Sleepless in America: Awake in a Rape Culture

Then some of his promises came true—knife, speeding car, footsteps on my roof.
Me belly crawling through my dark teenage room into my sister’s—“help.”
Lights on.

He took to the shadows—he still might be there.
I can’t remember his face, only his weight bearing down.
A body remembers.

~MMS, Let the Bones Dance (WJKP, 2010)

I can’t sleep. In my 49 years I have had countless nights like this one. Awake in the thick quiet of the world around me sleeping. I wrote a lot of my first book in this liminal time—when I needed sleep, but couldn’t sleep. I felt the poetry of a body healing telling me to get up, speak up, write, and connect with a world that can’t sleep forever.

I wrote about being raped. I wrote about living with rape all these years—most of my life. I wrote about motherhood and racism and fear and grief and faith and healing.

I was fifteen when it started. Rape isn’t a once and for all event in one’s life. It is not something that happens to you and then is over. It is something that changes you forever—something that has haunted me, held me captive, and diminished what I can feel and do and even be.

A long time ago I found some freedom from some of its weight—and I made my peace with the fact that all of the weight will never be totally lifted.  Carrying that weight for the rest of my life is because my rape is not just mine, it is ours—the world’s.  And the weight I carry is ours—the weight of a world so full of violence, so hostile to certain bodies.  I can never be fully free of it until everyone is free from it.

So I am awake, heavy with the memories, the sensations of not being able to breathe or move or speak. I am awake, activated by the hyper-vigilance that trauma embeds in my muscle fibers, my shoulders, my eyes, my ears, my spirit.

I am awake also with anger and grief, with a deep sadness from all the chatter of patriarchy and white supremacy and misogyny that is turned up too loud for me to bear right now. I despise the way women’s bodies become chess pieces in political battles and power struggles. I grieve the way it chips away at the humanity of all of us when someone tells the world about their pain, and then the world just inflicts more pain on them.  The brutality of it is enough to unlock a deep despair. That brutality tries to break us, tries to tell us to shut up, to stop disturbing the diseased slumber of a world’s willful denial.

Through the years, writing has been one of the things that keeps me alive. I write to practice not giving up on the world; I write to practice not giving up on healing and freedom and joy.  And whenever I write, connections follow. Total strangers write me and tell me their story. People I’ve known for decades tell me they, too, have carried the shame and pain of sexual violence.  A portal opens up and voices whisper, #metoo.

Maybe I am writing right now because I need to connect.  But, tonight feels different than other times. Tonight I am writing because I am so tired of the horrible spin cycle that jerks us all around every few days.  While the #metoo movement has been empowering for people like me, it has also been exhausting and re-traumatizing.  And it is the age-old story that I am so tired of—someone in power abuses his power, everybody knows about it, he gets away with it and is, in turn, given more power. I am so done with this abusive cycle. And I am not alone. So I am awake tonight because a lot of us don’t need so much sleep anymore. We need change more than we need sleep.

And the change I need is for white men to take responsibility for each other—for your peers, your fathers, your sons, your co-workers, your neighbors, your teammates. Stop protecting this thing that is killing us, that is brutalizing us—that is heaping the weight of violence and oppression onto bodies that have already been carrying your load for you and then some.  I am ready for you all to take some of it—take some of the weight of this insanity that you tell us is in the service of “fairness” and “procedure” and “merit” and “qualifications.”  Take some of the weight that your bodies’ entitlement to other bodies and your freedom to move about the world as you please and your ability to talk your way out of criminal behavior and your denial of the pain that ravages other bodies has loaded onto black and brown bodies, female bodies, LGBTQIA bodies. You carry this weight for a while. Take your turn, do your share. Because others have been doing your share and then some for too long.

What if this time we interrupted the nightmare and ended it differently—instead of giving the man who abused his power more power, how about we invite him to use his time to pursue some long over due work on himself and his cohort. We don’t need Mr. Kavanaugh’s skills and experience on the Supreme Court; we need his so-called integrity to actually show up for the planet earth. Show us something different, something new, Mr. Kavanaugh.  Because you ceding some of your power and using your energy to embark on a healing journey from the diminishing returns of patriarchy and white-supremacy will make us all sleep better at night.


