2.04.2006

overheard

I need to vent.

I overheard two women talking in the locker room at the Y yesterday. They were far away, not in my area, but everyone could hear them loud and clear.

One woman was talking about her Caribbean vacation. I'll call her Vacation. The other woman - let's call her Listener - was agreeing with Vacation and asking questions. It was mostly mundane small-talk, and although I could hear every word, I wasn't paying much attention.

After a while, Listener asked, "Where else have you been down there?" Vacation named a few islands, including Aruba.

Listener: "They never did find that girl down there, did they?" Here my ears perk up.

Vacation: "No, they didn't. She was sold. Kidnapped and sold into prostitution. I saw her parents on Dr Phil. They said she was a good girl and wouldn't ask for trouble. But you know, when you go on vacation in a strange country, you don't just wander off by yourself, it's not safe." Now I'm listening intently.

Listener: "Well, no one could expect something like that to happen."

Vacation: "No, but it's just common sense. Her friends asked her to come along, and she said no, and she went off by herself. That's putting yourself in a position for something to happen. I won't say it's asking for it, but come on."

Listener: "Well, like my sister-in-law says, no means no." [Wow, her sister-in-law's a genius. I guess this was Listener's attempt to shift blame away from the victim.]

Vacation: It's just stupid. You do stupid things, you're going to get hurt.

Listener: Yeah, I suppose.

Vacation: Plus, you know, they're all dark people down there. They like blondes.

They say their goodbyes and head off.

At this point, I'm seething. They're dark people down there. They like blondes. How many myths and stereotypes can we fit into one sentence?

If the women had been nearby, I would have said something. But they were in another cubicle, hidden from me by rows of lockers. And I've matured to the point where I know better than to charge over to someone else's conversation (although it took several decades!). So I just continued getting ready, quietly seething, and left the gym.

In my head, I know why people say things like that. It's very simple, really: it makes them feel safer. She did that, that's why she was raped/abducted/assaulted. I would never do that, therefore it won't happen to me. No one wants to believe they are vulnerable. No one wants to believe the truth, that violence can be totally random and can happen to anybody. I know this in my head. But when I hear it out loud, it still hurts in my heart.

Folks, if you ever find yourself talking about one of the many personal tragedies that becomes public fodder, please watch what you say. Chances are very good - statistically speaking - that someone listening is a survivor of violence of some kind. She or he has probably believed, at least for a time, that they "did something stupid" to cause their misfortune - and may even believe it still. So, please. Think.

As for myths about skin and hair colour, I offer no excuse for that trash. They have no basis in reality.

13 comments:

andrea said...

It took me a long time to understand that most kinds of prejudice is based on fear rather than something more outward-looking, like anger. Then I noticed that those who harbour the greatest prejudices also take the fewest risks.

redsock said...

Then I noticed that those who harbour the greatest prejudices also take the fewest risks.

Similarly, in our travels, we found that the people who say the worst things about New York City have never been there.

Granny said...

Yes.

Carrie said...

First, I want to say that I would be completely disgusted by that conversation. Blaming the victim... I've never understood that. Perhaps it comes from a sense of powerlessness? I don't know but it causes me more upset in life than nearly anything else.

Regarding Aruba and other places in the Caribbean..... okay, this is going to be hard to say. Because I know you're going to find it difficult to believe. Let me preface this part of my comment by sharing that my Father is from the Bahamas. He's white (not that it matters, just stating that to give you a basis), moved to Canada in the late 40's and stayed. He has had Canadian citizenship forever but regardless, he is from there and we do still have land there.

Now, I know from personal experience and family history that yes, in the Caribbean at least, black men DO look for blonde women. Actually, any white women, but if you're blonde, you are very very much at greater risk to personal safety. Now, when I say this, I am ONLY speaking to the Caribbean island experience. When I was there, the black people I met were absolutely nothing like any black people I'd ever met in Canada or the USA. I was terrified of many of them and there was very valid reason for it.

As to the girl who went missing, I don't blame her at all. Many young women travel and you never know what things are like at a given point in time at these locations. And not every native to a foreign land is dangerous. But the dangers certainly do exist in the Caribbean and women definitely should not travel alone while there. No walks alone, no shopping alone, no anything alone. It truly is not safe.

L-girl said...

in the Caribbean at least, black men DO look for blonde women.

This is a commonly held belief, and I don't know if it's true or not. However, it doesn't apply here.

You're talking about physical and sexual attraction. Rape and sexual assault - especially stranger rape or abduction - are not about attraction. Caribbean men may look for blonde women, but that doesn't mean blonde women are at greater risk for rape in the Caribbean!

Anyone can be a target of rape. A dark-skinned, dark-haired woman is at the same risk for rape as a fair-skinned, blonde woman. There is no evidence that blonde women are more frequent targets. There is also no evidence that dark-skinned men are more likely to rape than fair-skinned men.

But the dangers certainly do exist in the Caribbean and women definitely should not travel alone while there.

Dangers exist everywhere.

If it makes you feel safer not to travel alone, that's good. But women travel alone safely all the time. And conversely, women do all the right things, take all the right precautions, and are assaulted. I was at home, sleeping.

Before you apologize ;-) , I am not offended by what you said and I'm not taking it the wrong way. I am merely countering certain common myths about sexual assault with facts.

