Dear Jane Doe (et al)
I am reading a lot about what happened to you last summer. I am hearing a lot about the boys who hurt you and how the media disrespected you and how the other kids are being nasty to you.
I am writing to apologize.
I am not apologizing for them – they should do that. I am apologizing for my own inaction.
You see – I have known for a long time that schools and communities are reinforcing the athlete-can-do-no- wrong mentality and I have done nothing to shift that perspective.
I am aware of how reality TV is giving kids a broken gauge of how people should behave toward themselves and each other but I have not demanded higher standards.
I have known all along that the media is running unchecked after whatever will get the biggest rise without regard to what might do the most good or the most damage and I have not done anything to put the reins on them.
I have been aware of how movies, videos, music and more have been pumping boys (and girls) with ideas about women that are detrimental and destructive not to mention dangerous but I have not gotten involved in the fight to send kids a better message.
All of those things and others have converged onto your life and you are now suffering a humiliating exposure that no 16 year old girl should have to face.
And I want to tell you that you are not alone.
It may feel like it right now. It may feel like you are the only one in the world who can imagine what you are going through but you are not.
Unfortunately, there are many, many others who are going through the same kinds of things that you have gone through.
There are girls and women who are putting on a strong face right now so that they can get through the day without showing the fear and shame that they feel because of what happened to them.
There are girls and women who are hiding behind alcohol and drugs and risky sexual behavior so that they don’t have to feel the anxiety and uncertainty that living in a world like this has caused them.
There are girls and women who are hurting themselves because they feel responsible for what other people have done.
And there are girls who are in danger every minute of the day.
But Jane Doe – I want you to understand that there are other girls, too.
There are girls who have grown up and away from the experience of having been raped.
There are girls who realize that the filthy hands that might misuse our bodies have no power to pollute our hearts and minds.
We understand that the shame of rape does not belong to us and we refuse to carry it for those who deserve it.
We understand that secrets only protect abusers and talking is salvation for those who are being or who have been abused.
We are happy and healthy and strong women because we refused to believe what our tormentors said about us.
Jane Doe – I am sorry that your life has been hijacked by the atrocious behavior of others but the reality is that your exposure may be a saving grace.
Many girls don’t have their experience known to the world and so they carry their secrets until they fester into a self destructive shame.
You, at least, can hear my voice and the voices of so many others as we tell you without a doubt that this is not your fault.
If you drank too much then your friends should have had your back. It is a sign of their character that they did not.
If you were vulnerable, then those who are stronger should have protected you. It is a sign of their character that they did not.
If you were acting bold and wild and reckless or flirtatious or needy or whatever else people might be saying about you then they, and you, should remember that you are a human being who needs support and guidance- not abuse and disregard.
Drinking too much is a mistake. We all make mistakes. Making a mistake doesn’t mean you are a mistake. Making a mistake doesn’t mean you deserved what happened to you.
I am sorry, Jane Doe, that we have all let you down.
But I am also determined that you understand that this moment, this night, this month, this year, will not amount to the sum of your life.
Learn from your mistake and move on. Don’t accept responsibility for the actions of others.
I was a Jane Doe, too and I went through years of hell before I learned what I am telling you now.
You have the power to choose how this experience will shape you.
You can write your own story from here.
Nancy Murray is pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing and the Publishing Arts at University of Baltimore. She is a playwright who as enjoyed full productions of her work at Fells Point Corner Theater, Silver Spring Stage and the Montgomery County One Act Festival where it was selected as The Best of Festival. Most recently she has been enjoying participating in the Submit 10 Series as both a playwright and as a performer.