Silence is golden
When I was raped the first time, I was told to not tell anyone what had happened with the exception of my doctor, the police, and my lawyer. I was also told not to discuss what had happened with my mother. My father did not want my mother to have to hear about it because it might be too much for her to handle. In fact, she never asked me and by all appearances did not want to know.
I was still a child when I was first raped. Speaking with professionals was a cold business devoid of emotion and I felt very alone. In fact, at the point during the rape that I realized that no one was going to help me, the feelings I had been having of complete terror left me. I was an object and I waited for it to end; though, I did not know if it would or how it would. Being told afterward that I could not talk to my friends or other relatives that had loved me throughout my life resulted in what felt like a free fall for me. No one hugged me and told me it would be alright. The message I understood was to go on as though nothing had happened. This was not possible. I no longer knew who I was, I didn’t understand what had happened or why, and I had no one to make sense of any of this to me.
Shame vs. Guilt
Guilt is a result of thought or action with intent to harm or with precognition that the thought or action is in conflict with morals and values.
Shame is a reaction to behavior or comments directed toward us that is meant to, in a best case scenario (if there is such a thing), correct damaging behavior, or, in a worst-case scenario, lessen self-esteem or deliberately manipulate and control.
Here are examples of guilt:
Walking out of a retail store with an item that was not purchased – this is stealing. It’s against the law.
Selling illegal drugs. It’s against the law.
Copying another student’s answers to a test at school – this is cheating. It’s against school rules.
changing the vocabulary
If you want to change the culture or the tone of a conversation, change the vocabulary. Here are some words that could be dropped, altogether. If we believe we are a society that cares about its members, then these words have no place in it. These are words that have often been thrown at me, and others that have been sexually violated, with the purpose of placing blame on the one that is violated rather than the one who is violating.
TRAMP (Did you know this originally referred to a vagrant that would travel around the country searching for food and shelter?)
My experience is that promiscuous is an arrogant word used by those with the need to feel better about themselves by shaming others and pushing them down. There are other words that are more accurate and have a positive connotation. How about these: curious, independent, adventurous, or just plain old “Yes, I’d like to have some sex now, please.”?
Victim is the label applied to someone that experienced an assault which could be either emotional or physical. Victim is the label that society has decided “once a victim, always a victim.”
What is the harm in this? It is an insult for those that have been attacked. Victims are people that are sometimes sympathized with but, in some cases, are thereafter shunned. Others do not want to become victims by association. It is one of the categories that our minds have been conditioned to place on someone that has been attacked.
Have you ever heard the term “dry drunk”? It’s the term given to those alcoholics that stop drinking but are unable or have yet to change their alcoholic behavior. Here’s a new term: dry victim. It describes the behavior that is introduced to victims after their attack by our society and communities. When victims are continually treated as though that term identifies who and what they are, it proposes a type of behavior that is harmful to recovery. It is a position of vulnerability that can facilitate continual victimization.
beware the smile
There is a general belief that when someone is sexually assaulted that it is typically at the hands of a stranger, an unknown. It can be true. It is most often not true. What I do know is that even when one of my rapes started with someone that I did not know well, it always started with a friendly smile.
That smile told me that this person was a friend, this person was someone that could be trusted, and this person was someone that would never harm me. Do not trust that smile.
Our culture is built upon the premise that the strong inherent the world. Religions preach morality and laws were created to enforce morality. Those that sexually assault do not care about any of this. They simply wait for the right moment and feed their need to control. Sexual assault is all about power and control. But it often starts with a smile.
If you have a table and one of the four legs breaks off, the table is no longer stable. The other three legs are not able to compensate for the now missing leg. The placemats, dishes, and flowers that were on there, as an example, that were stationary are now sliding and falling on the floor.
That’s a simple concept but it pertains to human relationships as well. You have any given group of people, say a family, and if something happens to one member of the family it affects the other members. When one person changes, all others in the family must now change in some way.
When I was first raped at the age of 14, my family had no idea what to do and neither did anyone else. The support that I received was to be placed in the psychiatric ward of a hospital at a well-known university. However, it was made clear that the problem – whatever the problem was – was my own and that my family would take no responsibility for it. They supported psychiatric and psychological counseling once I was out of the hospital. I was sent away to boarding school to “get away” from the social stigma and to “start over” where no one knew me. They insisted that we open a court case against the men that violated me, against my wishes. When they realized that they could not keep me from running away – I had no wish to be at home – they eventually had me institutionalized at a Catholic convent that had an academic program for “troubled girls”.
What was missing? I was terrified of my father and did not want to be home. My parents did not get any therapeutic counseling though it had been recommended to them. My father told me not to discuss anything with my mother or brothers because he did not want them to be upset. I was counseled to be silent, which I have discussed elsewhere on this site as a very damaging practice. There was not any type of emotional connection. No one held me or comforted me. No one told me everything would be alright. No one spoke out for me when the kids at school made fun of me or previous friends stopped socializing with me.
My father decided that we would press charges against the men that raped me when I was 14. There were four of them. I did not want to have any part of it.
While I was still in the psychiatric ward of a hospital at a well-known university, the lawyer that my family hired along with several police wanted to interview me. They were all men. I was alone with them in a small room and one table that we all were crowded around. There were around 10 of them. I was there with a nurse to monitor my ability to withstand the interview.
It took hours. There I was, a young girl who had known absolutely nothing about sexual intimacy until four men decided to rape me and had to sit with these adult men and tell them everything. Everything. They asked me questions repeatedly and, at one point, I finally told them to stop asking me the same question. My response would not change.