|While faint, the bruise is not the point. No one should place their hands on another person in violence.|
Last fall, my sister, Ally, was enrolled in a study abroad program in Poland through Syracuse University, where she will be graduating from this spring. This should have been a once in a lifetime experience. It should have been the time of her life. It should have been joyous and fun. It wasn't.
About two months into the program, she was approached by the director, who essentially told her, "your classmates don't like you." I don't really think this is an appropriate thing to discuss with a student. I wouldn't even approach my first graders in this way, but my opinion on this part of the story isn't really the point. The classmates in question were a group of girls who rather than explore the country they were in, stayed up all night gossiping, partying, etc. and then made a mad dash to complete their school work by the deadline. My sister preferred to get her work done early on, and then to explore the city they were staying in. As a result, she had chosen not to engage with these young ladies on a social level. Instead, Ally preferred to spend her time with one of the young men in the program, Jake, whom she would study with, cook with and explore the city with.
Although Ally did not agree with the director having approached her, she decided that she would make an effort to better connect with all of the members in her program. A few days later, she went on a pub crawl with the other members of her program, in an effort to form a more positive with them. Over the course of this evening, one of the other young men in the program hit on her, attempted to kiss her, and demanded she buy him cigarettes in exchange for him leaving her alone. He had been drinking heavily. Eventually, he did leave her alone, but only because he had turned his attention to another young lady who was, as my sister described her, "so drunk I wasn't sure she spoke English." Ally and Jake intervened, as the classmate was attempting to persuade her to leave the club with him, a situation that neither of them felt was safe.
Ally and Jake resumed dancing. Jake was facing Ally and did not see their classmate as he approached them, reached over Jake's shoulder and punched my sister in the face. My sister, who weighs 85 lbs soaking wet was sucker punched in the face by a man weighing over 200 lbs. I have a few things I would like to say to him.
To My Sister's Attacker,
I have written this letter hundreds of times in my head to you. In that letter I have raged at you, threatened you, wished you ill and called you every name I can think of. But there is a problem with such a letter written with the level of fury I have felt. You put enough hate into the world the night you chose to use your fists to solve a problem with my sister, and even more of it into the world by degrading her throughout the hearing process. If I curse at you, insult you or promise you bodily harm, I am only perpetuating that cycle. Instead, I would like to do something completely different. I would like to apologize to you and express to you my deepest sympathies for various disadvantages you have clearly had over the course of your life.
I would first like to apologize for the fact that I do not know what to call you. Your name would be most desirable, but as you would probably see it as a violation to your privacy in some way and attempt to bring legal action against me, I have discarded this as an option. I would call you one of the many names I have in my head, but it seems that the strongest insults would come at the expense of further degrading women. With regard to the former, I could argue that you do not deserve privacy, particularly after you showed such a blatant disregard for my sister's after you assaulted her. It would inevitably fall on deaf ears. With regard to the latter, while it could be argued that these words only insult women when used in certain contexts, I refuse to take that chance. I also refuse to add more negativity to the world in this manner. I suppose I could call you "The Man Who Attacked My Sister," and I have already referred to you as a young man, however it is for want of a better word. I am sorry to say, I cannot call you a man sincerely. Doing so would group you into a category where I also place my father, my uncles, my grandfathers and my husband, none of whom have ever had the need to place their hands on a woman in an aggressive manner. Therefore, I beg your forgiveness for depersonalizing you and calling you only "My Sister's Attacker."
Secondly, I would like to express my sorrow for you that you have come to understand in your lifetime that causing pain to others is a way to get what you want. How tragic that somewhere along your life path it was shown to you that violence toward others is a way to get them to do as you would wish. It saddens me for you, that this will most likely limit your opportunities for real friendship, as you will never know if someone is spending time with you and agreeing with you out of genuine desire, or out of fear. Knowing you are unlikely to have a healthy relationship based on love and mutual respect for another makes me feel your circumstances are truly grim.
