Howl We Do It
For years, the women’s stories I’ve heard and read have made me want to howl. A young mother in Congo, the “rape capital of the world,” offers a detailed account of a horrendous gang rape in front of her husband, who is then murdered. The trauma ends her early-term pregnancy. Her legs are shot so many times that one must be amputated.
This woman, made a penniless beggar by the horrific assault, painfully tells her story with no likelihood of receiving emotional support. Does re-traumatizing the victim this way serve anyone? A note at the end of the article states that her “identity has been concealed for security reasons and because rape carries strong social stigma in the region.”1 As if there is a place in world where rape does not carry a stigma. In a year of assisting rape survivors in the US, I found not one of them wished to reveal her story publicly, some not even to their families.
In the Land of Blood and Honey, Angelina Jolie’s film, offers a harrowing story from the “rape camps” of Serb militia during the Bosnian war. An estimated 40,000-50,000 women were raped during those four years, finally motivating the international community to define systematic rape as a crime against humanity.
In Darfur, where I’ve had many conversations with women, sexual assault is still a common occurrence. The UN and NGOs guesstimate that tens of thousands of Darfuri women have suffered rape. There are no reliable stats. The attacks continue apace; the camp women have given up on UNAMID peacekeeper assistance. They have no legal recourse and usually receive no treatment for trauma suffered.
And, from around the world, statistics that vary widely from source to source:
- A woman born in South Africa stands a greater chance of being raped than of learning how to read.2
- A UK study concluded that between 75 and 95 percent of rape crimes are never reported to the police.3
- In the US, victims 12-years (!) and older survived a total of 125,910 rapes or sexual assaults. (2009 statistics, the most recent available.) At least 50% of victims never report to police. 4
My question: Why haven’t women taken to the streets, raging en mass to end the trauma meted out to them and their sisters around the world? How could we possibly be cowed into silence, into believing the shame is ours?
It makes me want to howl. In fact, I tried it one night. Alone on the rooftop, I ended up whimpering quietly like a wounded pup. To be honest, it scared me to summon that primal noise. But, when I got with a few other women, at night, at the beach, we could let go. Out there, maybe nobody heard us but we could hear ourselves growling, yipping, barking and howling our pain, our protest. It felt like releasing a grievance that, unspoken, would eventually main my soul.
I read up on howling, the signature communication of wolves. Wolf-lovers have learned:
When a wolf begins howling, other members of the pack tend to join in, seeking fur-to-fur contact. Howling appears to be the glue that keeps the pack together.
Wolves will howl to convey a location so they can reunite. When they are lonely or captive, the howl is a rising and falling sound with a long slide at the end.
No two wolves will howl on the same note but there is harmony. Some believe the chorus makes the pack sound bigger and therefore more threatening to intruders.
Wolves tend to be more active on bright-moon nights but evidently don’t “howl at the moon” as legend would have it.
Think of The Howl as pro-woman activism, as public theater, a compelling aural reminder that women will not suffer quietly the violence inflicted on them. Imagine the reaction of urban (or suburban or rural) neighbors to 30 seconds of women howling every time the full moon rises. Then, the Howl ripples through time zones, around the world. The first couple times, people are wondering and perhaps a little nervous. Then we state our message clearly through media outlets and blogs and social media and even on street corners. The Full Moon Sisters – a global movement – howling every full moon, at a certain time, around the planet until the violence against women stops.
Who’s down with trying that? Email me at HowlWeDoIt@gmail.com
Snooze Alarm Off
I’m preparing a speaking tour. Everything about the circumstances of women screams for a new way forward. I’ve got lots of insights and provocations to share. Stay tuned.