Today is V-Day. Yes, “V” stands for Valentine, but it also stands for other words: “Victory against violence” and “Vagina.” This holiday may be a reason to cut out paper hearts, eat candies with professions of love scrawled on them and buy your sweetheart flowers, but for one billion global citizens and activists it’s also a reason to rise. What day could be better to fight the violence and hatred perpetrated against women and girls than an annual celebration of love?
The One Billion Rising campaign — a global grassroots movement to end violence against women — is the brainchild of Eve Ensler, famed for her feminist works The Vagina Monologues and her newest piece Emotional Creature. The campaign is a call to action to speak up or “rise” against the rape, battery, incest, domestic violence, sex slavery and genital mutilation that affect women worldwide. This is a call to action that I’ve answered by getting involved with on-campus organizations and Boston non-profits that provide direct services and advocacy for domestic violence survivors.
Each woman may have a different reason to rise. For me, it’s simple: I have lived that violence and it has defined a great deal of my life.
I hardly have any childhood memories. When I was a child, my father, who had already been divorced from my mother for several years, was accused of soliciting a young girl three years older than me for sex online. After sending this girl child porn and suggestive messages, he arranged to meet her for sex. However, when he arrived he found police there instead. My mother was notified of his arrest and subsequent house arrest by his probation officer three years after the incident. What I do remember is the aftermath. A custody battle ensued and that year was a blur of child psychologists, social workers and court dates. I have no memory of any molestation or assault. I do remember the day of my rape kit. I was 10 years old. I remember lying on the metal table, legs spread, screaming and crying that it hurt. I remember the helpless look on my mother’s face as she tried to get me to relax.
I remember not understanding when the doctors explained the results, because I was too young to understand the gray area created by inconclusive results. They couldn’t prove that I’d been molested, but I did show signs of a possible history of abuse — damage to my hymen, other minor red flags. As I transitioned into my teenage years, I remember thinking that no memory was a good memory, that without the irrefutable knowledge that I’d been abused, I could ignore the small signs that indicated what I can still barely admit to myself at times. The reason I’m so drawn to this movement is because I understand it a little more than I would care to.
I remember feeling angry, all the time. The anger in my formative years meant temper tantrums and a loss of control. My screams matured into passionate debate and my loss of control turned into drive. After pledging into my local professional sorority, Kappa Gamma Chi, I became really involved in their annual initiative to create awareness around the issue. When I lived in Washington, D.C., I began attending training sessions on the issue as well as volunteering and lobbying on behalf of local non-profits. These experiences have helped fuel my anger and increased my desire to make sure that no little girl, anywhere in the world, has a reason to be that angry. No little girl should have a reason to fear men or intimacy. No little girl should have a reason to grow up too fast.
My anger is my reason to rise. That 10-year-old version of myself had a reason to be angry and for her, I will fight for this movement with every ounce I have. This Valentine’s Day, I implore women in cities across the country and across the world to stop being silent. I want women in cities from Boston to Beijing, to “strike, dance, rise,” as Eve Ensler encourages them to through her campaign to ensure that no woman feels like her abuse or experience with violence is acceptable or deserved.
One way I intend to contribute on my campus is by continuing to work on my Kappa Gamma Chi’s week of domestic violence and sexual assault awareness known as “Emerald Empowerment.” I’m planning an event that will surround the politicization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which is a law originally passed in 1992 to help fund survivor services and improve prosecution of abusers. This event will focus on how policy affects the direct services that survivors need and how our local Boston beneficiaries, Casa Myrna Vazquez and Transition House, need policies like this to help them in advocating for and serving survivors. Our week of female empowerment will take place the first week in April, but now, we must focus on raising awareness for the issue.
This month, we released a promo video as a teaser for the events in April to raise awareness among students about the well-known statistic that one out of four women experience domestic violence. I challenge you to think of the four women you love the most— one in four. In the past, we’d participated in the national Take Back the Night movement, but seeing the lack of awareness that students had about the issue at our college and the Boston community, we rebranded our initiative to focus more on a direct local impact.
I recently met a fellow Emerson student, Sarah Tedesco, who was sexually assaulted last semester in Boston. She’s decided to speak up about what happened and advocate for better policies to protect women. In her pursuit to publish an article about the experience, she contacted me and I had the pleasure of advising her on how best to share her story. While reading her account in Isis Magazine, a new Emerson publication, about how she was treated by police and the stigma rape survivors often face, I felt what she was feeling. Her story empowered me to tell my own and reminded me that we all have a reason to rise.
On this day, as you wine and dine your significant other or mope about being single, remember to take a few seconds to celebrate the healthy, wonderful love in your life. Today, I will be participating in a One Billion Rising event hosted by Urbanity Dance called the “Rising Dance Party.” The proceeds will go to Rosie’s Place, a refuge for poor and homeless women located in Boston. Each Valentine’s Day, I take the time to remember the family, flames and friends who love and support me in a way that would never cross the threshold into violence. I urge you to do the same and remember the one in four women who can’t say the same thing about their significant others. Most of all, ladies, remember to love your selves this Valentine’s Day enough to speak, to lead and to rise.