Follow-up: On the Reverse “10-5 Rule” and Walking While Female

By Liz Gorman

Note: The following is a speech given by Liz at our March 28th, 2013 fundraiser. It serves as a follow-up to her first-person account of her sexual assault in DC that she wrote last summer for CASS and which was picked up by the Huffington Post, Washington Post, Jezebel, FOX, WJLA and more.

I was sexually assaulted in Dupont Circle last year and wrote an article about it that was published shortly after it happened. I think I was still in shock after the assault, but I never hesitated to think that it was a bad idea to go publicwith what happened that day.

The assault was really just the tipping point for me. All of my female friends and relatives deal with street harassment of varying degrees on a daily basis, and we usually just talk about it as if it is a fact of life, something that’s inherent to nature. In talking to them immediately after it happened, I realized that in situations like these, all you have is your voice. Everything else can be taken away from you, and you can feel completely worthless and objectified and think that you’re not deserving of respect and happiness, but you still have your voice.

As Alice Walker says, “The most common way people give up their power is by realizing that they don’t have any.” So in those moments when someone harasses you in any way and maybe you’re feeling like you wore the wrong thing, or drank too much at that party, or are walking in the wrong neighborhood at the wrong time, remember to not give up your power, your voice.

Using my voice and going public with what happened to me was frequently referred to as an act of bravery. I immediately disagreed with that sentiment; speaking up for myself and standing up for what I believe in has never been a question for me, and certainly not something that I felt deserved special recognition.

Victims are supposed to provide sad soundbites, not be vocally angry or at all radical. So I’m here to remind you that you do have a powerful voice. It’s okay to be angry. You should be.

Initially, I felt very positive and empowered by the onslaught of coverage. But as I began to deal more with the media and other organizations, I came to realize that labeling me as brave implies the assumption that I’m naturally weaker. I’m braver than I should be as a victim, as a woman. I became an active participant in what I view to be a sexist and discriminatory media environment that adds to the idea that women are the weaker sex, which in turn contributes to a society that is conducive to violence against women.

I would deal with members in the media that wanted to paint me as weak and upset and read the comments from viewers online. I was told that I was too big for my britches for not wanting to be trotted out as the victim of the week on the 10 o’clock news, and asked backstage how I was surviving the “media gangbang.” I would go on interviews to not only talk about my sexual assault, but also about the complicity of the media and my issues with the way the police were handling the case. Everything would be edited out.

Victims are supposed to provide sad soundbites, not be vocally angry or at all radical. So I’m here to remind you that you do have a powerful voice, and that you shouldn’t let society or the media dictate how loudly you use it. It’s okay to be angry. You should be.

I want to thank CASS for providing a positive outlet for all of us here, and for being comfortable with our volume. I think we’re a part of something really powerful and transformative, and I’m honored to be part of it.

Liz Gorman is a photographer from Washington, DC.

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ABOUT “MY STREETS, TOO” “My Streets, Too” is CASS’s ongoing series on personal writings on street harassment by members of the DC community. Email Renee to submit writings using your full name, initials, or anonymously (just let us know). Please be sure to use the subject line “My Streets, Too.”