The Truth, Nothing Less
I’ve had a thousand things to say since Missouri Representative, and Senate candidate, Todd Akin opened his pie hole and let the crazy-ignorant cat out of the anti-choice bag. And I haven’t been quiet, but I try not to turn this exclusively into a current affairs blog. I am able to let an event pass without commenting on it. (Theoretically.)
I’m a rape survivor. It’s fairly common knowledge among those who know me, and I’m way past shame. It’s been more than 20 years now. It was a “legitimate rape,” even though I knew my rapist very well and I didn’t scream. I didn’t ask to be raped, even though I was dating my rapist, and I’d turned down a ride home earlier in the night. I didn’t get pregnant, not because I was a virgin or because my body “shut that whole thing down.” I didn’t report my rape, not because I knew it was my fault, but because I needed to survive a whole year with him in my small school, in a small town.
You never forget that part of yourself, and you can’t run away from it. My freshman year of college, I started doing strange things (stranger than usual, I should specify). I became physically self-destructive–I stopped eating for the most part, and I exercised to the point of foundering. I had nightmares every time I fell asleep. On winter break, I finally told my parents what had happened. My dad arranged a meeting with one of his former students, whom he knew had also survived an acquaintance rape. She said it would never go away, but like a piece of paper, time would fold and fold again what seemed massive right then, and while I’d always have that little square to carry around, it wouldn’t fill my world forever.
I went to counseling at Rape Victim Support Services when I returned to school, and found out I had textbook Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. The only uncharacteristic thing about it was that I’d successfully suppressed it for so long, until I was somewhere it was “safe” for it to emerge. After I completed the program, I went back to the crisis center that facilitates RVSS’ services, and trained to be a counselor as well. I found community, and understanding, and purpose, as well as a set of skills that I use every single day. Most of the time, all this feels a very long time ago. Almost no scars remain that haven’t turned into the roots I feel unequivocally positive about.
But what started as anger has become strength and a fierce insistence on the truth. So when a long-time acquaintance said there were “worse ways for [rape] to happen,” I responded with a vehemence that surprised me. And when the Independence Party candidate for the 4th Congressional District said, in a live MPR debate I attended Tuesday at the MN State Fair, that there are “many, many different kinds of rape,” many which women claim just to get the abortions “they’re giving out all over the place,” I barely managed to keep my seat, channeling the rush of ferocity into shouts of disagreement and chants of “Rape is rape!” that you can hear on the broadcast recording. And when I arrived at a friend’s house mere minutes after she got the news that her gay son had been raped yesterday, I let Emergency Lass take over and stand by her, helping her think clearly when she was in shock. My own tears and shaking came later; only hugging my sons eased them at all.
Don’t write Todd Akin and his kind off. He’s not a fringe wingnut–he’s the six-term Congressional Representative for his district, and until he accidentally said exactly what he believes on tape, he was leading his opponent, Senator Claire McCaskill, in every poll. I know people who claim pregnancy is a sign the rape wasn’t that violent or unpleasant. I know people who reject the CDC estimate of 32,000 rape-induced pregnancies in the U.S. last year. I know more people than I’d like to think of who think that, in some cases, at least one victim had to have, on some level, wanted it, to take the chances they took.
Please, spread the word: There is nothing you can do that means you were asking to be raped. There is no involuntary physical response that means you deserved or wanted it. There is no kind of rape that’s more or less horrific than another. Virgins get raped. Married people get raped, sometimes by their own partners. People who only go out in groups get raped. Men get raped. Gay people get raped. Mothers, sisters, and daughters get raped. Friends get raped.
Not one of them wanted it. Not one of them deserved it. Not one of them should be doubted or taken less than seriously. Not one of them should think they’re alone. Not one of them will ever forget what happened to them. Rape is rape. It’s not a sexual act–it’s an act of power. Rape is terrorism of the most personal kind imaginable. Don’t settle for anything less than that full truth.
<3 Love you Jess.
Thanks, Trace. Love you too.
You are not alone. I agree with everything you said here. I’ve been there too. A long time ago now – half my life… but its still there.
You were very lucky with your counseling experience – I wasn’t. The lady I spoke to pretty much laughed in my face and said I must have been asking for it. I left in tears. I tried twice more with counseling after it happened again, in very similar circumstances with pretty much the same response… So I counseled myself.
I used to do a lot of waitress and bar work – both times a stranger grabbed me on the way home. I was wearing jeans and t-shirt with a jacket and trainers. the second time my hair was hidden. Both times I was walking swiftly at the road side of the walkway – in the maximum amount of light on a busy road, and both times the person was waiting out of sight.
About a year after the second time, I was cycling home at speed, and slowed down to take a corner at a set of lights. I put my hand out to signal I was turning and two lads ran out of the park and pulled me into the bushes. I was rescued by two policeman who were waiting for the boys. They pulled them off me before they got very far… but instead of catching them (which I wanted them to do) they let them go so they could check I was OK! Those boys were never caught!
What made that incident worse for me, was that one of the policemen told me off for going too fast on my bike! And that maybe I should dress more appropriately….
baggy jeans, trainers, over large t-shirt and a jacket …. not exactly enticing clothing, no skin showing except my hands and face, no make up, no jewellery – what the ****** was he on about?
Some people will never understand.
Those policemen will never understand that a quick ” are you OK?” and then catching those boys, would have been much better for everyone. I know they continued to attack people – for at least another 3 months after that night, and have no idea if they moved on or were caught.
I know that even though I am much older than I was, it doesn’t mean it won’t happen again. Now I know that it is possible for me to deal with anything that happens to me and that I have friends I can talk to for support.
Bella, I’m so sorry this is something else we share in common. And I’m especially sorry you didn’t find the support you deserved. It shouldn’t matter as much as it does where you are and who you speak to. I know I would’ve ended up much differently if I hadn’t been going to school in the town with the longest continuously open phone-in crisis center in the nation.
You should be proud of your own strength and resilience, as I am of you. You’re not alone, and now that you know me, you never will be. <3
thanks Jess. You write really well. This is the first time I’ve ever written about it, although some of my friends know about it. I am encouraged by your writing, knowing there is someone else who Actually Knows !
Thank you for saying this. It is not a new thing. It is a thing that needs to be repeated until it is a truth as bedrock as, well, bedrock, and then it should be repeated again.
Thank you. I am so sorry your friend’s son experienced that trauma. I am glad you were there for humans his family and that he has support.
It was one of those times you don’t even know you’re about to be in the one place you’re most needed in the universe at that moment. I was so glad to be there, too, and now they’re off to be with him, I’ve already been in touch with some influential folks back here who can help if the people where he is won’t.
But don’t forget that we’re already doing the single most important thing we can do to change these outcomes–we’re raising up a generation of smart, healthy, bone-deep good boys. Thanks for that, and hug him hard for me.
Thanks for saying it the way only you can say it, Jess.
Of course, sweetie. I couldn’t not say it anymore.
Thank you Jess.
Sometimes I tell the stories of my past, and every time they’re a little different, not because they’re not true or legitimate (fuck that noise, is all I’m saying) but because our narratives evolve with us and encompass everything they need to at any given time.
I still struggle with my PTSD, I still struggle with what happened. I don’t know always how to make it better. There’s a synchronicity I had in reading this, as I’ve had an open mental loop going recently about someone who didn’t rape me rape me (what does that even mean, right?) but… Yeah.
Anyway. Thank you for writing. And thank you for the line about the paper folding and squishing. I needed that.