Nuclear Fallout

I only write on holidays now.

There’s a parade impeding traffic nearby in celebration of the millions of men (and, in recent years, a few really weird women) who — willingly or via conscription — traveled overseas on the orders of other violent, authoritarian men in order to kill (and rape and torture) people in one of the nearly countless wars the US has instigated or horned its way into. War always has been and always will be the province of men who demand obeisance, crave domination, and have no compunction about the physical and psychological damage their violent whims cause to other human beings. The war impulse doesn’t materialize out of thin air; authoritarian men learn authoritarianism from other authoritarian men, and nearly all men are authoritarians because they’re accustomed to a world ordered around their desires.

The fundamentals of children’s personalities and their understanding of how to relate to other people are formed by the time they enter school. Gendered behaviors become ingrained in early childhood; girls learn to suppress their personalities and opinions, to take up as little literal and metaphorical space as possible, and to consider everyone’s needs and comfort before their own, while boys learn to despise everything associated with femininity, to do everything they can to force their will onto the world around them, to push boundaries, to expect. The degree of male authoritarianism they’re exposed to — in the home, via popular media, by simply looking around — will determine in large part what degree of authoritarianism boys will exhibit toward anyone they perceive as falling below them in the social order. The degree of male authoritarianism girls are exposed to will determine to a similar degree how little they will value themselves and how cowed they will be by men and their whims.

In theory, authoritarian patriarchy — the absolute rule of the father — in the nuclear family is supposed to produce ideal male workers (dependent on the company for their continued household authority), patriotic soldiers, and compliant, agreeable wives (and/or cheap and docile labor). The institution is and has historically been protected by men’s self-serving division of social life into the realms of the public and the private, the latter being the sacrosanct purview of male heads of household, to be intruded upon only in the most egregious of circumstances (and rarely even then). This arrangement has been slowly breaking down over the course of the last few decades, but we ain’t there yet, and we certainly haven’t emerged from under the legacy of the era in which these institutions and the dividing line between public and private were considered inviolable.

Assuming father figures behaved like Lucas McCain in The Rifleman, this arrangement has historically only seemed noxious to feminists (and, in rare cases, anti-capitalist and anti-war activists, though few of them seem to understand or care how this functions). It works great for men, the managerial class, and the government. But when men all tacitly agree that a man’s home is his castle, there is no check on how despotic and deranged the king of the castle can become and almost no telling how far the effects of the “private” sphere can ripple outward into the “public” world.

My maternal grandmother Maria* died when my mom was seventeen, thirteen years before I was born, when she was crossing a street on New Year’s Eve and was hit by a car, after which my mom was taken in by the sympathetic mother of one of her friends. I only met my maternal grandfather Chuck* once for a few minutes, when I was eleven and he was enfeebled by old age and disease. He died about a year later and my mom seemed simultaneously relieved and nonchalant, which I found peculiar given my attachment to my own father.

I knew there was a reason I had never met my mom’s two older brothers, Dale* and Bob*, and had only met her two older sisters, Sarah* and Deborah*, and their adult children once when I was a toddler; details were slim, but she told me on the many occasions when I asked why we spent holidays with my dad’s family and not hers that I was lucky I didn’t know them, the PG version. Reaching adulthood — in addition to inaugurating the horror of hearing my parents tell dirty jokes without whispering the punchlines — brought with it top family secret clearance.

The king of the castle my mom grew up in — even when his wife and children were the only breadwinners within it — behaved like a whiskey-fueled Ivan the Terrible. He routinely brutally beat and sexually assaulted my grandmother in front of their children, abused my uncles so severely that Bob lost several of his toes, and almost definitely sexually abused my aunts and mother (I don’t push when my mom drops hints). Because my mom was fourteen years younger than her oldest sibling, she got to witness her oldest brother Dale unload that physical and sexual abuse onto his own children when he moved them into the house and allowed his mother to support him and them until her death; the apple moved in with the tree and helped suck the last of the nutrients out of the ground.

Both of my mom’s sisters, having had no contrary examples, married abusive monsters who beat them and their children, and Bob ended up dying a homeless, mentally disturbed alcoholic on the street in San Francisco. Lord knows how, but my mom was the only one who escaped the family curse, probably in part because she finally witnessed a functional family when her friend’s mother took her in and she subsequently made the decision to do whatever she had to to avoid what she had grown up immersed in.

I saw my aunt Sarah when I was in my twenties and she was nearing death, and she was the most pitiful being I’ve ever encountered in my life. Here was a woman in her late sixties who had survived unspeakable abuse at the hands of her own father, only to move on to a husband who was just as bad. Her own children physically abused her and had stripped her home of everything in it that was worth more than a nickel. She was completely alone, the paid “caregiver” who spent the entire day sitting on her ass and blowing smoke all over her notwithstanding. That she managed to smile at me nearly knocked me over.

By my count, my mom and her four siblings begat at least fifteen children. I’m the youngest by at least a decade, and I’m also the only one who isn’t either a chronic victim of domestic abuse, a homeless drug addict, or a violent criminal of one sort or another. Two of Dale’s sons, Joseph* and Allen*, are serving triple life sentences for three counts each of first degree rape and kidnapping, crimes they committed together after they had been convicted of rape and other felonies in another state fourteen years prior. They’re also on a short list of suspects for over forty unsolved murders in the metropolitan area in which they were arrested. One of their sisters was a prostitute in the same neighborhood in which they stalked their victims. The oxy plugs and wife beaters who round out the clan pale by comparison, but I no longer imagine that I’m missing much by not attending family events.

One violent, authoritarian man with no self-control directly destroyed the lives of his wife and four of his children and severely damaged the psyche of the fifth, and indirectly destroyed the lives of all but one of his grandchildren (and, surely, of most of his great-grandchildren). One of his sons directly destroyed the lives of his wife and all nine of his children, two of whom directly destroyed the lives of at least four women they violently raped (and there is no fucking way there aren’t more). It is nearly impossible to quantify the exponential toll this piece of shit took on the world, all by himself, from a position of zero economic power, simply because his maleness conferred upon him the social prerogative to do it.

This is admittedly an extreme example, but it isn’t as if it’s rare. Domestic violence, misogyny, and general male authoritarianism are hereditary global pandemics that resist cures because they’re shielded by systemic male supremacy, the public/private dichotomy (which, by the way, also shields men’s porn use and prostitution from scrutiny), and the lionization of the nuclear family that stubbornly persist despite decades of effort. Male supremacist societies and authoritarian men produce insecure, angry boys who simultaneously kowtow to more powerful men and shit all over women, children, and men they feel hold less social power than they do. They produce fearful, self-loathing girls who acquiesce to and collaborate with societal and interpersonal misogyny. And they’re responsible for very nearly all violence, up to and including war.

There may be a silver lining here. It’s obvious to me, from personal experience, that nurture can dominate nature in some cases. If the culture of male authoritarianism and supremacy can be overthrown, it will be when it exerts itself in full, brazen public view, and we are there.

*Fake names, obviously.

The World of “Witchcraft”

It’s Halloween, and witchcraft is a hot topic (haha, get it?) these days, so let’s talk about it. I’ll leave the history of witch hunts in pre-modern Europe and the US aside for the moment — since those topics are being covered like whatever Kanye West is doing this week — and focus instead on something more immediate and hence — since it could theoretically be ameliorated — more important.

“‘We’re women and we’re the weaker people; that’s why we are here.”

Resident of a “witch camp” in Ghana

Witch camps — really, labor camps — only exist in northern Ghana and are populated chiefly by elderly widows who have been accused of witchcraft in their home villages, often by relatives using the accusation as a means to take over their deceased husbands’ property. Because, you know, why would an old woman who had served her husband like a slave for decades deserve to keep anything that her unpaid labor allowed him to accumulate?

