I was raped…
There are several scary factors that can occur when a rapist goes free, most of which occur in the life of the victim. That person typically endures all kind of social back lash, which some have likened to being raped over and over again. In unreported cases, while little can be done by way of justice for these people, the scary thing I have experienced personally (which can happen in reported or unreported instances) is repression. Even in widely publicized cases, after a while the papers let it go, and the reporters stop covering the story. Over time society forgets and things start to reset. Life happens and they move on to the next trending story.
But for some survivors of rape and sexual violence, especially the ones like me, who never really talked about the situation, who never told anyone but a few trusted friends (whom I cannot even remember telling), whom never processed. The thing that happens is that, We forget too. Not in a healthy way, but a repressive away. The thing that happens when your mind in an effort to protect itself locks some memories away in a place where we actually forget that a trauma even happened (sometimes in part, sometimes in large chunks, or even the whole event). The weight and anxiety of reality can sometimes be so debilitating to deal with, to come to terms with, to process, to heal from; that we as humans sometimes subconsciously and yet automatically, take certain memories and burry them. Scientifically I believe this must happen for survival or something; because I know our minds record everything and store it somewhere.
It all started as I was going through old poems I found in this process I’m doing to finish this book I’ve been writing forever. I stumbled across a note I wrote (and obviously never sent). It was a two page letter to my best friend (a male) basically trying to get him to talk to me because his response to my being raped was to blame it on me, shame me, and stop talking to me. Looking back no wonder my mind’s reaction was to lock away this event. Now I love my best friend dearly but, as I was re-reading the words of the 16 year old me, I had this feeling hit me as if for the first time. I thought “Oh my God I was raped”. I mean I knew that but somehow, I forgot. I was even just recently responding to someone in my community who was deeply hurt due to the outcome of a case in my hometown. I shared with them that I had escaped rape twice. I can tangibly recall the scary feeling in each of those incidents, when I realized what could happen and how powerless I felt both of those times. How grateful I was to get away from both of those men, one of whom was a close friend that I never thought would push it that far. I asked him once later about it, and he seemed to have no idea what I was talking about. The other kid I didn’t even know, and could not tell you a first or last name. I barely even remember his face. But this guy, the one who raped me. I know his face, see it clearly. I could draw him right now in detail.
Its interesting because I never knew rape could be so quick and surprising. In the movie it’s always violent and random. Why don’t they ever talk about the boys you know? The ones we date and trust to respect both our bodily boundaries and our desires. Our friends whom we confide in, and pour into, and support, and genuinely love. I am amazed that how something that happened so quick could cause so much damage emotionally, that I actually buried it in the recesses of my mind and literally forgot about it. As if maybe it never even happened right? I actually re-wrote history in my own mind unconsciously, in a way that skipped over my gut gripping fear of men, and rape, and being alone that stopped me from attending the 4 year schools I was originally accepted to (with scholarships). I knew I was afraid to go to college and get raped, but not once did I stop and realize that I already HAD been raped. But I had. I came across a campaign I will share more from later on in this piece; but I found these two images to be exactly how I imagined I would handle the situation (on the top), then how I actually responded (on the bottom).
Sometimes we forget in a way that we do still know and acknowledge that a trauma happened, but downplay the context. For me I knew I was raped, but I didn’t really realize that I was raped. I mean I would talk about rape to other people and I’d remember the two times I almost got raped, and I can recall being afraid in situations where I was alone and this weird fear of being raped would creep up on me as if out of nowhere. In those times I didn’t think to myself “hello, you have a fear response because you WERE raped!” I was so busy fearing this would happen I never processed what had happened.
Why had I never dealt with this?
It hurts to remember. When the memory was triggered, I remembered in vivid detail what he wore, what I wore, the decor in the room. The temperature of the environment, the heat of his body. The sound of his breath. I’ll be honest it sickens me. I remember his smile and how he laughed after, so content in having accomplished his plan. I assumed he went out and told everyone what had just happened, but in hindsight to this day I don’t think anyone of our former friends really even knew what happened. The next few ways were a tear-filled blur. I can’t for the life of me remember who drove me to the clinic, or where I got the money for the morning-after pill. I do remember I didn’t want anyone to know I had to take that pill, I was so embarrassed and so anti-abortion I felt like a traitor for even taking it because to me it felt like abortion. Even though most likely I was not pregnant, I couldn’t wait around for weeks not knowing. Nothing could be more horrifying than the thought of having this guy’s baby and having to see him for the next 18 years at the least.
