Legitimate rape. Part of God’s will. What will they think of next?
Let me be clear: I have, up to this point, studiously avoided joining in the hostile and rancorous public debate that has characterized the current presidential campaign. I have listened with growing dismay to the increasingly hostile language that my good friends on either side of the issues hurtle at one another. And, to the extent that I have shared my views, I have held to neutral language, refraining from the fiery rhetoric and name-calling that I have heard issuing from both sides.
Once and for all: rape is an act of violence
But I cannot keep silent in the face of this constant barrage of bizarre declarations about rape from so many Republican candidates in recent months. Rape is never legitimate. Rape is never part of God’s plan to populate the earth.
Rape is never anything but an act of violence and power. Period. Its sole purpose is to dominate, degrade and control. It does not matter whether you knew your assailant before the attack, whether the assault resulted in pregnancy, whether in the heat of the moment it seemed best to acquiesce rather than risk being killed.
And sometimes, you can put up every form of resistance you have in your power, and still it does not stop the rape from happening, and still no one will believe you, and still you will be told that you should have done more, that it is somehow entirely your fault.
And no one is immune
I know because I was stalked, pursued and assaulted by a classmate many years ago, when I was in eighth grade.* Back then, there was no language to correctly identify his actions as acquaintance rape. That kind of awareness was still decades away in the public discourse. Indeed, no one besides me seemed to think there was anything even slightly out of the ordinary in his overtly aggressive, sexually menacing behavior.
The person they criticized, for not being able to “handle it,” was me. A naïve, bookish 13-year-old girl. The class egghead. The shy, nerdy new girl.
In fact, those closest to me blamed me for having been, of all things, “too innocent.” Ironic, isn’t it? Especially when you consider that I had asked virtually every adult in my immediate acquaintance — parents, teachers, school administrators — for help in dealing with the escalating threats from “Dirk” (not his real name).
Not one of them had taken me seriously.
Clearly, the inclination to blame the victim runs deep within our collective consciousness — so much so that we willingly accept the most outlandish theories about rape, rather than face the uncomfortable reality that there are distinct threads of misogyny interwoven throughout our social fabric.
Shocked out of my complacency
This is never an easy or pleasant story to tell. Which is why, over the years, I have grown increasingly reluctant to tell it. It’s so much easier just to keep moving forward and never speak of it.
Besides, because my own recovery was so complete — the result of many years of sifting through the painful details in a support group for women whose horror stories were similar to mine — it had led me to believe that things had changed.
I became somewhat complacent. Life was good. My children were turning out well. I had achieved many successes in my career. And rarely, if ever, did I have to think about that long-ago event.
Best to leave well enough alone.
But then there came the day in one of my college English classes when a male student — who in many other respects seemed genuinely kind and well-mannered — casually remarked that some women love sexual violence.
“Trust me,” I shot back with some heat. “No woman loves it.”
It reminded me of a similar incident from high school, when my own assault was still painfully fresh in my mind. During a lively class discussion about some topic I have since forgotten, one male classmate who was studious and well-liked suddenly spoke up.
To this day, I can quote him verbatim.
“I hate women who scream rape,” he said. “They all ask for it, anyway.”
Back then, I had no vocabulary to describe what had happened to me, much less to respond to such a remark. I had not the presence of mind to ask him whether that observation included his mother, sisters, grandmothers and aunts. I can’t recall whether anyone else challenged him, either.
All I can remember is those words, and how they stung.
Tell, and keep telling
So while I was glad to be in a position as the professor in my own class not to allow such a remark to pass without comment, it made me realize that I must keep telling my story, however much I’d rather not.
There are so many others out there who still wear blinders.
There are so many others out there who still hold to unbelievably convoluted, logic-defying notions because accepting them is much easier than facing unpleasant truths.
And, there are so many others out there who are still unable to move forward unless someone who has already made the journey to wholeness is willing to light the way.
The good news is that healing and wholeness are possible. In fact, refusing to become permanently damaged is our best hope in triumphing over this particular evil; to rise up, reclaim our dignity, and refuse to be silent. It can be done. Women are doing it all over our country every day. That is what I wish for every woman who has been raped. That is what I hope for every woman who comes to this space and reads these words.
*You can read more details about my experience on my Essays tab here on this site. Click on “Meditations on a Sepia.”