Since an accusation of witchcraft comes with absolute ostracization and often brutal mistreatment including rape, torture, and murder, these women flee to witch camps where local chieftans offer them protection in exchange for labor and money. That’s right. Elderly widows, their lives endangered by the cupidity of their own relatives, get to pay for the privilege of performing backbreaking fieldwork, which often requires that they make and sell food items on the street once they finish their day in the fields so they can pay for their safety. And they’re not glamping. Many of them walk several miles a day to collect water since the huts they’re crammed into don’t have plumbing of any kind. I’ll give you one guess as to what kind of health care they’re offered.

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(Naturally, western tourists stop in by the busload to have a gawk at these “witches.”)

They’re the lucky ones. There are no witch camps outside of northern Ghana, which means even that dismal remedy is available only to a select few.

In sub-Saharan Africa, anthropologists have identified a “multi-crisis” that afflicts much of the subcontinent and has been growing over the course of the last three decades. The legacies of colonialism and the arrival of the culture of capitalism with all of the economic insecurity and jealousy that it foments have led to disruptions in traditional means of survival and in community and kinship structures. At the same time, the continent has been ravaged by warlordism, superlative poverty, public health crises including HIV/AIDS, and the strange constellations of political and economic corruption and abuse that attend the extraction of the region’s resources as repayment for exploitative development loans.

The admixture of indigenous beliefs in hidden spirit worlds and the virulent misogyny of the syncretized/”Africanized” proselytizing religions that have come to dominate the region — Islam to a lesser degree, and various stripes of regressive evangelical Christianity to a much greater degree — leave women and children open to accusations of witchcraft when their communities or families suffer misfortunes that appear to be inexplicable or to lack obvious or feasible remedies, misfortunes that vary from a bad dream to the wrong kind of weather to an unexpected illness to a sudden change in financial fortunes.

Some of them are simply exiled to face the dangers unaccompanied women and children endure, but they’re often beaten, whipped, gang raped, and tortured to death in their own communities. In just six months of 2017, for example, 479 elderly Tanzanian women were brutally murdered by hysterical mobs for the crime of being female and no longer of use to men or the market.

Children are, however, of use to men and the market, at least up to a point.

Over the course of the past twenty years, witchcraft accusations levied against children have exploded in urban areas in Africa and are increasing by the day. Pentecostal and revivalist ministers help to legitimize witchcraft accusations made against children in their communities and offer their parents expensive “exorcism” programs comprising repeated psychological and physical abuse including starvation, beatings, prolonged isolation, forced ingestion of poisons, and gasoline being poured into their eyes and ears. They often die during the course of their “treatment.”

These pastors have arrogated to themselves the authority to identify child witches, to oversee their “treatment,” and to collect hefty fees for their efforts. Christian ministers advertise their services via billboards, radio, and television commercials and spread the fear of child witchcraft among the pubic in an effort at self-enrichment so brazen it would make Joel Osteen wince. These pastors, with their wealth, connections to international networks, and semi-divine status as prophets, carry enormous power over the futures of the children they come into contact with; once they’ve “confirmed” a child as a witch, the stigma that follows leaves the child open to continued suspicion, repeated accusations, and a permanent state of vulnerability and exclusion. And, conveniently, repeat visits to the pastor for future exorcisms.

Again, we’re talking about lucky witches, though, whose parents can afford and are willing to pay for repeated “exorcisms.” Orphans, step-children, children born with developmental disabilities or deformities, and gifted or otherwise “troublesome” children are often labeled witches or sorcerers by their families or communities who can’t (or don’t want to) care for them. And, because sub-Saharan Africa is the world region most devastated by the legacies of imperialism and the contemporary realities of neoliberalism, there are a lot of reasons they can’t.

What do you think becomes of children who are shunned and abandoned by their families and communities in regions that suffer from extreme poverty? They’re still of some ephemeral use to men and the market — just different men and a different kind of market — and their exclusion from their communities leaves them with absolutely no protection from human traffickers, corrupt and exploitative authorities, and depraved men in general. The vast majority end up living on the streets of major African cities. The boys survive by begging, selling cheap goods on the street, petty theft, indentured mine work, and selling drugs. In Central Africa, they’re also vulnerable to impressment as child soldiers.

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The girls are — surprise — trafficked abroad or funneled directly into local sexual slavery, the average age at which this begins being six or seven years old. The police and other governmental authorities not only offer no help, but are often the chief agents of exploitation that these girls come into contact with. Their johns — despite the widespread awareness of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa — routinely either pay slightly more than the average price of $1-3 per paid rape to eschew condom use or, being that they’re adults raping children, they often just refuse to use condoms and refuse to pay at all.

“Sometimes men come and force themselves on me, and after, they go without leaving any money. That often happens. I started doing this work when I was ten years old. It’s not a pretty life. I’d like to go somewhere else and study.”

— Lumbashi, age 18, in an interview with Human Rights Watch

Lumbashi, being 18 years old, can be considered one of the “lucky” few children accused of witchcraft to reach adulthood. According to UNICEF, the majority are either starved or murdered before they even reach the streets of urban capitals, or they succumb to starvation, die of AIDS and other preventable diseases, or are murdered with impunity within a few years of being accused and exiled to the streets.

Whether a crazed mob carries it out immediately or it’s effected by the conditions in which discarded human beings exist, an accusation of witchcraft is almost always a death sentence for a woman or child in sub-Saharan Africa.


Let’s hop to another region of the world no one seems to care about, Papua New Guinea. The country has been absolutely devastated by foreign exploitation and forced integration into the market system and suffers from extreme poverty and social chaos as a result. In the past several years, gruesome murders of women and girls over accusations of “sorcery” (sanguma) have spread from rural areas to larger towns, including the capital of Port Moresby. As usual, the violence is aimed at the most vulnerable members of the community:

“[A]ccusations of witchcraft were usually levelled at those on the bottom of the social hierarchy, most often women who lived on the margins of society — the elderly, disabled, or those who had married into the village.”

The killings usually begin with a woman or girl being accused of causing the death or illness of a member of their community. They are then tortured by being beaten, cut with knives, whipped, or burned into providing a “confession,” which then provides justification for even more brutal abuse and murder.

Two recent noteworthy cases highlight just how ghastly PNG witch hunts have become. A 20-year-old woman named Kepari Leniata was accused in 2013 of causing the death of a young boy by means of witchcraft, after which she was set upon by an angry mob and “stripped, tortured with a hot iron rod, doused in petrol, and burned on a pile of rubbish and car tyres.”

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Less than a year ago, Leniata’s six-year-old daughter was also accused of witchcraft — serving by dint of association with her mother as a scapegoat for the community’s unexplained misfortunes — after which she was “tortured with hot knives.” The girl survived and her story became a national and international sensation, which prompted PNG’s Prime Minister, Peter O’Neill, to acknowledge the reality of modern witch hunts in his country:

“In the modern day sanguma is not a real cultural practice, it is false belief and involves the violent abuse and torture of women and girls by pathetic and perverted individuals.”

The PNG government, however, lacks the resources or the will to do anything about the increase in violence against women and girls accused of witchcraft. Women and young girls are trafficked from all over PNG to Port Moresby and to logging and mining camps where they’re sold into sexual slavery in brothels frequented by migrant workers and the male employees of multinational corporations that have bought the rights to the nation’s natural resources. Women are considered commodities in this new economy, and accusations of witchcraft serve as an expedient means of disposing of them once their value has been extracted.

Their male family members sell them into sexual slavery, so it’s not exactly shocking to hear that these same men use accusations of sorcery to control women within the home:

“Sorcery accusations all too often become a form of family violence, with abusive husbands threatening or using sorcery accusations to silence and control women.”

If a woman’s husband finds himself a new and improved wife, what better way to rid himself of the troublesome old one than accusing her of witchcraft (or threatening her with an accusation if she refuses to accept being abandoned)? Once he has discarded her, she is rendered even more vulnerable to accusations of sorcery since she exists outside of the traditional social order.

