Why I Talk About Rape

People often seem surprised that I am willing to discuss my rape in a public forum. What they don't know is that I will not miss one opportunity to talk about my rape to someone who is interested.

Jan 25, 2012 at 12:00pm | Leave a comment

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Yesterday, I taped a segment about my rapist friending me on Facebook for an NPR show. As a result of writing that article, I have done several interviews on the topic, and those doing the interviewing usually treat the topic much more gingerly than I do.

They tear up. They talk about rape in soft, apologetic tones. I do not. I talk about rape like I might talk about what's for dinner.

I am not precious about rape. I think that people who are tend to be those who haven't experienced sexual trauma, because once you've been raped, it's hard to see it both as a huge, devestating tragedy and also to move on. You have to accept it in order to keep putting one foot in front of another.

This is not the same as talking about rape without affect, which is something that happened to me when I was still split off from my emotions, on the rare occasions when I talked about what I considered just "bad things that had happened to me."

I didnt talk about rape at all back then, because I didn't have the vocabulary. Each time that it happened to me, I felt that extenuating circumstances kept it from truly being rape. He was my boyfriend, I was drunk, I got in the car. I never believed that I had fought hard enough.

When the rapist who took my virginity smiled and walked me home afterward, singing songs to “cheer me up” while my bloody underwear was balled up in my pocket, I told myself, "He didn't know what he was doing." When the 28-year-old I considered my "boyfriend" when I was only 16 choked and hit me until I passed out, then afterward told me, “The fear in your eyes made me want to cum and cry at the same time," I thought, "Well, he is my boyfriend." When I drunkenly went home with a guy who put a belt around my neck and told me, "Shhh, you'll like it. Kiss me, relax," before raping me anally, I said, "I shouldn't have left the bar with him."

Women in recovery have a lot of war stories. The stuff that happens to blacked-out, passed-out drunks like me is not pretty. The stuff that happens to poorly supervised little girls with bad boundaries and low self-esteem is even uglier. I lost track of how many times I had been violated because I did not call them by name. I did not call them by name because I blamed myself. Because I did not name them, I could not fight.

I hear women I know, time and time again, talk about "bad experiences" that have happened to them, "unfortunate occurences," that resulted from "putting themselves in a lot of bad situations." Then they'll describe a rape.

I am inappropriate in situations like these. I'll say, "It sounds like you're not very emotionally connected to what happened to you." I'll say, "What you're describing is a sexual assault."

Once, a woman told me a story about losing her virginity as a young teen to an adult man who flirted with her and talked her into his room at a hotel she was staying at with her mother. He persuaded her to have sex and she left feeling dirty and confused. She told the story laughingly, over dinner, like it was just another disappointing virginity loss anecdote. I said, "I don't know if you realize how sad this story is. I feel very sad hearing it." She began to tear up, too. 

I talk about rape because rape is still misunderstood, even by those who have experienced it. Because when we don't hear real details of actual sexual assaults, we are forced to believe the presiding cultural narrative, which is that rape is something only perpetrated by strangers with guns and knives. We want rape to be scary and foreign, a stranger jumping out of the bushes, because if it looked familiar, like our own boyfriends and sons, how would we keep going?

We want it to happen to drunk girls or slutty girls or girls who were somewhere they shouldn't be because the alternative is that it can happen to any girl. That it could happen to us. But the other side of that is that when it does happen to us, we don't recognize it. We poke holes in our own experiences, make up reasons why it was our own damn fault.

I talk about rape so that I can say, "I was drunk" or "I wanted to kiss him, but not to have sex with him," or "I was on a date with him" or "I wanted the sexual attention but not the sex" or "I had an orgasm" or "I didn't scream or kick." I can say all those things, and still call it what it is.

These interviewers often seem surpised that I am willing to discuss my rape in a public forum. They tread lightly, they ask tentatively. What they don't know is that I will not miss one opportunity to talk about my rape to someone who is interested.

Talking about rape casually, in everyday situations, shuts a conversation down quickly. Rape is not, I guess, a polite topic to discuss, like religion or politics. Even when rape is being talked about, people get uncomfortable when I make it personal, when I talk about "my rape."

I can understand that -- rape is not pretty, and we'd rather not look at it. Still, it's a fact of my life that I was raped. Pretending it didn't happen or tiptoeing around the details will not change that fact. Why should I have anything to hide? And who does my silence benefit?

I talk about rape right out loud because I have no reason to be ashamed. I am not the one who should be lowering my voice. In a society where something like 1 in 4 women experiences sexual assault, not talking about it is an anomaly, the silence that proves the stigma.

I don't want to be "rape girl," necessarily, but I am willing to be. I will publicly and clearly state my experiences for all the peope who can't or won't, because every time I do, I know I help someone understand what happened to them. And because every time I show my face and say the word, it takes the darkness and shame off of me, the victim, and puts it squarely back where it belongs -- on the perpetrators.