Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Yelling "fire!" on a crowded internet

They tell you to yell "fire!"

If you are a woman, and you take a self-defense class, your instructor will tell you to yell "fire!" if you are being assaulted. When you ask why, when you ask why you should not yell "rape!" or "help!" even, you will be told that if you do, no one will come. Rape, you see, only affects the victim, and a fire, well, that might affect other people, so if you yell fire, someone might actually decide to help you.

Let me repeat that, just to be clear: If you are a woman, being assaulted, and you yell "rape," no one will come, because they will think what is happening to you affects only you.

Do you know what it means for a population to be decimated? It's a word we use when we mean "really a lot" or "a terribly huge, unthinkable number." It means one in ten is affected. That is a huge number - think of the effect on a population if something terrible, something life-altering, were to happen to one in ten.

One in six American women has been the victim of attempted or completed rape in her lifetime. Our population has been more than decimated.

Still, they tell us to yell fire, because what happens to us doesn't affect anyone else.

Those of us who survive are at increased risk for depression, PTSD, drug and alcohol abuse, and suicide. (Not to mention sexually transmitted diseases.)

But yell fire, because rape only affects the victim.

We live in a culture where, when an eleven year old child is gang-raped, blame is placed on her for how she dressed, where police officers still tell women that we can avoid being raped by how we dress.

But really, yell fire.

My friend Jim Hines is running a fundraiser to help raise money for rape crisis centers. I'll be making my donation to RAINN, because when I was ready to whisper and ask for help, that's who I called. Even if you can't donate, please spread the word. 

And please, think of what it means, that to get attention, we're told to yell fire.


  1. I'm sitting here, open-mouthed, gaping like some sort of fish.

    FIRE? I'm...well, I was speechless. Now, I'm just flaming mad. That is not a pun because o the fire thing.

    I know too many women who were sexually assualted. It should not happen. And when it does, people should care. People should DO something, not ignore it. It's inexcusable.

    RAINN is a wonderful organization. I saw that post this morning. I posted it to facebook. One of my cousins made a donation in both our names, because he is awesome like that.

    Thank you for speaking out about rape -- for posting links and talking about it. You cut to the heart of the matter, and that's powerful stuff. ~Ali

  2. Ali: I just hope that if enough of us speak, it will make a difference.

  3. Thanks for this post. In Australia, a cadet in the army just complained that some fellow cadets filmed her having sex with her boyfriend and put it on the internet without her knowledge. The army asked her to apologise to her fellow cadets for the embarrassment she had caused them by reporting it. I'm so furious. Thanks for putting up something so important.

  4. Wendy: Yes.

    Julia: I'll be furious with you.

  5. Kat, I think speaking makes a difference -- even if it's just for those who cannot yet speak themselves. That's grammatically wonky, but you get what I mean.

    Julia, that is outrageous! Good grief. That's complete crap.