L-girl said...

the black people I met were absolutely nothing like any black people I'd ever met in Canada or the USA. I was terrified of many of them and there was very valid reason for it.

What was the "very valid reason" for your terror?

redsock said...

Are the homosexual black men in the Caribbean preying on blond men?

... Not sure why I'm asking, but is there any, like, you know, any evidence, that she was sold into slavery? Or is that just a CNN/supermarket check-out magazine* rumour?





(* - Yes, I'm lumping those two media together.)

L-girl said...

Not sure why I'm asking, but is there any, like, you know, any evidence, that she was sold into slavery? Or is that just a CNN/supermarket check-out magazine* rumour?

That's a good question. I'm going to guess no, but perhaps someone here actually knows.

L-girl said...

I'm going to guess no, but perhaps someone here actually knows.

On second thought, it doesn't matter. I only brought the topic up to point out the many fallacies and myths in the short conversation I overheard. Then comments helped me point out a couple more.

We don't need to join the "where the white women at" blather.

Carrie said...

What was the "very valid reason" for your terror?

I'm coming back late to this because I forgot about it. Ugh. Sorry.

Okay, my reasons are:-

A private resort, black employees trying to jimmy locked hotel room doors to gain entry in the middle of the night. My hotel room. I was 15. It happened to many others.

Private beach. Local black men cruising the beach, sitting on loungers where women lay and touching them. Ask them to stop, they didn't. They always had a friend watching the beach to alert them if they needed to run. The resort locked the doors to the courtyard and beach during the day after that.

American college girls on vacation at the resort went to party with some local black men. Two were raped. They were not blond but it was very stupid to party with locals in the Bahamas.

Walking down the main street in Nassau with my Father. Profane suggestive comments yelled to me, while with my Father. We barely made it down that street safely and we never left the compound again except to visit relatives.

Hotel bar in private resort on Paradise Island. Black man grabbing my arm and trying to forcibly drag me away from the bar. Nobody did anything to stop him, except my older sister. I was 15 years old.

I know that many people in the world want to believe there is danger everywhere and the Caribbean is no different. Well, I know different. I do actually know. I'll never forget it either.

L-girl said...

Carrie, I'm very, very sorry that happened to you. I can imagine how terrifying and horrible it was.

I don't know how long you've been reading my blog, so I'm not sure whether you know that I am a rape survivor myself. I've also done lots of work in the field - public speaking, writing, peer counseling.

It makes me sad that you've never gotten past associating these incidents with the specific location where they happened.

I know that many people in the world want to believe there is danger everywhere and the Caribbean is no different.

This is not a belief. It is a fact. Rape happens everywhere.

The Caribbean feels different to you because that's where this happened to you.

In my many years as a public speaker, I've sat on "survivor panels" with other survivors of rape and violent sexual assault. Here are some of the places these women were raped:
- in a small town upstate New York (black girl, white assailant)
- at a party in a very affluent Long Island suburb (white girl, white assailant, extremely violent rape)
- in a parking garage (victim was a nun)
- at a fraternity party (white girl, white assailant)
- while on vacation in Paris (black woman, white assailant)
- on a third date with a fellow college student (assailant and victim both white)

I could go on, but that's the idea.

I myself was at home, sleeping in my own bed, when the assailant broke into my apartment.

Obviously, you will never feel safe on a Caribbean vacation, and you may never want to take one again. But if you think that it's somehow specific to the Caribbean, or to white tourists and a black native population, that is a very skewed image of the problem.

American college girls on vacation at the resort went to party with some local black men. Two were raped. They were not blond but it was very stupid to party with locals in the Bahamas.

You are wrong here.

The terrible truth is that American college women are raped at parties all the time, most by young men their own age and skin colour.

The fact is, the overwhelming majority of rapes against college-age women occur at parties - mostly on campus.

Spring break in Florida - where almost everyone is the same race, all black parties and all white parties - is notorious for rape, even gang rape.

What happened to those two women could have happened - and indeed does happen - anywhere, at any party, in any country. That is the very sad and terrible truth.

Carrie said...

Laura, I'm so sorry about what happened to you.

You're right that it happens everywhere. But I was thinking in terms of travelling, just for example, and this may be naive, but I would not worry about walking alone touring England or France or Scotland the same way I would on any Caribbean islands.

Anyway, thank you for sharing all that wonderful information with me. I endured two years of sexual harassment at work, which is not as bad as rape, but it was ... I just don't have words for it. Before you ask, I am in trauma treatment for all of this ;) That's why I have time to blog, which is scary in itself at times but I'm trying to get my voice back. All in good time I suppose :)

Thanks again Laura. {hug}

L-girl said...

Thank you, too, Carrie. Thanks for receiving that in the spirit in which it was meant. I was afraid I might offend you or insult you, and that is not at all what I wanted.

I would have asked if you were in therapy or treatment :) and I'm glad you are. I don't know how people get past trauma without it.

What happened to me was a long time ago (1982, I was 21). I've done a lot of work around it, including a lot of activism, and it's not trauma anymore. It's something that happened to me, integrated into my life - a permanent part of me, but not what defines me.

As far as traveling, women traveling alone take risks. We may still choose to take them (I have), but there's no place where the risks don't exist. There's no country that is free of rape, and that includes Canada, England, Scotland, France or any other place you imagine to be safe.

Often our ideas of what's safe and what's not are just illusions.

Hugs backatcha. :)