An Interview With Joy Jennings on Her Experiences With Sexual Violence

Sexual harassment and assault victim Joy Jennings experienced many incidences of assault as a child before becoming a victim of sexual assault as a woman. She is now an author working to bring awareness regarding sexual harassment, abuse and assault. Jennings’ troubling story is a reminder that violence towards women is still ever-present in our society.

Q: Joy, why did you feel it was so important to tell your story?

A: Sexual harassment and assault is still such a large problem in our society and not nearly enough women and girls are coming forward. They are either too frightened to speak up, not taught how to or even that they can. They don’t understand what is considered sexual assault or that such crimes are committed against them. They also fear not being taken seriously and these are all the same problems I faced. Another reason is that girls are becoming more accepting of this rape culture and therefore more males are convinced that it is ok to treat women badly when it isn’t. I needed to tell my story so that other women can learn from my mistakes and to help protect themselves. Ultimately, I am hoping for new male attitudes and behaviors with a shift towards social change.

Q: You had many incidents as a young child that you decided to keep quiet about. Why do you think sexual harassment and assault frequently goes unreported?

A: As a child, if your parents have not had that talk with you, you are left uninformed, unaware and unprepared. It is a difficult job for parents to protect your children and they couldn’t possibly cover all the possibilities that their child might come across, so it is tough job but nevertheless, a crucial one.

Q: Recently, the University of British Colombia went under fire for making a mockery of sexual assault when only 6 of their 273 complaints were formally investigated. What do you make of this?

A: Those figures are disgusting, but not surprising. Sexual assault is never taken seriously enough and reinforces why women and girls are too afraid to come forward. This is the same problem I faced and it needs to change. Women need to be empowered to be courageous by example, and situations like these only set us back and do more damage. It continues to disappoint and infuriate me.

Q: What are some of the lasting effects that have stayed with you after so much abuse?

A: I continue to suffer in all areas of my life. I still experience night terrors, anxiety and stress, especially when around men, and have some relationship issues. I become an unintentional nervous wreck over the simplest of things too. As an example, a man offered me assistance with my groceries last week and he put his hands on my bags. I froze into a petrified terror and felt as if I was being violated all over again. That is not normal functioning but it is who I have become.

Q: In your experience, what are some ways we as a society can prevent sexual harassment and assault?

A: We need to be teaching this subject in schools. Young boys need to be taught what are considered sexual crimes and simply not to commit them. They need to be taught how to respect women and how to behave in public. Girls need to be shown how to handle certain situations, what to do, where to go and who to report to. Parents need to do their part also. This is a major issue and we absolutely have to educate our kids about this.

Q: If you could give victims of sexual abuse one piece of advice, what would it be?

A: Don’t be afraid and speak up. Screw them! This is your life, your body and you have the right not be assaulted. These predators are banking on you not saying anything and are afraid of being punished, so don’t let them get away with it. Report them! Speak to your kids, educate them about potential dangers and how to handle situations. Stay safe and please, whatever you do, don’t remain silent any longer.

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For further information about Joy Jennings, please visit her  website.

 

Book Review: I’m Not Your “Baby” by Joy Jennings

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I’m Not Your “Baby” by Joy Jennings is a poignant look at one woman’s personal experiences with sexual harassment, assault and rape.

Telling this story must have taken a great deal of courage on the part of the author. Victims of sexual violence are so often silenced by their fear and I commend Jennings for putting it all out there. And trust me, there are tons of terrible encounters to tell. Many instances in the book were very uncomfortable to read and I can’t imagine how it must have felt to actually live them.

What I found most distressing throughout the book was how Jennings’ experiences with sexual harassment and assault were so often downplayed by those around her. Being told to “just ignore it” or the ever popular “boys will be boys” excuse is unfortunately so reflective of our society. All too often, it seems as though the victims are pegged as the problem and that they should be the ones to change their behavior or appearance as to not entice abusers.

Another aspect that struck me was the degree of frequency Jennings was harassed and assaulted. I feel as though this woman has to be the unluckiest person in regards to the men. It’s so disturbing that there are women out there who repeatedly have to endure sexual violence. I feel blessed to have a fair amount of male friends – none of which would ever behave remotely close to the way hers did.

