Strategy and Survival

Strategy and Survival:

#ChangeRapeCulture 
The Organizing Perspective

 

– Kimiya Factory

Preface

It is has been nearly 730 days – two years since changing rape culture changed MY life forever. It has taken me 730 days to accept my story and to be able to tell it – to re-live, learn from and stomach the awful truth that I discovered existed as a junior in college with only the afro on my head and a bad-ass Co-Founder, to give. Rape Culture. As it exists, as it perpetuates itself in society time and time again through acts of structural violence and the oppressive systems that uphold it.

If you have ever been cat-called, this is for you. If you have ever opened up to anyone, just for them to ask you if you’re ‘sure’, this is for you. If you have ever heard a rape joke that triggered you so bad you think you might have felt the earth shake, this is for you.

I’ll keep going: If you ever had an idea that was ‘too big’, a creepy family member that you always seemed to end up alone with, transphobic parents that refused to accept your identity, a job that silenced your calling out of it’s patriarchal system – this is for YOU.

DEEP FUCKING BREATH. 

I need one. To remember the revelation of a lifetime to share with you all. It’s time to fuck some shit up again. For the sake of history, for the sake of those silenced, for the survivors who have to see their rapists on campus, at ‘family’ holiday gatherings, and for the pain we try to wash off in the shower. By telling my story, I hope to provide strength and promise to the eyes that comb over this blog. I hope that whoever comes across these words knows that there is someone out there fighting for you. Here goes nothing and something, all at the same time. —-

Chapter 1: The Beginning – Writings on the Walls

Trigger Warning/Content Warning

******* My jaw clenched and palms sweat as I covered the protests that I was assigned to cover as the Assistant News Editor for my school newspaper. Brett Kavanaugh had just been appointed to the Supreme Court and the nation was raging with protests after Christine Blasey Ford came forward about being sexually assaulted by the supreme-court-justice-to-be. On my college campus pro-kavanaugh and anti-kavanaugh protests were held, arguing the guilt and innocence of this man. Covering these protests as a journalist meant that I had to only take quotes from the students and remain from inputting any opinion for the sake of journalism bias – writing News during this time was one of the most challenging commitments I had ever made.

On the day that I covered the pro-kavanaugh protests, I watched Frat boys holding signs, with Rape jokes on them. Cheeks pink from screaming, proudly wearing the letters of their fraternities. I finally stomached the nerve to walk up to one, needing a single quote for the story I was writing.

He proudly spoke into my recording device, “I mean who cares? It was years ago, she has no proof and he has earned his nomination. Everyone is overreacting, she’s probably lying anyways.” My spirit felt like it sunk into the ground as I glanced a distance away and spotted one of my comrades from class wiping giant tears from her cheeks. I walked over to her and whispered in her ear not to cry – that I had a plan. 

2 weeks before, I sat across from Taylor Waits on her bedroom floor. We both held cups of Minute Maid juice as we exchanged stories of rape, sexual assualt and abuse that we had heard on Campus. At the time, Taylor was the University’s annual ‘Ms.’, and also a student leader like myself. We had access to several testimonies, seeing as we both were very involved in the University’s extracurricular community. It was the brutal rape of our mutual friend that lit the fucking flame – Taylor pushed her glasses back onto the middle of her nose as she asked me, ‘so we’re going to do this?’ 

I didn’t know what I was even going to eat for lunch the next day in-between classes, but I knew that I was ready to dismantle the patriarchy. Even if it meant that it would cost me and my future everything.

On November 15th, 2018, Taylor and I held a meeting titled, “It Happens More Than You Think: Let’s Talk About It.” We relied on word-of-mouth throughout the day in hopes that survivors on campus would come and share the space with us. Our jaws nearly dropped as more women than seats we had available showed up, all with the same fire in their eyes. We opened up the floor and testimony after testimony poured out from each attendee. Soon enough, women at the meeting turned out to have the same rapist in common – President’s of student organizations, star athletes and professors. I was shaking with rage and we all soon enough were empowered to do SOMETHING, after coming to the revelation that these rapists had patterns and would soon strike again – the least that we could do was offer support to other survivors on campus.

