She’s Closer Than You Think

Discussions of domestic violence and sexual assault require emotional maturity and an understanding of the weight that such conversations hold. Oftentimes, participants of these conversations feel detached or disconnected from the subject matter; however, the National Sexual Violence Resource Center reports that 81% of women experience sexual assault within their lifetime. In efforts to comprehend the fact that every person knows a victim of sexual assault, an excerpt from a 1979 issue of Essence, a popular magazine specifically aimed toward Black women, can be analyzed. That is, Joyce White writes in volume 10, issue 2, of Essence, “When I asked a social worker friend if she knew of any battered women who would be willing to talk to me about their experiences, without a moment’s hesitation she said, ‘That shouldn’t be any problem. Ask any of the women you know.’ I was shocked after talking to scores of women I realized the phenomenon was as common as she’d implied, and that it affects all of us” (126). She may not be your sister, your best friend, or your partner, but it should not have to take “she could be your…” for you to recognize the need to take action to cease the epidemic of domestic violence and sexual assault.

The prevalence of domestic violence across the nation grew in attention during Second Wave Feminism. In a 1975 issue of Women: A Journal of Liberation, Shelley Messing’s poem “Sister-in-law” epitomizes the strains on familial relationships that domestic violence yields.

“Sister-in-law” poem by Shelley Messing, featured in Women: A Journal of Liberation vol. 6 no. 2.

This image is from Women: A Journal of Liberation vol. 6 no. 2, and is situated next to the poem titled “Sister-in-law” by Shelley Messing.

Since this poem is written by someone who knows a victim of domestic violence and verbal abuse, it clearly exemplifies the notion that victims are closer than they appear. Additionally, the title of the poem implies that the victim is the writer’s sister-in-law, and thus the abuser is the writer’s brother. The most striking lines of this poem are in response to a question of whether or not the writer’s brother physically assaults the writer’s sister-in-law. The lines read, “Silence, as her back is turned / and I cannot ask again. / Words are too awkward, / Faces too revealing” (14-17). These lines demonstrate the complex relationship that exists between someone who is abused and someone who has unintentionally learned of the abuse. The pain, most likely too strong for the sister-in-law to bear, has been unveiled by the writer in an unspoken nature, as the abuse is not explicitly stated. The writer’s expression of her brother’s abuse defies the wishes of her family, which is apparent in the lines that read:

My mother writes,

‘I feel you have no

or not enough concern for him…

after all, he is the sick one.’

My sister warns,

‘You can’t write a poem about that.’ (Messing 22-27)

By writing this poem, the writer amplifies the voice of her sister-in-law as a means to illustrate the importance of sharing her story.

The idea that every person knows a victim of sexual assault or domestic violence has further been confirmed by the Me Too movement, which originated in 2006 and grew in popularity in 2017. The Me Too movement serves as a means for victims of sexual assault to find support within a community that values a discussion of recovery from abuse. The following is a reading of a slam poem that articulates the importance of writing and sharing one’s story of sexual assault:

Blythe Baird’s most significant lines from this poem embody the importance of expressing one’s emotions surrounding abuse. She states:

Sometimes I worry I write too much about assault

I worry this is too heavy a burden to carry

I worry I am putting too much responsibility on you, the listener

But when I talk about my trauma, I am not asking you to carry it or relieve me from it

I am just asking for it to not be too heavy for a conversation.

This experience takes up so much space inside of me

And this stage is the only place I can let this trauma live outside of my body. (Baird 0:28-0:57)

This effectively expresses sentiments felt by women sharing their experiences during the Me Too movement, as a sense of camaraderie continues to develop when one allows trauma to be “live[d] outside of [one’s] body” (Baird 0:54-0:57).

This image depicts a participant at an organized event for the Me Too Movement.


Baird, Blythe. “Yet Another Rape Poem.” YouTube, Button Poetry, 6 Nov. 2017,

Essence vol. 10, no. 2, June 1979.

