Every time I hear about rape, sexual assault, violence, or harassment, I notice that I don’t have a visceral reaction. I should, I think. The language around it is, probably necessarily, non-descript and somewhat abstract.
“She is a rape victim.” It’s a powerful sentence, all too commonly used. So commonly, in fact, that I’d assert we are a little desensitized to it. Rape is a gut wrenching, heart-breaking, debasing thing to experience. It’s a brutal thing to do to someone. Taking away a person’s choice, violating their body, asserting control in a way that is dehumanizing.
It’s not the same as showing someone porn when they enter a room for their annual review. That’s obnoxious, offensive harassment intended to capitalize on a power-over situation. It may be humiliating to a woman who imagines she’s brought such idiocy on herself, but it’s not rape. I would know. It happened to me. It’s rotten, it’s had the effect of hardening me to men’s advances and making me dismissive of ridiculous stunts like that. But it bespeaks what people expect to get away with. It demonstrates the perceived pecking order. Even where women are in positions of power we’ve earned it by going the extra mile 10 times over, and done so despite the expectation that we should pitch in to help even when it’s not in our job description. I don’t think the same unconscious bias exists for men.
Here’s something else that’s happened recently: I received a call from a very close friend — she was distraught — why? Her daughter was raped. A beautiful young woman, 20 years old. Tall, blonde, slender, always smiling. She comes from a loving, close family. She works a job and goes to school part time. She takes care of her younger siblings, trusts her friends, and now, she’s trying to sort out how she can put this behind her.
Well, she won’t put it behind her. I would know. I was raped, too.
I did the same thing she is doing. I kept quiet for a long time. When I managed to admit what had happened I wanted to not talk about it. Talking about it brought it closer, made gaining distance from it impossible. Objects in the mirror are closer than they appear.
There are so many horrific stories that my story and my friend’s story are sort of mild by comparison to infants being raped or war crimes that make rape into something altogether more ghastly. Still, I think for any rapist the point is to make themselves into something they aren’t: a person in control.
While all of this plays out in the papers, the courts, in art, and in grassroots events, please consider that we victims of rape are everywhere around you. At the office, at school, at the grocery store, maybe in your family or circle of friends. And there really are things that we can do. Keep health clinics that offer free health care, like planned parenthood, open. https://www.plannedparenthood.org/ Support organizations like RAINN. https://www.rainn.org/ And be kind to people on the premise that they are dealing with something you don’t know about.
For my friend’s daughter – we’ll call her Amy – she has the support of a family that can be present for her and love her. But she’ll have to sort out how to carry this around with her as she goes through life. We all do.