Last April, I was assigned a free choice project for my creative writing class, which was a form and technique class on the lyric essay. For those of you unfamiliar with the form, this is a sort of experimental fusion of poetry and prose, typically non-fiction, where the writer is given a much freer reign with regard to form and content than is allowed in a regular essay. It’s difficult to describe/define if you haven’t seen any examples, so for the curious, just google it.
Since April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, I decided to make my work related to that. My idea was to create a piece where there were two interwoven voices: one a sort of collective of experience, focusing on the sensations, impressions, and resulting feelings of people who have experienced rape, something in the “gray area” of non-consent, or another form of sexual assault; the other my own individual voice, presenting a critique of societal attitudes towards rape. In order to collect material to create the collective voice, I created a survey asking survivors to describe their experiences in their own words, from which I will take anonymous excerpts. I expected to get maybe ten or twenty respondents, but instead I’ve had over a hundred… 130 so far, to be precise. I quickly realized that this would end up being a much, much bigger project than I had originally intended. To everyone who has responded or linked this, thank you!!
So instead of closing the survey, I’ve decided to leave it up, and continue to collect responses as I conduct further research. As April rolls around again, I am asking for more responses. My goal with this project is to represent many different kinds of experiences, and looking at the data, I’ve noticed that there are certain demographics that I missed the first time around. I hope to expand to include those voices, as well as those of anyone else who wishes to participate.
I am looking for more responses from:
- Gender-variant and intersex people. I have had two responses from FTM-spectrum trans people, nine from people identifying themselves as genderqueer (some of whom did not indicate their physical sex; the ones who did were all female-born), and zero from both MTF-spectrum trans people and intersex people. Any and all contributions from people in these groups would be welcome!
- People who have been married to their abusers. So far I have received zero responses from this demographic, which is a curious absence to me considering that I have specifically talked about this here on the blog before. I think this is a very important dynamic to represent, so I’d greatly appreciate any responses. I’m not sure where exactly to look for them, so if anyone has any suggestions, do let me know.
- Male survivors. So far, I’ve had eight responses from men. I’m grateful that I’ve had any at all, but given how underrepresented they tend to be, I’d love to have a larger response from them.
- People whose perpetrators were female. So far I have had eight people who have had female perpetrators answer the survey. From these people, I’d like to hear if this fact has caused any particular difficulties regarding receiving support from others, accepting that it was really sexual assault, etc.
- Anyone who has experienced sexual assault motivated by or with particular complications due to demographic factors or other special circumstances. This is something that I didn’t ask about originally, because I didn’t think I’d have enough respondents that it’d be likely to come up. However, I’ve had respondents who felt their asexuality was related to or caused their assault, people with disabilities that they felt made them more vulnerable, people who were raped while visiting a foreign country, etc. I think these are important factors to consider, so I added a question to the end of the demographics page asking if there was anything like that involved. I didn’t add any questions about racial background originally either, so this is a way for people to note that as well, if they feel it is relevant. For those people who have already taken the survey, if you would like to add any explanation of these factors, you can fill out the first part of the survey again (link below). You don’t have to fill out anything other than the demographics page, since it is at the bottom of the first page, unless you want to.
Although I’ve listed people I would especially encourage to participate, everyone who feels their story is relevant is welcome to complete the survey. Even if you’re not really sure how to classify what happened, or you’re not sure if it was intended to be an assault, if it felt non-consensual to you, please feel welcome to take the survey. There’s no reason to worry that you’ll be messing up the results. You won’t be. In fact, that kind of uncertainty is of particular interest to me, and I intend to explore it in the essay.