The crazy thing is I remember all of that like it was today, and this happened 20 years ago. The new part is I am experiencing all these emotions, thoughts and feelings that I honestly don’t even know what to do with, but I know I don’t want to hold it in anymore. I don’t want to pretend it didn’t happen, I don’t want to down play what happened and I need to acknowledge how it effected me and impacted my thinking, judgment, perceptions and actions from that moment on. I know now that I am not to blame. I don’t want to forget anymore. You know I never looked back with this event, in its timeline, and realized the profound effect this had on my relationships and reasons I did and did not do things in my life the way that I did after that day. This event (the day I was raped) happened 6 months from when I lost my virginity. 6 months after I had sex for the first time ever (which was in itself not a great experience, albeit a willing and consensual one) while still formatting my ideas about sex and sexuality, I was raped. A month later I met my now x-husband, and 1 year and 4 months after that we were married. I realize now, how afraid I was to be alone. I remember I slept in my sister’s bedroom until she got married a year before me. She thought I was just needy. I don’t’ think I ever told her I was raped. I never said “I’m scared so I just don’t’ want to be alone” so I slept on her floor every night, for months. Once she got a husband, sleeping in her room was out and I quickly found somewhere else to sleep. Marrying at 17 a month before my 18th birthday, in hindsight I married a man that I felt could protect me and even though we both had many flaws, whenever we were out and another man came up to me, he was there to show them the exit. I did tell him about what had happened because we started dating just a few months after the rape. I made him promise not to do anything as he obviously wanted to kill this kid. Its crazy how I’ve allowed that narrative to be told differently. Yes I married for love, but… also out of fear. Not the best foundation for a marriage. I had not done any counseling work regarding this situation, nor have I to date. Its like a “dawning light” realization right now to be realizing all this. Like going in your closet 20 years later and finding a whole suitcase in there, still fully packed.
Here is what I want people to know about rape:
1) Your body has a physical response to trauma. Rape is a trauma.
I came across this short video that gives a basic overview on trauma and the brain:
This video is from the same campaign (which I really like and mentioned earlier in this blog) that informs people of the harsh reality of what happens to most of us when rape happens. We think we will respond one way, but in reality no one can know how they will respond until they are faced with that situation.
https://player.vimeo.com/video/205066680” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener”>
This article below also explains this “freezing” response that is part of our natural bodily reaction to a stressor. I am sure you have all heard about fight, flight, or freeze. Historically we have done really bad talking about or acknowledging our “freeze” response.
2) Rape culture is engrained in cultural and social norms. We must fight consistently to overcome these norms and we must constantly and openly be conscious about changing this narrative.
Take this disturbing image below, and ponder every honest history book you’ve ever read (including the Bible). Now tell me, were you able to think of a single book that gave an accurate or even semi-accurate overview of history, in which rape is NOT present?
I didn’t think so. Rape, conquest, domination and “breaking” a subject, a slave, a captive, an enemy, a unruly wife, a ethnic group, a target population (you name it), we have rape deeply imbedded in both American History and most cultural contexts all over the world. It has long been a very intentional and conscious act of domination meant to show victory, conquest or to weaken or as mentioned “break down” the mental capacity of the subservient/victim. What has the result of this behavior had on populations of people? On a culture? on social society? The linked article begins to look at this context under the scope of women portrayed in art over time.
We as a society have made false pretenses that do not always translate to each situation. For example here are two things we have learned, but we are still ignoring.
The myth: “hands up, don’t shoot”
The truth: Well… Today we know that holding your hands up (a universal sign of surrender) may still get you killed. AND the killer may get away with it.
The myth: “No means NO”
The truth: While if someone is able to articulate that they do not wish to have sexual contact and are able to muster up the word “no” they are already able to do something that 12-50% of rape victims are unable to do. This 12-50% can’t say no, the can’t fight back, they can’t resist. Truth is that the majority of rape victims experience what is now known as Tonic Immobility.
Quoted: “tonic immobility” or “rape-induced paralysis.” During tonic immobility, the body is literally paralyzed. And that is literally-literally, not figuratively-literally. You would not be able to speak, or move your head, or push anyone off, or call for help. You couldn’t tell someone no or stop. You couldn’t tell them anything.
3) Men and women perpetuate rape culture:
I want to start off by saying that socially we have created the norms that allow for the continuation and acceptance of sexually violent behaviors. This is not just a male issue, but often females also help to both solidify and validate these behaviors by perpetuating gender “norms” and stereotypes; and projecting them onto other’s (including other women). Things like judging or making assumptions of:
- The clothes someone is wearing
- The length of a woman’s hair
- If a woman is a mother or not, pregnant or not and how that dictates how sympathetic we are to their story
- How many sexual partners one has before they had been raped (i.e. the “reputation” they carry)
- What color clothing, make up, or car you see a woman in. WHAT is our weird judgment obsession with the color RED?!
