Tuesday, April 10, 2012

My Perspective

Written by Montserrat Caballero, director of Southern Arizona Center Against Sexual Assault
As published in Latino Perspectives Magazine, April 2012

In 2001, I was part of an all-volunteer committee that brought the first Spanish language production of the play The Vagina Monologues to Arizona. If you haven’t heard of it, it is an amazing play that is based on interviews with women on how they feel about their, you guessed it, vaginas and everything associated with them – the positive and negative.

I remember sitting in meetings and agonizing about how to advertise the play. We were ready to go on the radio, write press releases, make fliers, inviting the public, our community, to this? Could we say vagina on the air? Would we be boycotted? Would there be outrage?

I didn’t even tell my mother what I was doing.

I had already been an anti-violence advocate for more than ten years. I had accompanied countless sexual assault survivors to hospitals at all hours of the day and night, answered crisis calls, done presentations about all forms of abuse, seen and heard some of the ugliest and most intimate ways that people are abused, mostly by those they knew and trusted and even loved.

And, yet, I was afraid.

Sexuality is as normal and natural as breathing. Yet, it is treated as the most unnatural aspect of humanity – something not to be discussed, something to be avoided and hidden, something to be ashamed of. It is mysterious, but in a frightening way.

How are we ever going to break the silence about sexual abuse and assault if we can’t have an open and honest discussion about sexuality in general? That it’s not only completely normal, but that sexuality is a fulfilling and important part of our human experience. Yet we have almost no honest, real, engaged, and compassionate language to discuss it.

How we portray sexuality to young people is equally frightening. Instead of focusing on the fact that sexuality is part of the experience of being alive in the world, instead of showing young people how to engage in positive and empowering conversations about what it means to have a healthy relationship based on trust, respect, open communication, honesty, and yes, how sex and sexual contact will or will not be a part of their lives, we mystify and ignore it or we demonize it. All of our messaging about human sexuality is negative: you better not get pregnant, you better not get anyone pregnant, don’t have sex before marriage, don’t have sex or you’ll get a disease, bring dishonor on the family, ruin your life, etc.

It’s a mess. And yet this strained and corrosive relationship we have to human sexuality has real consequences.

One in six women will be the victim of an attempted or completed sexual assault in her lifetime in this country. Over 85% of the time, it’s by someone they know and trust. And, most of the time, the victim will be blamed – what did you do to provoke it, what were you wearing, what did you say, why were you there so late? Even more devastating, victims of sexual assault are shamed into silence.

It’s time that this shameful victim blaming stop. It’s time that victims of sexual abuse and assault are supported and believed, not judged and blamed. It’s time that we as a community stand up and say – Ni Una Mas – Not one more.

I went on to help produce Los Monólogos de la Vagina for another six years. And, happily, about three years into it, my mother asked me one day if I had ever heard of this wonderful play by this woman about the vagina? I could only smile and say I had.

I am still an anti-violence advocate and I still help those hurt and traumatized by sexual abuse.

And, I am proud of my work, proud of my contributions, proud of my ability to break the silence. April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month and it is a great opportunity to learn more about the important efforts of local groups in your area who work tirelessly to put an end to sexual violence. There are many ways, large and small, that you can be a part of this work. I encourage you to get involved. Visit the Southern Arizona Center Against Sexual Assault website at www.sacasa.org for more information.

Hasta Que la Violencia Termine – Until the Violence Stops.

Visit www.sacasa.org for more information on the Southern Arizona Center Against Sexual Assault (SACASA), a member of Arizona’s Children Association family of agencies.

If you or someone you know needs help, call SACASA’s 24 hr bilingual crisis line: 1-800-400-1001 – anonymous and confidential

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