Never Again?

| 26/10/2010

Haverford College, my alma mater, went coed in 1980. This was considered a bold and controversial move at the time, but one that the school embraced as necessary for the way forward as an institution of higher learning.

Shortly after this change in admission policy (between 1980-1981), a young female freshman found herself intoxicated at a campus party. The degree of her intoxication is hard to ascertain and has been debated many times, but the reality is that it should never have mattered. Given her state, some older male upperclassmen saw what they thought to be an opportunity. One began to flirt with the girl, whom he then ushered to a more “private” room, and one by one this group of young men raped this young woman repeatedly. The rest of the story follows like the script from a cliché Lifetime film: she was “drunk”, female and Puerto Rican so clearly she must have asked for it; the boys were “good and upstanding” and said she consented; the situation became their word versus her’s, and she is said to have left the school before her freshman year was over.

Google it as you may, you will not find this story posted on the web. It is also not the administration of the school that makes new students aware of its existence and only a handful of professors choose to share it with their classes. It is the student body, year after year, generation after generation, who keeps its memory alive, tying our beloved school’s own sordid past with the ongoing efforts to eliminate violence against women from happening on our campus, our community and our world.

Many argue that Cayman is at a crossroads and that we need to decide, here and now, what path we will choose. The truth is that the choice has already been made. The fork in the road has long passed, and this is the path of complacency.

This is not a choice made solely by our leadership — political, religious and private sector — though they have had a role to play. It is not even solely our, the people’s, decision via our failing to hold said leadership accountable when, through their words and deeds they perpetuate the problem. It is a choice that we make, loud and clear, through our inaction and silence. In other words, the choice is not made “for” us but “by” us.

Do not misunderstand: there certainly are those among us who try. Yet year after year they find themselves preaching to the converted. Year after year they find themselves listening to the same empty promises, the same grandiose statements, watching the same show. They struggle to keep the fight alive, quietly on a day to day basis, but more loudly one month or even one day of the year when it is “acceptable” or at least convenient for the community to turn its attention to one particular cause. Our excuse is that there are, after all, “too many issues” and to consider each often is simply too overwhelming and depressing.

The cost of apathy is not unfamiliar. Acts of unspeakable violence have touched us all, deeply, but while our memory is long our outrage is short. When we lost Estella, for we all lost Estella in some way large or small (even those who could not claim her as a close personal friend), we found, albeit briefly, our voice and proclaimed to all those who would listen: “Never again!”.

Yet two years later we find ourselves here, choosing silence once more. We have added Sabrina to our list of lives hijacked, and countless other assaults have been reported steadily since. The echoes of a community united in grief and outrage fades.

The family and friends of those women who lost their lives will never forget their loss, and neither should we.

I called the Women’s Center at Haverford this week to find out from a student there if she knew the story. She did. She said it was told to all freshmen by their student leaders as part of the first week “path” activities which focuses on campus life and includes sessions on sex, sexuality, sexual assault and rape. She will be graduating in 2012, and there are no words to convey just how proud I felt of my Haverford community for keeping its memory alive.

Ten years since my graduation from that very institution I can finally understand the importance of this story, how it is told and by whom. It defines us. It defines us as a group of people who own our history in its totality, triumph and loss, rights and wrongs, in an effort to ensure that we play a part in making a better future for those who come after us.

Today, as a community, we, the residents of the Cayman Islands, are defined by our silence.

Silence is a choice. Left unchecked, unquestioned and unbroken it turns certainty (“Never again!”) into doubt (“Never again?”) and then the norm (“Yet again”).

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Category: Viewpoint

Comments (8)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    The lack of response to this viewpoint is troubling me: is it so spot on that people feel they have nothing to contribute? or is it that people simply haven’t read it?  I guess CNS can tell us how many people have viewed it… either way, I would like to believe that it is more than the 8 who have thus far chosen to comment.  Why is this reality not infuriating to people? Why are we so meek even in showing our support and appreciation for someone saying that which we all know and feel? Yes, there are other stories and other things to comment on, but why not THIS? even under the guise of anonymity people still choose silence…

    good on you, CF, for continuing to own your statements. 

     

     

  2. SHOUT IT OUT! says:

    For years I have heard Carolina advocate for a more holistic approach in the way which we teach our young people about themselves and other life skills.  She consistently points out the need for more open dialogue and meaningful interventions in the areas of self esteem development, gender roles and norms education, and healthy relationships.

    I do not disagree- I believe much more needs to be done with both our young men and  young women when it comes to preparing them to lead healthy lives as adults.  The problem is I am skeptical as to how well these interventions would work in light of the fact that there are so many detrimental messages that reinforce these attitudes and actions every minute! Say what you will about tv and the radio, but the real damage is being done right here; not only in the home, which we all know happens… but let’s be real:  to this day our churches continue to tell women to "submit"… our leaders continue to make statements about "family matters" and offer support of questionable behaviors… we continue to hide behind values that never truly existed!

    Until we break the silence on ALL of it, NONE of it will change.

    • Len Layman says:

      Shout It Out.

      You are right in what you say. But what each of us, as individuals, need to keep in mind is that if we wait for "ALL" to happen it will never happen.  Each of us needs to break the silence on those areas that are concern to us.  Not wait, do it now, and keep doing it.  As more get on board we get closer to the "ALL" you mention. remember "Silence Hurts".

      We can not all be on board until each of us gets on board!!!!!

  3. noname says:

    Wise words. We have to do better.

  4. Len Layman says:

    This year at the Silent Witness March there were about 100 people that took part. Two years ago in the wake of Estella’s murder over two thousand people attended. People who were outraged and what happened and all vowed to continue her struggle for a life free of violence for everyone. But what has happened since then? There is more violence in our country, more injustice being seen every day. But now the people are complacent. The passion and the drive to change are gone. Carolina’s viewpoint is dead on the mark. The point is not to point fingers but to raise consciousness. We need to all be involved ,we need to talk openly about the problems. Not close our eyes to them in complacency. As the Estella Scott Roberts Foundations new campaign states, “Silence Hurts”. We must speak up, each and every one of us, and not abdicate the responsibility to others.

  5. Dan Dan says:

    Caroline,

    Very wonderfully written!!!

    I often wonder why it is as ‘people’ we are so complacent. It’s scary even.

    I have been outraged time and time again by lots ofthings occuring on these islands….I vent but am unsure of what actions to take.

    I always speak wth the young women in my life and let them know that they are in charge of their dignity, self respect and pride. I encourage them to love themselves and never allow anyone to make them feel less than what they feel for themselves.

    Is this enough, what else can I do?

    I feel there are many instances, especially here in Cayman, where we need to stand up and join our voices as human beings against all that is goign on in Cayman.

    People need to stop findign excuses and just do what needs to be done. The feeling of hopelessness on such a small island is overwhelming.

    Dan Dan

    • concrn for youth says:

      so rite carolina. did you know about the YPP. where is it now. That is hoe much we care about young women in this country.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Once again Carolina your words are frightening and true. Hopefully some of us will hear them and turn them into our power. Thank you.