For years I looked back at the year I started telling as a breaking point. It was when I started to really fall apart, resulting in all kinds of terrible things. I thought telling was what destroyed me. I was wrong. It was not about me telling, it was about society’s response to it. It was part of the culture of rape that makes people assume that if you are raped, you are now a weak person, or somehow responsible for your abuser’s crimes.
Before I told, I heard all kinds of stupid sayings like the truth will set you free, everything happens for a reason, and the stupidest part of all was the lie that someone who is being habitually raped can simply tell a helpful adult and they will make it all go away. All the inappropriate touches, all the times I found myself wondering if the bleeding would ever stop, all the times I had to find out resourceful ways to make the blood stains disappear. Stopped by the magical power of words.
I told a lot of people. I was desperate. I had been raped repeatedly for years, and I needed it to stop. I was sixteen. My society failed me because they were concerned with what the neighbors would think. I was accused of trying to tear apart families. It became an examination of every thing I was ever wearing while playing. It was the fact that somehow, I found a way to play, and that was a sign that something horrible was happening had to be a lie.
It is so much more convenient for these things to be untrue. Or to divorce them into something that could never happen to you, if you are good, if you hold your car keys between your fingers in a car garage, if you never ever get drunk at a party, if you aren’t born into the wrong family. I found a community that had boundless sympathy for rapists because they were driven to sin by the look of my legs. They needed to protect these people because they were not simple one dimensional monsters. The rapists are deacons, they come from the best families, they are good men, good boys, they are friends of the family first and foremost.
I became what they called me. Dramatic- I was blamed because my waist length hair turned the rapists on. I shaved my head. I tried to destroy every aspect of myself that they found appealing. That next year I found myself in a court room with a stalker, shaved head and all. I had been advised, of course, not to turn this person in. I was told it would only make it worse, the telling, and even law enforcement let me know I was not injured enough when I showed them hand prints around my neck. The experience of prosecuting that man is one of things I am the most proud of. I never regret it. I never regret telling, despite the continued demand for my silence.
It always shocks me how when I would share so many women and men around me had had this experience to some degree. Maybe they didn’t shave their head but I guarantee they felt marked just the same. Many people did not want any one else to know. They didn’t want all the stigma that goes along with being a victim of this crime.
Don’t tell. It’s repeated so many times it becomes like a mantra. The abusers told me not to tell. Then it was members of my family, then my friends. As recently as this week, I was advised I should not tell unless I had the proper team of therapists around me. I’ve been told by people that it’s too traumatic. It reopens wounds. These wounds are not going to close without proper attention. Proper attention is not protecting the abuser by shaming survivors into not telling.
No one who is raped is really marked. It is a terrible myth of our culture. We are not dirty; we are not crazy; there is no purity that we lost. By shaming people who come forward, we create a society that is afraid to come forward lest they be shamed, and this ultimately only protects the rapists. Telling the truth about my life is not going to hurt me. Not telling creates a continued chain of victims who are being hurt every day. In America, every two minutes a woman is raped. We have to focus on stopping the rapists. We have to change the whole dialogue from telling our daughters to not get raped to telling our sons not to rape.
This is about how we extend our lies. If I am lying, we don’t have to be uncomfortable. We don’t ever have to give up on that friend who is so good at fixing cars, because he is a rapist. We don’t have to get a new Bible school teacher. We don’t have to deal with any of it at all. We don’t have to admit our own faults.
But I did tell. And even though it lead to my darkest times, it brought me out. The only way to change these deeply ingrained assumptions in our culture is to repeatedly challenge them. I will continue to do this. Loudly. I imagine a time when a victim will say they have been raped, and the focus is on justice- not the length of her skirt. I imagine a time when the silence will be cut off in the earliest of stages, with everyone rising up to stop the nonsense of shame.