As is the case in sub-Saharan Africa, men in PNG suffering new forms of economic and cultural insecurity and exploitation turn on the most vulnerable members of their communities and facilitate and profit from their sexual exploitation, and accuse them of using dark magic to create the misfortunes they either can’t understand or feel powerless to confront. Misogyny comes together with confused rage to exclude unprotected women and girls from the community, after which they are eligible for the most ghoulish forms of exploitation and violence.


Austerity, structural readjustment programs, and the resultant growing poverty in Asian countries have resulted in huge spikes in human trafficking from the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, China, and elsewhere (including Africa, of course) to the US, Europe, and the Middle East (especially Saudi Arabia and the UAE). If someone were to put a gun to my head and tell me to pick one of those regions to be accused of witchcraft in, I wouldn’t choose the Middle East.

Women who migrate or are trafficked to Saudi Arabia as domestic laborers find themselves at the complete mercy of their employers, mercy which is often lacking. They are routinely forced to work more than 18 hours a day, are rarely if ever afforded days off, are whipped and beaten for the flimsiest of perceived failures, and have no recourse to state aid when the abuse becomes unbearable. They’re often undocumented and do not speak Arabic, and even if they do approach authorities to allege abuse, they are open to counter-accusations of witchcraft that put their lives in danger.

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It’s noteworthy that the Saudi government inaugurated its “Anti-Witchcraft Unit” in 2009, since it coincides with the drastic rise in numbers of female foreign domestic workers entering the country.

By 2011, the unit had created a total of nine witchcraft-fighting bureaus in cities across the country, according to Arab News, and had “achieved remarkable success” in processing at least 586 cases of magical crime, the majority of which were foreign domestic workers from Africa and Indonesia…

In a country where public observance of any religion besides Islam is strictly forbidden, foreign domestic workers who bring unfamiliar traditional religious or folk customs from Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Africa, or elsewhere can make especially vulnerable and easy targets. “If they see these [folk practices or items] they immediately assume they’re some kind of sorcery or witchcraft.”

Accusers are guaranteed anonymity by the Saudi government, leaving foreign domestic workers especially vulnerable to retaliatory accusations made by their employers when they flee or report abuse:

“Recently, all family members has started to suffer from fainting and epileptic fits. After the housemaid fled, we found magic items planted in various part of our house,” the unnamed man said, quoted by Sabq Arabic language daily.

“I swear that we do not want to hurt her but to stop her evil acts against us and others,” said the man, who published a picture of the 31-year-old maid in newspapers.

I’ll bet.

Make no mistake: the Saudi state actively pursues these women, and though some of them are merely lashed and imprisoned, the vast majority are convicted on the shadowy basis of a male judge’s whim and sentenced to death.

The most economically, politically, and socially vulnerable women in the world are trafficked to or migrate to one of the richest countries on Earth out of desperation, only to be treated like chattel. When they display the slightest resistance to being brutally dehumanized, the Saudi state comes to the rescue of their abusers under the guise of protecting the socio-religious order from the “danger” these powerless and completely isolated women purportedly pose via labeling them as witches. It’s a tidy system that allows for the demonization and disposal, yet again, of women who have lost what little value they had to men and their market.

Spooky, huh?

After the revolution, everything is gonna be so dank.

Right after the 2016 election, several of my well-intentioned (but comically misinformed) male friends attempted to console me with the argument that Trump’s presidency would only hasten “the revolution” and was hence a net good. It wasn’t a comfort. Lemme tell ya why.

Accelerationism, whether of the pseudo-intellectual cyberpunk or the vacant Bernie Bro stripe, is the privilege of the comfortable and clueless. I don’t blame anyone for wanting to check out on the Rob Zombie-produced stage play that is contemporary electoral politics, but only someone who has never had to consider the idea of being in arbitrary physical danger (and has never been exposed to detailed information about the history of large-scale revolutions) could flippantly bandy about the idea that we’re due for a “revolution” without thinking about what that might entail. Hence, most lefty chatter about “the revolution” emanates from overconfident white dudes who have never even been poor.

The variety of lefty “revolutionary” movements these days is about as broad as it was in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (probably more so), but there’s a key difference: lefty revolutionaries in earlier eras created well-elaborated critiques of capitalism as it functioned at the time and theorized alternative arrangements that at least made an attempt at plausibility. Another fairly important characteristic of these movements was the recognition that economics, politics, and culture were not discrete realms and that any revolutionary program that hoped to achieve meaningful change had to address all three. (Nota bene: they all still eventually failed, probably because none of them bothered to include women as anything but dupes/tokens.)

One of the keys to the capitalist world system’s increased success in the aftermath of these movements was the construction of conceptual walls between culture, the economy, and politics in the academy and in the minds of the populace. Capitalism is agile and adaptable. It functions almost nothing like it did during its brief period of fragility, which very few half-stepping neo-revolutionaries seem to realize. Hence, anyone who espouses one of these proliferating and laughably incomplete ideologies is too stupid to follow anywhere, even on social media.

I don’t want to sound like Jordan Peterson or anything, but “let’s burn everything down and then figure out what to do” just isn’t a sound program for the future, especially given the history of how women have fared during revolutions and their aftermaths, the unpredictable nature of revolutions themselves, and the absolutely ludicrous premises of most contemporary revolutionary movements. (Ever heard of brocialism or manarchism?)

Sure, there’s a chance that things could get better “after the revolution” (depending on what revolution we’re talking about), but the far more likely outcome is things becoming exponentially worse (especially for women and children) in the short and medium term and, once the dust settles, a much worse system emerging out of the vacuum that would result from the lack of thorough post-revolution planning.

And let us not forget the historical leitmotif of radical women being assured by dishonest male revolutionaries that all they needed to do was sideline their own concerns for the duration of the revolution itself, after which — no, I swear — all of that “women’s stuff” would automatically be resolved in women’s favor. Ding Ling comes to mind.

I’m not too worried about the fallout of any of these aspirational revolutions, though, because they’re all about as likely to occur as Law and Order is likely to be taken off the air. It’s pretty hard to imagine any of the infinite number of anarcho-whatever or Marxist groups on social media emerging as armed mass movements capable of overthrowing the US (or any other) government. It’s hard to imagine any of them even taking over a student council group at UC Santa Cruz.

Seriously, why are people still arguing the finer points of dead revolutionary ideologies? Marxism has limited functionality as a system of critical analysis of capitalism. Anarchism correctly (when it’s actually understood — a rarity) questions hierarchical social arrangements. That’s about it. Marxism and anarchism are now forms of white male identity politics in my book (and so are a lot of other groupings — but that’s another post).

Watching people call each other “tankies” and argue over Trotskyism on social media is like listening to a bunch of teenage boys argue about the officiating of a Super Bowl they didn’t even see. And it’s about as likely to lead to political change. I know that fantasizing about participating in a violent revolution of one sort or another appeals to people raised on first-person shooters and Michael Bay movies, but it ain’t gonna happen (at least not in the way they think).

There are exceptions, but the tide of neo-identity politics has hamstrung most would-be revolutionaries on the left and the alt-right and trapped them in the splintered realm of cultural antagonism and archaic politico-economic pedantry, leaving economic and political structures immune to disruption. When some faction of the rabble gets a little too restive for comfort, the elites drop a meaningless policy concession on them and get right back to business, and this new-and-improved identity politics continues to serve as a buffer between the masses and the true beneficiaries of the neoliberal global order, especially the rapacious neoconservative/neofascist bloc in the US.