We, the ‘Women of UTSA’ , collectively crafted a statement that read:

 

“We, the women of UTSA , are choosing to take a stand against the rampant sexual assault and abuse on campus and around the world. 

Rape and abuse culture is strong in America as well as on this campus. Women are often not believed, and made to go through treacherous and traumatic processes, including reliving their abuse for hours in interviews, invasive rape kits, and having their sexual and personal lives being scrutinzed by the public. 

Men and women give into this disgusting culture by refusing to believe their friends, making excuses for abusers, romanticizing rape and abuse as “things that just happen in relationships”, and perpetuating slut culture in order to suppress women’s sexuality and re-assert that a women’s decisions are not their own.

When women come forth and try to report their abusers, they risk physical,mental, or cyber retaliation from their abusers and the community who refuses to believe them. We refuse to give into this culture any longer. We are taking a stand to start 1.) a victim protection against sexual predators and abusers of UTSA ; 2.) establish a culture of protection against sexual predators and abusers at UTSA ; 3.) issue this public statement to offer women of the same mindset and opportunity to decide whether or not to start combatting this issue. 

As a way to start, we have started an anonymous online reporting system for survivors to vent their experiences with their abuse. (hereforyouutsa@gmail.com) To the survivors, we believe you, we love you, and we are so sorry the world has failed you. 

i>We are disgusted that your abusers continue to function on this campus, and that you have to relive your trauma everyday as they get to walk freely amongst society. Women need to start sticking up for one another, believing one another, and most of all, protecting each other.

Let’s start today.”

We then strategized to break up the collective into groups that would physically distribute our statement around various buildings in restrooms on campus – my heart pounded throughout the day as I harbored a roll of tape and the flyers in my trench coat.

The private group chat that we created were blowing up with updates from student workers that the school administration were demanding that janitors take them down immediately – it was in that very moment that I came to terms with what I was up against. The truth of rape culture.

I remember coming out of the stall after taping up the last of the statements that I had in my trench coat. A janitor was standing right outside the stall that I came out of – we locked eyes and stared at each other for what felt like eternity. I handed her the statement and motioned for her to read it. She read it and glanced back up at me – I pleaded with my eyes and simply stated,

“Please don’t take these down this week. This needs to happen.”

She nodded and left the restroom. I didn’t know it then, but I would run into many people like her, that knew the resistance needed to survive. I hope she’s doing well, I hope she reads this. Thank you.

It wasn’t more than a week before the flyers took to twitter and then on November 20th, My SA, a local news source reported on them, headline titled, “UTSA President applauds flyers taking stand against ‘rampant sexual assault and abuse.’

My blood boiled and seethed, because I knew that the University only applauded the flyers because they couldn’t get rid of them. They had no choice but to commend the speaking out of survivors, or else they would have to face the complacency that occurred on their campus with Title IX. But we were nowhere near done yet.

Chapter 2: Try Me.

Flashbacks of a comment that I overheard my freshman year of college rang in my ears all day on November 29th, 2018, as I organized a protest that would disrupt one of UTSA’s annual and expensive events that celebrate the holiday season: The Lighting at the Paseo.

“Yeah bro, she texted me this morning that I fucked her so hard that I made her bleed.” a football player on UTSA’s football team at the time casually bragged as he bumped fists with another one of his teammates at an on-campus hang out I found myself at. I remember hearing that statement in my head everytime that I heard his number called and chanted at football games, after that night. I wondered if the girl he bragged about was okay. I wondered if she gave consent.

The entire day of November 29th, 2018 comments similar to the one I mentioned quelled any second-thoughts that I had about the protest later that night. I could barely eat, as I knew that in the evening, I would officially be associated with the flyers distributed around campus. Whispers about the manifesto that we released surrounded me in my classes, and social media was swarming with praise for President Eighmy’s acknowledgment of the flyers, painting our statement as a mere ‘cry for help.’ I knew that it was so much more.

