A few weeks ago, I was at the hair salon sitting under the dryer enjoying my book. It was early on a Friday morning, so the place was still mostly abandoned. Following my appointment, I’d be driving north in preparation for my assailant’s scheduled plea hearing. Shortly after settling under the dryer, two women, took their place at a hair station to my left and began talking quite loudly. Their conversation permeated the silence in the small salon as it demanded the attention of all present based on its sheer volume. After discussing what hairstyle the woman desired, they segwayed quickly into friendly chit chat about family and work. It seemed that the client worked within the Women’s Defense office at a local University and they began chatting about making preparations for the return of the students and the incoming freshman. Still trying to read my book and ignore their “look at me” conversation, I zoned out, until my attention was caught by the drastic change in the tone of their discussion.
Overhearing the word rape, my skin went cold and my heart skipped a beat. Could I not escape it? Was it to follow me everywhere? The client was telling horrifying stories of sexual assaults on college campuses. Girls being drugged, predatory guys wreaking havoc on the naive incoming freshman girls. That they were discussing such intimate material so insensitively loudly was disheartening enough, but worse still were the second woman’s reactions: “Girls can’t be that stupid!” and so on, every one of them victim blaming. I couldn’t believe my ears. I wanted to shrink down into my seat until I became so small I could runaway unseen by their judgement. Another part of me, however, roared with the injustice and ignorance of their comments.
In the midst of these conflicting and rumbling emotions, came a still small voice: “What are you doing to say, ‘No More?'”
The No More Campaign is one of my favorite movements. Directed by Mariska Hargitay, the campaign aims to change the face of domestic violence and sexual assault in this country by transforming the way we think and speak about these undeniably prevalent epidemics. They strive to challenge each of us by asking the difficult questions: How are you changing the culture of violence? What are you doing to say, “No More?”
With these questions echoing in my consciousness that morning, I knew that I had a choice. I could walk out of that salon, pierced by the women’s words, belittled and demeaned. Or, the initially painfully more difficult option, I could see it as an opportunity to throw a pebble of change into the vast pool of victim blaming. I could see it as an opportunity to change the way they think and speak about sexual assault and in the process bear witness to the “NO MORE” battle cry screaming in my heart.
Allowing my emotions to subside, I thought quietly to myself of what words might reach these women. Watching one of the women exit and realizing I had no grand words to offer, I took a breath and offered myself instead. Introducing myself to the second woman, the one who’s words had been seeping with blame for the victim. I said, “My name is Danielle and I am a survivor of the crimes you were discussing…” After I told her my name and shared my story, I gently explained that a person need not be stupid to fall prey to a predator. I graduated Summa Cum Laude from my University and still I was assaulted. I discussed with her the need to review our perspective that it is the victim’s fault, asking “Why would she go to that party?” instead of placing blame where blame is due, “Why would he drug her drink and rape her?” This seems a far more poignant question. Finally, I humbly asked her to consider that when conversing about such issues she remember that some statistics suggest that 1 in 3 women have been sexually assaulted and 1 in 6 men. Meaning that, in a public place such as a salon, the odds were incredibly high that someone within ear shot had suffered the very crimes she so loudly discussed.
We had a beautiful and open conversation. I will never know what affect our exchange had on that woman’s life, but I know that mine was forever changed. In those brief minutes, I learned with certainty that I had within me the strength to say “No More,” and the insatiable desire to willingly accept every opportunity given to show someone kindness by sharing with them the truth about these issues. The women meant no harm. They simply weren’t aware. Now they are. Now they know that a living, breathing, feeling person is attached to each story of DV and SA.
I imagine that if we open our hearts to it, we’d find that we are each given countless opportunities to lovingly share the “No More” message, until, God-willing the Campaign’s symbol becomes reality and there are 0 instances of domestic violence and sexual assault.
Will you join me?
What will you do to say, “No More?”