“Talking about sexual assault can be conceptualized as a political act….. “
Sarah Ullman, Ph.D.
Broken Pieces is written by Rachel Thompson, author and activist. She is creator and founder of the Twitter blog memes #MondayBlogs, #SexAbuseChat and #BookMarketingChat. A sexual abuse survivor herself, she is an advocate for others. She has given a voice to sexual abuse survivors who have been traditionally silenced. And those who have a voice are empowered. Hers is a positive story as she slowly builds a loving life for herself with her own husband and family.
Her story is not only her story. It’s many women’s and many men’s stories. It’s about America’s blatant and pervasive rape culture. A rape culture is a pathological social environment where rape is pervasive and even condoned, rapists are excused, and where women are held responsible for being raped, due to societal attitudes about gender and sexuality (Ullman, 2010). Literally decades of research show that 15% to 30% of women have experienced attempted or completed sexual assault and over half of all first rapes occur before the age of 18 (Russel & Bolen, 2000; Tjaden & Thoennes, 2000; as cited in Ullman, 2010).
Ms. Thompson experienced her first rape at the age of 12, when, as she says, Barbies and Raggedy Ann pajamas were supposed to be her first concern. And her life story as a young American woman reflects the real issue of how American society accepts violence against women.
Ms. Thompson is truly an artist as well as an activist. Broken Pieces is a beautiful, lyrical work of art which isn’t written in a typical format of linear prose. Rather, it’s a collection of poetic essays and poems that describes Ms. Thompson’s emotional life in a right brain, experiential manner.
It’s also a portrait of the truth of the ubiquity of sexual assault, the constant objectification of women, the social politics of sex and power and the complexity of experiencing a normal sexual drive in this atmosphere.
Ms. Thompson’s story is a complex portrait of the coming of age of a young girl as she matures into an adult woman. Unfolding across many years, it’s her slow movement towards self-love and developing the ability to love another and create a family of her own. The narrative detail of her early sexual assault is a small part of the book, but we feel this permeate the entire book throughout her experience of men, love, sex and becoming a parent.
Through sensual prose, Ms. Thompson expresses a deep womanly sexuality within her adult romantic relationships. Thus, sexuality is shown to be an important aspect of being a woman. And yet, her stories are illustrative of how her sexuality is entangled by her experience of sexual coercion.
She experienced sexual assault as an innocent 12 year old. The sexual assault included death threats with a gun. Fortunately, people in the community became aware and her parents and the police supported her and responded appropriately. Legal justice and psychological counseling were obtained.
I have no words to quantify and describe the deep shame and self-blame that result from such an experience, the pain of the act and the pain of the lives damaged by this violent crime. The pain seeps through her work.
After the early sexual assault, Ms. Thompson writes of her other experiences as a woman living in our rape culture. In college she experienced violent attempted date rape. This took place before the term “date rape” was developed, so there was no way for her to make sense of the experience: it was not yet identified. More feelings of guilt and confusion arose. She was stalked. More fear and shame engendered. An intimate boyfriend tied her up and raped her viciously. She left him immediately after that.
The story of her life is illustrative of the pervasiveness of rape culture in our society, where we condone and even wink at gender and power manifesting in coercive behavior. In fact, it is forgiven and often admired.
Don’t believe me and the decades of research on which I base my opinions? Look at who is the President of the United States of America. How difficult for many to feel safe in this violent atmosphere.
Ms. Thompson’s work is beautiful, positive, meaningful and speaks to the emotional life.
Rooms is her piece that I loved that captured the bittersweet memories of love ….some of it is below..
Women have rooms inside of us men cannot fathom.
It’s where we store the depths of the hurt we’ve been dealt.
Where we store the deep love we never want to lose….
….We fold our stories inside ourselves.
We unwrap them when nobody is looking…..
….We carry former lovers, long lost, inside our limbs. We feel their caresses, remember exactly how their tongues entwined with ours as our bodies melted, their eye on ours as they entered us; even our cells remember the exquisite burn.
A woman never forgets, though she may learn to love another … (Loc 156 of 1375, Thompson)
Ullman, S. E. (2010). Talking About Sexual Assault: Society’s Response to Survivors. Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association.