LETTERS FROM A WAR ZONE
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This has never been published before.Last December in the midst of a blizzard, I had to fly from a small airport in New England to Rochester, New York, to do a benefit for four women charged with committing a felony: breaking a window to tear down a poster advertising the sadistic, pornographic film, Snuff, which had been playing in a cinema adjacent to and owned by a local Holiday Inn. The women neither admitted nor denied committing the dastardly act, though the evidence against them is ephemeral, because they were convinced, as was the whole Rochester feminist community, that the act needed doing. And a felony charge, with a maximum sentence of four years, was transparently more vendetta than justice. Being intelligent and sensitive women given to fighting for the rights of women, they had noticed that the law enforcement officials in Rochester were singularly indifferent to the presence of a film that celebrates the dismemberment of a woman as an orgasmic act; and that these same officials were highly disturbed, to the point of vengeance, by the uppity women who made a stink about the casual exhibition of this vicious film.
Airports are not congenial places for women traveling alone, especially on snowy days when planes are delayed interminably. Most of the bored passengers-to-be are men. As men wait, they drink. The longer they wait, the more they drink. After a few hours, an airport on a stormy day is filled with drunken, cruising men who fix their sloppy attention on the few lone women. Such a situation may or may not be dangerous, but it is certainly unpleasant. Having been followed, harassed, and "seductively" called dirty names, I was pleased to notice another lone female traveler. We looked at each other, then around at the ready-to-pounce men, and became immediate and fast friends. My new traveling companion was a student, perhaps twenty, who was studying theater at a small liberal arts college. She was on her way to Rochester to visit friends. We discussed books, plays, work, our aspirations, and the future of feminism. In this warm and interesting way, time passed, and eventually we arrived in Rochester. Exiting from the plane, I was, in the crush, felt up quickly but definitively by one of the men who had been trailing me. My friend and I anguished over "the little rapes" as we parted.
In subsequent months, back in New England, I sometimes ran into my friend in the small town where I live. We had coffee, conversation.
The season changed. Spring blossomed. In Rochester, feminists had spent these months preparing for the trial. Because of their effective grassroots organizing and a firm refusal by the defendants to plea-bargain, the district attorney had been forced to reduce the charge to a misdemeanor, which carries a maximum sentence of one year.
Then, one day, I received a letter from a Rochester feminist. The trial date was set. Expert witnesses were lined up to testify to the fact that violent pornography does verifiable harm to women. Money had been raised. Everyone, while proud of what had been accomplished, was exhausted and depleted. They wanted me to come up and stay for the duration of the trial to give counsel, comfort, and encouragement. On this same day, I took a walk and saw my friend, but she had changed. She was somehow frail, very old even in her obvious youth, nearly shaking. She was sitting alone, preoccupied, but, even observed from a distance, clearly drained and upset.
How are things, I asked. Well, she had left school for a month, had just returned. Silence. No intimacy or eager confidence. I asked over and over: why? what had happened? Slowly, terribly, the story came out. A man had attempted to rape her on the college campus where she lived. She knew the man, had gone to the police, to the president of the college. She had moved off campus, in fear. Had the police found the man? No, they had made no attempt to. They had treated her with utter contempt. And what had the president of the college, a woman, done? Well, she had said that publicity would not be "good for the college." Entirely undermined by the callous indifference of those who were supposed to help and protect her, she had left school, to recover as best she could. And the worst of it, she said, was that people would just look right through her. Well, at least he didn't rape you, they said, as if, then, nothing had really happened. She did not know where the man was. She was hoping desperately that he had left the area. In her mind, she took a gun and went to find him and shot him. Over and over. She could not quiet herself, or study, or concentrate, or recover. She knew she was not safe anywhere. She thought she might leave school, but where would she go and what would she do? And how would she ever regain her self-confidence or sense of well-being? And how would she ever contain or discipline her anger at the assault and then the betrayal by nearly everyone?
In Rochester, the trial of four feminists for allegedly breaking a window was postponed, dragging out the ordeal more months. In a small New England town, one young woman quaked and raged and tried to do simple things: drink coffee, study, forget. And somewhere, one aspiring rapist with nothing to fear from the law or anyone is doing who knows what.
"A True and Commonplace Story," copyright © 1978 by Andrea Dworkin. All rights reserved.
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