“We ask all these questions: what were you wearing, had you been drinking, why were you out that late. At first these made me very mad. Then I realized, that’s what people in our society do. […] I think we ask those questions because we’re scared.” -Monika Kørra, runner, activist, author of Killing the Silence, and sexual assault survivor.
“We’re in this together. For as long as it takes, we’re right there with you.” -Ms. Kørra’s mother, in reference to Monika’s emotional and psychological healing after the attack.
Ms. Kørra grew up in Norway, where she often saw her name in print because she was a competitive runner. It was her running that brought her to America for college. After the attack in 2009, Ms. Kørra started a foundation that works to “Kill the Silence surrounding rape and abuse in society and make it possible for survivors to seek the help needed for complete healing.” This week she spoke at my school. She said that we ask these questions, the questions that shift the blame to the one who was attacked, because we’re scared. If was Ms. Kørra’s fault, if she did something wrong, if she was somehow a different type of person, then maybe she brought it on herself. If she brought it on herself, and we wouldn’t do the same wrong thing, then it can’t happen to us. That’s the story we try to tell, because we’re scared. We want to be in control. We want to be safe. But pushed by those wants, we’re hurting others.
Perhaps we do something similar with lots of groups. I remember a class in which we talked about poverty in America. Many of the students (themselves kind, intelligent people) said that homeless Americans must be lazy, or addicts; they must be bad. They must be different. If they’re different, if they’re wrong, then it can’t happen to me. Perhaps we do the same thing with those we decide to call monsters: Timothy McVeigh, for instance. After the bombing, President Clinton called him “evil.” Is there really some black substance, akin to blood, that flows instead through some creatures’ veins?
I love what Kørra’s mother said. The contrast is startling, then beautiful, then soothing: instead of trying to push her away, Monika’s mother sweeps her up in her arms. “Together,” she says. At the end of her presentation, Kørra asked if our students had any questions. There were respectful questions about the work she’s done and the ways she’s healed, but there were other questions, too: “Can you say something in Norwegian?” (She did, and smiled, and said, “You have no idea what I said. I’m not going to tell you). “What was your major in college?” “What’s your personal record for a 5k?” These are human questions, questions about who she is, about the life she chooses. Questions that stand beside her, and try to see her. Questions we could be in the habit of asking. Listening to them, I was proud of my students.
“We’re in this together.”
Kørra herself took it one step further: she wanted to know more about those who had attacked her. She wanted to know “how their lives had gone wrong.” She asked if she could go speak with one of her attackers in prison. after a year of meetings with mediators, she did. They spoke for a long time. He asked for her forgiveness, and after seeing him, in exchange for his promise to spend each day in prison working to be a better person, she gave it. She took control back that day, she says; and she didn’t do it by pushing others away.
“We’re in this together.”
I cannot imagine her strength, but I am inspired by it.