“Four Years Later, Most Believe Women Have Benefited from the #MeToo Movement – AP-NORC.” AP, 19 Nov. 2021,

Messing, Shelley. “Sister-in-Law.” Women: A Journal of Liberation vol. 6, no. 2, 1 January 1975, p. 19.

White, Joyce. “Women Speak!” Essence vol. 10, no. 2, June 1979, p. 126.

Women: A Journal of Liberation vol. 6, no. 2, 1 January 1975.









The “Emotional Battering” of Children who Experience Abuse

The detrimental impacts of child abuse must be examined within the context of Second Wave Feminism in order to fully comprehend women’s role within the family and how such abuse shaped familial structures. In issue 26 of Country Women from 1977, Janet Newell’s essay “Once A Battered Child, Always A Battered Child” epitomizes the notion that childhood abuse negatively impacts familial structures, and more specifically affects the role of women within the family. Newell specifically discusses her victimhood as a survivor of childhood abuse, as her mother was her abuser. With that being said, she simultaneously validates the abuse she endured while also being cognizant of her mother’s victimhood as well. Newell writes, “My mother was a victim too: a victim of frustration in the role of wife and mother of two children and, as it turned out, at times the sole or main support of the family. She was also a victim of the war my father went off to and came back from traumatized three years later, another victim” (22). This excerpt allows Newell to then discuss the sociological impacts of abuse, as she writes:

The conditions of family life in America are such that the possibility for violence is always there. The hierarchical, patriarchal structure is set up in such a way that the frustration and anger at tension and stress created in the family and at work can be passed down through the pecking order. When the child acts out the pain and confusion, then the tension breaks into a pre-abuse or abuse situation. (23-24)

This excerpt exemplifies the need to dismantle the patriarchy in order to cease the continuation of abuse within families. This is further supported in an Aegis issue from 1978, in which a writer for the periodical states,

I think it’s just like violence against women. We can prevent some individuals from getting abused and we can prevent some individual abusers from abusing. But it’s such a cultural problem and a social problem that it needs much more work than just working with the family to make sure they don’t abuse their kids. I think that it’s in the process of starting but I see us having years and years and years of cultural standards that need to be broken. So I don’t think we’ll ever eliminate abuse against women or kids until we look at how our culture sets it up, and that’s a big project. (“‘Daddy Said Not to Tell:’ Dynamics of Sexual Assault – Part II” 10)

This image is from issue 26 of Country Women, published in 1977. Jerri Finch drew the image in 1974.

As the son of someone who has experienced abuse, I find that my experiences are effectively articulated in Del Martin’s Battered Wives from 1976. The statement reads, “…Staying with my husband means my children must be subjected to the emotional battering caused when they see their mother’s beaten face or hear her screams in the middle of the night” (130). Having called the police in the middle of the night, at the age of nine, in efforts to stop my mother’s screams, my emotional maturity has strengthened as a result of the abuse that occurred within my home. It is difficult to imagine the guilt that my mother felt while I was exposed to domestic violence; however, we must remind ourselves that victimhood should not coincide with guilt, and that my mother’s safety superseded my innocence. The “emotional battering” that I experienced was solely the result of one man’s actions, who encouraged my mother to “[…] suffer in silence, adding to [her] physical injuries an insult to the spirit that makes [her] believe [she is] somehow to blame for what has happened to [her]” (Bell 2).

This image is featured within the November 1978 issue of Aegis, in the article titled “Daddy Said Not To Tell: Dynamics of Child Sexual Assault – Part II.”

