The recent revelations of sexual harassment and assaults by men in power have prompted me to repost this story. (As a young woman, I was sexually harassed in the workplace on multiple occasions. In one case, refusing the advances of a N. Michigan Ave attorney in Chicago cost me my job. But that was long before sexual harassment was illegal.)
When I heard of the appallingly light sentencing of the Stanford Rapist and the statement of his father’s, regarding his “20 minute mistake” evidently referring to the time it took to rape his victim who was comatose I couldn’t help but wonder what value do we put on women in our culture?
When faced with the horrific crimes of other cultures towards their women e.g. stoning, castrating and burning them for moving through life as though they have choices in their own fates, while horrified by these acts, let’s face it, we also feel somewhat smug that as a culture, we are so much more evolved. I’m beginning to wonder, are we? Intrinsically?
Whether a woman is physicaly brutalized or not , there are certain things which are consistent, regardless of how extreme the violation. Your world view changes. Much like pushing through the back of the wardrobe into Narnia (“The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe”), your reality is permanently altered. Things will never look the same. Which is why I feel compelled to address the impact of rape.
The most important thing you need to know about rape is the circumstances under which it occurs are indefatigably and undeniably irrelevant! Whether it’s morning, noon or night, you’re sober, drunk or high, alone or in a group, clothed or naked, it makes ABSOLUTELY NO DIFFERENCE! No means NO! (That’s assuming you are physically even in a position to be able to say “no”. Which is not always the case, as is evidenced by the Stanford rape survivor who had passed out.)
The next thing you need to know is, when you are raped, reality as you know it is suddenly shattered into a million pieces. But you aren’t even fully aware of it because it’s too much to take in all at once.
As with most catastrophic events, your first instinct is to run for cover. It isn’t till later when you find pieces of yourself missing that you begin to realize the impact. But it’s too late to try and pick up the broken pieces of yourself because by then many of them have been scattered to the wind. The only choice you have is to move on, trying to fill the gaps with new pieces of who you are and who you want to be going forward. But it takes time.
How do I know? I was completely sober when I was raped one morning 3 years ago in my own bed by someone I was seeing at the time, who had spent the night.
In the beginning I was a somewhat willing participant. Moments into it he decided to remove his condom out of frustration. (Without him being tested, I always insisted that he use a condom.) I kept asking if he had removed it, and when he refused to answer me, I told him to stop immediately.
Against my pleas and protestations, he forced himself on me with such relentless vigor it caused tearing and vaginal bleeding. (Until now, vaginal bleeding at my stage in life had become relegated to ancient history.) Having survived the sexual revolution with no more than an occasional common cold, I was devastated to learn that he gave me HPV.
Shortly after, I stopped taking care of myself, regaining the 50 lbs I had worked so hard and joyously to lose through vigorous exercise. I had trouble focusing on my work. I also stopped going out. I rarely sang anymore (which is not good at all considering it’s my profession.) I emptied out the guest room where it occurred, giving all the new furniture away to my son. I’ve tried painting it and turning it into a workout space, but I can’t seem to wrap my brain around going in there. The thought of dating anyone? This November will mark 3 years since I’ve dated. Which may seem of little consequence to many, given my age. But as far as I’m concerned I’ve got a lot of life and passion left in me and would like to be able to get on with it.
You may be wondering, how on earth could a woman my age be so naive as to put herself in that position? Does it matter? If I told you he’d spent the night on two other occasions, does that make me somehow culpable for this violent attack on the part of my anatomy which allowed me to experience the miracle of giving birth?
The expression “date rape” came about in response to the validity of calling rape by its name when it occurs while on a date or at the hands of someone you know. Often it seems that when you put a noun in front of the word “rape” it’s somehow intended to diminish the significance or impact. Why is it necessary or appropriate to qualify it? Rape is rape regardless!
Maybe we find comfort in being able to make sense of it, like prison rape or spousal rape, because then it doesn’t seem so random. I was guilty of this as well. No longer. Albeit, there are varying degrees, but to be violated on that level has a profound impact far beyond our imaginations. Regardless of the degree of violence, “No” means “No!”
We all have a certain veneer about us that shields us, as best we can, from emotional harm. When you choose to be intimate with someone, your veneer may become as thin as tissue paper. Removing the hard veneer is part of the nature and beauty of intimacy and what makes it so precious. But when someone violates your trust and forces himself on you, ignoring your orders, then pleas, to stop, he’s essentially punching through your tissue-thin veneer. It’s like a wet fist going through rice paper, leaving a gaping hole with pieces of you on the hands of the assailant, leaving you completely vulnerable to the world in a way you’ve never known before.
