Last week I read the unbelievably brave statement read by the victim of Brock Turner in court to her rapist. I instantaneously felt my heart freeze in my chest, my stomach drop and anxiety set in. As a rape survivor, I was immediately struck by how her statement cut straight to the core of my feelings in the aftermath of my assault. The feelings of despair, of loneliness, of feeling alien inside your own body. The passing of time as you try to process what has happened, try to continue living your life while knowing that nothing about the way you live your life will ever be the same.
There is no way to convey how it feels to be a stranger in your own body. To recoil at the touch of a loved one. To wake up in the night to the crashing waves of a panic attack or cold sweat. To be afraid of what will happen if you tell your story – to friends, to family, to the police.
So many rapes and assaults go unreported – and mine was one of them. Over the past six years I have shared my story with a select few friends. I felt – and at times still feel – shame.
When rapes are talked about, the stream of conversation typically veers towards what the victim did to invite it. Were you drunk? Were you dancing with him? Were you wearing heels and a short skirt? Did you speak? Could he have misinterpreted what you said?
Although you know, deep deep within your bones, that you did nothing to invite this, all of the questioning makes you doubt yourself. Throws you back into the shame that you felt. Starves you of your ability to heal and drains you of the self love that you once possessed.
Victim blaming in our culture is a pervasive, serious and an unacceptable problem. We see it in the media each time a story takes the spotlight. We hear it whispered in conversations. We are so used to the questioning directed at victims that many times we don’t even think twice when we hear it.
In this case the questions that have been asked are the old standby’s for victim blaming – Was she drunk? Was she really dancing with him? Did she actually say that she wanted to leave with him? Was she being promiscuous? Did he even realize that she had passed out? These questions set the tone to be “well, what did you expect?” instead of “this shouldn’t have happened.”
Yet, the conversations and questions are always the same:
Instead of asking how many drinks I had, we should be asking why a man thought he could slip a drug into my drink and wait for it to take effect.
Instead of asking if I was sure I said no, we should be asking in what world it is okay to undress someone without their consent.
Instead of asking what I was wearing, we should be asking why men thought it was acceptable to put themselves inside me while I was physically incapable of standing, speaking, or screaming.
In my case, I was lucky. Lucky that a friend realized that I was missing. That she had the tenacity to find me. Lucky that she knew something was wrong. That she had male friends with her that were able to break in, scare the men away and carry me home. Lucky that she never forced me to discuss it. That I wasn’t given any STDs. Lucky that I could get the morning after pill.
However, the trauma is something that will never leave me. Years later it is the nightmare, waking up in a cold sweat to a panic attack in the early hours of the morning. It is the paranoia that I feel when going out to a bar or club. It is the distrust that I automatically associate with anyone I meet in that setting. It is the anxiety I feel every time I am with a new partner.
It is the fact that the first new sexual partner I told commented, “no wonder you like it rough.” It took me years to tell another partner.
It is the fact that I can count the number of my friends and family who know my story on one hand.
It is the way I avert my gaze whenever I share my story with someone new – the way I am afraid that it will change their perception of me.
As the victim in the Brock Turner case said: “It is embarrassing how feeble I feel, how timidly I move through life, always guarded, ready to defend myself, ready to be angry. You have no idea how hard I have worked to rebuild parts of me that are still weak.”
It takes days, weeks, months, years and it will take the rest of my life to accept, process and be okay with what happened. Actually, fuck that, I will never be “okay” with what happened. There are pieces of me that feel feeble six years later. Pieces that feel timid, guarded, angry and weak. Pieces ready to snap.
But, I am a survivor.
There are so many more like me – survivors. Survivors of situations that never should have happened. With people that we may never have met before or with people we thought were trusted friends. There are those that report their abuse and those that don’t – each trying to deal with the aftermath of rape in their own way.
In a few months there will be a new headline, a few months after that yet another. Each time people will react with outrage, each time victims will be forced to relive their trauma. Each time we will wonder aloud how such things could happen. Yet even as we sit and wonder aloud in other corners of the world and in rooms close to us – yes, even behind dumpsters in our city there will be assaults in progress.
Can you live with that?
The fact is that rape will continue to happen, but we do not have to continue to defend the future of rapists. We can, instead, decide to unite behind the victims and turn the conversation towards support. We can choose to no longer be bystanders in the victimization of strangers, or even friends. Let’s do that.