When Was Your First Time … Being Sexually Assaulted?

The first time someone attempted to sexually assault me, I was nine. I knew that I could not tell my parents about it because they would not let me go out and ride my bike around the neighborhood. And I never told them because I knew that it would always be a lever to diminish my freedom. And it was the beginning of not telling my parents anything that would impede my ability to live freely. And I understood that I was part of a family and society that excused men’s bad behavior. I had to decide between my independence and my safety – and I chose independence; a sad choice for a nine year old.

Of course, sexual and non-sexual assaults are an un or under-discussed reality in our lives. I am sure that many times, I did not even recognize intra-personal violence as sexual assault—but I responded. Sadly, to the horror of my family. In junior high school, when clogs were in fashion and it was one of the rare periods of my life that I had long hair. Whenever someone pulled my ponytail, I would turn around and kick them in the shins with my clogs. Hard. One day the principal, Mr. Wilson, did it. I still smile at the pain in his face and abject surprise at my response to his boundary breaking. I remember sitting in his office absolutely fuming that I could do nothing, and I lost a week of recess. I could fill this page with stories. We all could.

Globally, the circumstances and consequences seem much worse. In a different place, my move with the principal could have had me beaten and expelled from school – if I were able to attend at all. This is why ESD skills are so important. That women can learn verbal and non physical skills as first steps against assault. But there is more that we can do.

As ESD Global is developing and piloting a men’s curriculum, I am already tweaking it. We must be sure to teach men that it is not simply enough that they know how to defend themselves, or that they do not demonstrate violence toward women. Men need to understand how they, their health, their wealth, their freedom comes at the cost of women’s oppression. And they need to understand, acknowledge, and be responsible for making reparations through advocacy and support of non-violence and changing cultural norms among men—whether on agendas in the board room or on a gaming devices in the living room. I am beginning to understand in my own evolution of race and ethnicity that saying I am sorry, or promising to not be racist is not enough. I need to take anti-racist actions and economically, socially, and psychically atone. Likewise, men must hold themselves and other men to higher standards to repair.

As I research issues around men’s responsibility for sexual violence (and I can google that ten different ways), I read a lot of articles, by women. Here is one that I liked that defined the steps to addressing the issue. I have found some resources (below) and I encourage us all to review them and integrate some of the findings and tactics. And my challenge for each reader is to talk to three men about their accountability for oppression of women and ask each of those men to speak to three men as their commitment to make the conversation public.

RESOURCES: Men’s Anti-sexist Activism. Sexism: See It; Name It; Stop It. (multi-lingual)

Lately, I have been venting my escapades in sexism through Everydaysexism.com which is a platform that documents small and large sexist activities. I find it cathartic and sad that I have to do this. Nevertheless, I recommend it to you.

Molly Singer has over twenty five years of experience building effective strategies, programs, and teams to achieve ambitious goals to expand opportunities in communities. She comes to ESD from Washington DC where she was the executive director of Capitol Hill Village, a model and leader among the Village movement in the United States. During her time, she tripled revenues, services and clients in providing social and educational programs, civic engagement practices, volunteer coordination and care services for seniors.

She has worked as a small business owner, in the private-, government-, and non-profit sectors. Singer was the CEO of Dexterity Management, a consulting firm that partnered with organizations to help them be more productive and effective in achieving their missions. Dexterity accomplished this through focused support, collaboration, and systems change. Dexterity’s work was distinguished by its depth of thought, thoroughness of approach, and distillation of next steps to support clients in advancing their efforts. Singer has also worked in response to the HIV epidemic in Washington DC and special assistant to the chief of disaster during Hurricane Katrina.

Singer has a graduate degree in applied anthropology from University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and an undergraduate degree from Drew University. She has served on a number of community and international non profit boards. Singer lives in Boston MA US with her family. Singer loves to bake, is a mediocre knitter and has lots of household, personal and world-changing projects that she never gets to.

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