The sun set as I made my way to the common area around the corner with a bag full of bullhorns. The Women of UTSA, and others who had heard about the demonstration through the grapevine, all arrived to help hand-make posters. Without exchanging a word, I watched everyone write each letter on the posters with a story that I would never ask them to tell. In that moment, I realized how rape culture can even be the burden that accompanies asking someone to share their story or re-live their trauma. I learned to only thank someone for their story, because we are never owed it.

We all gathered at the stairs of the Paseo, several feet above where the event was being held. The Rowdy Mascot danced and Christmas carols played as myself and supporting organizations stared down with absolute determination to be heard.

Before I knew it, my bullhorn raised and I screamed at the top of my lungs, “WE BELIEVE,” “YOU.” The group chanted after me. “CHANGE,” “RAPE CULTURE” the crowd chanted as we made our way down the stairs. The music halted and a crowd of people stared, mouth agape, flashlights shining from their camera-phones as they created a path. Tears leaked down my cheeks, screaming with everything I ever had in me. The DJ then turned the music up over us, as the administration scrambled to instruct Rowdy to keep dancing and carry on as usual.

We stood and chanted over the music for over an hour while being booed – strobe lights shining on us, as our dignity leaked onto the very campus we worked to pay tuition and be silenced for. I remember the administration making eye contact with me and shaking their heads, as I stared right back and chanted louder. That was the very first night #ChangeRapeCulture ever protested. Little did I know that I needed every ounce of strength that night gave me to overcome the backlash that awaited me.

Following the protest at the Lighting of the Paseo, UTSA’s Title IX office, UTSA Administration and Student Affairs all tracked down my email inbox, with generic links to counseling services and pleas to share with them the stories that I heard. I sternly refused, seeing as the survivors safety was my top priority and ultimately, because the stories that I was trusted with were never mine to tell. I refused meetings with the University for a cold month, as threats arose from the rapists towards the Women of UTSA.

Women in the group were discouraged one by one, and soon enough, myself and Co-founder Taylor Waits were the only Women at the forefront of the movement. Personally, my life was in shambles. I was suffering from chronic anxiety, finals were in full-swing, my family thought that I was on a personal death-wish and media outlets were only interested in our perspective if we were willing to put survivors in further danger by naming campus rapists on-air. I remember a reporter who refused to cover the story in-depth told me, “‘Rapes happen everywhere sweetie. Give us a reason to air this.” The casual nature of that statement disgusted me. Rapes shouldn’t happen to begin with – I felt like I was drowning, and then I would remember how people who are assaulted feel everyday. I kept going.

Then, on December 19th, 2018 a caring, and empathetic journalist, dedicated to reporting the truth in the City, ran a front-page headlining story in the San Antonio Express News titled, UTSA Students’ push agaisnt ‘rape culture’ has murky aftermath” This two-page story followed my fight from the beginning – and for the first time in a while I felt like I could breathe. This story made me human, it made the movement out to be exactly what it was about – accurate survivor representation and accountability. In many ways, it also was the beginning. I had no idea that in that moment, I had challenged a statewide institution in front of the 7th Largest city in the nation.

Retaliation. I always wondered what the threat of equality and justice really meant when speaking the honest truth about violence and brutality in the history of Civil Rights. Often wondering what was ‘radical’ about the basic concepts of humanity. The history of Rape Culture functions to silence the voice of survivors. Discouraging people from telling their stories at the cost-benefit analysis of not being believed. This is what I realized I was up against. A privilege that I once had but never care to have again. I will always choose to believe.

