Rape is Rape

I’ve been a feminist since before I heard the word. When I did hear it, I said, “Oh, so that explains me.” Even then, there were certain feminist concepts I had to grow into. One of those was, “Believe a woman when she says she’s been raped.” This was usually followed by many anecdotes of women who were victimized twice, once by their rapists and then by the justice system who was supposed to be their advocates. I was a bit skeptical. After all, police and the courts are our friends, and I’d heard women in college threaten boyfriends with a cry of rape in order to assure their fidelity or in a fit of post-frat party conscience. I hadn’t yet learned about how the patriarchy socializes young girls with self-loathing. But I digress.

In the early years of my feminism, I didn’t give the rape issue much energy. Focus on equal pay, equal access to jobs, etc. Those were the things important to me as a working woman in a male-dominated profession.

Then, I was raped.

I wish I could say it was the stereotypical slavering madman who accosted me in an alley (though why would I be there?) or followed me from my car. No, it was the man with whom I’d been in a relationship for several years. He was a cop. Now, the occasional use of his handcuffs was mutually stimulating–the  occasional use. All of a sudden it had to be every time, and when I finally said I didn’t want that, I got forcibly handcuffed and dragged to the bed. And raped.

There were days of denial. I didn’t even tell my best friend. If she reads this, this may be the first time she’s heard of it. It was my flight instructor I confided in because he was a big-brother type, and he was furious. He was a policeman, too, and he was the one who told me I had to go to the police department in the location where it happened.

The officer who took my statement–and never processed it–was bored and surly. It couldn’t be rape because he was my boyfriend, and why had I waited days to report it. Obviously, I was pissed at him, so I was making this up. I was wasting valuable police time, and what if, in wasting that time, some woman really got raped. After that dead end, I went to my boyfriend’s department in a different jurisdiction and reported it. I got the same treatment and was also told that cops sometimes need to blow off steam. That’s all it was. Blowing off steam, and I needed to understand the difference between that and rape. I now knew the difference, but I also saw pursuing this was useless.

The good thing I did do was not see him again as part of a relationship. He was friends with my parents, so there were occasional encounters where he expressed puzzlement at why we weren’t together anymore. My mother adored him, and dating him was probably another of my futile attempts to please her. I even fantasized telling my father and imagining my ex-boyfriend’s reaction to the business end of one my father’s guns. But that would mean telling my father his daughter had done things he couldn’t approve of, and I couldn’t do that. To see the disappointment on his face, before his anger, would have been almost as bad as the rape. So, I let it go. I never told anyone else, except the man from the next relationship I was in who showed me what love and love-making truly were.

I reveal all this because today a New York City prosecutor requested that sexual assault charges be dropped against former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn. This after his alleged (I have to say that) victim begged them to proceed. Because this hotel maid lied on an immigration form by saying she was gang-raped (sometimes the only way women from some areas of the world can get political asylum), because a recording of her speaking with a jailed boyfriend was mis-translated, Mr. Strauss-Kahn walks free. Well, free to face two civil suits from the hotel maid and a woman in France, the daughter of a Strauss-Kahn friend who charges that he assaulted her.

The hotel maid has been on television, and her name has been used with her permission, but I won’t use it. To me, she’s still a victim. Lying to get into a country to make a life for you and your child is not the same as lying about rape. They are not mutually inclusive. And she was obviously far braver than I because she has spoken out about her assault.

Strauss-Kahn’s attorneys strip away the hotel maid’s dignity when they continue to claim the “act” was consensual. The DA is uninformed when he says her stories about what she did in the minutes after the assault are “inconsistent.” I was nearly incoherent for days, so I can understand why she may not have been consistent. She has been consistent about the details of what happened, and so, to me, she should have had her day in court–not to prove she’s a victim but to show that women who have been sexually assaulted should be protected by the justice system not vilified by it. Yes, I know she’s already filed a civil suit, but not until the DA’s office made noise about her credibility.

So, women in or traveling to New York, if you’re going to be raped, make sure it isn’t someone rich and powerful; make sure you’re not poor and working a job where if you speak up you could get fired; make sure you’re white and born right here in America; and make sure you have plenty of witnesses so you won’t be accused of “he said/she said.”

Once again, something I thought we as a modern, civilized culture had put aside rears its disgusting head (and I’m not even talking about making victims pay for their own rape kits). I’ll say it in as few words as possible:  Rape is rape.

