One of the most rewarding aspects of being involved with UniteWomen.org is meeting so many amazing people. We may have joined together through our anger at our rights being threatened and our concern for our country, but over the last four months we have laughed together, cried together and some have shared their stories for the first time in their lives.
Working to gain equality for all has given them the confidence to speak out in order to give others a voice.
I am sharing with you today an essay one of our volunteers sent me. Her words re-enforce my commitment to change the conversation in this country to view and treat women with respect and equality.
I read an essay in a class today, Naming and Studying Acquaintance Rape, which provides a complex look into the various concepts of what rape is and gives a chilling insight into the perpetrator’s mind. It took many years for acquaintance rape to be recognized by the judicial system and society, as actual rape. However, with that being said, there are those in society who still try to blame the victim for the violence that is perpetrated on them by the rapist. The shift of blame onto the victim only continues to add to the life long sentence the victim lives with. You would think that rational thought and therapy would provide the victims of rape some solace as they move forward in their life, but the reality is it doesn’t. The scars from rape follow the victim throughout their life and often causes continued violence to happen to them. In addition, many rape victims become re-victimized by their own self-destructive behaviors in order to numb the pain and shame of what has happened to them. This is especially true when the rape occurs during young formative years.
In some ways stranger rape can be less judgmental for the victim than acquaintance rape, although there are many who still blame the victim either way. The victim can start to buy into the idea of being responsible for the violence that happened to them and fall into a tailspin of self-deprecation. Many times in these situations the rape victim turns to alcoholism or drugs to ease their pain and shame in order to function in life. Unfortunately, all the therapy in the world can never erase the thought planted in the back of their mind that somehow they could have done something differently to prevent the attack.
I am a victim of rape. I now refer to myself though as a survivor of rape, and I will continue surviving each day of my life. It is a never-ending process of trying to move through your life and function as a whole person, which you will never be. When a rapist attacks you they destroy a piece of you and the survivor then spends the rest of their life missing that piece.
The first time I was raped I was thirteen. I knew my rapist, he was my older boyfriend. He was bigger than I was, much stronger than I, and there was no escaping what I knew was inevitable. When I tried to push him off of me he hit me and became even more violent and exhibited a strength I was unable to fight. I started to cry, which only made him turn into someone I never imagined he could be. Here I was in the middle of the night, on this long driveway, and no one around to save me. I can remember thinking to myself, why am I fighting him? Why don’t I just let him do this? Every girl in school thought it was “cool” I was going with someone in high school. Something inside of me knew it didn’t matter what other girls thought. I didn’t want this. I didn’t want to have sex yet. I wasn’t ready. It didn’t matter what I wanted though, he was going to do whatever he wanted regardless of what I did. I knew that my life would be changed forever. I just didn’t realize how much it would change. I just laid there in silence, crying, praying for it to be over. When it was he drove me home, told me he loved me, and would see me at school. I drug myself back into my house, crawled into bed, and cried myself to exhaustion the rest of the night. I didn’t go to school the next day. I was in so much pain physically and emotionally I just couldn’t go.
I went back to school the day after and was met by everyone knowing we “did it.” There were smiles, stares, and glares. The story that had been told was nothing like the reality of what had happened. The life I knew was essentially gone. The future I had always envisioned for myself was now just a memory of a girl I no longer knew. The next several years consisted of being known as the slut and the party girl who loved to drink and get high. I went from being a straight A student to dropping out of high school. I changed the way I dressed and the way I looked. The teasing and bullying became so bad that I made the decision to become what everyone thought I was. When I made that choice, the teasing and bullying stopped. I was accepted for this new person I had become. I fit the new identity that had been imposed on me. My parents tried to get me help. They tried to find reasons for this sudden change. I couldn’t tell them what happened. I couldn’t tell anyone because I had brought it on myself. I had caused what happened to me to happen. I snuck out of the house, got in the car, and did things that a good girl doesn’t do. I made all those choices and I had to live with the consequences of those choices. The thing is, I would never learn to live with those consequences until I was an adult.
I fell into a dark place for so many years. I would have times in my life where I would do better, make changes, and start making progress but they were short lived. Alcohol and drugs became my numbing agents, mostly drugs. I went from smoking pot, to popping pills, to a cocaine and crack habit that nearly destroyed what was left of my life. I would maintain a normal life for a year or two and then “go off the deep end” as my family would refer to those times. I dated, got married, multiple times, and had children. However, in between those life moments I always fell off the path and became self-destructive once again.
At one point in my life, my drug addiction became so bad that I left my children in the care of my family and moved to another city. My cover story was that I was going to get a better paying job and then move the kids there when they got out of school. My babies were five and four. The truth was that I moved to continue hiding my drug addiction. I did have good intentions of stopping the drugs and getting a better job, but that would not be the end result.
