As one who has worked for over thirty years with those who have been sexually and physically abused, I can testify first hand that the sexual predations of Arnold Schwarzenegger and those alleged by Dominique Strauss-Kahn are merely the visible tip of the iceberg. Myriad forms of sexual abuse are prevalent in all cultures, the privileged as well as the poor. Yet women all over the world know the risks of daring to speak out -- risks which range from being ostracized and rejected by family and colleagues, to death.
Recently, CBS reporter Lara Logan bravely defied this code of fear induced silence shared by women worldwide by describing her February ordeal in Cairo's Tahrir Square. Similarly, the Peace Corps has finally been pressured into releasing a report of sexual assaults over the past decade, including 221 rapes or attempted rapes and murder. Experts say such numbers are conservative, as most sexual assaults are never reported (in any setting). Peace Corps members say that more traumatic than the violence itself has been the reaction of officials, who respond by blaming the women, saying in effect: "It's your word against his. He said you asked for sex by the way you looked and acted, and we believe him."
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By and large, SlutWalk has been a movement of young, educated, middle class women determined at long last to eradicate this pervasive shame and blame mentality. However, describing sex as "a force of nature," social critic Camile Paglia and others believe that "too many overprotected middle-class girls have a dangerously naïve view of the world." Paglia warns that "protests and parades cannot create honor." (The Philadelphia Daily News, August 6, p. 9, article by Morgan Zalot).
Yet, it is the young who have the faith and energy to change the world. Without risk, there cannot be life: the risk to try, to work hard, to love, to begin a family. And without risk there cannot be the dramatic shifts in attitude and perception necessary for a complex society to grow and survive.
After reading my published article, "Male Sex Abuse and the Silence of Women", Philadelphia Daily News writer Morgan Zalot told me that the messages of SlutWalk were "strikingly similar" to points I have raised. Yes, they are. But these young people have found a way to join together and force a new generation to begin to listen in necessary new ways.
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