Thursday, August 23, 2012
Surviving Rape is Not a Crime
Okay, are you back now? Ready?
She may never tell you. She may never show it publicly. She may seem like every other woman you know. Yet she may check the locks on her doors obsessively. She may flinch when a man steps toward her in what no one else would perceive as threatening. She may be hyper-vigilant about her surroundings. She may insist on more control over her personal space than seems necessary. She may capitulate way too easily. She may flinch when a co-worker, or even a friend, touches her arm or taps her shoulder. She may not laugh at that joke you find so incredibly funny - you know that one about bondage or rough sex. Or she may laugh at it a little too hard. She may seem like a prude. She may seem like a slut. She may be married. She may be single. She may seem hard to get to know. She may seem to reveal way too much. She may seem to tell you everything and yet you feel you know nothing about her. She may fear being alone at night. She may have nightmares that leave her shaking so violently she feels like her body will rip apart. She may not sleep for days or she may sleep excessively or some bizarre combination of the two. She may be defensive. She may be a pushover. She may be outgoing. She may be shy. She may...
No two rape survivors will react the same. But, some things are consistent. She is forever changed by the violence perpetrated in an act violating the most intimate part or parts of her. The physical violation rips a hole in her soul, heart, and mind that you can't necessarily see, but one that scars in a way that is vulnerable to splitting more easily than makes sense even to her. A touch, a smell, a taste, a sound, a word, an image, a slight, a betrayal can rip through that scar and send her right back into that moment of violation months and even years after she is positive she has completely healed, physically, emotionally, and mentally.
Men, think of a woman in your life, make it one you love. Wife, mother, sister, daughter, niece, friend... Imagine a man forces his penis into her against her will. Think about how you feel right now. If the answer is aroused, call a therapist forthwith. If the answer is indifferent, go call that therapist. If you started trying to figure out whether it was really rape, again you need that therapist. If you feel uncomfortable, pissed off, outraged, indignant, protective, and/or sad, congratulations, you are a man, a normal human being.
Please understand, your rage doesn't really comfort her and oddly enough your protection may not either, at least not in the long term. What most aids her healing is being heard, being respected, and being given the space and support to regain control of her own life. The more you try to coddle her, the more power she loses. She may give it to you willingly, but in the end she'll resent you for taking it. She needs to feel her own strength and to learn to trust herself again. So, in the end, feeling all those initial feelings are what a man, a normal human being, feels, but a real man also knows he needs to support without weakening, to love without smothering, to protect without controlling, to understand without patronizing.
Every time I see a man come out in support of some law that seeks excuse rapists or blame victims I have to wonder why they condone such an act of violation and violence. What is it in these men that allows them to side with someone who seeks to violate women? What is it in these men that allows them to not understand that it is a betrayal to the women they love - wives, mothers, sisters,daughters, nieces, friends - to support laws that make it harder for victims to report rape and easier for rapists to get away with their crimes? What is it in these men that allows them to believe rape victims are ever at fault for a crime perpetrated on them? What is it in these men that allows them to believe the rape victim should suffer consequences for an act perpetrated on her? What is it in these men that allows them to cavalierly dismiss the reality of the trauma, anguish, and real life consequences of rape? What is it in these men that allows them to not understand that surviving a rape is not a crime?
Surviving a rape is not something of which one should be ashamed. Yet, our society still shames the victim, makes excuses for rapists, and questions the morals the victim. If she dies, then it's such a shame. If she survives, then far too often society, and even those who are supposed to love her, make her investigate her behavior as if she was complicit in a crime committed against her. It's gone on too long. Yet, any rape survivor knows that as soon as people learn she is a rape survivor, she will be treated differently. People may not mean to do it, but they do. And, when they do, they isolate her.
And, that's why of the women you know, the ones who have been raped are likely to never tell you. She probably doesn't want to make you feel uncomfortable, and she doesn't want you to treat her differently. So she will likely hold her head high, go about her business, and fall apart on her own time.
T. L. Cooper grew up on a farm in Tollesboro, Kentucky. She earned a Bachelor of Science from Eastern Kentucky University. Her poems, short stories, articles, and essays have appeared online, in books, and in magazines. Her published work includes a novel, All She Ever Wanted and four books of poetry. When not writing, she enjoys yoga, golf, and traveling. Currently, she resides in Albany, Oregon.