How many serial rapists can one county hold? In Wayne County Illinois, which houses Detroit, 11,314 rape kits were found in a warehouse in 2009. The link opening this paragraph is a story about how upon testing the majority of those kits, mass serial rape was discovered. I won’t tell you the whole story, because I am a firm believer in people doing their own research, and in doing that research one finds out a great deal of facts and stories. Such a wealth of facts and stories. So many indeed that one realises how interconnected our world really is. And how we really cannot afford to stay isolated in these cute “safe” little bubbles, no matter how Mayberry we pretend they are. It is an illusion. We have these fancy computers and associated gadgets to connect us even more but we waste them woefully and elaborately on constructing an even more grandiose fantasy pretending how comfortably, numbly safe we are. We tediously insulate ourselves from very real and present dangers by pointing out how we can watch our favourite shows on our bedazzled modern phones whenever we want…all the while ignoring that our favourite shows are breathtaking dramas about a “real life” we wish we were daring enough to endure. Or else they are scathingly mocking parodies of one sort or another. Rarely do we actually look beyond our own small areas to see what is truly happening elsewhere. Rarely do we actually listen to what is happening in other locations to other people doing regular things. I do that all the time. And I always have. I have always been a ridiculous letter-writer. Nowadays we call it an aesthetic. When I was a little kid, I just called it “my own personal mail”. We lived on a dirt road in a rural town, and it was the only house on that road. For the longest time, the only other structures on that road, even on the blocks in my area, were first three and then six little bungalow apartments. When I was about ten a strip of maybe nine more went up a few lots away. And I am an only child. Writing letters via pen pals was the pre-internet chat room; it’s why so many old correspondence is preserved for famous scientists, authors, politicians, philosophers, etc. Because they wrote letters to everyone all the time. I was just a kid, teen, and young adult, who wrote letters prolifically to anyone who would write back to me. And I would read newspapers. Basically I would read anything not nailed down, because I learned to read as soon as the concept presented itself. And I have never stopped. This is not uncommon among gifted students. I bloomed how I could where I was planted, which just happened to be Hesperia, California. In the 70s. Under an authoritarian white supremacist abusive horror and a narcissistic traumatised woman who had no idea how to get out. Yay me.
Today, things are different, but not by a whole lot considering the length of time that has passed. You would think that in almost fifty years society would have made a whole lot of leaps and bounds. But to have over ELEVEN THOUSAND rape kits sitting in a warehouse in the middle of one of America’s most bustling industrial urban centers, some of which go back to the 1980s, is just unacceptable. Detroit often gets demonised in our society as cesspit of crime, but Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy had to start her own non-profit in conjunction with the Michigan Women’s Foundation called Enough SAID to raise enough money to process all those abandoned rape kits (and the cost for testing them in Detroit is only $490, way below the national average of a grand, and in some places it goes up to $1500 per kit). Ms. Worthy is not the only person to quite clearly point out the distinct racial and economic element here. Her own words in the article I first linked to, and many of her other outreach works, speak eloquently to Detroit’s sexual assault crisis and how the racial and economic profiling there hinder efforts to fight the crime on their streets. And Detroit is not the only city facing this problem. This is a national crisis. In each linked article, it is mentioned strenuously how terribly difficult it has been to process these kits. This topic is too big for one article, or even one website, or one blog post. Or one t-shirt with a supremely snarky message. A million people could wear that shirt and march down Pennsylvania Avenue and splash around in the Mall mirroring pool and moon the Washington Monument and it wouldn’t be enough. It would certainly be a mighty fine spectacle and I would do it if it would actually cause the proper motivational action, but it wouldn’t be enough on it’s own. Because just like thoughts and prayers, and spellcraft and witchery, good thoughts and protest is only properly functional if you do the hard mundane work to make it effective. All the thoughts and prayers and spells and protests do is give an emotional outlet to the inner energy so we don’t go insane while we do the gruntwork. The gruntwork is what is actually vitally important. You can’t have an army camp if you don’t dig the latrines and make sure the supply lines are running. Everyone will die before they get to any battles if that stuff isn’t taken care of. So let folks sing their songs and have their wee drams, but make sure they shit in safe places and get their food and boots.
