There’s a movement right now to #changethedialogue about rape. By encouraging women to write about their assaults, the campaign seeks to destigmatize rape and to raise awareness about its prevalence.
I’m a member of the group promoting it. I stand in awe of women willing to bare the details of their rapes to help others. They’re brave, compassionate souls. I fully support their goals.
But I won’t be writing about my rape.
I am indeed a rape victim. As I say this, in a sense, I do write about it: I come out of the darkness and say yes, I am of the one-in-eight women. Picture the typical he-said-she-said, and she definitely said, "No," and "No," and "No" again. It’s the same story countless women tell, garnished with excessive alcohol and friends who should have stayed and strange apartments. No weapons were brandished. He dropped me off the next morning, and I walk-of-shamed myself back to my dorm. My story is the same as countless others.
The details would serve nothing, and I won’t be writing about them. It’s triggering enough to call myself out, publicly, as a rape victim. I don’t want to delve into the memory of my assault, to splay it over the Internet for all to read and pick apart. I won’t force myself to connect those hazy impressions into a coherent narrative I’d have to relive. I couldn’t undo it.
Nor will I do it to my family. My parents don’t know I was raped; the details, all these years later, would only be painful for them to read and enraging for them to contemplate. No one wants to hear the push-and-pull, the back-and-forth of their daughter’s violation. Once read, they cannot be unread.
My parents would be furious. They will be furious anyway: I already hear the how-could-you-have-kept-this-from-us. The fury will come from their impotence to protect me. It’s the nightmare, really: not your own assault, but that of your child. I won’t give them the details.
And years later, married, with children, I can’t embarrass my in-laws. Should rape be embarrassing? Of course not. But sexual assault carries, still, the whiff of shame, the sense that someone should have known better, and that someone should have been me. Even worse, there’s a sense I should keep my mouth shut about it. I am not bullied into it. But I respect that no one wants to read a police-report dissection of their daughter-in-law’s assault.
And speaking of children: the Internet lives on forever. My children may read this one day. No one wants to read about their mother’s rape. The details of the assault, each sordid push, each ugly word, would live on in perpetuity. I will tell my sons I was raped. I will teach them about consent. But I will not do so with my own story.
I also live in fear of being questioned. Like so many, I didn’t connect the dots; I just slut-shamed myself and moved on. The next day, I sat by the river and related the details to my friend Marianne. It was a hot day in April; we sat on beach towels and listened to the water. Her eyes grew wide. “Elizabeth, you were raped,” she told me. And I knew, when she said it, it was true.
But of course, things get murky. I was encouraged not to report it by -- surprise, surprise -- the university administration. I had to tell them details again and again, and I was told, in the end, that if I pursued it, I would have to sit on the stand at a student judicial hearing while my rapist questioned me. I wouldn’t do that then. I won’t do it now.
I won’t relive my experience only to be told again, as I was by an ex-boyfriend, that I am lying, or exaggerating, or simply mistaken. I won’t spill the details for my old friends to pick apart, to connect the dots, to remember who, and when, and to lay blame.
If I spill the details of my rape, the archive of the internet will keep it always. I will forever be connected to their minutiae, forever tied to their ugliness. I refuse to do that to myself. I can be the girl who was raped. I cannot be the girl who was raped in graphic detail, especially when my story mirrors so many others. It’s clichéd, really, if a gross personal violation can ever be called clichéd. It would serve no one.
In the end, I don’t think the details of my rape would change the dialogue of anything, other than my family reunions: Did you hear she wrote about that? How could she? My rape is only one of many. I don’t need to tell my story other than to say this: Sisters, I am one of you.
I will not be slut-shamed. Despite the alcohol, it was not my fault. Despite the lack of weapon, it was not my fault. I won’t victim-blame myself, and I will not allow myself to be victim-blamed.
I applaud the women who tell their stories. I support them; I stand in awe of their decision to tell everything. They are helping others, truly. They are doing important work. But that work is not mine.
I will come out of the darkness. But that doesn’t mean I have to speak.