Normally, I feel uneasy about reviewing a memoir. There are so many useless memoirs out these days (I’m sorry, but having parents and a childhood doesn’t of itself qualify you to write a memoir). When I agreed to review Jennings’ story it was because I felt that there was something to be learned by the horrifying events that happened in her life. I respect the author immensely for her bravery and for sharing her story with her readers.

Note: This book was given to me by the author in exchange for an honest review.

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November’s Influential Woman Writer

“I love to see a young girl go out and grab the world by the lapels. Life’s a bitch. You’ve got to go out and kick ass.

A few weeks ago, I made the decision to regularly post pieces highlighting influential women authors in history. I feel very strongly about sharing these stories with you because in the end, we as women are the key to our own advancement. We have the ability to reshape the status quo. It’s my belief that by letting ourselves be inspired by the people who built the foundation that raised us out of the trenches as a gender we will continue to strive for equality. These aren’t meant to be biographical posts; if you wish to read the person’s short life description you can refer to Wikipedia. My goal is simply to share these writers with you and hope that it peaks your interest enough to read their work.

The first woman I’ve decided to feature was an author, civil rights activist and poet who won numerous awards for her nonfiction work. She recited words of diversity and equality in her poem On the Pulse of Morning at President Bill Clinton’s inauguration and her 1969 memoir I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings made literary history as the first nonfiction best-seller by an African-American woman. She was a brilliant writer and an inspirational human being. If you haven’t already guessed it, today’s piece is about the legendary Maya Angelou.

Although she had many talents in the performing arts – dance and drama to list a few – it is in writing that Angelou focused most on by the end of the 1950s. After returning from a tour in Europe, a friend urged Angelou to write about her life experiences – mainly her tumultuous childhood and young adult life. This important piece of work became her enormously successful memoir and an immediate bestseller. Angelou continued to break new ground when she wrote the drama Georgia, Georgia. This screenplay became the first by an African-American woman to be produced. While living in Cairo, Egypt, she served as editor of the English language weekly The Arab Observer. In Ghana, she served as an instructor and assistant administrator at the University of Ghana’s School of Music and Drama, worked as feature editor for the African Review and wrote for The Ghanaian Times and the Ghanaian Broadcasting Company. While abroad, she read and studied voraciously, learning French, Spanish, Italian, Arabic and Fanti. It is in this period that she met the American leader Malcolm X, whom she planned to help with his Organization of African American Unity, however he was assassinated before this was made possible. Angelou remained active in the Civil Rights Movement and worked closely with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. until his assassination.

Angelou was invited by successive Presidents of the United States to serve in various capacities; President Ford appointed her to the American Revolution Bicentennial Commission, President Carter invited her to serve on the Presidential Commission for the International Year of the Woman and President Clinton requested that she compose a poem to read at his inauguration.

I could go on and on about Maya Angelou’s accolades however I’ve chosen to include one of her poems instead and let her work speak for itself.

Phenomenal Woman by Maya Angelou

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.

I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size

But when I start to tell them,

They think I’m telling lies.

I say,

It’s in the reach of my arms,

The span of my hips,

The stride of my step,

The curl of my lips.

I’m a woman

Phenomenally.

Phenomenal woman,

That’s me.

 

I walk into a room

Just as cool as you please,

And to a man,

The fellows stand or

Fall down on their knees.

Then they swarm around me,

A hive of honey bees.

I say,

It’s the fire in my eyes,

And the flash of my teeth,

The swing in my waist,

And the joy in my feet.

I’m a woman

Phenomenally.

 

Phenomenal woman,

That’s me.

 

Men themselves have wondered

What they see in me.

They try so much

But they can’t touch

My inner mystery.

When I try to show them,

They say they still can’t see.

I say,

It’s in the arch of my back,

The sun of my smile,

The ride of my breasts,

The grace of my style.

I’m a woman

Phenomenally.

Phenomenal woman,

That’s me.

 

Now you understand

Just why my head’s not bowed.

I don’t shout or jump about

Or have to talk real loud.

When you see me passing,

It ought to make you proud.

I say,

It’s in the click of my heels,

The bend of my hair,

the palm of my hand,

The need for my care.

’Cause I’m a woman

Phenomenally.

 

Phenomenal woman,

That’s me.

Maya Angelou