Why should a victim of sexual assault ever tell her story if you are only going to believe her when she's dead? Every time I've heard about someone being accused of sexual misconduct or assault, my first thought wasn't the victim or the accuser. It was myself. You immediately go back in time and ask yourself: Have I ever done anything inappropriate? Have I ever gone too far? And, if so, who could be a “threat” to me? And the answer lies in you even asking yourself the question. You have. And here we are as men calling someone we took advantage of a threat when we embody that word. And the worst part is you run through all the names of women you've been with, and you could care less about the effects it could have had on them but only care about the effect it will have on you. Will I lose my friends? Will I lose my public standing? Will I lose my career? You center yourself instead of the woman. And that's what we as men do. In 1992, TLC released a song titled "His Story." It addressed the way society views a male's recollection of events on sexual assault. It's "His Story" over "Her Story." Left-Eye said: "Cause no matter what we say or we do they'll always believe his story." Growing up, men think of rape in one way. They think of a coward. They think of someone attacking a woman unexpectedly and taking advantage of them.
Up until a few years ago when the Harvey Weinstein news broke, some began to realize that violating a woman sexually doesn't begin and end with penetration. It can start way before that. Has a woman you are dating ever told you "no" the first time and you tried despite that? I'm guilty of that. And then on the second "no," you stop. But stopping at the "second no" shouldn't win you a prize. Stopping at the "1st no" shouldn't win you one either. It's about never getting to that "first no" without actually having a conversation that you are both on the same page. And if you aren't, being able to accept that. Most men can admit including myself that we've been told no and if we didn't physically try to get you to a yes through a kiss or a touch, we verbally tried to. When you attempt sex with a woman, most times we go off a vibe that may not even be there. And then you are told no and it's: "Oh she's playing hard to get." But she isn't playing hard to get. She never had the intention of doing that with you in the first place. We talk a lot about how schools teach us subjects we will never apply in our adult life. Why learn about history that's built to miseducate you. Why learn about chemicals you'll never use. Instead, we focus on the issues within our community. Teach our children how to build credit. How to save money. How to negotiate for a raise. We can get to that though. But we never ask our schools to teach our young boys "consent." We never teach the importance of not only saying the word "no" but also hearing it from someone else in a culture where saying no is considered a weakness. In a Latino culture, where a woman decides which street to walk on based off the amount of men on it. When you can walk down a street in the Heights and if you ignore a man catcalling you you get cursed out. In a culture where a woman saying no may not just end in a disagreement, it could end in death. In a culture dominated by machismo. A culture that rewards machismo. But what is there to reward? Machismo is defined as the act of being manly. But it never has been. It's an act of brutality. Sometimes as men we think we have to be white to have privilege but we have more than our women ever will. When I used to be stuck with my mother in a salon every Saturday for hours, you'd always hear women talk about a woman that isn't there at the moment. "El marido de Milagro la golpea/Milagros' husband beats her." And it felt like every time I went I'd hear a new name. A new victim of domestic abuse. And each time I was in that salon the person gossiping would be met with further silence. And the silence would grow even quieter as time went on. And that silence still exists in salons of today. And the silence isn't because those groups of women don't care. The silence isn't because those groups of women think they deserve it. These women have grown up in a culture that's passed on for centuries that they are just supposed to give, give and give but only receive everything but love even if it means it hurts.
The silence you hear at salons is different from the: "What did she do to make him do that?" you hear at the barbershops. Out of the 16 countries with the highest femicide rates in the world, 10 of them belong to the Caribbean or Latin America. Our cultures. Our countries. Do you know what femicide means? It's the murder of a woman strictly because "she's a woman." Women who years before they are killed endure abuse. Your mami and tia’s tell you: "Eso es como son los hombres/that's how men are." You have nowhere to go because of the pay gap. You have kids. Your girlfriends tell you: "El se va mejorar/he will get better" not because they believe it but because they know if you go to the police or leave him he will kill you. I spent the last week seeing one woman share her story. I saw that one story encourage other women to share their own ranging from childhood to adulthood. And I sat back and watched IG stories asking for the support of men and I thought to myself: “Yo no me voy mete/I am not getting involved.” I have no role in this. I already know some of these people. I can support them in my own way. I refused to re-share any posts. I didn’t want to be viewed as a “simp” or “caping” for women. And I was willing to not support women for my ego. And that’s the problem in our community. Many relationships in our community are power struggles between men and women and not relationships based on affection and empathy. For the last few years, therapy has become a necessary topic in our community. And we all live with traumas. We spend years acting a toxic way and therapy shows us that what happened 10 years ago is the reason you may be the way you are now. And we share our revelations with loved ones and don’t feel any which way about not having figured out this was the cause all along. So why can’t we afford the same grace to victims of sexual assault? Why do we expect them to know what happened right at that moment? Because believing them means you’ll have to explore a side of yourself you don’t want to confront. When women say our men are killing us they don’t mean just in death. Death doesn’t begin when your heart stops. It begins at invalidation...
Social media excerpts by Claudio E. Cabrera. Claudio is an award-winning audience development expert and journalist, Afro-Latino advocate, and is publishing a book in 2020 titled "Y tu ere/eres Dominicano/a" which focuses on his life, dealing with issues of race and colorism in the Latino community. Follow Claudio on Instagram at @claudio.e.cabrera