Guest Blogger- Jill DeLorenzo
Today is a big day for me. August 28. It is the anniversary (10 years, to be exact) of the day I became a sexual assault survivor. I was a college student, and it was my third day on campus.
Why am I sharing this here, on a page about breastfeeding laws and harassment? It is because, over the past year, I have been able to heal in ways I never thought possible. And it was thanks to my experience with nursing in public harassment.
It didn't take me long to draw many parallels between the two experiences of sexual assault and nursing in public harassment. It started with the language I heard back from both skeptics AND supporters.
"If only she used a cover..."
"If only she sat in the bathroom..."
"If only she stayed at home..."
"If only she used bottles instead..."
"If only she wore different clothes..."
"If only she stayed in her own dorm room..."
"If only you hadn't been around him..."
It's the language of victim blaming. Of saying that, because I was there, I somehow was at fault.
No, no, no.
The truth is, it's the rapist's fault. It's the harasser's fault. If they didn't feel like THEY had control over my body (and my children's bodies), this would have never happened.
Nobody forced them to rape. Nobody forced them to harass.
This all sounds glum, right? So how was this knowledge able to enhance my healing??
Back in 2005, I was shocked from the trauma of the rape. Yet, I chose not to tell anyone for over a month. Because there was no physical evidence at that point, I made the difficult decision not to press charges against my assailant. Even though I knew I wasn't in the wrong with getting raped (heck, who WANTS that???) I promised myself that, if I were ever in a situation that horrible again, I would do whatever it took to get justice.
To be honest, that wasn't entirely fair of me to put such a heavy burden on myself. Even with emergency awareness and planning, you NEVER know exactly how you will react in the heat of the moment.
When I experienced the shock of being harassed for nursing in public in September 2014, just under a year ago, I remembered my vow to myself. I got an audio recording of my harasser's exact demands. I had the irrefutable proof. I sought justice, first in the form of asking for an apology. When that was not granted, my community protested in the form of a nurse-in. Then I used the powerful recording to tell my story to our Virginia lawmakers: to show them that, yes, this really DOES happen, and we need laws to protect families from this ever happening again. On July 1, that "Right to Breastfeed" law went into effect in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
What helped me to heal was the discovery that it was (to a small degree) within my power to create a better outcome in spite of circumstance.
What cannot be overlooked, though, is how, in spite of these two different scenarios, similarities will still exist - and that, for the most part, the outcome is beyond my control.
1. Even with hard evidence to the contrary, some folks will still blame me.
2. NIP harassment and sexual assault both happen way more often than we talk about.
Read the statistics for rape here: https://www.rainn.org/get-informat…/…/sexual-assault-victims
I couldn't find statistics for NIP harassment, but I can say from personal experience that it is a severely under-reported issue.
3. Most of the time, the perpetrators will never see a punishment.
We have the power to change this, though. End the victim blaming. Support a culture where these sorts of attacks are not acceptable. Support and enforce the laws to protect survivors.
I want to close with a statement that I heard both after I tried to help folks in similar spots after my assault AND after being harassed for breastfeeding in public. That statement is: "We all go through tough stuff. Why are you letting this define you?"
The answer is that it's the harder way, but the one with the most meaning for me. In a moment of trauma, I saw a need in society. It's a need that I want to eliminate, and I can use my voice and experience as a way to lessen it. I have healed from my own pain, which has created a desire to give back. I wish to create positive experiences in the world, and I wish to do this somewhere it is sorely needed.