You’re left feeling like you don’t matter. You’re completely insignificant. Otherwise how could one human being so easily steal from you something that is so precious without a moment’s hesitation or care? It’s as though you’re no longer a person, but some inanimate object that he keeps pounding with a vengeance like someone trying to hammer a nail with a rubber mallet. What and how you feel are completely irrelevant. In that moment you are there solely as some object to satisfy the greed of another, only to be discarded and emotionally disposed of immediately thereafter.
I frantically tried to piece together what just happened. How can this possibly be? Suddenly this person I trusted on the most intimate level, is not only a stranger to me, but an emotional terrorist who came into my bed and destroyed everything in its wake, leaving behind nothing but bits of emotional shrapnel which may take years to reassemble into some semblance of my former enthusiastic, energetic and tenacious self.
After it happened, I was not going to let him see me cry. I was hurt both physically and mentally and exceedingly angry, asking how and why he did what he did.
I was horrified, not only at the violation, but at the thought of contracting an STD from him. I never got an answer. He was dressed and out of my place in a flash.
I considered reporting it. But then I thought who would believe me? Why should anyone care about some 56 year old woman who was raped by some guy in his 40’s? Perhaps because I could be your mother, or even your grandmother.
No doubt that disgusting term “cougar” would rear its ugly head. When in reality, nothing could be further from the truth. In my case, I was also concerned about my son’s reaction. We are extraordinarily close, and it would have, no doubt, had a profound impact on him, knowing that his mom could be vulnerable on that level. Although he is in his early 20’s, kids prefer to think their parents are safe, if not somewhat invincible.
You may wonder, why on earth would I tell anyone my story? Let’s be real. The older I get the less relevant I become. I actually debated it for 3 years. But in light of the Weinstein stories, Cosby and the Stamford rape case, I feel compelled to speak out on behalf of other victims of this heinous crime. If it happens to me, a seasoned veteran of the sexual Revolution, what’s happening to younger women out there? That’s a very scary question.
It is said that over 40 percent of rapes go unreported. I TOTALLY get that. Why? In the case of date rape, after getting over the initial shock, you have to be willing and able to call it by its proper name. Which is difficult. It’s humiliating and more importantly, almost impossible to come to grips with the fact that you have ABSOLUTELY NO CULPABILITY for what happened. No means No!
When I was very young, I had an emergency appendectomy leaving me with an ugly scar. As a young adult my body blossomed into a very shapely 36-24-36. I never wore two piece bathing suits because of the damn scar. On the few occasions I did, and I received attention at the pool or beach, I just assumed people were looking at my scar. So I stopped, because no one wants to see that! It never occurred to me that they might have been noticing me for other reasons.
I would LOVE to have that body now. Which brings me to my next point.
Why the hell do we feel it’s necessary to hide ours scars? It’s ridiculous. They are rarely of our own making or choosing and in many cases are the catalyst for a great deal of positive change. (I would have died on the table when I was five had they not cut into me.)
It’s in that vein that I tell my story. I’m 59 now and hope that my explanation of the impact of rape may help you to understand what young women are forced to endure when they are raped.
In addition, there is clearly a pervasive climate in our culture that the victim has some culpability. She does not!!! Or that the rapist is NOT culpable because he was drunk or high or misunderstood her intentions. It’s total BULLSHIT!
In light of the Stanford rape, there have been discussions about teaching children that “no means no”. That’s fine. But rape is not about a lack of understanding of that word. It’s about power, domination and misogyny.
Most rapists are serial, and in retrospect, I suspect mine was as well. It was peculiar that he didn’t want me to see where he lived (having me drop him at the corner) because he had a stalker and he would sometimes come home to find her outside his building. He told me he was protecting me. He said he only met her on one occasion and they were never intimate. Then why is she stalking him? While it didn’t add up at the time, it never would have crossed my mind he might have raped this poor girl.
It’s easy to play Monday morning quarterback because you find yourself desperately trying to put the pieces together, wondering what you could have missed. You didn’t miss anything! As women, we can’t go through life worrying that if a man criticizes a couple of women on TV that he’s going to rape us. Men deserve more than that. Also no woman in her right mind will ever knowingly spend time with a man she believes is capable of rape!
What’s the solution? How do we make ourselves whole again?
We start by coming together with one another, enlisting the help of our loved ones, be it spouses, children or lovers, to abolish the stigma associated with rape culture. No means No! If you violate another human being, you will pay dearly for it.
If you can’t get angry for yourself because you feel you somehow invited this into your life, get angry for all the other women and girls out there who have been raped and are likely suffering in silence. I promise you that fighting for them will give you strength, just as writing this piece and fighting for you has given me tremendous strength.
Hang tough and let’s fight for tougher legislation, better judges and most of all let’s have each other’s backs!
P.S. I don’t wish to be insensitive to any boys or men who have been raped. This piece is in NO WAY meant to diminish what sexual assault must be like for you. That being said, I can only speak from a woman’s perspective which is why this piece speaks to the rape of females.