Very few sexual assaults are committed by villains out of the dark. Sexual assaults are committed by our acquaintances, our dates, friends of friends, lovers and even family members. It is incredibly hard to accept that those we care about can be committing atrocities against our friends, sisters, mothers, children, ourselves. Even survivors of sexual assault try to explain away assault by someone they know, despite the harm that has been done to them.
It is the classic “boy next door” response. If we refuse to believe that those we know and trust are capable of sexual assault, it will continue to pervade our society. If we refuse to call out our friends and loved ones on the kind of behaviors that lead to rape culture, we will continue to allow that culture to exist.
I am not suggesting that we all need to shut ourselves off from everyone we know and trust, that everyone is suddenly suspect. A world where we can’t love and trust is one I don’t want to live in. But we must be willing to turn our September 11-sharpened gaze on our own society.
The kind of terror that keeps women afraid for their safety, that allows the assault and rape of our loved ones must NOT be allowed to continue. We must be willing to listen and believe when our friends come forward with a story of sexual assault. We must be willing to hold accountable those and ourselves around us for the behaviors that lead to a rape culture. Finally, we must be willing to support each other, for this is the only way it is possible to stand up and fight together to end the terrors of sexual assault.
You can share your support by attending the events of this week’s Take Back the Night. Through workshops, performance art, art projects, music and dance we will come together to heal and fight sexual assault. If you want to know more about the realities of sexual assault, attend a workshop or a panel discussion. At all the workshops, panels and rallies we welcome questions and discussion. Look for our tables all week to pick up a schedule of events, to get more information or to buy a T-shirt or raffle tickets. The money we raise goes to putting on this event and supporting organizations in our community like the Santa Barbara Rape Crisis Center and Child Abuse Listening and Mediation. The final rally starts at 5 p.m. in Anisq’Oyo’ Park in Isla Vista, and the women will march through the streets around 9 p.m. We take to the streets as a symbol of ending the terrorism of sexual assault on our streets at home – and everywhere in the world. And we need your help.
Tara B. Goddard is a senior mechanical engineering major and Take Back the Night co-Chair.