Studying and taking account of culture, geopolitics, economics, feminism, and (ideally) world-systems theory isn’t quite as fun as ripping on people whose social values appear clownish, but if your revolutionary program ain’t doing all of the above, it ain’t doing shit but creating meme fodder. The atomization of political culture and the pitting of tribalized factions against each other in a series of increasingly stupid and violent culture wars were intentional moves by the beneficiaries of the global order. They cannot be successfully combated while we’re combating each other over a bunch of manufactured “outrageous” bullshit and impractical esoterica, and that’s the whole point.

(I don’t wanna hear any nonsense about feminism being a form of identity politics. “Women” isn’t a term that coheres around a manufactured identity, it’s a material reality. We’re more than half the population globally, and extending human rights and proportional political participation to half of the population is not tokenism. This is also not a traditional lefty “class before race/sex/etc.” argument but a “class and race/sex/etc.” one. That dichotomy/opposition is a neoliberal falsehood that benefits no one but those elites we were just talking about. Oh, and lefty white dudes.)

When Democrats spend their “mental energy” drawing elaborate analogies between Trump and Voldemort, when Libertarians and Anarchists concoct an opium-nod of a future based on digital Monopoly money, when Republicans envision an unhinged libertine leading the nation into an extended episode of Leave It to Beaver despite all evidence to the contrary, when Marxists/Socialists delude themselves into believing a proletariat still even fucking exists, they’ve all rendered themselves NPCs. It’s called intellectual decadence, and it’s one of the chief indicators of a system in collapse.

It’s an unfortunate and repetitive occurrence; systems in collapse are ripe for intelligent manipulation, but only intelligent and manipulative people seem to recognize and act on that, which is exactly what the nihilist/realist moneyed class is doing in order to ensure its own survival. They know what’s coming down the pike and they expect the culture wars (that should become Civil War 2 any day now) they’ve fomented to distract everyone else while they enact their own silent revolution that ends with them all sipping the last of the world’s Moët on man-made, floating resort islands and laughing while we kill each other over water.

Culture can and probably must be the starting point of a comprehensive, prescriptive political theory that could lead humanity out of the morass, but only if it starts from scratch from a set of ethical reference points that completely supplants tribalism and the politics of fear and extends outward to politics and the economy. You know, weird shit like empathy, self-control, dignity, curiosity, critical thinking, the recognition of the humanity of every human being. Identity politics ceases to be necessary if we aren’t focused on fighting over crumbs bestowed by a divide-and-conquer governing/corporate elite. Easy, right?

In the meantime, go ahead and proactively fight for the lesser of whatever set of evils present themselves. Nihilism is lame.

A Processing of What “Due Process” Means Is Due

It’s a bit difficult to discern what kind of argument Emily Yoffe is trying to make in her recent article in The Atlantic entitled “Does Anyone Still Take Both Sexual Assault and Due Process Seriously?” what with the haze of redundant and disingenuous proclamations of sympathy for sexual assault survivors and all. Her argument, which is further obfuscated by ill-considered appeals to the holy juridical tenet of “due process,” appears to be that sexual assault is now purely a partisan issue, which threatens to undermine justice itself. (Yoffe has been harping on this issue for years, straddling the thick line between “I empathize with survivors, I really do” and “this is a zero-sum game in which believing women makes men victims.”)

In reference to the Kavanaugh hearings, Yoffe argues, “Republicans — adopting the rhetorical style of the president — dismiss accusers. Democrats mock the idea that fairness and due process are necessary for the accused.” The tragic result: “Democrats’ disregard for unbiased and impartial fact-finding in their rush to embrace the slogan #BelieveSurvivors may actually have helped confirm Kavanaugh.”

Let’s start with the obvious.

I’m not sure which Ivy’s law school Yoffe attended, but she must have skipped the lecture on the difference between a criminal trial and a job interview. I know I’m not making a novel point here, but when was the last time you filed a Fifth or Fourteenth Amendment due process case against a potential employer who opted not to hire you? Let us review the concept of “due process” as enshrined in the Fifth Amendment:

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

Unless one considers a Supreme Court seat “private property” that had been bestowed upon Kavanaugh extralegally prior to his confirmation hearings, I fail to see a violation here, even had he not been confirmed. (I’d put the odds of a case arguing that a sense of entitlement equates to “private property” coming before the current SCOTUS at 12%, but it has yet to occur and is hence not settled precedent.)

On to the Fourteenth Amendment, which I would like to remind everyone was adopted during Reconstruction in a (failed) attempt to prevent Southern states from de jure re-enslaving African Americans after the Civil War, and was not, indeed, intended to guarantee Yale Law grads their dream jobs:

Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Kavanaugh, even had his confirmation not been “plowed right through” (oh, the semiotics), would have escaped with his life, continued to rove about the land as his whims dictated, and retained his nearly $1 million in net worth.

Still, according to Yoffe, Democrats’ (admittedly politically-motivated) decision to take Dr. Blasey at her word somehow showed an utter disregard for “due process” rather than a simple (if in some cases feigned) recognition of her humanity while she relived a sexual assault in front of a panel of hysterically hostile men and their female ‘Zonie sicario. And that total contempt for justice on the part of Democratic senators — rather than the GOP smear campaign aimed at Blasey, the White House’s obstruction of the FBI investigation of her allegations, and Mitch McConnell’s sociopathic machinations — explains Kavanaugh’s confirmation. Lady, whose side are you on again?

Oh, right. Men’s. If we take a look back at Yoffe’s ouevre, she seems inordinately concerned with what she terms the “excesses” of the Obama administration’s 2011 expansion of Title IX protections for women on college campuses, enshrined in the famed “Dear Colleague” letter that instructed colleges and universities to use the “preponderance of evidence” standard (meaning, basically, that they were directed to side with the party who seemed more credible) to determine what course of action to take in the event of a sexual misconduct allegation.

Universities do not administer lethal injections, seize students’ assets (of their own accord), or deprive students of their freedom when adjudicating campus sexual assaults, they simply decide how to ensure that they don’t allow their campuses to turn into hostile environments for women. Universities are not “states,” nor do they wield the same forms of power over their students that governmental institutions do over citizens.

Yoffe seems to have failed to make that distinction throughout her tenure as a constitutional law expert for The Atlantic. She went out of her way to track down and interview young men whose lives had been “ruined” by Title IX cases, decrying the lack of “due process” in campus sexual assault proceedings and thus tacitly declaring her fandom of the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard used in criminal cases which actually do present the possibility of depriving someone of “life, liberty, or property.”

Here’s the thing: campus disciplinary proceedings in sexual misconduct cases are administrative procedures carried out by private or semi-private institutions (state- and federally-funded colleges and universities do not, by dint of that funding, morph into governmental agencies — this fact is settled law). Due process does not attach to administrative procedures, it applies to civil and criminal cases as outlined in the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments that dictate the parameters of governmental action against citizens.

Obviously, Yoffe has no idea what she’s talking about (hey, Atlantic, I’ll take her job if you ever figure that out), so that’ll be enough about her.

(The argument I’m about to make isn’t a completely new one for me, so I apologize for the redundancy if you happen to be one of the zero people who has read everything I’ve ever written.)

What happens when we apply the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard in criminal sexual assault cases (never mind in college administrative hearings)? It results roughly in a net of 6% of rapists ever seeing a consequence, that’s what. The presumption of innocence is generally a laudable bit of legal philosophy, as is the guarantee of due process, but something funny happens in rape cases: because the burden of proof “beyond a reasonable doubt” falls onto the prosecution (i.e. the victim), a rape victim is required to prove a negative, that she did not consent to sex. The presupposition, then, is that women wander the Earth in a constant state of consent and that they must prove that they temporarily revoked it for the period of time during which an assault occurred.

Sans a firsthand witness other than the defendant, this absurd requirement applies even when there is DNA evidence and verified injury. Seriously. “She likes it rough” has come to be one of the more common — and successful — defenses against rape charges in which the perpetrator’s DNA has been collected from the victim and she has documented injuries derived from the encounter (thank you, porn industry).