I put up the snarky picture of everyone’s favourite detectives because, well, they are dramatic. And terribly in your face about why sexual assaults are not nice. And because the actress who plays Olivia Benson, Mariska Hargitay, is one badass superwoman. She is the founder of the Joyful Heart Foundation, a non-profit organisation dedicated to ending sexual assault and helping survivors with their trauma. Part of their mission is to end the backlog of untested rape kits. Here is where I pick up the thread of that interconnectedness bit. Mariska Hargita is the daughter of Jayne Mansfield, one of the hottest sex symbols of the late 60s. Most baby boomers will know her as a Marilyn Monroe-esque bombshell who made some sultry but not so great movies. Maybe a couple are noteworthy for a few things, but in our great pop cultural stew pot, Jayne Mansfield is going to be known as the 60s version of Brittney Spears. She had a gorgeous figure, she could sing, she was a middling actress, and she had no problems taking her clothes off. My favourite picture of her is pretty famous: it is of her and the immortally indomitable Sofia Loren at a dinner table in some posh restaurant, and Sofia is giving her the most dead side-eye ever, because Jayne Mansfield is really falling out of her dress all over the tabletop, trying so hard to be Marilyn it is just pathetic. Sofia is Not Amused. Jayne is certainly trashed, because she was always trashed, and she followed where her manager dou jour led. Wardrobe malfunctions for publicity were her forté. She also had self-control problems that ultimately killed her. And her smarmy lawyer. She also almost killed three of her kids. One of those kids, a son named Zoltan, she had already almost killed by way of lion before. Jayne Mansfield was a really bad mother, but ultimately it was Hollywood that helped her be that way, just like Judy Garland and a whole bunch of other horrible, sad, dead women I could name. One bright note: since Jayne Mansfield practically decapitated herself on the underside of a semi, shipping trucks now have to have a special bar attached to their rear ends so cars crashing into their rears won’t accidentally decapitate people. It’s called a Mansfield Bar. A truck without this installed is in federal violation and it’s a fat fine. Mariska was three when her mother went on this fatal joyride, one of the three tots in the backseat along with her brother Zoltan of the lion-eating episode. Her father, who was actually her legal guardian at the time but because the legal system of the time didn’t give fathers any actual rights regardless of whether the mother was useless or not (these days, again, a ridiculously long period of time later, father’s rights are better but not by much; and for some unfathomable reason it’s conservative men who don’t take advantage of their rights and/or complain about that the most), had to have his children delivered to him. From that point on, Mariska and her siblings had a pretty great life. A normal life, if being married to a bodybuilder and a Swiss stewardess can be considered normal. She grew up speaking quite a few languages, knowing how to be her own person, and choosing to keep her own identity in Hollywood: those are pretty remarkable feats, and I think her father and stepmother must have succeeded because she was very close to them, especially her beloved father.
It’s also pretty remarkable that this actress used her clout gathered via her first breakthrough role to establish this wildly successful non-profit. Joyful Heart has partnered with law enforcement agencies all over the country to help process the approximately 400,000 backlogged rape kits waiting in the various police forensics labs and, now, courts to wend their way through our justice system. This one woman, who could have died in the back seat of a convertible one day in the summer of love because her mother was abused by a corrupt system but didn’t, she is doing that. And it has a link right here in my state. End The Backlog is a program of Joyful Heart, and it is working right here in Colorado. The link to the program takes you to the page that is written specifically by Doreen Jokerst and Maria Pettolina as guest writers, who are Support Services Commander and Crime Scene and Evidence Manager for the Parker Police Department, respectively. The linked page discusses specifically the rape kit collection and processing laws for the state of Colorado, and how Joyful Heart and End the Backlog has helped form and implement these laws. When you navigate the End the Backlog site, there are survivor stories. Read them. Those are real stories of real people. There are survivor stories on the Joyful Heart page. On the Enough SAID page. Read them. Pay attention. Not all of them are women. In some cases there are going to be men. Transsexuals. Children. As you read through the testimonials on the Joyful Heart page, take a moment to think about all the rapes and sexual assaults that are NOT reported. Most of these, by far, are women, because for the past two generations we have been gradually more empowered. The Equal Rights Act and rising feminism gave us the freedom to open our mouths, rip off our bras, and say “hell yeah, we want some equality around here!” Those were the mothers and aunts of my generation. My daughter’s generation sees them as her grandmothers and great-aunts. To her they are the old people. She often asks me why old people are so cranky. I try to explain it to her, but like many young adults she lacks perspective. I am in the middle of the road because I see the beginning and the end. It seems a lot of my generation lack that perspective. A lot more young people today do have that respectful perspective of gentleness toward the elderly, but they are frustrated at the lack of respect their elders give to them, the young. I see much more respect toward the elder today than I see of the reverse. As a society, we need to round things out if we expect anyone to listen to anyone else. And so when you read those statistics on these websites, realise that the missing statistics are the really glaring ones. Because men are assaulted too, they just refuse to say anything. And transgender and transsexual people are just plain terrified to say anything, because of the social stigma. The articles I have linked herein discuss the prevailing attitude of law enforcement when these programs started toward victims. It has only slowly started evolving, and that is mostly because society itself is evolving too slowly. These non-profit groups are working so hard to reach out and show that change is only effective if people listen and let go of the fear gripping them so tightly. We are only victims if we allow ourselves to be so, in our minds and souls. We cannot combat the villains if we do not trust, just a bit. Too much of one thing is bad, yes. But so is too little.
