Don’t be fooled by your first impression, I am not pro-rape. I’m just also not pro-anti-rape-posters.
This poster was recently hung up all over my neighborhood.
The particular one pictured is the poster that I drive past every morning on my way to work. It’s conveniently located at a traffic light and is blaringly red so as to make sure to catch my attention every time I pass it. I hate this poster. Generally, I agree with the sentiments it is expressing, telling a girl who was raped that she did not deserve it is probably always a good thing.
But that’s not really what this poster does.
Every morning I drive to work and every morning I pass this poster. Every morning it burns into my eyes with its declarative words, “YOU DID NOT DESERVE IT.” and I know what it’s talking about, we all do.
So every morning I am reminded of the time I was sexually assaulted.
Not a pleasant way to start the day. Sometimes I see it, we lock eyes the poster and me, and I remember in broad, unfeeling terms, what happened. Then the light turns green, I give my head a clearing little shake and turn on the radio. I push it from my mind. Other days I see the poster and sit there remembering, really remembering, for the whole rest of the drive.
And I have a long commute.
I think about it all, his face and hands, the car we were in, the skirt I was wearing. I drive and I relive. I think about all the time I spent not knowing what it was that happened, not believing it. I have all the conversations I’ve wanted to have with him, or with a therapist, with myself, out loud, in the car, filling in what I know, trying to understand what I don’t. Trying to understand just a little more each time. I rehearse what I would say if I had to talk about it. I plan for various scenarios: I’m at a party, his name comes up, and my face gives me away. I’m at my wedding, he’s there and I cannot keep it together, someone who knows makes a joke, others don’t understand, they ask, and I am trapped.
Around this time in the morning I start to wonder if there were other girls, because let’s be honest, there always are. The possibility of this bothers me more than anything else. I think about what I would, or more likely wouldn’t, do if I found out there were others. I imagine all the ways I could find out. I pretend to know who they are. I imagine calling them.
I think about why. Why after I’d pulled the handle on the backseat door I was pushed against and tumbled backwards into the parking lot, after I’d grabbed my bag before walking off, readjusting my clothes and wondering why I was so shaken, why I didn’t know then. Why I didn’t do something. Why did I let someone tell me I’d made a mistake and should have just let him have me, why didn’t I spit in their face instead of laughing like it was a joke? Why I didn’t file a police report. Why I let him continue his job working with children.
The answer comes to me easily, in a practiced sort of way: because I didn’t know it was assault yet. I’d gotten away, physically unscathed, isn’t assault supposed to hurt? Aren’t you supposed to know because his handprints are bruised into your arms and you can’t stop crying? Aren’t you just supposed to know? I didn’t know. I told my sister that night and her response, “that sounds like rape” had up to that point never occurred to me.
Now I know.
Now every day I remember that I belong to a statistic, the statistic of women who have been assaulted.
The statistic who have been assaulted before they were 25, the statistic of women who were assaulted by someone they knew. I don’t know how to fill that numerous role. I don’t know how to act. Sometimes I think I should be angry.
Angry at him, angry like I know my parents will be when they read this (hi Dad). Angry at myself for letting it happen, for doing nothing, for not being angry. Angry at my husband, for still being friends with him, because it’s hard to associate sexual predator with childhood best friend. I don’t know how to be around him. When I have to be I’m anxious and terrified and filled with a perverse desire to impress him. I would rather pretend it never happened than muster the energy to be angry at all of this.
By this time I’ve arrived at work, 35 miles from the poster that started my day. I sit in my car with my head on the steering wheel and I think about all the good intentions of that poster, and the person who hung it. I think about all the nothing my hours of obsessing have achieved. Some days I know I didn’t deserve it, and some days I don’t know that at all.
But I do know that no one deserves to start their day like this.
And that is why I hate the anti-rape poster in my neighborhood.