49 responses to “Sleepless in America: Awake in a Rape Culture”

  1. Margaret Townsend says:

    Thank you, Marcia Mount Shoop for your clarity and truth-telling. Your eloquence and truth speaks for those who have no words or cannot advocate in such a powerful way. May this go viral—it should be required reading for all tjose in power, as well as all those who encounter rape’s cruel, ugly part in our lives. I am grateful to know you, dear friend!

  2. Peg Conway says:

    Your thoughtful passion always adds constructively to any issue. Thanks for your words and your presence.

  3. Scott Kearns says:

    Thank you, as always, for your words. Thank you in particular for your reminder that white men such as myself need to hold our peers responsible. I’ve tried to do so in the past (I have failed at times) and will do so in the future. I am also trying to raise my two sons to understand this immensely complex topic. Again, I thank you.

    • Marcia Mount Shoop says:

      Thank you, Scott, for your words and for your intentionality with your relationships with other men. I am grateful for your attentiveness to these issues and, especially, for your resolve to father your sons to “understand this immensely complex topic.” May the Spirit bless you with wisdom and courage and perseverance.
      Peace,
      Marcia

  4. Emily Wigger says:

    Thank you, Marcia. Your words are so powerful and true. I shared your earlier quote with a group of women yesterday.I feel so blessed to know you and your work. And, thank you for coming up to me at the PV4J breakfast.

    • Marcia Mount Shoop says:

      Thank you, Emily. It was a gift to see you at GA and share in the joy of you receiving your award. Thank you for your support and affirmation.
      Peace,
      Marcia

  5. Liz Huesemann says:

    I am proud and grateful to call you my Pastor.

    The weight of my past has felt very heavy these days. The weight of many stories like mine make me weep. Before my body collapses from this burdan, I am determined to keep carrying it and seeking justice for all. I can because I know I am not alone.
    Yesterday I wrote my story to the white men in power who need to do the right thing.

    • Marcia Mount Shoop says:

      Thank you, Liz. You describe the heavy burden very well–and the weight can be unbearable at times. I am praying that you feel strengthened and loved as you add your voice to this healing work. Praying for you!
      Peace,
      Marcia

  6. Karl Plank says:

    Thank you, Marcia, for your gift of words and the spirit that brings them forth as words to take into ourselves, into the chambers of self where might begin our own stirrings of compassion and t’shuvah–the deep turning that is repentant, accountable, and just, and thereby more broadly life-giving. Truth — the words that are ours to say or ours to hear — perhaps best comes to us in the sleepless moment such as you describe. Less armored and thus more vulnerable, at unusual attention, we know our memories and hopes then in a particularly keen way. I’ve read much in recent days, but what you have written speaks better with plain eloquence what I think we need to hear in what should become our own sleepless moment. There are burdens to bear–the existential gravity of suffering lives, we might say–but the weight has not been equally distributed. It’s time for us, the others you address most directly, to pick up that weight, because it is ours to begin with, I believe. Such a turning would be just, it should go without saying; and, in that, may it also be life-giving to those who need the Sabbath rest of relief from sleepless nights.

    • Marcia Mount Shoop says:

      Thank you, Karl. What a gift to have the poetry of your heartfelt reflections here. Thank you for your compassion and your open heart. Your gentleness and your sincere prayer are a gift to me and to the world! You are a good teacher for us all.
      Peace,
      Marcia

  7. Linda Stirk says:

    Thank you Marcia. Your writing is wonderful and your words so true. Oh, how the world needs to wake up and realize the truth of your words. Keep on speaking the truth as you do. I am honored to know you!

    • Marcia Mount Shoop says:

      Thank you, Linda. I am grateful to have your voice in this conversation. Thank you for your open and willing heart.
      Peace,
      Marcia

  8. Jim Stewart says:

    Powerful words. You are a voice for countless women and men. Thank you.

