Last Wednesday, a flyer for an event called "SlutWalk" circulated on Twitter, sparking a discussion about the images on the flyer and the event's name. I wasn't familiar with it, so I decided to Google. One male tweeter said, "Nobody deserves to be raped. But you also shouldn't dress like a hoe." He suggested that both women & men needed to "do better."
I thought about the night I was assaulted. I wasn't "dressed like a hoe." I wondered how I could've "done better." I was frustrated by both his ignorance and level of comfort in sharing this archaic perspective. He didn't think there was anything wrong with his mindset. There seemed to be more women than men objecting to his statement. I wasn't sure if their silence was in agreement or if they just didn't feel like debating.
Whatever the case, I was disgusted. I took to Google again, this time hoping to prove a point. I searched for statistics about what women were wearing when they were assaulted. I found nothing. So I decide to gather my own data via Twitter. I tweeted "If there are any women on my TL who are victims of sexual assault & don't mind sharing something...what were you wearing when you were assaulted?" I asked them to let me know if it was OK to retweet their responses, and that they could also direct message me if they wanted to remain anonymous.
I waited. I refreshed my mentions. Nothing. This was a fail. Then I thought about the question. I thought about that night in August 2000. And I realized that it was hypocritical of me to ask people to share something that I was too afraid to share. So I tweeted "<--jeans, tank top, heels. He put something in my drink at his house. I was there alone."
I sat and looked at those words on the screen. MY words that I'd never shared publicly. I felt sick. I refreshed my mentions again. One woman responded. And then another. Before I knew it, I had 42 new mentions. I kept retweeting them, and very quickly I realized that this was turning into something else. This was no longer about me trying to prove a point to some guy. This had taken on a life of its own.
All of these women responding weren't data. They were human beings with stories. Stories like mine. They were 6-year-old girls in their pajamas and 19-year-old college students who couldn't remember what they wore because they were drugged. They were women who responded to my question with, "What was I wearing? Which time?"
They were married women who had never told their husbands. Some were women who were assaulted BY their husbands. Some were assaulted too long ago to remember what they were wearing, while others remembered clearly because it happened last month. I became overwhelmed by the number of women who were just small children when they were assaulted, and I immediately burst into tears. I got up and walked away from my computer. When I returned, I had over 200 new mentions.
Soon I couldn't keep up with the volume. This had extended outside of my little Twitter bubble. At one point, I had 892 new mentions. I no longer recognized the names or faces. These weren't the people that I interact with everyday. A woman tweeted me from Belfast. Someone tweeted me in Spanish. Another in Chinese. Nestled between the tweets from survivors were Twitter users who couldn't believe what they were reading.
It was painful and hard to digest. One man told me that he felt like he was going to be sick. There were people directing their Twitter followers to read my timeline. Countless men and women tweeted that they were moved to tears. One woman was on the train crying. Some hoped to be brave enough to share their story one day. Others shared because they were inspired by the bravery of others. Something incredibly therapeutic and cathartic happened that night that I'm sure none of us could've ever expected. In real time, we debunked the "well, what was she wearing?" theory.
And then, outside media weighed in and stirred the controversy: What's public? What's private? Can information shared on such a public platform be used ethically by journalists? Whatever happened elsewhere online and on Twitter, I was buried in tweets.
While it's easy to get lost in the fray, we can't lose sight of the fact that an incredible thing happened that night. Lives were changed. This extended way beyond Twitter.
Conversations were had between fathers and their daughters, between grandmothers and granddaughters. In the midst of trying to prove a point to some guy, I accidentally became the conduit to healing and awareness not just for myself, but for hundreds of thousands of people around the world. To some this was just another news story. To others, this night was one we'll never forget.