Professors called me out in classes with snide remarks, my peers starred as I walked on campus and I even lost some of my closest friends that disagreed with my strategy. But the one thing that I had through it all were the survivors and their testimonies. Strangers would embrace me at every corner I turned, who would silently whisper a ‘thank you’ with giant tears threatening to leak from their eyes. 3 minute verbal exchanges of brutal rape stories and generational molestation would fill my days. I connected with every soul that I encountered as I took a piece of their trauma and buried it deep inside me. I would imagine exchanging light as I hugged them – a radiance that no rapist could ever take away. I wiped the tears off of countless cheeks as they sometimes wiped tears off of mine, after hearing their story to never see them again. I didn’t have to see them again – their story would always be enough for me to keep on fighting.

The University couldn’t begin to fathom my bond with survivors on campus as it became more evident that #ChangeRapeCulture was a trusted source. In the first meeting that I agreed to with the University, they wasted no time gaslighting me through the mouth of a soft-spoken Black administrator.

“There are other ways to be heard. No need to be so loud.” I stared at her in awe, as every story that I heard daily was further validated in the way I was offered to be on committees, and boards in an persuasive effort to be less ‘verbally vocal’ and ‘more diplomatic’ about the rapes occuring on campus.

I stood my ground, and shamed every office that dealt with sexual misconduct for asserting that I should do their job for them – even though I already was.

I’ll never forget when I finally met with President Eighmy – he put on his best voice, and gave me a flimsy gesture of gratitude at his expensive mahogany oak wood table. I watched as his hands shook, wondering who had written his script that morning in an effort to handle the ‘noisy black girl’ who needed to be shut up. I was a problem and it was written all over his face. He pressed his lips into a tight smile as I met his eyes with a cold, determined gaze.

I gagged at everyone’s formality, considering that we were all gathering at the expense of the brutal rapes of students. I stared right into his eyes, and reminded him that with graduation approaching in only one week, he would be shaking the hands of rapists that would walk the stage – with a degree that they would continue to harm others in society with. I then glanced at every suit and tie in the room and reminded them that I wouldn’t crack. No amount of false diplomacy would take away my promise to these Women’s lives. I told them to get to work.

Christmas break of 2019 was the most soul searching that I think I ever had to do. Stories that I would hear during the day would keep me up well into the night as I would comb over similarities that each and every rape story shared – the souless look in the eye of the perpetrator as they raped their victims, the luring of girls at parties to be drugged by edibles, the flinch of the person telling me their story, the longing in their eyes for me to believe them.I would toss and turn, remembering the rape culture intertwined in college advice at backyard barbeques like, “keep up with the pepper spray” followed by a charming wink. I then had to come to terms with my own abuse and trauma if I was going to fight this fight. I had to understand that surviving had so much strength in itself – surviving the system is something that we all do.

At an event that I was speaking at, a person approached me and kindly corrected me on being called a ‘victim.’ She stated, “I’m more than that – what I have been through is more than that. I survive what happened to me every day.” I vowed to never put someone or their experience in a box again.

I hope one understands though – I had an amazing network of people who fought silently by supporting me in whatever ways they could. Professors who would see me protesting and forgive my tardiness with a stern nodd, attorneys who would advise me pro bono, mentors who would slide me a breakfast taco from their purse because they knew that I was forgetting to eat.
Angels, one might call them. Ordained by the ancestors to remind me that I was never alone – that I was fighting a fight that came generations before I even existed.

Ordained angels – if you’re reading this, I don’t even think the depths of the ocean could measure up to my love and gratitude for you. Thank you for lifting me up, oftentimes I would hope that my tired smile was gratitude enough. But you knew the risk of this college girl subject to ridicule and criticism – convinced that she could help change the world. And you didn’t care. You sat next to me, walked me to my car, stood up for me when I wasn’t in the room and gave me a gentle nod when I would spy you in the crowd at protests. You would hand me the tape to hang up a call-to-action, or edit footage for social media. You would tuck a stone in the palm of my hand or offer me a cold bottle of water while I was sweating and chanting in the sun. It would all add up to building a sturdy foundation that I found to be my back – with the life-changing weight of many strong souls to carry.