  9. Hettie Lou Garland says:

    Dearest Marcia, I regret your sleeplessness and the reasons for it. I am grateful if writing provides some relief. Your words give voice to those who cannot find theirs, who also have sleepless nights, feeling the powerlessness when overwhelmed by the power of violation of body, mind, and soul. You give hope to those who continue to live in hopelessness. You have given love to those who have been sullied by power and fele unloved for the rest of their lives. Thank you for your courage of sharing part of you with us. May God hold you always in the palm of His hand.

    • Marcia Mount Shoop says:

      Thank you, Hettie Lou. I am grateful for your love and support–and for the strength and generosity of your spirit.
      Peace,
      Marcia

  10. Rick says:

    Is it just white men who rape? Or are you a racist?
    Not all men are rapists or enablers.
    Maybe if the mother’s Teach their sons to respect women like my mother did for my brothers and I, rape wouldn’t happen.

    • Marcia Mount Shoop says:

      Hi Rick,

      Thanks for reading and for commenting. It sounds like my post might be frustrating or confusing for you. Or that you somehow feel singled out by it. I am guessing you are probably a white man yourself and that it is hard to hear some of these feelings being voiced these days. I suggest you explore your defensiveness with an open and fearless heart. There is life and healing there.

      Systems do create advantage for certain groups of people in our country. White men are not the only ones who rape, but they certainly are more likely to get away with it. Over 90% of rapists are never brought to justice in this country. And statistically, most of them are white men. I know those are hard facts to take in. But I am prayerful that you will spend some time with them. I don’t know if you are a person of faith, but if you are, I trust that God will provide you with the strength and courage to do this work if you have a willing heart.

      As the mother of a son, I poured my heart and soul into telling my son the truth about what happened to me and the truth about sexual violence. I am very grateful for my son–he is an amazing young man and he even calls himself a feminist! So, you are right, mothers have a powerful impact on their sons. And I am grateful God gave me a son and a husband who are not afraid to look at these hard truths.

      Blessings in your journey, Rick.

      Peace,
      Marcia

  11. Nancy Telling says:

    A wonderfully vulnerable and sensitive article about this travesty in our culture. I would mention, for the sake of balance, that there have been men wrongly accused by women, by police officers; men who have spent years in prison or lost their lives because of lies told against them. I truly want every victim to be heard. But, especially in a vicious political arena as we have currently, I would caution against condemning a person to guilt without hearing the entire facts surrounding the case. It is possible, although reprehensible, that a false witness is being brought forward simply to prevent Kavanaugh from being confirmed. I think it is as equally horrifying to automatically condemn a person as it is to ignore a victim. Victimizing an innocent man is not the answer that we are looking for in this problem. Does it not disturb to consider how quickly our culture is rising up to lynch this man without even hearing the case against him?

    • Beth says:

      Dear Nancy: The difference is that here, BK won’t be condemned. He’s applying for a job that requires a good character, and that is in question here. I personally think if he were a decent man, he would withdraw his nomination. We deserve a better justice than another man with a tainted reputation. The Professor deserves a better response than assuming she is deciding to be publicly vilified for telling the truth, much less people doubting her because she is a woman.
      He is not remotely being lynched. His worst case scenario is that he won’t get a lifetime position – hardly a punishment for someone who should be held to the highest ethical standards, not the lowest.

      • Marcia Mount Shoop says:

        Thank you, Beth. I resonate with your comments. I agree (see below) that questioning Mr. Kavanaugh should be expected and should be rigorous considering the position he is seeking.
        Peace,
        Marcia

    • Marcia Mount Shoop says:

      Dear Nancy,

      It is great to hear from you. Thank you for reading and for sharing your thoughts.

      As I am sure you know, over 25% of all women are raped, that stat goes up when we include attempted rapes, that stat goes up when we consider sexual threats and sexual harassment. I know very few women who have not had some experience of sexual violence or harassment or both.