Now, before I post the link, I want to address some confusion that people had regarding a certain portion of the survey which asks open-ended questions like “What did you see?” and “Where did you/your mind go?” etc. A lot of people seemed frustrated by these questions, and not sure how to answer them because of their vagueness. The reason that I ask is because I want to keep a strong connection to lyricism, and ground the collective voice in concrete sensory details, so that a reader who has not experienced anything similar might be more enlightened about what survivors’ experiences are actually like. It is often the little details which tend to really capture a reader’s attention and empathy, rather than just the bare facts, so I ask these questions as an attempt to incorporate them, although you don’t have to go into details if you don’t want to. I don’t ask where or when you saw or heard what you describe because I want it to be anything that stands out to you connected to the event. It doesn’t have to be a memory of what happened, it could be something like, “I feel the sharp sensation of the pencil against my skin,” describing what you feel/see/hear/think during attempts to cope or come to terms with what happened. It could be parts of dreams you’ve had related to the incident. It could be something metaphorical that represents where you were or where you are now. Think about moments of triumph as well as the pain. It can be about whatever you feel is relevant, anything at all. Give weird answers, if you want. Feel free to reflect. There is no one way to interpret the questions, so feel free to elaborate on whatever you want. Express whatever you’re thinking about, as much or as little as you want to. If this (or any other question) makes you feel too uncomfortable, there is no pressure to answer any of the questions in this section. I hope this helps to clarify.
One question in this section in particular seems to have been interpreted in only one way, with several people answering something to the effect of, “I don’t like to think like that.” I want to clarify that there’s more than one way to interpret that question. When I ask, “What might have been?” I designed the question specifically not to include any particular if-then scenario, which is why it’s phrased a little strangely. Nearly everyone seems to be interpreting this question as if it includes “if that never happened to you” at the end (I’m curious to know why so many people make that assumption). It’s fine if you want to answer the question like that, of course, but I’d like people to think of this in a different way as well. Think about it like this: what has helped you get through this, to the extent that without it you’re not sure if you would have been able to? Music, supportive friends, hobbies/activities, any particular mindset? If you hadn’t had that, how do you think you would have dealt with it instead? What negative things have you been able to stop yourself from doing? How have you reacted differently than you thought you might have before anything like this occurred? What could have been different about your situation that would have significantly impacted (either positively or negatively) your ability to cope? These are just some of the possibilities. Answer the question in whatever way feels most appropriate to you.
On Anonymity and Excerpts:
I will be taking some direct excerpts from the open-ended responses I receive, and some will be used indirectly. If you are uncomfortable with being directly quoted, please let me know. I can also just use your response for my own informational purposes without sharing it in the essay either directly or indirectly, if that is what you would prefer. In the survey, I ask if there is any particular name you would prefer to be used in the survey; you can choose to provide a pseudonym (which I recommend) or your real name if you are comfortable with that. If you do not provide any specific name, I will choose a random pseudonym to use with your response. You can choose to be listed as “anonymous” instead, or you can specify a name that you do NOT want me to use, and I will pick a different pseudonym. I also plan to specify your age if you are directly quoted, partially because some people have chosen the same pseudonym, and partially to give readers an idea of the range of respondents’ ages. If you are uncomfortable with your age being specified, I won’t list it. Please let me know of any other privacy concerns you might have. You can always change your mind later about whether you want to be quoted, etc. Please contact me to let me know, and I can identify your response based on the pseudonym you provided, IP address, or something else, and make a note of your changed preferences.
I also plan to publish this piece under a pseudonym myself (this blog is also published under a partial pseudonym), so if any of you are worried that you might be identified because you know me, please rest assured that I will take every precaution to avoid that.
If you would like to complete the survey, and you have not done so before, please use this link. If you happen to start taking the survey and then remember that you have filled it out before, please note that so that your second response can be deleted, and then follow the link below instead, if you want to fill it out again.
Since I have redesigned and clarified several of the questions, and since it has been a year since I first asked for responses and people have had more time to reflect, I have decided to create a separate copy of the survey in case anyone would like to take it again, so that the demographics will not be distorted. If you didn’t finish the first time around and feel you can write more this time, if you weren’t satisfied with your original responses, or if you just want to see how far you’ve come, by all means use this link if you have already completed the first page of this survey once before. It’s not necessary for you to fill out the entire survey unless you want to; for any questions you don’t want to answer, just put an asterisk in the comment box to indicate that you feel satisfied enough with your original answer. It may be an interesting exercise to see if and how your retelling of your story has changed, however, so do feel free to answer again even if you were satisfied with what you wrote before. That may lead to some insightful points for the piece.
Feel free to link this around, by all means. My only request is that you ONLY LINK TO THIS BLOG POST, instead of the survey itself, so that my statistical information won’t get messed up from people who have already taken the survey taking it again.
And finally, a great big THANK YOU to everyone who takes this or links it around!