Does anyone believe men don’t know this and act with it in mind? The de facto result of this particular arrangement of legal reasoning and procedure is that rape is legal 94% of the time. Why would Yoffe (or anyone else other than a rapist) be alarmed at the prospect of a disruption of this situation? That was a rhetorical question.

The law works exactly as intended because the law was encoded and elaborated by men, for men. That women are demanding via #MeToo and #BelieveSurvivors that women’s humanity be taken into account in sexual assault proceedings — whether they occur in college administrative hearings, job interviews, civil cases, or even/especially criminal trials — does threaten to upend some of the foundational concepts of our legal system.

And? What’s the problem, again?

Let’s say we were to make one simple move and replace “beyond a reasonable doubt” with “clear and convincing evidence” as the evidentiary standard in criminal sexual assault trials:

According to the Supreme Court in Colorado v. New Mexico, 467 U.S. 310 (1984), “clear and convincing” means that the evidence is highly and substantially more likely to be true than untrue; the fact finder must be convinced that the contention is highly probable.

You know, allow judges and juries to apply common sense when deciding whether an assault has taken place, rather than allowing defense attorneys to undermine victim testimony with irrelevant personal slander about the victim’s fashion sensibility, alcohol consumption, or sexual history, and then giving jurors to believe that that “evidence” holds as much weight as all of the other evidence presented at trial if it creates a “reasonable” doubt. Juries are not, as a rule, “reasonable” when it comes to sexual assault trials because we live — as even ol’ Yoffe will admit — in a misogynistic society in which women are assumed to be manipulative liars and men are assumed to be tellers-of-truth even when they’re obviously lying their fucking faces off (see the Kavanaugh hearing).

That sexual assault trial juries (and judges) cannot be relied on to apply reason can be easily illustrated by comparing rape trials to theft trials. Rarely does a defense attorney convince a judge or jury that the owner of a stolen car loaned it to the thief, because that’s fucking ridiculous. It’s also ridiculous to believe that a woman who has reported a rape to the police, endured a gynecological exam and evidence collection that includes having her genitalia photographed, and withstood recounting the experience in a room full of hostile strangers is probably just a lying whore. But alas.

Perhaps instructing juries as to what “clear and convincing evidence” means might make them behave a little more reasonably (probably not, but it’s worth a shot). Who loses in this arrangement other than premeditated rapists? This is not exactly a radical proposition, nor would applying the “preponderance of evidence” standard be, and neither would necessarily violate the due process clauses of either the Fifth or the Fourteenth Amendments (these standards are already used in some criminal cases).

“Beyond a reasonable doubt” does not derive from the Constitution but from precedent, which renders it open to modification via much simpler means (kinda like Roe is about to be). I am, however, aware that modifying standard of proof precedent to make rape cases easier to prosecute would be well-nigh impossible with the radicalized MRA Supreme Court we’re now saddled with despite the “lack of due process” poor Brett endured.

The Object and the Missing Subject, the Effect and the Missing Cause (Part 3)

I must be stupid. I keep thinking that, any day now, the reasons women don’t report sexual assault will cease to be the hot topic du jour and I’ll be freed of the sense of responsibility to provide yet another gruesome illustrative personal example.

Remember that whole “most fucked up things that happened between the time I grew boobs and turned 22” scale? As ghastly as the events in the prior two posts were, part one clocked in at a mere four (I might put it at a six now that I’ve thought more about it) and part two clocked in at an eight. I must have been subconsciously saving the incident that topped the chart for the occasion of Brett Kavanaugh’s elevation to the post of Most Eminent Rapist in the Judicial Branch. It’s kind of a fitting analogy, given that it happened a long time ago, everyone was drunk, and no one anyone would listen to remembers any of it.

Tijuana — that wonderland of donkey shows and all-you-can-drink nights packed with underage revelers, that bastion of free-market capitalism (at least when it comes to sexual exploitation and OTC opiates) — was a mere thirty miles from my parents’ house. Like all teenagers who grew up anywhere near an arbitrary dividing line between draconian drinking-age laws and total freedom, I crossed that border semi-regularly to patronize various party palaces and drink the night away to the tune of “Boom Boom Boom” by the Outthere Brothers with thousands of other teenagers and the Marines who made the trip down from Camp Pendleton to prey upon the female ones.

For my readers who may not have experienced TJ in the 90s (or been to Thailand or whatever), I ought to set the scene. On the average night, the clubs on Avenida Revolución and the avenue itself were slathered in piss, puke, and stumbling, blacked-out children who — if they weren’t already oblivious to the very real dangers that surrounded them due to sheltered upbringings in the upper-middle-class suburbs of San Diego — had been rendered so by a deluge of Dos Equis and off-brand tequila, the latter often having been delivered in the form of a “popper.”

(Poppers aren’t available just anywhere; they’d be classified as assault in places where people don’t know how to party. A popper can take many forms, but it usually begins with someone surreptitiously handing $5 to a man with a tequila bottle and a whistle and pointing out a friend/victim, then standing back to watch as the poppero puts the victim in a chokehold, pulls their head back, pours tequila down their throat while tooting his whistle, then does one of two things: if the victim is male, the poppero will shake his head around, then spin him in a circle and let him loose; if the victim is female, he will often pick her up, put her over his shoulder, twirl around a few times, then unceremoniously dump her on the ground. In either case, the victim will usually be dizzy enough to fall ass-first into a puddle of beer and vomit before rejoining their friends. I told you, it’s a real party.)

As fun as this all sounds, it isn’t that much wilder than, say, a Georgetown Prep house party or a frat party at — I don’t know — maybe Yale? However, there was a special service available to the young male patrons of TJ night clubs: almost any bartender in town, for a small and negotiable fee, would “roof” the drink of his customer’s choice and turn a blind eye to whose hand that drink ended up in. An attendee at a Georgetown Prep house party or a Yale frat soiree who wanted to roof someone usually had to do it himself. Ah, the benefits of overseas travel.

By the time I was nineteen, blasting down the I-805, parking in San Ysidro, walking across the border, taking a taxi to Club A, irritating Border Patrol officers on my way back into the US, and then somehow getting back home was old hat. So, when two acquaintances, Jenn and Shauna, suggested one Wednesday night that we hit up Club A and I couldn’t think of a better idea, I got in the car. We found ourselves sitting in a half-empty club by about 10 PM, besieged almost immediately by a couple of unremarkable bros who insisted on buying us drinks. (Nothing seemed out of the ordinary at the time, but it’s noteworthy that this was the first time I had ever gone to TJ without a boyfriend or male friend.)

I wasn’t Hank Williams, Jr., but I wasn’t exactly a lightweight at nineteen. On countless prior occasions, I had graciously endured multiple poppers on top of several beers and made it home safely with most of the night intact in my memory the next day. Not so this time. I remember drinking exactly two beers, and then — bang — I woke up in a strange room in my underwear to find two nameless dudes looking at me with trepidation.

I had nary a clue where I was, what had happened, or who these motherfuckers were. I couldn’t think straight or talk properly, but I was petrified. My most immediate concern was getting clothed and getting away from these two strangers. I mumbled an inquiry as to where my clothes were and they claimed they didn’t know. I asked them where we were. They told me the name of the town, an exurb of San Diego with a reputation for redneckery, and I realized that I was an hour east of Tijuana and an hour southeast of my house. I asked them how I got there, and they hemmed, hawed, and then told me they had found me drunk somewhere in Tijuana and decided to take care of me. Riiight.

Realizing that I was alone in the company of two dudes who had probably drugged and violated me, I asked meekly for some clothing and access to a bathroom (so that I could check myself for signs of, uh, forced entry) and a phone (so that I could call the people I was with the night before to come and pick me up). What I should have done, according to characters as varied as Lindsey Graham and my own dear aunt, was run outside naked, scream for the police, and submit to an immediate gynecological exam.

