I had the privilege to interview Rachael Goodman-Williams who founded And It Was Wrong, a website devoted to collecting and sharing women’s experiences with sexual assault. I was drawn to the poignant simplicity and comforting rawness of the website, and the fact of its mere existence. A storytelling class that I’m currently taking has made me realize very quickly that certain themes aren’t shared enough, and a poignant story can make all the difference in understanding. Even though the topic is weighty, it’s uplifting, too.
Jen Bokoff: What made you start collecting stories?
Rachael Goodman-Williams: The project itself was actually around for quite a while before it ever went online. In January of 2006, I was sitting in my freshman dorm room watching The L Word. In a Season 3 episode, one character is confronting another about how he had violated her. There is a moment where she asks him if he has any sisters. He responds by saying that yes, he has two younger sisters. She then tells him that she wants him to call his sisters and ask when the first time was that they were violated or intruded upon by a man. He asks her what makes her think that this has happened to his sisters. She answers that it has happened to every woman, at one point in her life or another. She says that sometimes it relatively benign and sometimes it hurts a hell of a lot, but it has happened to all of us.
I remember sitting there and wondering whether that was true. Had that happened to me? Soon after, a good friend called and told me about the previous night – about her night of being touched by a friend while she tried to sleep, a friend whom she had trusted completely – she kept saying that maybe he had been tired or maybe he didn’t mean to. She told me that it was really no big deal.
In that moment, I realized these things are a big deal. All of them. For some reason, for so many reasons, we try to write them off and push them away. We look at the sort of ‘stranger-in-a-dark-alley-rape’ image that we see recognized by society, and say to ourselves “That isn’t what happened to me, and I don’t see what happened to me being talked about anywhere, so I guess what happened to me just isn’t a big deal.” I realized that we needed a space to speak to these experiences and redefine what is a ‘big deal’ and what is worth talking about, so I started And It Was Wrong.
JB: Who did you share the stories with before there was a website?
RGW: At the beginning, I shared the stories at Take Back The Night rallies, open mics, and pretty much any other safe venue that would have me. Later, I used the stories as the basis for a sexual assault prevention program that I facilitated with incoming college freshmen. Then as an Americorps member in Oregon, I incorporated the stories into the Girls’ Empowerment Groups I ran at local high schools.
JB: I really respect how every story ends with the same, true words “And it was wrong.” Where did that concept come from?
RGW: It was a concept that came from watching so many of us write off our experiences because of what they weren’t. Often they weren’t violent; often they weren’t legally rape; often they weren’t strangers, and because of all of the things they weren’t, many of us came to the conclusion that they weren’t a big deal. I don’t care whether we call these things rape, I don’t care whether we call them sexual assault, let’s just call them wrong.
JB: What is your ultimate goal for the website, and what do you need to make it happen?
RGW: My primary goal is to provide a space for people to grapple with and come to terms with their experiences, both through hearing about others’ experiences and possibly sharing their own. Beyond that, I am open to the project going in many different directions. I’ve used the stories as a basis for a sexual assault prevention program that I’ve facilitated with incoming college students—I’d love to continue with that. I’ve thought about the stories ending up in a book someday, too. To make it happen, I need people tol continue to share their experiences as well as their feedback on what would make this project meaningful for them.
JB: What advice do you have for women who have been in an uncomfortable situation but don’t know how to talk about it?
RGW: The first woman who submitted a story to And It Was Wrong wrote that when she told her friend what had happened, her friend said “It happens to all of us, it’s just something that we don’t talk about.” My advice to everyone is that we need to talk about it. We need to recognize that these things are not OK. Everyone deserves to be respected and to have their consent – their active “yes” – be asked for and given before their body is touched in any way. Believe that’s what you deserve, believe that’s what others deserve, and work toward a society that doesn’t accept any less.
And It Was Wrong is always accepting submissions and will continue to have impact if shared with a larger community, so I encourage you to share this with people you care about.