At age 18, I take a ride with a guy I kind of know through some friends. We are going to meet up with them at a bonfire by the river. When he pulls into a dark path along the railroad tracks, I know something is wrong. When he turns to me and says, “Get undressed,” time stops and my mind starts racing. Can I outrun him? Where will I go? How will I get home? Then a car going the other way on this narrow lane stops to ask if my driver needs help… with me. So I am grateful when the other car leaves, and I quickly undress and hope it keeps me safe from something worse. And it does. And I go home.
I sit in my room and decide to just go on as if it didn’t happen, so I don’t hear someone say it was my fault and go insane or kill myself.
At 19, it doesn’t matter who I have sex with. At 32, I get married and I am glad I will be with only one man for the rest of my life. At 34, I sometimes feel uncomfortable having sex with my husband in spite of the fact that I love him very much and trust him consciously. At 38, I begin to have depression and anxiety attacks and don’t know why. At some point I remember my experience and start to learn about what that did to me emotionally. I talk to my friends and learn that many of them have been raped. Fathers, uncles, brothers-in-law, step-fathers, boyfriends, even husbands turn out to be rapists. I wonder if I know anyone who hasn’t been raped. I begin to think there might be a potential rapist in every man alive. I study men and realize it probably isn’t true of them all. Just too damn many. Just one is too damn many.
At 53, I hear a man talk about definitions of rape. I am not surprised by this because some men are what they are – potential rapists. (A man who has neither knowledge nor concern for the health and emotional well-being of women in general is a potential rapist in my estimation.) I think about what this conversation means to me. My rape was not ‘forcible.’ I wasn’t restrained or beaten. I didn’t get pregnant, but at the time I knew I could have. I felt that God spared me that because I never could have gone for ten months with my rapist still inside me. The fact that people might have said my rape was not legitimate kept me from admitting it to myself. I don’t know how much that had to do with the distortions in my views about sex. I do know that many of my problems are closely related to post-traumatic stress disorder. And I know now that my rape was ‘legitimate.’
At first I want to grab this man who is having this conversation in the news and rub his face in shit, like a dog that needs to learn a lesson. Then I want to scream until I can’t scream anymore. But, once again, I stop myself because I don’t want to go insane and kill someone else. And I realize it is all in vain. There will always be men and women who have no concern for others and believe that anything they say is true. Having never experienced rape, they will minimize it and blame it on the victim. And these egomaniacs will say these things and young women will hear them and think that they are right.
I just want a world in which people who care for others and take responsibility for what they say are given equal time to share on a global stage. And I want a world in which every woman knows that rape is whatever she says it is. The rest of the world may not define it the same way, and may not prosecute her rapist – after all, there is no justice for this crime. But rape is anything that defiles her sense of self. And it matters. And I want every woman who has been raped to tell another woman, and make sure she understands. So we can heal.