I can’t explain why, but that thought just didn’t occur to me. I also didn’t think of grabbing the cordless phone one of them was holding and dialing 911. Another big fuck-up on my part. Instead, when he insisted on dialing the number himself, I gave him Jenn’s phone number. He handed me the phone once she answered, I told her she needed to come and get me, and when I asked him for the address, he demanded I hand the phone back to him so that he could give her directions to a Circle-K rather than the house at which these two knights in shining armor had selflessly stood vigil over me the night prior.

I got into the shower, relieved to be (sort of) alone, and inventoried my injuries before scrubbing myself raw from head to toe. I know, I know, I was destroying evidence. The rohypnol (or whatever it was) hangover must have diminished my detective’s instinct.

When I emerged from the bathroom wearing one of these dudes’ clothing, they drove me to the Circle-K. Jenn showed up a few minutes later, and when I got into her car, the owner of the clothing I had borrowed requested that I return the pants I had on. So I did. And I rode an hour home — and entered my parents’ home (they were, thank god, out at the time) — in nothing but underwear and a plain white t-shirt that homeboy figured he could afford to let go. Cheap date, I was.

On the ride home, Jenn told me she recognized both of the dudes as the bros from the night before who had bought us drinks. I blankly asked why she let them take me with them, and she said I was too fucked up for her and Shauna to carry me. I had apparently tried and failed to crawl through the cigarette butts and bodily fluids in the street to get away from the club. When Jenn and Shauna tried to pick me up and couldn’t, the two dudes appeared, assured them they would take care of me, hoisted me up, and carried me away. Jenn and Shauna went on to have a night of adventure and hilarity, unencumbered by the responsibility of caring for me, the details of which Jenn recounted to me for the rest of the trip home, pausing only to laugh at me for not having any pants on and for being a “lightweight.” I just sat there.

I don’t know, given that this occurred in 1996, if anyone involved recognized what had occurred as something called rape, myself included. I don’t know if these two dudes were experts in pharmacology and knew I would be too out of it for most of the day to even think about trying to remember the route from the house to the Circle-K. I don’t know why they hid my clothes from me and/or disposed of them (and I really don’t want to) but either left my underwear on me or put them back on me. I don’t know if the owner of the pants was concerned that they might contain traces of his DNA or if he just didn’t want to donate his Dickies to some slut he had picked up in TJ (I’m assuming it was the latter since I still had my underwear in my possession).

They were clearly aware that they had done something wrong, though I’m not sure whether that sense derived from the situation as a whole or something in particular that they had done that I didn’t and will mercifully never know about. They must not have been that concerned, or they would have killed me and/or dumped me somewhere. Maybe they were new to the game.

After I got home, I took the shower of the century, deposited the white t-shirt and my underwear in the trash outside, and retreated to my bedroom. Then the narcotic fog began to lift and was replaced by an erratic, broad-spectrum terror.

What had these dudes done to me? Did I have HIV now? Herpes? Syphilis? Why had Jenn and Shauna let them take me? Why had Jenn laughed at me? Would everyone find out? Would people call me a whore? Was I pregnant? Who the fuck were these guys? (All I could say for sure was that one had a shaved head and the other one had shoulder-length hair and that one of them lived in the city of Alpine, CA.) But, the most devastating question that looped through my mind endlessly was, why didn’t anyone care enough to do anything to protect me? (This was the incident that finally convinced me I was on my own on that one. Slow learner.)

Neither parents nor police nor friends nor medical professionals nor my motherfucking diary entered my mind. The shame and fear didn’t leave any room for any of that. My chief concern was finding out as quickly as possible whether my health was in danger and then devising a means to forget that anything had happened at all.

I could walk past either of these assholes on the street today and not know it, but they were strangers and I was drugged the last time I saw them. Had they been high school or college acquaintances, I probably — a supposition based on my prior reaction to similar situations — would never have done anything but warn other girls away from them. I definitely wouldn’t have bothered enduring a fruitless entanglement with obtuse cops before the statute of limitations ran out. Were I to magically remember their names and faces and find out one or both of them were being groomed for positions of weighty authority, I’d like to think I would come forward, despite knowing it would result in fuck-all but misery for me and a hiccup for them.

Just for laughs, I’ll speculate on how an investigation of this event at this late date would play out (for starters, it wouldn’t, because the statute of limitations passed twelve years ago). I could provide investigators with the year and season it occurred in, the details above that I remember, the name of the town in which it occurred, the layout of the room I woke up in, and the names of people I had told about it prior to coming forward (I started telling people about it about six years after it happened, when the memory of it would erupt out of nowhere and shake my sense of self and self-worth to the ground). I could pass a polygraph administered by the king of the CIA. This sounds kind of familiar.

Jenn and Shauna, on being interviewed, might remember what had happened, but maybe not. It was 22 years ago and it didn’t happen to them. If Jenn remembered it at all, it would probably be due to her having driven me home with no pants on. Though sexual abuse — especially of intoxicated and/or incapacitated women — was as normalized as listening to Sublime at that time, she would surely recognize when thinking about it now that something untoward had occurred. But she wasn’t in the room. This also sounds familiar.

It would just be another case that highlights the unique failure of the juridical philosophy of the presumption of innocence when it comes to rape. Just another instance of a misogynistic society — when presented with the choice between recognizing a woman’s humanity rather than giving a man the wealth of benefits that comes with the slightest of doubts — shrugging its collective shoulders.

Fuck it, right?

(Nah. I’ve gotta write a post in the immediate future that includes a detailed analysis of the US legal/political system and offers some kind of inchoate roadmap to remedying this situation — at least in part — and then convince everyone to get on board and effectuate it. I also have to see someone about these delusions of omnipotence.)

That’ll be the end of this series.

A Quick Note on Brother Brett

Quick. Does anyone know a single person who is so dedicated to the goals of a national political party that they would willingly place themselves between a rabid, violent mob of anti-abortion zealots and their holy grail? The idea that Dr. Blasey has fabricated her accusation simply to further the goals of the DNC — in spite of the catastrophic consequences to herself, her career, and her family — is absolutely fucking ridiculous.

But about ol’ Brett.

To sum up yesterday’s performance by the Phil Hendrie character who has been nominated to the Supreme Court:

I came away knowing four things about Brett: he played some serious JV ball, he’ll rape anyone he wants to and kick anyone’s ass who dares to mention it, he wants to see the goddamn manager immediately, and the boy fucking loves beer.

I mean, for real. If you took a shot of beer every time Kavanaugh expressed his enthusiasm for drinking beer during that hearing, you would have been as wasted by 4 PM as he was when he tried to rape Dr. Blasey.

It almost doesn’t matter how credible Dr. Blasey’s testimony was (extremely); Kavanaugh demonstrated yesterday that he isn’t intellectually or temperamentally qualified to make a decision about anything save a fantasy football draft.

Brett is an unhinged, wrathful sports hick who is most definitely a rapist (and likely a serial one) and lacks the judiciousness required of an ATV salesman. He delivered his opening statement with the acuity, spittle, and panache of a shitfaced wrestler. Ron “Tater Salad” White — with zero preparation or prior knowledge of the details of the case — could have responded on Kavanaugh’s behalf to the questioning he faced with more grace and eloquence than he did. He either didn’t bother to prepare for questioning at all — in which case he’s winning an unwarranted arrogance contest with Tekashi 6ix9ine — or he did and he’s just a fucking belligerent dunce.

What’s surprising isn’t that Donald Trump nominated this middle-aged frat try-hard or that the contemporary GOP plans to follow him straight to hell. It isn’t even surprising that he managed to wend his way through Yale Law and onto a federal bench (the boys’ club is real). What’s truly shocking is that, after that performance, there remains a single person who can think of him as anything other than the peewee football coach you wouldn’t allow your kid to play for.

