[trigger warning for sexual assault, rape, and rape culture]
I was raped.
There are many days when I have to stop and admit the truth of that sentence all over again. Days when all the voices come back and ask me what in the world it is that I think I’m doing– why are you talking about this? You know what you did. You know you’re responsible. You’re doing all of this, saying all these terrible things about an innocent man to get attention.
And, when I start thinking these things, sometimes I ask myself– why? Where do all these thoughts come from? And the answer echoes back– you wouldn’t have to deny these things so hard if you knew they were false. There’s a part of you that knows that it’s true. If you really were raped, you wouldn’t have a problem talking about it. Your conscience would be clear. You wouldn’t be second-guessing yourself, worrying about John* coming after you for making ‘false’ accusations. He could, you know– you’ve shared your blog on facebook. You still have mutual friends. You even have a page now. What’s to stop him from coming here?
This is The Lie.
It’s the biggest lie I know, and I believe it– sometimes. Because I grew up knowing about a fate worse than death.
We’re all familiar with this myth– it shows up in our books, our television shows, our comic books, and our movies. We read it in our histories, like Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, when Roman women were “exposed to injuries more dreadful, in the apprehension of chastity, than death itself.” It’s used as suspense in pretty much any Damsel in Distress Trope that appears in video games and film. We see it in almost any movie or book that has a love interest that gets kidnapped. The hero must save her before she suffers a fate worse than death.
It’s a euphemism for rape.
It’s our society’s method of cloaking what it knows is a horrifying assault on the agency of a human being. Some could argue that it’s an apt euphemism– they could say it accurately describes the long-term consequences and damage that result from rape. That rape, especially the rape of children, can result in a harm to the soul that is so deep, some are never capable of a full recovery. They might suffer from PTSD, from depression, for the rest of their lives. Which is all hideously true. Rape can do all those things. Because, instead of killing a person, what rape does is tell a woman or man that what they want doesn’t matter, that they cannot control what happens to their own bodies. It’s a violation so deep, so profound, that I have a hard time communicating the extent of how awful it is to someone who’s never been there. That’s why this euphemism exists– and it exists, some could say, for good reason. It’s apropos.
I wish this euphemism, this phrase, would die a horrible, screaming death by fire and torment, because that’s the only thing it deserves. Because this phrase doesn’t really tell rape survivors that our society sympathizes with us. It doesn’t tell us that our culture has a deeply buried rhetoric that acknowledges the pain of rape and sexual assault. It doesn’t tell us that we have a culture that will stand with us and help us face the long-term fallout of what happened to us.
No, it tells us, especially women, that what happened was our fault.
I know that seems like a leap, but hopefully you can feel the intuitive, natural connection. Because rape is so horrible, so horrific, so violent, that if we walked away from it in once piece– well, it must not have been rape, then. It’s a fate worse than death, how in the world could a woman have survived it? Either the rape itself was horrible enough to cause visible, permanent, physical and lasting damage, or the woman fought back against her rapist and gained bullet wounds or knife slashes– or at least a bruise or a black eye. It’s worse than death— the rapist should have needed to subdue her (or him). It’s the fight or flight instinct, which clearly shows that if you’re only facing death, you fight back. If you’re facing something worse than death itself ? . . .
What this Lie does is tell those whose rape weren’t at gun point, under threat of death, after we’ve been beaten into submission–that we weren’t actually raped. I was already on the floor when he raped me. I had already supposedly “consented” (under coercion and threat of physical and emotional harm, although I was incapable of seeing it that way at the time) to other sexual activities, so when he raped me, even though I was whispering, terrified, begging him, please, no, I can’t, please stop, don’t do this, don’t make me and it was over so quickly it took me hours to even figure out what had happened, after he climbed off of me and called me a bitch and a whore, I couldn‘t see it as rape.
Rape only happens when it is worse than death. I survived. I picked myself off of the thirty-year-old blue shag carpet, dragged myself to the bathroom to clean myself, and then pulled myself to the living room to wait for his parents to get home. It wasn’t rape. Not really. He’d done something to me that I didn’t want to happen– but it wasn’t rape. Because, with the exception of a deep gouge in my knee, I wasn’t bloodied or beaten. I walked away, supposedly in “one piece.”
This, I believe, is one of the most damaging rape myths our culture tells us. This narrative exists, and it’s why we don’t believe that one quarter of the women in this country are raped. It’s why 97% of rapists will never go to prison. Because we know what “legitimate” rape is, and it’s worse than death itself.