Saturday, March 23, 2013

A Correspondence Between Strangers/Women Surviving Victimhood and Rape

Recently I began corresponding a woman whom  I will call "Anna".  We started exchanging correspondence in a forum to express outrage at CNN's poor coverage of the Steubenville rape case. It brought up a lot of complicated emotions for many women who have been raped. Anna wrote a very passionate comment about the consequences and specifics of rape trauma. Together we began to parse out the ways in which rape violation permeates every single aspect of the human soul.

Rape culture is about men who rape. But it is also about the debilitating trauma that possesses and dogs a victim throughout the rest of her life; she knows that the judgments of her society will be harsh and unforgiving. We don't live in a remote outpost where rape is used as a tool of war to destroy a woman's humanity. In the United States we accomplish full destruction of the raped woman's soul by amplifying her fears and trauma a million million times more than what her own assaulted mind and heart will do on its own. Steubenville has demonstrated how Americans have "improved" rape culture. Right here in the good ole US of A. we have made rape culture farther reaching, more damaging and invasive, and more destructive. Steubenville is like a microcosmic example of how the personal and private elements in a sexual violation  actively become public; and what it says about us a  country is not good. Because rape is more than a violation of the body. It is the full scale violation of the soul. And when a single woman's soul becomes the ground of defilement by the state, the legal system, social media, news media, vigilantes, police, and regular citizens  it is little wonder why rape goes unreported. It is little wonder that a woman's healing from such an evil violation  is complex and long term for those who achieve it. 

I might never have met Anna if not for the troll in that forum who roused the ire of hundreds with a comment that was sympathetic to the plight of the rapists from Steubenville.  The troll was deeply moved by the rapists tears and the "life sentence" they had been dealt. The Troll asked others in the forum  why they had so little compassion for the boys:

{You) have no room for any empathy at all, then, for these two children? Whose lives, regardless of the heinousness of their acts, are in fact quite ruined? More ruined, by any concrete measures, than the life of the poor girl they took advantage of? What if they were your sons?

It was this comment which led Anna to respond:

"More ruined by any concrete measures, than the life of the poor girl"? That girl may NEVER recover from this. I know I didn't. I wasn't drunk like this poor girl was but I was the same age when a smilar thing happened. I am now 30 years old and I have only been in one relationship in my whole adult life. I don't have a husband or a family though I want one very much. I don't trust people and I'm frightened by intimacy. When I'm walking I'm scared of having men walk behind me so I slow down to let them pass, I'm terrified to be alone forever but even more scared to let anyone near me. I have no self esteem and I spend most of my days in a pit of self loathing, hating myself for being weak that I can't just "get over it". Is that "concrete" enough? Because that is likely what will happen to this girl. Her life IS ruined. Hopefully she will get help and she won't be like me but the fact is that many rape victims can't deal with what happened and turn to alcohol and drugs to find a small measure of peace. Perhaps it is your myopic view of what a victim goes through that makes you feel empathy for these "children" that I would call monsters. You're right the whole case is very sad but what saddens me is that there are people defending these guys and it angers me that we still live in a world where people still blame the victim for being too drunk or dress "too slutty". THAT is what is wrong with the world today.
Out of the four hundred responses that the troll received I was deeply struck by this comment because Anna was expressing with a clarity I could never have managed all the symptoms I myself had experienced over the years with one exception: after years of keeping my rape secret I began to find a measure of peace with intensive transcendental meditation and yoga practice. Slowly the iced over emotions began to melt. Interest in life became genuine rather than feigned. I had spent ten years practicing "normal" human activities like dating, maintaining friendships, going to work with an enthusiasm I did not feel. It took a long time and a lot of hard work to find that enthusiasm again. But finally refusing to keep the secret I found a small measure of peace from giving voice to the truth. I knew what Anna felt like because it was everything I had felt. 

Dear Anna:

I feel the same way some days. But there are things you can do to take back control in your life. Yoga meditation is one thing that helped me start to deal with the frozen emotions. Your joy and trust can re-flower. I promise. Talk to a therapist. Look into simple meditation. Very simple, five minutes a day. Write. It will take awhile but these are things that can begin to awaken the life inside you....the rest will come. Truly. 

I didn't think anymore of this reply. In fact I forgot I had ever written it. Until I received a reply two days later from Anna.

Thank you for your kind respond. Although my real name was not attached to that post I immediately regretted posting it. I felt like in my rush to share a different point of view in order to make a point I was taking away focus from the story by sharing mine. Despite that I came back and saw your post and I just wanted to say how much I appreciated it. Since reading it I have tried meditation for the first time and found it to be a wonderful experience. I am grateful for your suggestion. As for writing I DO. I write quite often and indeed find it very therapeutic. But when it comes to a therapist that is a step I have not been able to take. I tried it once and never went back. It is also awfully expensive for someone like me who has a hard time holding down a job in part because of many underlying issues.Once again thank you for your kind words. I will continue the meditation! I don't know if it every truly goes away but I sincerely hope that you find complete freedom from those awful days that can plague us.

