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Language is malleable, yes—but we cannot allow social justice language, particularly the type of language specifically invented to empower victims of abuse, to work against us, to re-silence us, again and again. 

[TW- Mention of sexual assault]

A couple of weeks ago, when the #MeToo campaign was making its way across the social media landscape, I finally decided to out my rapist publicly. We had been friends for many years, romantically involved off and on—and then, about a year ago, I cut off contact with him completely. It wasn’t just one time that it happened, the rape. It was multiple times. But the most egregious and horrifying one, the one that eventually lead me to cut off contact with him completely, had stayed lodged within me like a splinter, unprocessed, unmoving.

Few people in our circles knew what had actually happened between us. Although I had admitted to being sexually assaulted on multiple occasions, I never stated his name out loud, much less publicly. It felt too vulnerable, and I didn’t feel ready for the onslaught of emotions that would inevitably accompany such an outing. But the #MeToo campaign struck a nerve. As woman after woman on my feed posted #MeToo, my only thought was: why are we the ones who have to make ourselves vulnerable, again, while our rapists sit there cloaked in silence—in the complacent comfort of non-confrontation?

I understand that there can be catharsis, even a feeling of solidarity, in seeing huge numbers of women in your community speak up publicly about the fact that they were sexually assaulted. But it didn’t feel like enough for me. If I was going to admit that I was raped in a public forum, I thought, folks better be damn sure I’m also going to name the person who raped me. If I have to make myself uncomfortable, then folks better be damn sure I’m going to make him uncomfortable too. I wasn’t about to re-victimize myself in the process of outing my oppressor.

My worry was that the #MeToo campaign was starting to render the idea of rape into something abstract—one of those things “every woman has experienced,” while, in the meantime, the actual, concrete people that raped them remain safely anonymous.   

https://twitter.com/sndrsng/status/920097942010200064

Part of the reason why I was so intent on outing him was that I knew other women had already reported him as a rapist to powerful institutions—such as Yale University, where he is currently a graduate student—only to have their requests ignored and silenced. Granted, Yale (along with, let’s face it, most institutions of higher learning) has a terrible track record of bringing justice to victims of sexual assault. But to see it happen so close to home just enraged me further. No institution would ever hold my rapist accountable—I knew this, and I know it now.

Given that, it seemed to me that the only real form of accountability available to me—to us—was social accountability. I needed my community to know what he had done—to me, and to many, many other women. The consequences of social outing for a rapist can be numerous, but here are some of the outcomes I hoped for in outing him publicly: first, mutual friends severing their ties with him; second, a sense of shock for my community—particularly my male friends who had been close friends with him for many years—that yes, they too, had been complicit. They, too, had been harboring and protecting rapists in their close friendships for many years without thinking twice about what that looked like to me and the numerous other women he had raped.

Related: HOW OUR USE OF LANGUAGE DEHUMANIZES & DEMONIZES MENTAL ILLNESS

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