      Cases of false accusations are EXTREMELY rare. Every time someone comes forward with an accusation of sexual abuse, these scare tactics about false accusations are the first weapon to be fired to raise doubts about the victim’s character. I am not going to fall into that trap, and I wish you would not either, Nancy. Have you heard what’s happening to Dr. Ford since she came forward. She’s receiving death threats, she’s had to move her family out of their home, her life is ruined right now. How many women do you know who would invite that on themselves, just to falsely accuse someone they haven’t seen in decades? Not many!

      And, Nancy, I love you with all my heart–you are one of the kindest, most gentle, most loving people on the entire planet, but I cannot abide by you using the word “lynching” about what is happening to Mr. Kavanaugh. He is being asked to answer questions about his character in order to serve on the highest court in our country’s judicial system. He should be able to withstand the heat if he has the stuff he’ll need for that job. And a white man with power who is as close to a life-time appointment to the highest court being asked questions about his character is not being lynched. He is being held accountable and being asked to tell the truth. Men of his social location and his ancestors have done lynchings in the past, but I haven’t heard about a one of them getting lynched. Using that word in this situation is an insult to the memories of all the black and brown people who have been lynched for just smiling at a white woman or falsely accused of looking at a white women or just being at the wrong place at the wrong time and being black.

      It doesn’t disturb me a bit that our country is taking these accusations seriously. I wouldn’t expect any less when the stakes are so high.

      Thank you, again, for commenting. I hope all is well with you and your family.

      Peace,
      Marcia

    • Andrea says:

      It is a myth that women and children falsely acuse. It rarely, rarely happens. It is somewhere around 2 %. Given that only about 30% of rapes get reported, we are talking about a minimal number. In almost 20 years of providing therapy to survivors, I have never seen it happen. It was and is much more likely that women and children risked it all to come forward and still never received a bit of justice. Basically unless you were “lucky enough” to have dna evidence
      He is also not on trial here. He is interviewing for a job promotion. One that happens to carry with it a high degree of privilege and lifetime appointment to the highest court in the land. So please think twice before saying he is being lynched… it is an insult to our African American brothers and sisters and a completely inaccurate description of what is happening.

      • Marcia Mount Shoop says:

        Thank you, Andrea. I appreciate you adding your voice here. I resonate with your thoughts (as indicated in my response to Nancy). I am grateful for your added wisdom about just how rare false accusations are. That is very helpful. I am grateful for your voice and your wisdom and your compassion and your courage!
        Peace,
        Marcia

  12. Gayle Waddell says:

    Thank you for your truth and wisdom. I want to share this with everyone I know. Your call to challenge the “age old story “ is so powerful. Blessings from Danville. Peace, Gayle

    • Marcia Mount Shoop says:

      Thank you, Gayle. I am grateful for your affirmation–and the blessing from Danville especially means a lot to me!
      Peace,
      Marcia

  13. Melody Keller says:

    Sexual assault damages and/or destroys the victim’s ability to to be happy — too often for the rest of their life. Stealing a person’s happiness is far worse than stealing their money or possessions.
    And nobody ever died without sex — which makes sexual assault the most inexcusable crime of them all.
    And that’s why people should quit spoiling and coddling and enabling sex predators, and stop making excuses for them. Because nobody ever died without sex.

    • Marcia Mount Shoop says:

      Thank you, Melody. You are so right about the destructive power of sexual violence. It can take a person’s joy, a person’s ability to feel alive. And because rape is about power more than it is about sex, it is also something that tries to take away a person’s power. I am grateful that you’ve added your voice to this conversation. Blessings to you in these difficult times in our country.
      Peace,
      Marcia

  14. Andrea says:

    Thank you dear Marcia as always for putting words to exactly what I am feeling and experiencing
    I didn’t even realize what it was really till the tears started falling. I feel like between the misogyny and the racism I cant stand to live in this country for one more second and abhor what is happening in our country. Thank you for sharing your story and your truth!