It happened one night while I was walking to where my car was parked. It was late, about one in the morning and my car was in sight. I felt safe because there were people walking all around and having a good time. It was dark in spots but there were lights and I could see the faces of the people I passed by. I never saw the face of the man who pulled me into the alley though. It was fast and I had no time to react. I could feel whatever it was he using against my back and knew that I had no choice but to comply once again. The smell was the worst. I didn’t make a sound. I could feel the tears running down my face but I never made a sound. I could hear the people laughing and talking to each other on the sidewalk less than fifty feet away, but no one could hear my tears. I was taken to the hospital after I stumbled into the street bleeding and sat in the emergency room of a charity hospital for several hours before I was taken back. Once I was placed into a room I was left there for what seemed like an eternity. Finally a nurse came in with a physician and told me that they were sending in a social worker to speak with me before the police were called and then they would perform a rape kit. The social worker went through a myriad of questions and gave me looks, at least in my mind of what seemed to the assignment of guilt on me. She explained that I could get pregnant from what had happened and have a litany of sexually transmitted diseases, and then handed me a brochure on adoption and started talking to me about how adoption was a viable option. I didn’t hear anything after that. I couldn’t focus on what she was saying and when she left the room I gathered my clothes and left. I got into my car and drove home. I took a shower. I just wanted the smell off of me. I never did the rape kit, I never was examined. I got high that night and went back into the dark place I was comfortable in. The next several weeks became a blur of drugs, parties, and situations that I placed myself in where I could be used, abused, and raped repeatedly. Finally, one morning I woke up and looked in the mirror in the bathroom, sober for once, and saw someone I didn’t recognize. I didn’t know who the person staring back at me was. I remember thinking “this can’t be me, I don’t look like this.” I am from a good home; my family has money; I have children. I had lost so much weight and had needle marks up and down my arms. Who was this person I was looking at?
I drove back home and checked myself into a chemical rehab unit at a local hospital. I spent thirty-one days there. It was in there for the first time ever in my life that I admitted to someone what had happened to me. I told my story to my therapist. I can still see the look on her face as tears rolled down her cheeks and she said to me, “you were raped, don’t you realize that?” Raped? I had never said that word in relation to what had happened to me at thirteen. I had not acknowledged that I was raped in that alley. I had not acknowledged to myself the numerous time it happened over and over when I was high. In my mind I had experienced the consequences of poor choices I had made. Rape was not what had happened to me, it was consequences, not rape. It took a long time for me to get to a point where I could say I was raped.
I went to a half-way house to continue getting my life straight and off the drugs. It worked. I haven’t used cocaine, crack, or pills since. I ended up remarried a year after to someone I trusted and believed loved me. I was wrong. I went to school, graduated and life was looking good for the first time in a very long time. My kids were happy, my family was happy. My husband, not so much. The abuse started gradually. It wasn’t anything more than a push or a slap. It progressed to so much more very fast. He was a weekend abuser. When my kids were gone he used that time to catch up on anything and everything I had done to make him angry during the week. At first it was a punch in the gut or the arm. It escalated to being drug across the floor by my hair, having my head banged against a wall, and then kicked when I laid crumpled up on the floor. He never hit me in the face though because people would see that. The violence continued to escalate more and more. I felt like I was living another person’s life. Then that old familiar scenario came back. Rape. I lost count of the number of times my husband raped me. It wasn’t every day but it was several times a week. I had no where to go. I couldn’t tell my family that once again I had screwed up. I couldn’t tell anyone that once again I made bad choices and was living with the consequences.
I eventually got away and this time and went to the Women’s Shelter to get a restraining order and eventually he was sent away to prison, but not after a year of living in terror and having to move myself and my children every few months to somewhere he couldn’t find me.
It has only been in the last ten years that I have been able to come face to face with what has happened to me. It has only been during that time that I no longer blame myself, for the most part. I have to live everyday knowing that I could have made different choices but I have finally gotten to a place where I can say I am not completely to blame. I live with the guilt and shame of my life and what happened to me. I now can look back on my life and see the pivotal moment that changed everything for me. It was that moment, when the young thirteen old girl was raped.
My children know my story now that they are adults. They don’t know all the details of every single instance, no one does. There are some things that I will carry alone within me throughout my life. They are things that no one should ever have to hear about one person doing to another. Even now, as I sit typing this, the tears are rolling down my face. It is a constant battle to fight those tears back every day. I have tried to channel those feelings into something new, a new life for myself. I look back on my life, the thirteen year old girl, the drug addict, the abused wife, and the rape survivor and it seems like I am looking at the life of a stranger. I don’t recognize that person who lived that life. I look in the mirror now and I see the woman that I was always meant to be. I carry these stories with me to remember the girl who never had the chance to be what she dreamed of being. I do it to honor her. To show her the respect she deserved to have throughout her life. To honor that thirteen year old girl who in one night lost herself and spent a lifetime trying to find myself again. I am blessed and so grateful that I found her eventually. I am now the woman I had dreamed I would be at thirteen, no I am more than I ever dreamed I would be. The sad thing is that I am not alone. There are thousands, if not millions who have the same story as I do. Some have stories more horrendous than mine.
However, I have chosen that my past is not going to define who I am. I will not allow those things to limit my dreams any longer. I will not allow this life sentence I was given to determine my potential. I fight every single day the thought that I am the one to blame for my rapes. It is a battle I have become stronger at fighting and will continue to grow from. I cannot ignore or forget what has happened to me but I can take my experiences and use them to help others and that is what I have done. I am blessed to have children who love me unconditionally and no longer blame me for the pain I brought to their life. I have a man who loves me and stands by my side supporting me through every nightmare I have in the middle of the night and every accomplishment I achieve. Most importantly I have my self-respect and honor back. I have a voice that I will never silence again. I carry the scars of my life within me but they are no longer scars of shame, they have become badges of courage. In the end though, rape still lasts a lifetime and I can only hope that if there is a life after this one that finally I will be free from the life sentence my rapist imposed on me against my will.
A Survivor of Rape, Guilt, and Shame
1221 Bowers Street #2225
Birmingham, Michigan 48012-2225