It started as a prick of conscience. Not like the prick of conscience that suggested I should stop stealing my neighbors’ newspaper — a practice that started innocently enough when I found scores of papers left abandoned to lie on the edge of slush puddles and/or half-buried in snow drifts.
At first I just felt a compulsion to take the sad, forlorn papers home to dry them. Before long it was a daily habit I was finally forced to acknowledge.
No, the prick of conscience came about in a stronger way. It started with an excited call to my daughter about the response of the community to the plight of the Gehrings and Buck’s A&W.
Instead of rejoicing at how much like “It’s a Wonderful Life,” the story was, the women’s studies major and social justice advocate admonished me, “Don’t forget the girls. There were girls involved who were sexually assaulted.”
“Yes, yes, of course,” I told her. “We haven’t forgotten them.”
Until I realized we had.
One afternoon I found myself caught in a surprise snow storm that forced traffic to proceed at 25 mph and sat listening to a long and disturbing radio interview with award-winning playwright Eve Ensler.
She founded V-Day 10 years ago to help people understand that violence against women is common practice and accepted in much of the world.
She organizes “teach-in’s” on this issue.
The “V” in the name stands simultaneously for Valentine’s Day, violence and vagina.
Her life’s work is not pretty, nor for the faint-hearted.
In honor of the 10th anniversary and to stress the increase in violence, she has launched a new campaign this year to get the world out on the severity of the violence against women occurring in the Congo.
She calls what is happening “femicide,” declaring that Africa’s “greatest resource –its women is being destroyed while a complacent world watches.”
The atrocities committed there are nearly unspeakable.
An article she wrote for Glamour magazine details the experiences of women who have been raped and mutilated, and it’s a tough read.
Suffice it to say that after Googling her work and reading it, my conscience was no longer just pricked — it was throbbing.
I stopped sleeping, which, no doubt, led to the wretched case of the flu that settled in and took over my life for the past week. (Of course, it hadn’t helped that I had walked through wet snow for days stealing newspapers.)
Eve Ensler reports that one out of every three women in the world has endured a sexual assault.
When I mention this statistic to women friends, I hear story after story.
Women everywhere are living with the realities of crimes committed against them.
When I was in my 20s, I heard it reported as one out of every four. I pondered the statistic for a long time, wondering what it would mean for myself and my three sisters.
It turns out the statistic played out inversely — all three of my sisters experienced some sort of sexual assault, not all ending in rape, but all traumatizing.
I was the only one who hadn’t been.
I would like to say that my save was the result of my avoidance of any and all mind-altering substances as a nerdy little science major, along with my innate good sense.
It’s possible, though, that I made it through by sheer good luck and the help of an angel or two.
I remember one experience vividly and an angel by the name of Dan. I met the studious pre-med major through a friend and developed a lovely, platonic friendship.
He was an unusual kid. He was the result of a “happy accident” of his parents and grew up with older siblings bestowing great love and affection upon him.
As a result, he felt no urgency to be anything but who he was, an all-around thoughtful young man.
For instance, he once ordered us tickets to a Disney film festival. His roommate and a buddy wanted in on the excitement, too, and I found myself attending the festival with three very nerdy and funny young men, like Penny in my favorite TV comedy, “The Big Bang Theory.”
My Christmas tree is still adorned with the little lace snowflakes he crocheted for me one year.
Still, I didn’t realize how thoughtful Dan was until one night. I had stopped by to see him one Friday afternoon, meaning to stay for only a few moments.
He and his roommate had a dorm room on the end of a hall. They had taken and created a loft out of their beds. So theirs was the spacious and comfortable room where people gathered.
I sat in a chair beneath the loft talking. I talked and talked, which some people say unkindly that I am inclined to do, not noticing how many people had gathered.
Not at least until Dan announced loudly to me, “Mary, didn’t you say that you have to study for a biochemistry test?”
To which I responded, “No, it’s Friday night. Why would I study biochemistry on Friday night? I have enough time.”
He insisted, “I distinctly remember you saying, ‘There’s not enough hours in the day to study biochemistry.’”
Now, even I am not nerdy enough to have said that and in exasperation and anger, so I said, “No, I don’t need to study biochemistry tonight.”
He was persistent, arguing that I needed to leave immediately and go home and study, that I wouldn’t pass the test if I didn’t. So I acquiesced and he walked me back to my dorm room.
As we walked, he told me that he realized that I hadn’t noticed that it was starting to get late and that I was the only young woman in a room of 20 young men, who were all getting progressively drunk.
He saw what I didn’t see.
That’s the problem with the situation at A&W. Rick Gehring and Glennys and Louise Ness and all those people who we love so tenderly didn’t see.
They didn’t see or respond adequately to either the threat or the occurrence of sexual harassment and assault.
Likewise, we as a community didn’t see or respond with the kind of love and support the girls needed.
We ignored the girls’ pleas, the way we as a larger global community ignores the cries of women and girls in the Congo.
We need to see as clearly as Dan. Otherwise we leave too many people in pain and danger.
Mary Colborn is a Port Orchard resdient.