As a society, it is evident that in order for child abuse and domestic violence that “emotionally batters” children to terminate, we must spread awareness about resources that are available to women and children. Barbara Meyers, in an issue of Aegis that was published in 1978, expresses sentiments of raising awareness by writing:

Within our culture we are told that whatever happens in the family is OK. If a man beats his wife it’s OK because it’s their problem. It’s a family problem and we’re taught to stay out of family problems. The lack of permission to talk about what goes on in the family contributes to peoples’ isolation and doesn’t allow people to get help for what’s going on in their families. (8)

Meyers uses key words in this excerpt like “permission” and “isolation” in order to demonstrate the fatality of honoring the sanctity of the home at the expense of the safety of women. This issue of valuing the sanctity of home is also apparent in the fact that martial rape did not become nationally illegal until 1993, and women could not open a bank account without a husband until the 1960s. Therefore, the legal context of men’s domination of women certainly depicts the abuse that women endured throughout history. Now, the emotions associated with abuse being expressed in the form of writing during Second Wave Feminism served as a catalyst to the dissection of the family dynamic that had hindered women’s stories of abuse from being shared. That is, writing served as a means to strengthen the voices of women and children who had been silenced for so long.

This image is featured within the November 1978 issue of Aegis, in the article titled “Daddy Said Not To Tell: Dynamics of Child Sexual Assault – Part II.”


Aegis, November 1978.

Bell, Mary E. “Safe at Home?” Women: A Journal of Liberation vol. 6, no. 2, 1 January 1975, p. 28.

Country Women issue 26, 1 September 1977.

“Daddy Said Not To Tell: Dynamics of Child Sexual Assault – Part II.” Aegis, November 1978, p. 6-10.

MacLean, Nancy. The American Women’s Movement: A Brief History with Documents. Bedford/St. Martins, 2009.

Newell, Janet. “Once A Battered Child, Always A Battered Child.” Country Women issue 26, 1 September 1977, p. 20-25.

Women: A Journal of Liberation vol. 6, no. 2, 1 January 1975.

Rape: A Violation and Its Impact

Awareness surrounding the epidemic of rape grew dramatically during Second Wave Feminism, as poets and writers began to share their lived experiences, and then found support from a community of women that respected and valued said stories. In “Poem About My Rights,” by June Jordan, the narrator discusses her identity as a woman and how that identity and its relation to rape have shaped how she views herself. Jordan emphasizes this in the lines, “I am the history of rape / I am the history of the rejection of who I am / I am the history of the terrorized incarceration of / myself” (77-80). This poem epitomizes women’s growth in the expression of their emotions about rape, ranging from self-destructive undertones of self-blame in the beginning to a realization that “I am not wrong: Wrong is not my name / My name is my own my own my own” (Jordan 109-110). The self-destructive undertones that pervade the beginning of the poem are apparent in the fact that the narrator initially believes that her identity is what hinders her self-expression and freeing actions. The actuality of the matter is that the despicable actions of men are what warrant feelings within women that they are at fault for what happens to them.

In Women: A Journal of Liberation, Lorie Dechar shares a poem titled, “Whale Song: a poem about rape.”

“Whale song: a poem about rape” by Lorie Dechar, featured in Women: A Journal of Liberation vol. 6 no. 2.

This poem discusses the disturbing impacts of rape by comparing a whale to a woman through an extended metaphor. This is apparent in the lines that follow the act of the rape in the poem, “and then she lies / beached and paralyzed / harvested and valuable produce / some drunken sailor’s dream” (Dechar 42-45). The words “paralyzed” and “valuable produce” simultaneously illustrate the dehumanizing nature of rape and the rapist’s malicious intentions. Additionally, the formation of the lines and the effortlessly integrated imagery within the poem help to encapsulate numerous feelings of survivors. For instance, Dechar appropriately writes of the blames placed on women when they are raped in efforts to demonstrate that women should never be blamed for being assaulted. She writes, “never go out / never smile / never admire / … / never love / and never been born / a woman” (Dechar 73-75, 80-82). This supports the idea that the simple act of being alive is dangerous for women, as they are constantly being taken advantage of. Dechar also perpetuates the notion that the imperiling hands of men are simultaneously beyond belief, while also being feasible to understand due to lived experiences of assault. She writes, “I look to big things / … / gentle things / that somehow persist / despite / the inconceivably brutal assaults of men” (Dechar 86, 90-93). Finally, Dechar summarizes survivors’ sentiments in regards to sharing their stories in the form of writing by stating, “I hide my heart in the crotch of an old maple tree / behind an old barn in a secret clearing and / I’m starting to let friends / come visit” (94-97). By sharing one’s survival in the form of writing, not only is the writer letting people in, but finding a supportive network of people that help to amplify the survivor’s voice.