To me I felt a fragile beauty in her reply. The small victory of her first successful yoga meditation just affected me so powerfully. I felt so happy for this stranger. 

And, then, when thinking about how therapy was a tool that she has no access to because her finances won't permit it I got angry. There's been so much talk this week since the conviction of the Steubenville rapists about rape culture and far too little discussion of the reality of rape trauma. It's such a common  trope in America to refer a person to therapy. As if "therapy" is someplace located near Starbucks on every corner. One would think that obtaining this magical therapy is as easy as Dorothy clicking her red-rubied shoes together three times. Dorothy is as much a myth as is the idea that therapy is possible for anyone who desires it or needs it.   But the fact is that the people most in need of it are least likely to receive it because mental health services are inaccessible to those without the financial means or the health insurance. Therapy is one more example of the privilege of wealth in this country. Rape culture in itself is a primary privilege of patriarchy where rape is little more than a violent sexual encounter that causes no harm to the woman ; after all if she had been harmed wouldn't she have said so? And the truth is that so many women, myself included, don't say a word for fear of being mistreated, called a liar, shamed, shunned. The boy from Steubenville who laughs hysterically and jokes that the victim "is so dead. She  is so raped. She got raped faster than Mike Tyson raped that girl!!" He is literally a raped woman's nightmare.  

I remember thinking "I got raped. I was in the wrong place, at the wrong time, with the wrong people, doing the wrong thing.  Therefore it is my bad." One of my favorite ecards from says "You can fix anything with a straw. How? By sucking it the fuck up!" That's what I did. 

My bad, my problem. 

In college, I got jacked up by a security guard who pushed me into a corner against a wall and proceeded to molest me. He smelled funny. His mouth was slobbery. He didn't put his hands inside my clothes, but he only let me go after pressing himself all over me, touching me and feeling me up and down, kissing my face. I don't remember the episode very clearly now. Only just enough of it. I went to my dorm room and locked the door. Then I put two heavy trunks up to the door so that if he decided to come finish the job by keying in perhaps the trunks would make it impossible to open it up. When I finally went to report the incident it was six days after. That  next seventh day was that guard's duty night and I was terrified. I went to the head of security on the sixth day before having to see that man again. 

The Chief of Security was very friendly. He was coming out of his office as I approached. 
"Well hey there young lady!! What can I do for you?" he boomed with a smile in his voice. I could not look at his face, you see. He said, "I'm on my way to get a soda, come on and follow me!!" 

He led me to a tiny cramped room up the hall. He was such a big man. I swear he was seven feet tall. I never looked in his face. I remember, I can still feel the position of my body. Shoulders deeply hunched inward. Chin down nearly touching my chest. My back was to the entrance of the  little room and the man was in front of me at the soda machine. I told him about the security guard. Tears were pouring down my face uncontrollably and the front of my shirt was visibly wet. Soaked through. That security guard who groped me had done the same thing to one of my best friends. But she had been too afraid to tell. 

The truth is that I don't remember anymore about what happened while I was telling the security chief what happened to me. I only remember the terror, the clenching feeling in my throat and at my belly. Physical sensations like someone holding my throat or as if a fist was at my belly. I don't remember what that man looked like, the man I was talking to in the soda machine room. I never saw him. I never looked at him in the eye. Not once. He told me not to worry or be afraid that he would see to it that man was fired. He called some time later to let me know that I was safe and that the guard was barred from campus. Interestingly enough I don't remember that chief of security ever telling me to talk to a campus therapist or anything. It's only been since the whole Penn State scandal that I realized he could have been sued. Had my parents known, I know they would have sued the school. 

That experience had been so draining and exhausting that when I was actually raped two years later during my Senior year, I simply couldn't deal with telling the cops. All I wanted was a shower and my bed. (The instinct to wash after a sexual assault is extremely powerful; I cannot explain the force of that imperative instinct that overwhelms the body and mind when one has been sexually defiled. The desire to feel clean hot water is nearly primal.  I did not fight this instinct. I immediately went to wash.) I was tired and scared and wanted to be left alone.To answer questions by medical professionals and police was out of the question; it was beyond the few capabilities I possessed at that moment. Incidentally it was also the last thing on my mind.  I don't know how long it was until I recalled that the rape should be reported. 

Today, however, I deeply regret  that  I did not report that rape. That man who raped me may have raped other women since that time. And because I never reported it...because I let him get away with what he did to meit is likely that there are other women, other victims who  suffer. I had a power that I did not make use of. It was in my power to report the rape to the police who then would have performed the rape kit; that could have identified the rapist and prevented other rapes perhaps. He was a stranger to me, I did not know him prior to the rape.  Maybe this would have put him in jail and far away from harming other women.  I feel deeply guilty for my negligence. To me it is a great failing that I didn't think of the consequences of my non-action. It weighs heavy on my mind and heart now and always will. 