The title of this essay is such because the stories of these survivors is only part of it. Some of these victims did not survive, and I want you to remember them, too. Trauma takes its toll. And perpetrators escalate. Where are the missing women? And what happened to them?
When I was growing up, I watched sperm donor consistently treat every single woman around him like an object. And I was carefully instructed in how to be an object, from the time I was a tiny tot until I broke off all communication with him in my late 30s. This was a man who would send me used, raunchy lingerie and instruct me when to wear it for my husband and what acts I was to perform when wearing it. And who would call me and ask me explicit questions about my sex life with my husband. And then yell at me when I refused to answer, or not answer to his satisfaction. When I was a 36 year old woman. And then threaten to cut me out of the will if I did not do what he wished, or cut my children out of his will if I did not comply. My therapist has his letters to me, because I could not stand keeping them. This man would narrowly avoid car and motorcycle accidents while he was driving (usually under the influence) because he was too busy staring at and adjusting himself while he watched them…all the time. Who obsessed about women and how they treated him so furiously that he perpetrated violence upon whichever one was closest to him at any given time, or whichever object was closest to him at any given time. Whose work suffered. Who gets in trouble with the law. Who temporarily lost custody of his daughter because of child molestation. Who had to surrender his shotgun to the Pasadena police and undergo court ordered anger management because he threatened his neighbor with it. And who just might be responsible for rapes committed outside the George Air Force Base area in the 70s. The profile fits, the crimes happened, the records are there. But conservatives would rather tell me to “seek help”, “get medicated”, “go back where I came from”, “show respect for my elders”, or best of all “I don’t know what I’m talking about.”
I am just a woman. Sometimes I am called a fake feminist. All I have to say to any of those things is…maybe I should read and write some more?
Today is St. Patrick’s Day, and I have a traditional blessing for St. Patrick’s Day. I really hate this holiday even though I am genetically mostly Celtic. I loathe St. Patrick for a whole host of reasons, but mostly because he is a bigot and a fraud. My traditional blessing is usually “The snakes are back!” because St. Patrick prided himself on driving all the snakes from Ireland…the snakes being the pagans of course. The pagans are not only back in Ireland, they never actually left in the first place because the Irish Catholic Church accepted them and kind of blended them in along with the Irish Catholicism. Since St. Patrick was a plebe from England, he hated that. My metaphorical blessing is to take the non-Irish icon of St. Patrick’s day and turn it into one of victory and perseverance. Do not go gentle into that good night (yes, Dylan Thomas was Welsh, still Celtic). None of us knows how long we have to live our lives. I have lived a life of torment, pretty much from conception on. I have only met one other person in my life who has had a more horrible existence, and their parents literally locked them and their brother in a basement and tortured them. I didn’t read about my friend’s experiences; we know each other in real life. We met in a mental hospital. You are not reading a tabloid or a fairy tale, you are reading a true story of my real experiences. I have lived on streets and sold my body for a sandwich because my parents abandoned me. I ended up addicted to meth because they thought I deserved it (“you made your bed, now you lie in it”). I am a statistic. I have been raped more times than I can remember. But I fight for justice and equity and I spend more time lifting others up and smiling at them because I love people more than I am angry with them. I persevere. I spend more time discoursing than yelling. Everyone can do this to some degree if they just try to remember our time is finite and love is worth more than hate. It is harder to create than it is to destroy, but it is a lot more fun.
Detroit started out with over eleven thousand untested rape kits. They are almost done. And they have found some truth in the darkness. Let us all find truth in the darkness.