Dechar, Lorie. “Whale Song: a poem about rape.” Women: A Journal of Liberation vol. 6, no. 2, 1 January 1975, p. 32.

Jordan, June. “Poem about My Rights by June Jordan.” Poetry Foundation, Poetry Foundation, 2005,

​​“June Jordan – Poem About My Rights.” YouTube, YouTube, 13 Nov. 2011,

Women: A Journal of Liberation vol. 6, no. 2, 1 January 1975.


Sisterhood in Spite of His Violence

The violence that women endured cannot and will not be rationalized for any reason; however, it is worthy to note the sisterhood that women’s writing of abuse yielded. For example, Susan Chamberlain writes an untitled poem that can be found in the second issue of Everywoman, in which she expresses her desire to get to know the women around her. She feels trapped by men’s ability to assert their dominance over women, and how their dominance is constantly being reinforced. This is apparent in the lines that read, “stamp my feet on the rug made by men / try to look into the face of the man at my side / who is my ticket into the nighttime world” (Chamberlain 14-16). Although not specifically mentioning instances of abuse, readers can grasp the internalized struggle that the writer is facing; her existence in this world is characterized by the fact that she is a woman, and she can only hold a sense of security in public when in the presence of a man. At the end of the poem, Chamberlain expresses her desire to develop a sense of sisterhood with the women around her by writing, “oh my sisters where are you / for i know now i am not alone / but you see / we have never before / taken the time / to know each other” (29-34). These lines encourage women to express themselves and find support in one another, in efforts to dismantle the consistently reinforced patriarchal society that they reside in.

Untitled poem by Susan Chamberlain found in Everywoman vol. 1 no. 2.

The encouragement that Chamberlain provides to women in regards to getting to know one another’s stories holds applications to domestic violence. This means that society must be cognizant of its role in maintaining the power dynamic that exists within one’s home, since an unspoken rule that “what happens in one’s home stays in one’s home” exists. Women must absolve themselves from the guilt that they hold in regards to speaking out about abuse, and come to the conclusion that they will never be the reason for men’s domineering actions. That is, it was encouraged during Second Wave Feminism to abolish the notion that family matters are inherently private matters. Instead, by expressing the complexity of victimhood in the form of writing, women were able to unite and realize the extent to which they could combat the epidemic of domestic violence. In Off Our Backs, a popular feminist periodical, Douglas embodies the complexity of women’s victimhood in writing,

When one has been a feminist for a certain amount of time, she sometimes no longer wants to think of women as victims. Being a victim sounds like being passive, unrebellious, pre-feminist, etc. Of course, we must try to become strong, but whatever individual strength we develop will not change our status as an oppressed group. To disassociate ourselves from women who have been victimized, to imagine that they are somehow different from us, is to accept the idea that they have chosen their oppression instead of having it thrust upon them. We are all vulnerable, we can all be victimized; we can only reject that victimization together. […] When they hit one of us, they hit us all. (Douglas et al. 4-5)

During Second Wave Feminism, women were encouraged to break free from the chains that restrained them and instead seek unity with their sisters.

An image of a woman breaking free from chains, featured in Women: A Journal of Liberation vol. 3 no. 2.


Chamberlain, Susan. Everywoman vol. 1, no. 2, 29 May 1970, p. 6.

Douglas, Carol, et al. “Battered Wives Make Us Feel Beaten.” Off Our Backs vol. 6, no. 9, December 1976, p. 4-5.

Everywoman vol. 1, no. 2, 29 May 1970.

Off Our Backs vol. 6, no. 9, December 1976.

Women: A Journal of Liberation vol. 3, no. 2, 1 January 1972.

Women: A Journal of Liberation vol. 6, no. 2, 1 January 1975.