I don’t know where this guy belongs, but it’s closer to angrily slamming 32-oz mugs of Pacifico by himself at a corner table at the bar of a Ruby Tuesday than it is to a Supreme Court seat.

I could go on for a few thousand more words, but it’ll have to wait.

The Object and the Missing Subject, the Effect and the Missing Cause (Part 2)

Last week, while I served as the designated driver for my mom and her two best friends, one of those two friends — a self-proclaimed football fanatic — apropos of zilch, brought up the statement Jamie Naughright made on Inside Edition back in October recounting a 1996 incident in which Peyton Manning sexually assaulted her. My mom’s friend was incredulous, wondering aloud, “Why would you bring up an incident from twenty years ago? Why didn’t she report it back then?” She was clearly under the impression that no such assault had ever occurred.

My initial mental response was, “Bruh, are you fucking serious right now?” But I played it cool and informed her that, not only had Naughtright reported the assault immediately after it occurred, but she was also awarded a settlement from the University of Tennessee over the incident because it actually happened. I also regaled her with eye-witness tales of Manning’s behavior during his stint as the King of UT; he made a habit of attending frat parties with a posse of members of the UT defensive line, where he would approach women who were with their boyfriends, grab them by the crotch, and then turn to those boyfriends (he apparently didn’t bother to address the female victims’ reactions) and say, “What are you gonna do about it, faggot?” and walk away laughing. (Sue me, bro.)

This is all a bit of a digression. I mean, it’s obvious that Peyton Manning is a psychopath — if for no other reason than the fact that he bros down with Papa John Schnatter, who is clearly a serial killer — but Shaun King has already addressed that fact and this case at length. What struck me was this woman’s baseline assumption that the victim was a liar, an assumption based on the incorrect and irrelevant belief that a significant chunk of time had elapsed between the “alleged” assault and Naughtright’s decision to report it, when in reality she had simply decided to revisit it in the context of the accusations against Harvey Weinstein and the nascent #metoo movement.

This lady ain’t no outlier. Though things have improved slightly with the emergence of the ubiquity of sexual harassment and assault as a topic in mainstream discourse, it remains the case that victims of assault can and should expect to be met with suspicion at a minimum — and more likely with overt hostility — even from other women who have almost certainly had similar experiences. The barriers to reporting are all still firmly in place, and they include far more subtle and disappointing discouragements than the cop who shames a victim for not wearing a burqa or having had the temerity to drink in public, or the attorney who defends his client by framing the victim for the crime of trollopdom.

I could make a bullet-point list of those forms of discouragement, but that would make for boring reading, so I’ll go with another bit of gruesome personal experience instead. In part 1 of what is apparently going to become a stream of trauma vomit, I described a series of incidents that were a “four on the ‘most fucked up things that happened between the time I grew boobs and turned 22’ scale.” The following is maybe an eight, so if you’re squeamish, stop reading now and go watch this instead.

In the late spring of my sophomore year, just as the flood of bullshit I recounted in the prior post had begun to recede, I went on a Memorial Day weekend camping trip with my best friend, Randy (his real name) and his older sister, Molly (not her real name), who was eighteen. It took some serious maneuvering to convince my parents to let me go, maneuvering that included Molly coming over to the house to assure my parents that she would watch over us fifteen-year-olds with the vigilance of a horse charged with the care of a dog. What she didn’t mention was that there would be three more campers in attendance — friends of hers who were all dudes aged eighteen to twenty — by the names of Danny (not his real name), Mike (not his real name), and Justin O’Brien (his full real name, which I’ll go ahead and use since he’s dead now — details to follow).

I didn’t mention these three either, naturally, as I knew it would be an instant deal-breaker and I had no plans to hang out with any of them anyway. My only plans included Mickey’s Fine Malt Liquor and tubing in a river with my BFF, but it didn’t quite turn out that way.

Molly had recently been spending less of her time with the usual carousel of surf bros I encountered when I was at Randy’s house and had taken up with Justin, a wigger who dabbled in Chicano culture by means of calling other white guys “guetto.” She had a huge crush on him, which she had confided to me on multiple occasions and which I didn’t really get. He brought Mike, another guetto who fancied himself a cholo, which he at least had a slight claim to by dint of dating the only chola in town whose bangs were teased and lacquered so high that they had to back her up a foot for her yearbook photo. Let’s call her Daniela. The third member of their crew, Danny, was one of about five black guys in town and was the older brother of my best friend from junior high, so I knew and liked him, unlike these other two clownish strangers.

Justin, as wiggers/poser cholos are wont to do when in the presence of a black guy or a Chicano, spent about half of his time making racist jokes to prove to someone that he was so down that he could insult people to their faces without getting his ass kicked. It was real clever crossover shit, too, like calling Danny “La Beno,” which he repeatedly explained was Spanish for “Uncle Ben,” the rice brand with a photo of a black guy on the box. I doubt he realized he was tacitly calling Danny a faggot by using the feminine article, given that he didn’t even know the Spanish word for “uncle,” but I’m sure he would’ve been jubilant had he known that he was being permitted that offense as well.

So, one Saturday morning, we all set off in Molly’s car for an Indian reservation about an hour from home. We had to stop along the way to fill two coolers with various malt liquors, of course. Despite the fact that I was only fifteen, I was the only person in the car with a reliable liquor store hook-up, so they sent me into Sami’s Liquor with all their money and orders to spend every dime of it, and to make sure I bought a twelver of Coors Banquet and at least six 22s of Cool Colt, a short-lived menthol-flavored variation on Colt 45 released in the early 90s.

I’m dilly-dallying here, aren’t I? We got to the campsite, didn’t set up a fucking thing, and started drinking at around 1 PM. Being a teenage lightweight, I was absolutely wrecked by 3, my tubing plans scuttled by my inability to walk. All I could do was sit at the picnic table, smoke cigarettes, and slosh my head back and forth to convey my unwillingness to pull my shirt up each time the request was made by Justin or Mike. (Danny didn’t make any such requests, but I can’t say why definitively.) I’m not sure where Randy was, but I announced that I had to find a place to pee, and Mike offered to escort me to the bushes about a hundred yards away and act as a lookout. That ain’t what happened. The details are hazy, so that’s all I’ll say on the matter.

I stumbled back to the picnic table and told Randy I wanted to go somewhere else, so we went and sat on a rock and continued to drink. I didn’t say anything about what had just occurred, and he didn’t ask. (I wasn’t privy to the conversation that occurred ’round the picnic table until I heard tidbits later third-hand, but I’m sure I could recreate it with about 99% accuracy without having to ask anyone who was there.) When the sun went down, we wandered back to the area where we were ostensibly to sleep and attempted to figure out how to set up a tent while drunk in the dark. I gave up quickly and slumped at the picnic table, leaving everyone else around a fire someone had built about 75 feet away while Randy and I were gone.

A few minutes later, Justin wandered up to me at the picnic table, pulled his dick out, and stuck it in my face, making a verbal demand I don’t suppose I need to quote. I put my hand up to shield my face, started crying, and told him to get the fuck away from me. Instead, he pulled the side of his hoodie out so as to obscure the finer visual details of what was happening and began a pantomime designed to make it appear to everyone sitting around the campfire that I had acquiesced to his demand, while I continued to sit there, cry, and shield my face. I was too afraid to look, much less get up and walk away. He eventually went back to the campfire, and I went and hid in the car for the rest of the night.

The next morning, Randy told me Molly was incensed that I had “stolen” Justin. I had spent the prior day drinking, hadn’t slept for one second, and was in such shock that I couldn’t speak. I just went to the cooler, took out all of the remaining Mickey’s, and returned to the rock I had been sitting on with Randy the prior afternoon. He followed, we drank ourselves stupid, and we woke up the next morning to get back into the car with these four to go home. Once I got there, I was still completely befuddled and couldn’t handle being alone in my room, so I went over to Randy’s house to try to talk to him about what had happened.