Additionally, I would like to convey my sadness for you that you clearly do not have the level of love and support from your family and friends that has been a lifelong presence in the lives of my sister and myself. Within 72 hours of my parents finding out about the fist you so aggressively placed in my sister's face, we had friends and family around the US and the world quietly but actively showing her love via Facebook, e-mails, phone calls, blog posts, etc. While I am certainly not saying that you should have received that level of support for your actions, I am saying that were the situation reversed, I highly doubt you would have had nearly as many people cheering you on. How miserable for you.
|With our mother in Europe.|
On a similar note, I also would like to indicate my pity for you not having life teachers, that is to say educators, parents, grandparents, family, caregivers, etc., that taught you to have personal values such as taking responsibility for your actions. While I could be extremely vexed by the middle fingers you chose to allow fly from the nest of your hands following your assault, or the complete denial of the situation later on, I choose instead to feel sorry for you. As Leon Brown said, "You must take responsibility for your own choices and actions, for you learn nothing until you take ownership of your life." When viewed from this respect, it seems that you, in fact, are the one who lacks power.
Next, I would like to express to you my deepest sympathies that alcohol is such a necessary part of your social life. However, before I go further I do feel the need to clarify that I have nothing against the consumption of alcohol. My family drinks wine with dinner nearly every night, and we enjoy going to tastings and experimenting with making mixed drinks as well. That being said, based on anecdotal evidence from my sister, it appears that using it to excess is one of the few ways you feel you can enjoy yourself. I do hope that your current probationary status you were given through Syracuse as a result of your violent actions when intoxicated allows you the opportunity to explore other interests that do not come at the expense of good judgment and liver health.
The last two things I would like to convey my condolences to you over, are perhaps the ones that cause me to feel the most grief for you. The first is that I am truly sorry you will never know the real Ally. You will never be acquainted with the strong woman who comes home and volunteers in my Special Education classroom, and who my students always want to come back. You will never know the girl who brings me my favorite pastry just because. You will never know the person who takes our grandmother to lunch every time she is in town. Who can debate the merits of both a scholarly article and of Harry Potter. Who stopped by my house to play with my dogs and did my dishes while she was there. You will never know her. You tried to destroy her beauty with the bruise you left. Her beauty is far more than skin deep, and your hands can never change that. I pity you, that you are so unwise.
I also would like to express my concern that you are so clueless as to what you have unleashed on the world. Did you consider, for a second, that the determined woman you assaulted is pre law? That she is also a brilliant writer and extremely well spoken? That she comes from a family full of feminists? Ally had originally spoken about going into corporate law. Now she is talking about working for a nonprofit to help women in abusive situations. Your decision to be violent may well make the world a much unkinder place for those who do not treat women with kindness and respect. In other words, those who solve problems with their fists are about to live a much harder life.
I'm sorry your life is about to get harder, but I cannot help but smile and tell you from the bottom of my heart, "Thank you for making the world a better place for women." I also would like to tell you, I forgive you, if not for your sake, then for myself. If I hold on to the anger I feel for you, I am limiting the love I can feel for so many other wonderful people.
The Woman Lucky Enough to Call Ally "My Sister"
My maid of honor, on my wedding day and every day.
A few closing thoughts: For those that will undoubtedly say, "it doesn't look like a big bruise," or "you can barely see it" or "the guy was drunk, cut him a break," you are supporting rape culture, abuse of women and a world where these things are acceptable. Violence against anyone, male or female, is not okay. No more toleration, no more free passes. Fists do not solve problems, they cause them. At one time Jesse Matthews, the man currently on trial for the rape and murder of Hannah Graham and my former classmate, Morgan Harrington, along with having numerous other charges against him, started out with a series of smaller charges, including assaults at parties in college. It is time to stop taking these things lightly.
My sister is back at SU, and will graduate in the spring. She found the courage to stay in Poland, press charges despite the harassment of several of the other women in their program and the complete lack of support from its director, and finish the semester with an A/B average. However, despite her strength, there are days where she still struggles. It was hard for her to come forward, and even harder for her to follow through, but she did it so that she might inspire others to have courage.