    • Marcia Mount Shoop says:

      Thank you, Andrea. It can feel really heavy–and it has been heavy for some bodies for the duration of this country’s life. I am praying you feel supported and I am praying you do what you need to do to feel strong. The Spirit is moving in the direction of truth and justice and freedom–that is a source of energy and grounding for us all. Remember that and remember that you are loved!
      Peace,
      Marcia

  15. Andrea says:

    It is a myth that women and children falsely acuse. It rarely, rarely happens. It is somewhere around 2 %. Given that only about 30% of rapes get reported, we are talking about a minimal number. In almost 20 years of providing therapy to survivors, I have never seen it happen. It was and is much more likely that women and children risked it all to come forward and still never received a bit of justice. Basically unless you were “lucky enough” to have dna evidence
    He is also not on trial here. He is interviewing for a job promotion. One that happens to carry with it a high degree of privilege and lifetime appointment to the highest court in the land. So please think twice before saying he is being lynched… it is an insult to our African American brothers and sisters and a completely inaccurate description of what is happening.

  16. Chip Hardwick says:

    Marcia, thank you so much for sharing your pain and burden. Somehow and strangely it is a gift to me. I’ve never spoken about the trauma that comes from sexual abuse or rape with anyone who has experienced it. I know I can’t ever bring it up—to do so just retraumatizes the victim. Your post helps me understand the incredible pain that comes so much better. I so wish that you had never had this happen to you—of course—but I’m very thankful for your bravery in teaching me and others about its impact. God bless you Marcia.

    • Marcia Mount Shoop says:

      Thank you, Chip. And God bless you for your gentle spirit and open heart. I am grateful that my post was helpful to you. I am grateful for how the Spirit works with we find the courage to share truth with one another.
      Peace,
      Marcia

  17. Peggy Rada says:

    Thank you, Marcia, for speaking out and blessings on you and your family.

  18. Lyn says:

    Marcia,

    You capture what so many of are feeling—fear, rage, exhaustion—while expressing this pain so beautifully. You empower and transform us by speaking this, raising truth in the light. It saddens me people come here to debate and continue the pain cycle. Yet you remain graceful, compassionate, loving, just, and brave. Thank you.

    • Marcia Mount Shoop says:

      Thank you, Lyn. I am grateful for you and your voice. And it is hard and sad to share painful and tender feelings and have people respond with hostility. At the same time, I know that underneath the hostility is often fear. And by commenting they are sometimes staying connected to the conversation and some small crack of openness or connection. That’s not always the case, but just in case it is, I try to practice as faithfully as I can being grateful when someone tells me how they feel. Thank you for telling me how you feel. And thank you for the generosity of really acknowledging how I feel. It makes the world a better place!
      Peace,
      Marcia

  19. Mary Berg says:

    Dear Marcia,
    I am also proud & grateful to call you my pastor. As bad as sexual violence is in this country, I fear it is worse elsewhere. The only time in my life I came close to real sexual violence was in India. Fortunately I fought him off. I was lucky. Not many women are. It is incredibly horrible to consider, as you say, that 25% of women in this country experience rape. Since I have not experienced that, it is impossible to understand what you & so many women have endured. I mourn that I am unable to connect with other women in that way at the same time I’m so grateful to have been spared thus far. But your words are so powerful and compelling, they touch me like no one else’s, just as they touch so many many others. I can have a clue. Thank you for your voice, your loving presence, your anger, your call to action.

    • Marcia Mount Shoop says:

      Thank you, Mary. I am grateful that you have added your voice to this conversation. And it sounds like you do have an experience of sexual violence that connects you to what it feels like and how we carry it with us. Blessings to you as you listen and share and connect–a blessing to us all!
      Peace,
      Marcia

  20. John Jackson says:

    My admiration for your courage to write about your experience, and the precision, honesty, insight, and compassion with which you do so is equally admirable – and this applies to your replies to the many responses this piece has stimulated. Most of us “men” have had no similar experiences, but those (mostly in the military) that I have read about share similar scars and have experienced the same lack of concern/belief that women experience. There is so much for us to learn from the current Ford/Kananaugh affair – alas, it seems likely that partisan political stances may be little changed and too few will come through this with “enhanced” perspectives. I pray that we come through with having made needed progress, perfection being beyond possibility.