Molly was home, but her three escorts had since departed. Molly and her friends, all girls 3-5 years older than I was, had — due to my red hair — called me Pippy since I was twelve. That’s not terribly clever, but it was better than what Molly came up with when she saw me that afternoon: Pimpy. This goddamned fool was under the impression that I — not the two dudes who were three and five years older than I was — had been the instigator of two incidents of sexual assault. She was sure my plan had been to blow her crush all along, and she was fucking furious and vicious about it. I stayed in Randy’s room.

Later that night, Justin came back over and joined her in calling me Pimpy. I nearly lost my fucking mind. Randy went into Molly’s room and asked them both politely to stop, to no avail. I continued to hear calls of “Pimpy” through the wall that separated Randy’s room from Molly’s until I got up, went into the room, and screamed at Justin that, if he didn’t tell Molly the truth about what had happened at the picnic table — that I had not, in fact, sucked his dick in front of five other people — that I would go into the kitchen and find an instrument with which to murder him. Miraculously, he did, but it didn’t matter. That was the least of my problems.

School resumed the next day, and I walked into a class I attended with Daniela, Mike’s girlfriend and younger sister to one of my best friends, who was also in the class. Before I saw her, that friend came over, sat down next to me, and quietly told me that Mike had told Daniela that he had “cheated on her” with me and that it was all my fault. I couldn’t fucking believe it. I mean, I guess Mike had to know that Justin and Molly weren’t going to keep their mouths shut, so he did what any rapist with a sense of self-preservation would do, but I was gobsmacked.

I didn’t get much time to process my confusion, however, because Daniela was already striding across the room toward me, her right arm raised in the air. I knew what was coming, so I got up and prepared to defend myself, though I sucked at fighting due to lack of experience. All I knew how to do was grab her by the hair and duck her blows. I have no idea how long it went on for, but by the time our illustrious teacher, Mr. Toma (his real name), bothered to stop laughing and get up to separate us, I had a lock of her hair in each of my hands and we were both bleeding from the face.

The principal asked us what had catalyzed the fight. I refused to speak, naturally, and, to my shock, so did Daniela. We both got suspended for the remaining week of school, the principal and our parents convinced this was just another fight between a chola and a guetta. (It was a common occurrence. My friends in the class told me that Mr. Toma hung Daniela’s hair that I had pulled out over a trophy in the classroom, which didn’t surprise me as he was known for using the word “beaner” in a class chiefly populated by Mexican-American students.)

Despite having been suspended, both Daniela and I were permitted to submit our yearbook quotes. That year’s prompt was “last will and testament.” Daniela’s quote: “I leave my leftovers to ______ _______.” I don’t remember mine, and I don’t have a copy, but her sentiment was preserved for posterity in any case. There are copies of it in the basements of lord knows how many of my friends and acquaintances.

The school year was over, so I assumed I would at least be spared the indignity of being called a whore in public for several months, but no dice. Daniela had my phone number and my parents’ phone number, and she made liberal use of both at all hours of the night. I told her brother what had happened, and he believed me and tried to intervene, but what teenage girl is willing to believe her boyfriend is a rapist? She came over to the house one night and destroyed about $5000-worth of headlights, tires, fenders, and windows on my mom’s car. The following morning, my parents came into my room to angrily ask me what the fuck I had done to bring all of this on myself.

I was so stuffed with shame and fear that I couldn’t speak. I wasn’t indignant. I had begun to think that, had I not gone, had I not gotten drunk, had I asked Molly to take me to pee, had I known the difference between chivalry and predation, had I resisted more, had I been a fucking taekwon-do master, none of this would have happened.

Mike wouldn’t have been bragging to Justin and Danny that he had ejaculated in me, putting me at risk of disease and pregnancy, Justin wouldn’t have been emboldened to approach me at a picnic table and stick his dick in my face in front of a crowd, Molly wouldn’t hate me, I wouldn’t have gotten into a fist fight and been suspended from school, my social life and reputation wouldn’t have been destroyed, my parents wouldn’t have received hundreds of phone calls’ worth of inchoate and profane screaming, my mom’s car would be intact, my parents wouldn’t suspect me of having done something so terrible that it warranted the kind of retaliation one usually only sees in response to a fucking murder, and everything would be as relatively cool as it had been once the furor over the last goddamn time this happened to me had died down.

If the object can’t see the subject, how the fuck can anyone else? The only common thread I saw in any of the misery of the preceding six months was myself, which is exactly what social conditioning had taught me to do. I wasn’t particularly easily cowed as a teenager, but I still started to think that — if people kept doing things like this to me — maybe I wasn’t worth better treatment, and maybe I couldn’t expect any better. Maybe this was just how shit was. From whence would I have gathered the fortitude and certainty to report any of this to my parents or the police?

I suppose I could saunter into a police department today and report Mike for rape, but I’m not going to because it would be 100% pointless. As a joke, let’s say I did. First of all, the statute of limitations on rape in California is ten years, and this happened in 1993, so they would tell me to piss up a rope. Even if that weren’t the case, can you imagine the questions I’d be asked?

Cop: Why are you reporting this now, as opposed to right after it happened?

Me: Well, when it happened, I was a teenager, and I was afraid and didn’t understand what had happened to me. I was also afraid my parents would find out I had lied about who was going camping and that I had been drinking.

Cop: Oh, so you were drunk. Are you sure you didn’t just have consensual sex you regretted later?

Me: I’m sure. He had a girlfriend and I was friends with her brother. I also didn’t like him.

Cop: Are you sure you aren’t just saying he raped you because you are ashamed that you slept with your friend’s boyfriend?

Me: She wasn’t my friend, her brother was. I didn’t sleep with him, he assaulted me. I was fifteen and wasted and he was twenty and close to sober. Isn’t there a law about intoxication and consent? Aren’t there statutory rape laws?

Cop: Was there a struggle? Do you have photos or evidence of bodily damage?

Me: There was, and there was damage, but I didn’t have the clarity of mind to document them because I was a scared child, not an SVU detective.

Cop: Well, this will be a hard one to prove. Also, this guy may have a career and family now. [Wrong. He’s still a fucking loser. But who cares?] Are you sure you want to disrupt all of that?

You get the point.

Twelve years later, at Randy’s wedding, I asked Molly what the fuck she had been thinking, and she apologized and responded that she had been in love with Justin and that she was angry that he “chose me” over her. I responded with a barrage of incredulous recriminations, aghast that she would be angry that he chose to assault me instead of her, that she continued to believe the story he propagated despite the fact that I had forced him to tell her the truth. It was easier for her to blame me than confront the idea that she was in love with a cretinous monster, and she probably continued to believe it until he did something similar to someone else and her boyfriend stabbed him to death nine years after he did it to me.

The demand that women — and teenage girls especially — report sexual assaults despite the socially-inculcated certainty that they are always somehow at fault and won’t be believed by anyone is a cruel and calculatedly dishonest trap set by men who benefit from under-reporting and by women for whom the recognition of what men think of us and the ubiquity of what they do to us is simply too much to bear. It’s such a juggernaut of psychological violence and intimidation that I’m flabbergasted when anyone actually does report an assault.

The task of raising girls with the self-esteem and self-assurance required to recognize mistreatment for what it is seems impossible given the systemic misogyny of a society that refuses to acknowledge or confront the depravity it foments in boys and men, but that’s not the whole of it. When women absorb the idea that other women are untrustworthy foes in the contest for male attention and approval, who are girls supposed to turn to for help when men hurt them? When the whole of a society operates under the assumption that all girls and women are manipulative and dishonest and that men are straightforward and reliable, there is no safe harbor.

“Believe women” is a cool slogan and all, but how the fuck are we supposed to make it happen?