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Friday, March 27, 2009

Rape: A State of Emergency

Last night, the feminist students at the University of Central Florida held a "Take Back the Night" march to speak out against violence against women. 

I wrote the following poem for the event and dedicated it to "LaJuana", the woman raped, shot, and dumped on our lawn in North Chicago, but who survived nonetheless, when I was 11.



Rape: A State of Emergency

One out of four college women
Every two a half minutes
60% of rapes never reported
The facts are tragic
But the stories make me madder
Are much sadder
Half of all the women in my family
Most of the friends and lovers I’ve ever had.

Rape is an epidemic
Its time to recognize this
Women live in fear
In a country we call free
Were here to put an end to this
To take back our bodies, to take back our lives.

Its time to walk the streets
Without being preoccupied with
This ever-present threat

*********************

I asked my mother, long ago
What is the one poem I should write
Write about rape she said
It happens everywhere to everyone

It happened to my mother when she was only 18
At knifepoint producing a child
She did not have the legal choice
To have or not have

It happened to my best friend on a couch
In the middle of the day

It happened to my neighbor at 7,
My girlfriend Sarah at 11
My godsister Anna at 8
My classsmate Kara Lin at 10,
All at the hands of uncles and fathers
Brothers and family friends

It happened to my little sister’s best friend
At a party in the coat room where she passed out
And awoke to the clammy groping of her coworker’s hands

It happened to kamala in an all-girl dorm
at an all girls school
Where her muslim parents thought she would be safe.

It could have happened to you

Were you wearing tight jeans, a short skirt, a low cut blouse?
No wonder you got raped

Did you let your boyfriend walk you back to your dorm room?
No wonder you got raped.

Only men can stop rape.

Did you make out with him and then say he had to go home?
Have you ever gone out on a date with a man you didn’t know?
No wonder you got raped.

Only rapists can stop raping.

Were you left home alone with your brother,
your stepfather? A male babysitter?
No wonder you got raped

Did you talk back to a white cop?
Were you kissing a girl in public?
Did you go to the bar unescorted?

No wonder you got raped.

Only rapists are to blame.

Did you stay late in the library studying for your test?
Did you take a late shift at work?
Did you go to a party and get stupid drunk?
No wonder you got raped.

We have to stop telling these lies to girls.

Did you get lost and end up on the wrong side of town?
Were you trying to live within your means and ride the bus?
Did you travel to a strange new city and walk around?
Were you the only woman in an elevator full of men?
Are you the only girl in an all boy band?


No wonder you got raped

Do you enjoy sex.
Do you like to make out with boys or men?
Did you assume you had the right to say when?

Did you forget you were a woman
And imagine you were free?


Were you thinking about your job, your kids, your hopes, your dreams?
Were you preoccupied with your life and its deeper meaning?
Did you forget about rape for a minute. Just one minute?
Were you trying just to live your life for a minute?
Just one minute?
No wonder you got raped.

This is a state of emergency
Women are crying, cutting themselves, dying
Blaming themselves, struggling to survive

When are we going to declare this a state of emergency?
We have declared wars for so much less

**************************

Kayla tells me
“It was stupid dark night in the June of 99”
the city Houston
the weapon his large heavy body, a gun
She was new to America
“And this is how you greet me?”

Esme tells me it was the middle of the night
In August of 2004
On a base in the desert
The city Baghdad, Iraq
The weapon: Her superior officer
Twice her size
He thought he was in charge

Sunny tells me it was a firefly night in her twelfth year
During that magical part of summer
When the kids get to stay out late
Right before The 7th grade
The city: Anytown, USA
The weapon: her brother
Two years older and besides who would believe?

Tell me how is it the stories never end
Tell me how is it I have so many family members and friends
Tell me why have all the women I love been raped
What kind of country do we live in what kind of world
Every two minutes; One out of five women
How have such crimes become so commonplace?

This is urgent business, bloody business, tragic business
For forty years* now we women
Have been blowing the clarion call
For forty years now we survivors
Have been sounding the alarm
For forty years now we feminists have been
taking back the night, marching marching out
into the black black night

Telling all our stories testifying, Expressing all our rage
When will our chanting our marching
be enough?
When can we go home in peace, walk home in peace
Stop the screaming stop the shouting
Stop this terrible necessary crusade?


This is a state of emergency
Women are dying, cutting themselves, killing themselves
Struggling to survive
When are we going to declare this a state of emergency?
We have declared wars for so much less.


Women are sinking, drinking, screaming, marching
We are doing out best
Our lives matter
Our bodies matter
Until rape ends we will not rest.

We are declaring a state of emergency
With our angry voices, our sad stories,
Our survival, our marching feet.

Its time to declare this a state of emergency
We have declared wars for so much less.


*The first known "Take Back the Night" march was organized in San Francisco, California on November 4, 1978
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