 Other reasons I didn't speak out: I feared that if I told my parents they would have made me come home and I so loved living in New York City. I didn't want to leave my life and my friends. That would have been punishment on top of punishment. They would have made a big deal out of an already bad situation. The immediate thoughts of a woman who has just been raped are a whirlwind of madness and horror and fear. Her thoughts are a nightmare of the ways she will be punished if she tells, of the suffering she has just endured. The mind is on a kind of loop repetition on the words, sights, sounds, smells that one encountered as your body was unwillingly touched and forced into sexual submission. Even without consciously understanding it a survivor is constantly thinking of punishment, of how this one act was a punishment that will be relived all her life. Not telling is a the act of taking control in the only way that makes sense in that moment; it is a way of controlling and stopping the punishment, not knowing, in fact, that not telling will extend, compound and increase the punishment in new ways. 

To heal you must first give voice to the terror. You must.     

I didn't tell anyone. I didn't tell the cops. Or my parents. Or my best friend. Or any friends, mentors, no one at all. I didn't tell my therapist years later because.....well, I had sucked it up. I was over it. It was done. What else was there to do but move on.

The effects of rape trauma sneak up on you. Even as a rape survivor you cannot have any idea of the infinite ways in which that violation will effect your mind and your soul and your body and your emotions. It is a violation of such profound evil that it poisons even the simplest, most innocent ways in which one perceives the world. It poisons the way one perceives one's self . 

Therapy is the  environment  to explore the areas of your Self that have been violated, even those aspects of the soul one did not realize were tainted. So when one does not have the privilege to utilize psycho-therapy to begin the process of healing that counts as one more aspect of the immensity of rape culture and how it  envelops the survivor and compounds the  trauma. The immediate period following a rape is a time when irreparable damage to the victim can be caused as she tries to negotiate her new outlook on the world. Of course it is not the world that has changed, it is the woman who has changed through no will of her own.  

I wrote back to Anna about healing. How it comes. That it DOES come no matter how bad  the damage is. Survival and recovery go hand in hand.

Dear Anna
I write as well. And meditation has been a very powerful positive influence in my life. It has given me so much...and taken away so much as well. Yoga does both. At a certain point you will know how much progress you've made by looking at all the useless, un-necessary, pain and superfluous shit that will fall away like wheat and chaff... 

Every symptom of rape trauma that you mentioned above is exactly what I have experienced over the years. However I could never has expressed it so clearly and cogently. I know what you mean when you said about the Sender's Regret that you experienced. But the thing is (another yoga lesson) the passion and the despair and the anger that lead you to fire off such a powerful reply is the very indication that you are capable of healing. That passion can be turned into a positive fire of love that will call out to a lover when you are ready in body and soul and mind. Those fears that surface when a stranger walks near you (I still have that) can be harnessed, and you can use the energy  to learn self-defense. Learning self defense can be a step toward training your body  as an exercise and as a way to physically release the frustration and rape anger.
As you become more comfortable and knowledgeable about your body and physicality....all these things will guide you and awaken the body to sensations in loving sexual experience, both alone and with a partner.
The suffering you've endured from rape and the trauma it caused can be redeemed into a victory. You will win. But you must FIGHT. And never STOP fighting. When you get scared in a situation around strangers let yourself feel that anger. Let it boil up and up and up!! Then WRITE about it. After you write MEDITATE.( Use whatever name for the Force that works for you. There's many paths up the mountain and they all lead to the top you know?)
Ask for protection. Ask for help. Ask for peace and joy and companionship. The Universe will hear will see will be fueling all your enegies. Ask for HEALING. This and more will come.

I am overjoyed that you had such a good experience in meditation. That is so wonderful and I am so happy for you!! ...
Until then....FIGHT FIGHT FIGHT in any way you can. Never deny yourself the need to scream out in pain. Never deny yourself the opportunity to express that pain if you feel it. 
You will win if you fight. I am sorry for such a long long rambling letter. But your words moved me. And I want to you to fight and win. I hear the passion in your words and I believe you can heal. I promise you I suffer the same symptoms you wrote about.... 
Do not silence yourself. Meditation is the scream from your soul. Exercise is the fight your body needs, perform it as an act of defiance,as well as to gain strength. Writing is mental defiance that expresses your emotions and reaches others like me; it proves you are more than a victim:you are a SURVIVOR. Fight and keep fighting. JOY will come back. You haven't forfeited your life. Your life is only waiting for your body/mind/soul to heal sufficiently that you can continue on in control.Bless you and keep you well. <3    

Healing comes, like Springtime, even if it comes slowly. If you survived you will begin to thrive. You aren't a rape VICTIM. You are a rape SURVIVOR.  The symptoms may never fall away entirely but they do lose the power to deny you joy . 

This is for Anna, whose scream of anger and despair reached me through the internet. Whose first yoga meditation was a joyful experience. Anna who gave me courage to write this essay. Time is a circle, it is a wheel that goes round and we must help each other hang on for those down times when it seems certain we will all fall off. It was the story of a girl's rape in Steubenville, Ohio profiled on CNN that brought us together in the same internet forum, to anonymously share our experiences of outrage and trauma.

Understand me: I am  a survivor. It is the third day of Spring and I am thriving.

La Jolie Femme Noire
March 23, 2013 3:49pm 


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