    • Marcia Mount Shoop says:

      Thank you for reading and commenting, John. I am praying, too. This is so profoundly re-traumatizing to see all this play out on the national stage. I am praying for something to shift. Thank you for having an open heart and not being afraid of engaging these difficult conversations.
      Peace,
      Marcia

  21. Nancy Telling says:

    Dear Marcia, my point in using the word “lynching” in my original comment is that the majority of people have found Kavanaugh to be guilty, without even hearing the accusations. And, while it may be quite true that the vast majority of victims’ claims are true, do you not think it possible for “good old boys” from the other party to manipulate the “me too” movement at this time when sexual abuse issues are hotly felt? I truly fear for those who HAVENT consider that possibility, because it leaves us all open to being manipulated. And, women are indeed capable of deceit and using sex to gain power over men. If, because of our own past victimization, we look at all women as being victims, we are indeed wrong. Women are just as capable as sinning as men are, and sometimes use sex to their advantage. To say that Kavanaugh should immediately withdraw is for us to have found him guilty without a trial, without facing his accusers, and is exactly what happened in the Emmett Till event. A young black man was lynched because a white woman said that he had made advances at her. Now, there is one instance of the harm that a woman is capable of inflicting, through allegations of sexual abuse. There are many others. My question: are you only interested in entertaining the ideas of those who are in agreement with you? Is this a black and white issue for you, and if so can you look at that from your own bias?

    • Nancy Telling says:

      As a victim of childhood sexual abuse, I have a lifetime of seeing things through the lens of a victim. Trauma wounds us and we can easily remain trapped in the persona of a victim and trappedbinbthe tendency to respond to current situations as a victim, rather than as they really are. Health comes from moving out of the victim identity, of acknowledging it and embracing it, but moving forward out of it. Otherwise our whole life can remain in that pit of helplessness.

      • Marcia Mount Shoop says:

        Thank you for sharing from your own experience, Nancy. All of us survivors have to walk this difficult road our own way. I am thankful that you have found some freedom and a way not to feel helpless. That is a blessing!
        Peace,
        Marcia

    • Marcia Mount Shoop says:

      Nancy,
      Thank you for continuing to be in conversation. I am weary. And I am sad with what we are seeing play out on our national stage. Your questions seem strangely ironic given the reaction you are having to someone who thinks differently than you. If you are asserting that I have a bias from my experience as a survivor and my work on racial equity toward centering voices of those most impacted by abuses of power, then I am guilty as charged. I am praying for you, Nancy. I am not sure where your anger and upset feelings are coming from, but I hope you can get some relief from the stress of it all soon.
      Peace,
      Marcia

  22. Allen Proctor says:

    Thank you Marcia, for sharing your brilliant and compassionate analysis with courage. As a privileged white male southerner I know that violence against women begins with a wink and a nod between buddies who are supporting and reassuring each other of their right to objectify and use women for their pleasure and power-over. Marcia’s authentic and eloquent call for men like me to take responsibility means zero tolerance at every level of enabling, starting with the wink and the nod. It requires men like me to be strong enough to call it out every time this shit shows up and to be willing to resign membership in the boys club on the spot. I’ve failed so many times. I’m determined not to fail again. It’s expensive. It’s also liberating. As we say in the south, “Man Up!”

    • Marcia Mount Shoop says:

      Thank you, Allen, for reading and for commenting. Most of all thank you for responding with some strong words from your social location. It means a lot to me and I know to others as well to hear you talk about your willingness to cede some power, to lose some status in order to be a force for healing and change. That is a great show of strength, faith, and love. And a great blessing!
      Peace,
      Marcia

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