I could go on and on with this list, but I think you get my point. Here are some other examples through photo images:
You Know You Want It – By Charlotte Farhan
Women and men from all corners of the world have been trying to shift this culture. In some countries their actions are illegal and in other incidents they have been killed and “made example of”. PLEASE understand that this business of resistance IS radical and takes more courage than that of the oppressors. Please also know there are no “neutrals”.
“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor” – Desmond Tutu
Through art, protest and various other mediums women (and men), people, humans are fighting back. If you find yourself protecting this “norm” you should know you are part of a dying mentality.
• If a person is raped when they are drugged or drunk it’s their fault and/or it isn’t actually rape (untrue; in many places you can’t legally consent if you’re under the influence of anything)
• People lie about being raped all the time (actually, only about 2-8% do, compared to 66% who don’t report to authorities for fear that they won’t be believed)
• You only have to worry most about being raped by a stranger (not accurate; over 2/3 of rape or sexual assault is committed by someone the person knows)
• Men can’t be raped, especially by a woman, because men always want sex (this is a huge topic so in short, this myth is completely untrue and pisses me off every time I see it said or implied)
• Everyone is just as likely to be raped as anyone else (another huge topic, but: no. While some forms of sexual assault may have similar percentages for different demographics, there are some statistics and likelihood of vulnerability based on sexual orientation, gender identity, race, age, and more)
We teach women to watch what they wear, we women judge ourselves (and other women) based on male perceptions. Like the female principal that reprimands the young female student because her clothes, attitude or body language comes off in a way that might be “distracting” to a male student or teacher (i.e. distracting in a sexual way). WHY isn’t the standard on teaching people that rape is wrong, and that we (as humans) should not be treating each other this way?!
4) Speaking out about or reporting a rape is an extreme act of courage!
I want to end with applauding all the brave souls who tell their stories, and I want to challenge us all to remain empathic. My field is human services. I have done this work for 20 years and my guiding mantra is the minute I reach the point where I ever become “un-shocked or not appalled” to hear a person’s trauma I need to move on and find new work. Not that I take on that trauma (self-care is the key to overcoming vicarious trauma), or that I ever display this shock or awe on my face (I’ve been trained and conditioned against this). But when I loose empathy for the reporter, or I can’t respect their lived reality, I need to move on. Gratefully I am not there yet. One thing I saw clearly with the whole #metoo movement (besides the black woman who started the movement being initially overlooked) was that some people (mostly women) started saying this is the “norm” and while yes data shows that most women have survived some sort of sexual advancement, assault, or trauma… this SHOULD NEVER cause us to accept this behavior by saying “oh this is the status quo”. In my opinion normalizing sexual violence is to reduce our bodies to objects and property. Which is how this whole culture started to begin with, from the time when women (slaves, etc…) were seen as property and not as humans.
Our bodies on display: What happens when you tell
The above mentioned perception is one of the reasons I believe that each survivor that chooses to speak out, no matter how long it takes them from the time of incident, should be listened to, and respected. It’s the most vulnerable thing I can think of; to have your body be invaded. Describing those facts is re-triggering that trauma each and every time. We (in society, court and for reporting) require this process, often with little regard to how it makes the survivor feel.
Head on a Stick By Charlotte Farhan
“I offer my head to feed their eyes and tongues, judgment spat at me with venomous vigour, my body discarded leaving me without lungs, crowds come forward with their mouths even bigger”
Our society has over sexualized the female body in video games, music, movies, commercials, and other media and as talked about earlier this happens in all genres of art. Most often in a degrading and objectifying way. Pornography only adds to this in ways I will probably explore in a future blog. This has happened so much that even females are uncomfortable with our own bodies. Anything related to what is natural and beautiful about us has been filtered through the lens of men, in a historically male dominated (patriarchal) society. In the US it is through a White Heterosexual Christian Male lens to be specific. This has causes to put it simply; distortion.
5) We have a duty to teach the next generation differently.
So let’s be honest its more than just teaching boys (and girls) not to rape. Its about humanity, decency, self respect, self worth, healthy boundaries, accountability, etc…
For example I watched the two following Ted talks and was confronted with a ton of truth of how I had contributed to this culture in not talking about certain “unmentionables” but what the heck is an unmentionable anyway?! and WHY is it so unmentionable? It made me think about how I talk to my boys but even more significant (for me) was how I was talking (or was not talking) to my daughters. I have to be honest in that I was uncomfortable about how the first speaker was talking; and I struggled with some of her points right off. I forced myself to listen to the end and I’m glad I did. She was on to something. The second talk, put it all in perspective for me. “Yes” I thought, I must do better. We must do better.
Here are a few articles on the topic (not an exhaustive list, nor my favorite – but its a start). Somehow, someway we must create a more human centered narrative of respect and love for one another.
I should say that I am not an expert and the views expressed are my own and not associated to any referenced, quoted, or linked article, individual or artist mentioned in this blog.
Thank you for hearing me out.