The Only Easy Day Was Yesterday

I’m an Army brat through and through. I’ve watched my share of Army-Navy football games with my Dad and rooted for the “right” side. My first flight instructor was an Army helicopter pilot of the Vietnam era who enjoyed challenging Navy pilots to bar fights while I cheered him on. I’m basically anti-war, but I love my Army. I admire people who serve in any of our armed forces. I won’t devolve into cliches here, but, okay, freedom isn’t free, yadda, yadda. Oh, I have my issues with the military because it takes kids and turns them into killing machines, and sometimes it forgets to turn them off. However, I owe my existence–and you do, too–to everyone who served in World War II and saved the world from the most base villainy ever seen.It was only a few months ago we learned that “U.S. Special Forces” had killed Osama bin Laden. My ears perked up at “special forces,” because I have a tremendous amount of respect for them. We ask them to do disgusting things for the country, and they do it without question; most of the time, it makes us safer. (I’ve settled the ethical issues internally and really don’t want to debate them.) Special Forces are the elite, and, frankly, I’ve always felt that if we’d turned the war in Afghanistan completely over to them in the beginning, it would be over now, but for that whole Iraq distraction. I quickly “got over” the fact that it was Navy Seals, not Delta Force, not the Rangers, who stole into Pakistan in the dark, did the deed on bin Laden, and safely evacuated.

“Seal Team Six” became an everyday word. I even had a water treatment system solicitor come to my door a few days’ after all the bin Laden publicity and, when he saw he wasn’t making the sale, pulled the “I’m a former Navy Seal” line on me. Trust me, if he was a Navy Seal, I was, well, someone younger, stronger, and fiercer.

Then came the news over the weekend of the shoot-down by the Taliban of a Chinook helicopter carrying members of Seal Team Six (including a specially trained Seal dog), an Army aircrew, two Airmen, and several Afghan commandos. At first it seemed like a non-military event because what military wants to admit that the rag-tag Taliban could bring down a U.S. helicopter. Just ask the former Soviets how naive that concept is. After the admission that the helicopter had been shot down, some weekend anchors heard “Seal Team Six” and started mourning the crew who had taken out Osama bin Laden, not realizing that a Seal Team has several hundred members. I will admit when I first heard someone say that I wondered what idiot officer (Dad was a career non-com) had put the team members from the bin Laden raid back in a country where keeping secrets isn’t easy. Some anchor then compounded the idiocy by “thanking goodness” it wasn’t the same team. Idiot.

I’ve tried all weekend to come up with words to express my feelings. I feel every loss in both these wars. When the Washington Post prints pictures of the fatalities, I look at each picture. I read each name and home town. No war since World War II has touched my family in that way. Cousins came through Vietnam and Desert Storm physically unscathed, so I felt I owed that to the families who suffered the ultimate loss, an acknowledgement of their sacrifice. I’m a born Virginian (yes, there is a distinction), and Seal Team Six is based in Virginia Beach, VA. In that way, it was a home-state loss, and Virginia will step up and comfort these new widows and fatherless children, these parents who have lost sons who gave the last full measure of devotion.

The Seals would say they were just doing their job. In this instance it was rescuing some Army Rangers who had been pinned down in a Taliban stronghold. Had it all gone successfully, the two groups probably would have met up in the Green Zone and traded jabs about how the Navy had to come to land and rescued the Army. There would have been a lot of macho posturing I have little patience with, but everyone would have understood you don’t leave your people behind, regardless of which service they belong to. And the Rangers would have begrudgingly given the Seals their due. Begrudgingly.

Instead, there will be too many funerals, too many flags pressed into the shaking hands of next of kin, too many 21-gun salutes, too many playings of Taps. Too many tears will be shed, too many nights will be spent alone in a bed meant for two. There will be too many nightmares where children wake wanting their Daddy. In the past ten years, there has already been too much of this, but that’s another matter. Right now, families and a country will come together to mourn and, then, carry on. The Seals would expect nothing less.

The title of this post is an unofficial Seal motto. How apt for the weeks to come as bodies are identified and sent home to be honored and laid to rest. For the families, it can only be a mantra.

Just the Facts

I’ll preface this post by saying I don’t have any fiduciary interest in Google.

Several years ago at a Women in Aviation International conference, I purchased a book about a fictional female pilot “from the dawn of aviation!” I read the back cover blurb and thumbed through the book, and it looked like a good read. So, I bought it and started reading it on the flight back. It was a decent book, and the aviation aspects were accurate–something important to me; I’ve walked out of movies when they got the aviation bits wrong.

