The story you are about to read isn’t mine alone. It is a recounting of something terrible that happened to me. But the story is ours, those of us who have been through this, and who have remained silent.
The story you are about to read is about the time I was raped when I was 16 years old.
I was drunk and high at a motel party, and I fully admit to the fact that, at 16, I should not have been drinking or smoking or even at this party to begin with, but 16 year olds often don’t listen to the logic of what they should or shouldn’t do. I hope you don’t get hung up on these details. Saying that teenagers do stupid things is not to excuse them from doing them, but it still is a function of the way we grow up today, in a world that is a little too fast and a little too reckless even for the youth who think themselves immortal.
And yet if you’re going to lump things into the context of should or should not, one very important thing to remember is that I shouldn’t have been raped, either.
I had not asked to be raped. I did not want to be raped. Nobody does.
But I was raped, and I bottled up the fact that it happened for years. I didn’t tell anyone about what happened. I clung to the idea that life does not necessarily end just because something awful happens (which isn’t untrue, but it doesn’t mean you can neglect to deal with that which needs to be dealt with).
For years, I chose to react to my rape by freezing up, by opting not to deal with my emotions, and pretending they didn’t exist. Because I did not tell my parents or the police about my assault, I thought I did not have to acknowledge it, did not have to sift through how I felt, and did not have to turn the event over and over with therapists like some globe on its axis. But human emotion doesn’t work that way, and eventually, I had to face the facts. Eventually, I admitted — to myself, most of all — that I had been raped. Eventually, I understood the facts as they were presented to me, and worked through the problems in my head. Eventually, I began to realize this one thing did not define me and that perhaps even in spite of my unwillingness to deal, I had still moved on.
But still, I should have told somebody. I should have dealt with it. I should not have been afraid to admit what happened. The fact that I didn’t says a lot about the kind of fear that resides in people, and its ability to torment them so that they internalize their guilt and manifest it in the most self-destructive of ways.
We live in a society that largely mirrors what I felt. It is a society that tries to stave off its own fear in favor of comfortable ignorance. It is a society that shuts down when people present things that are largely uncomfortable for them to deal with, that challenge their own moral codes and put them in the murky waters of their own ideas of right and wrong. Nobody thinks that rape is right. But nobody likes to talk about it much, the way some people grow queasy at the sight of blood. It’s an uncomfortable topic. It should be. Rape is an uncomfortable thing to experience, and while it is something that nobody should experience at all, it is something we need to talk about.
We need to talk about rape because it is still increasingly prevalent in our society. Studies cite that between one in six and one in three women will be sexually assaulted. (I am citing multiple statistics because the fact that we cannot seem to pin that number down succinctly is troubling to me.) Studies also vary on the issue of men: that between one in 36 and one in 71 men will be raped in their lifetime, increasingly as children. That’s a lot of violated people. That’s a lot of people who might not know how to articulate how they feel. That’s a lot of victims, a lot of survivors.
We need to talk about it because we are still inclined to extend the presumption of innocence (which we should do) to such a point where it colors the victim as a liar. Of course, two opposing accounts leave us wanting to figure out which is right and which is wrong. That is how our brains are wired. And it is hard to reconcile the fact that what one person thought happened might not align with what another person thought happened. The fact that my rapist might have genuinely not know that to force himself on a girl who was too drunk to really resist, much less consent is troubling to me. The fact that he might not have considered that rape is nauseating. Because I felt violated. Because I had not wanted to have sex. It was not his right to force himself onto my drunk body.
There is a complicated cocktail of emotions that keep a victim silent. I cannot pretend to know all of them, because each person has their own reasonings, and if we live in a society where up to 96% of rapes are never reported, there is no telling as to what keeps each individual person quiet. Maybe it’s fear. Maybe it’s confusion. Maybe they don’t understand what happened to them. Maybe they never want to relive the experience ever again. Maybe they’re worried that their community will come back to crucify them. Maybe they live in fear of their rapist. Maybe they don’t understand what good it would do. Maybe it’s all of the above. Maybe it’s not.
But maybe, if we start telling our stories, maybe that fear will lessen. Maybe people will listen. Maybe we can instill change and give power back to the victims — to the survivors, really, those people who have learned to knit their lives back together and move on. Maybe we can provide help to those people who aren’t so lucky. Not everyone moves on. Not everyone sees a silver lining again.
But maybe — if nothing else, though I do hope there is more to hope for than this alone — if we start telling our stories, we will know that we aren’t alone.
That you are not alone.
That what happened to you wasn’t your fault and what happened to you isn’t something to feel guilty about, and what happened to you was wrong, and there are other people who know and understand and feel the same conflicted, horrible emotions you feel too.
That is not much. It is bittersweet consolation at best — solidarity does not undo the actions that ripped your world apart, and unless we invent a time machine, nothing ever will. But we can heal. We can talk and grow and sift through all of the guilt and the shame and the fear, and we can begin to work towards lives in which our rapes do not define us. That we are not broken goods just because we feel broken and scared and alone. Because we are not alone.
And we can begin to heal, so that maybe one day, no one else will feel alone, either.