By Montserrat Caballero
In 2001, I was part of an all-volunteer committee that brought the first Spanish language production of the play, The Vagina Monologues, to Arizona. If you haven’t heard of it, it is an amazing play that is based on interviews with women on how they feel about their vaginas and everything associated with them – the positive and negative.
I remember sitting in meetings and agonizing about how to advertise the play. Were we ready to invite the our community to this? Could we say vagina on the air? Would we be boycotted? Would there be outrage?
I didn’t even tell my mother what I was doing.
I had been an anti-violence advocate for more than 10 years. I had accompanied countless sexual assault survivors to hospitals, answered crisis calls, done presentations on abuse, heard about the ugliest and most intimate ways that people are abused, mostly by those they knew, trusted and even loved, and yet, I was afraid.
Sexuality is as normal and natural as breathing. Yet, it is treated as the most unnatural aspect of humanity – something to be avoided and hidden, something to be ashamed of. It is mysterious, but in a frightening way.
How are we ever going to break the silence about sexual abuse and assault if we can’t have an open and honest discussion about sexuality in general? It is not only completely normal, but sexuality is a fulfilling and important part of our human experience. Yet, we have almost no real and compassionate language to discuss it.
How we portray sexuality to young people is equally frightening. Instead of focusing on the fact that sexuality is part of the experience of being alive in the world, instead of showing young people how to engage in positive and empowering conversations about what it means to have a healthy sexual relationship and, yes, how sex and sexual contact will or will not be a part of their lives, we ignore or mystify or even demonize sex. All of our messaging about human sexuality is negative: don’t get pregnant, don’t have sex before marriage, don’t get a sexual disease, etc.
It’s a mess. And yet this strained and corrosive attitude we have to human sexuality has real consequences.
In the U.S., one in six women will be the victim of an attempted or completed sexual assault in her lifetime, and, over 85% of the time, the attacker is someone known and trusted. Usually, however, the victim will be blamed, so that the victims of sexual assault are shamed into silence.
It is time that victims of sexual abuse and assault are supported and believed, not judged and blamed. It is time that we, as a community, stand up and say – ni una mas (not one more).
I went on to help produce Los Monólogos de la Vagina for another six years. About three years into it, my mother asked me if I had ever heard of this wonderful play by this woman about the vagina? I could only smile and say I had.
I am still an anti-violence advocate and I still help those hurt and traumatized by sexual abuse. I am proud of my work, proud of my contributions, proud of my ability to break the silence. April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and it is a great opportunity to learn more about the important efforts of local groups in your area who work tirelessly to put an end to sexual violence. There are many ways, large and small, that you can be a part of this work. I encourage you to get involved. Check out the Southern Arizona Center against Sexual Assault website at sacasa.org for more information.
Hasta que la violencia termine – until the violence stops.
Montserrat Caballero has been an anti-violence advocate and educator for over 18 years, providing direct service to victims of sexual and domestic violence, conducting community and professional training, and developing and sustaining programs. Her expertise includes working with immigrant survivors of violence, cultural sensitivity and awareness, community development and organizing. Currently, she is the program director of the Southern Arizona Center against Sexual Assault, one of the Arizona’s Children Association’s family of agencies.
Visit sacasa.org for more information on the Southern Arizona Center Against Sexual Assault (SACASA), part of the Arizona’s Children Association’s family of agencies.
Visit vday.org for more information on The Vagina Monologues and the international movement, V-Day.
If you or someone you know needs help, call SACASA’s 24-hour bilingual crisis line: 1-800-400-1001 (anonymous and confidential).