About midway through the book, the heroine, after losing a lover in an aircraft accident decides to drive to Newport, RI, from New York City to rethink her career choice. The time period was the early 1920’s, and, at least, I thought, the writer didn’t make the easy mistake and say our heroine flew into Newport’s airport, which didn’t exist then. A few pages later, the writer describes the heroine’s reaching the foot of the Newport bridge and slowing down because the height of the bridge had always intimidated her. Wait, what?

I was lucky that my then-spouse was always supportive and understanding of my obsession with writing. When I got off the plane, did I greet him with an embrace and a kiss appropriate to having been apart for five days? Uh, no. He was born and raised in Newport, RI, and I had heard plenty of stories from his mother about how as a teenager in the late 1950’s, he’d always managed to miss the last ferry from Jamestown Island in Narragansett Bay to Newport. (The Newport Bridge now spans the Bay from Jamestown Island to Newport.) The first words from my lips were, “When was the Newport Bridge built?”

“In the 1960’s,” he replied. “Why?” (It opened on June 28, 1969, by the way. I Googled it.)

I spent the walk to the car and drive home ranting about how that author could make such a stupid mistake. I didn’t bother to finish the book.

Yeah, I’m a hardass about some things, and, yeah, it’s fiction; but when a writer drops you into a real place for a fictional story, shouldn’t he or she try to get it right, dramatic license notwithstanding? In some ways, science fiction or fantasy writers who create their own worlds have it somewhat easier. If your world is completely fiction, nitpickers like me won’t nitpick. No one is going to question the accuracy of the worlds created by J.K. Rowling or George R.R. Martin. Well, except maybe fanboys and fangirls who think they know Hogwarts or the world of A Game of Thrones better than Rowling or Martin, respectively.

Google was only a couple of years old when the Newport Bridge boo-boo happened, but the public library system has always been a great source for fact-checking. Or, whatever happened to picking up the phone, calling the Newport city offices, and asking, “When was your bridge built?” It was obvious that, at some point, the author had been to Newport, parts of which still look like it did in the 1920’s, and decided that her heroine should have a reaction to that impressive bridge–forty years too soon.

Because I’m an historian, I’ve always approached my fiction–especially when I write about actual events–as a research project. You know, three sources and the whole bit. If it were allowed, I’d probably footnote. A lot of what I write about happened ten, fifteen, twenty years ago. Before Google, I spent a lot of time in the history sections of various libraries where I lived. The bibliography in one book usually gave me a list of others I wanted to read. When I couldn’t find a book I needed in the library, I purchased it. Before Amazon.com, even that was sometimes difficult to do.

Then, along came Google. If I wanted to find out what a rebellious British teenager was likely to wear in the 1970’s, I Googled it. Who was the Secretary General of the UN in 1962? I Googled it. You get the picture. (And I won’t even get started on how Google Earth can put you in a place where you’ve never been.) Just recently, I was editing a manuscript that involves a real event from early 2001. One character has a disability, and, when I initially wrote the MS some six months before, I thought, “Hey, wouldn’t it be cool if he motored around on a Segway?” So, I wrote it that way. During the edit, though I was reasonably certain of my memory, I decided to Google it. The event in the MS takes place in February 2001. The Segway wasn’t introduced until December 2001. I had my Newport Bridge moment, thankfully before publication.

I once bought an expensive map of Belgrade, Yugoslavia (now Serbia), so I could write a three or four page car chase scene using correct street and place names and be accurate about one-way streets. Even then, I found someone who had actually been to Belgrade and was familiar with the city to review it for any obvious errors.

Of course, this isn’t to say my writing has no mistakes of this ilk. I’m sure there are lots, but the point I’m trying to make is, with the Internet, research is quicker and easier (just verify anything you find in Wikipedia), and I can eliminate the obvious gaffes. You’d think those Newport Bridge moments would be a thing of the past. Yet, recently I read something which mentioned an area of the country I am very familiar with. The writer’s physical description of this area didn’t jive with my memory, so I went to Google Earth to check it, and my memory of the area was accurate. The story wasn’t. I was able to check that particular fact in Google Earth in a matter of seconds. Why couldn’t the writer?

I mean, I know that in the heat of words flowing, you don’t want to stop and Google what to you may be a minor aspect of a bigger story. I’ve been there, and, darn it, but that Segway sure seemed like a good idea.

Thank goodness I Googled it.