A Survivor’s Tale
Once again, it appears public opinion seems to be attacking women after they have been raped. This has inspired me to pull out a piece I published in the Daily Cougar at University of Houston in 1992. I wrote this a couple of years after being raped during my sophomore year of college. They’re not new words, but I think they’re still fresh and relevant and moving.
We’ve all heard about rape from people who have never experienced it. Now let me tell you the rest of the story. I know from experience.
I was raped two years ago, yet it is only now that I am able to talk about it. And the feelings are at least as strong now as they were when it happened.
I don’t want to tell you about what happened to me on that night. That’s not important now. I want to tell you about the aftermath – how it’s affecting me now.
It’s commonly said that the rapist takes something from his victim. This is very true. Let me tell you about myself before I was raped, and show you how I’ve changed. I used to be very happy and carefree. I really trusted people, especially my friends. I was very self-confident and always smiling. The rapist changed all of that.
The essence of my personality is still the same, but now it carries extra weight. Little things can upset or scare me. I worry more. I’m afraid to really trust anyone – especially men. I’m never carefree, even when I’m happy.
He took away my dignity, my pride. I felt cheap and dirty and humiliated, degraded. Worst of all, since he had been a friend, I felt like it was my fault, and I didn’t think it was rape. You see, I thought nice girls weren’t raped, and that friends didn’t rape friends.
After the rape, I was afraid to say no. I felt cheap, as if because he hadn’t taken no for an answer, no one else would. I was afraid that if I said no to someone, they wouldn’t listen, and it would happen again. In that sense, I was raped over and over again, emotionally. So, I tried to keep myself out of those situations.
Aside from taking me away from myself, the rapist left me with something. He left me with negative feelings about myself. He left me feeling dirty. No matter how much I scrub myself or let the scalding water burn my skin, I don’t feel clean. The feelings are inside, where no cleanser can reach. It’s similar to the scene in Macbeth, when Lady Macbeth felt she couldn’t get the blood off her hands, and it nearly drove her crazy. Sometimes I feel that way.
Then there are the nights I wake up crying, saying no, trying to push an invisible, non-existent person away from me. One night I awoke from my own screams. I have never been that scared, even when I was being raped. I woke up one of my roommates and talked to her for awhile. When I thought I was okay, she went back to bed. But as soon as I was alone, I was afraid again. I turned on the lights and checked under the beds, in the closet, in the bathroom. I even checked under the papers and clothes on my floor. That’s how paranoid I was. Then I sat up and smoked and walked around for several hours. Finally I fell into an exhausted but fitful sleep – every little noise awakened and frightened me.
Also upsetting are the visual images. I can see him on top of me, ignoring my struggling and protests. These won’t leave me. I’ll be walking across campus in daylight, and there he’ll be, clearly. As many times as I blink to clear my head, the image won’t go away.
It got to the point where I had to talk out loud. “Go away. You can’t hurt me anymore. I won’t let you.” Or, “Leave me the hell alone. I won’t let you lead my life.”
Being a survivor of rape has affected my relationships with men. I’ve been afraid to get too close to anyone, afraid to commit. And I can freak out at things that remind me of the incident. Recently, a close male friend tickled me. He was half on top of me and I could not get up. As I struggled, the scene began to remind me of the rape. Instead of my friend on top of me, I saw the rapist. I started crying and hitting him and saying no. Unaware of my fright, he continued. When he finally stopped, I was crying and covering my face. When I finally told him what had happened, he was upset. And I was still crying.
All of these feelings are only internally based. The ones triggered by external actions can cause more anger. People react strangely to learning I was raped. Responses can cause as much anger as the rapist did.
One of the worst responses was to be “reassured” that “at least you weren’t a virgin.” That’s not a fair statement. That makes it seem like it was okay for the man to have sexual intercourse with me, even against my will, since I had been in a previous sexual relationship with someone else. That makes it sound as if it was no big deal, as long as I was not “deflowered.” That’s not true. That just makes it sound like it was my fault, like I had aske for it. I didn’t.
Another reaction, from a close male friend, was the incomprehension of the feelings that haunt me. He acted as if I had just experienced bad sex, like, “sure, it was against your will, but get on with your life.” How he can say that is beyond my understanding. I was raped. When people say that the land has been raped, don’t they mean that it has been used and abused and left destroyed? Well, it’s worse with people! We have feelings. The rapist took something from me, something nobody has a right to take. He took my security. He took my personality. He took my pride and my dignity. And in their places, he left humiliation, degradation, fear, pain and terror. NO ONE has the right to do that to another person.
I am not ashamed of what happened. I am not embarrassed. But I still can’t tell my family. I don’t know if I will ever be able to. How can I tell them something like that? How can I do that to them? Especially since I was raped by someone I had invited over, someone I thought was a friend. How can I explain that? And their not knowing about something so traumatic makes it hard. This summer I went to visit my family on the East Coast. The Kennedy rape investigation was in the news, and my grandmother and I began discussing it. Don’t get me wrong, I love my grandmother dearly and I am close to her. But I couldn’t tell her. I wanted to, but that’s not something you can just say. Anyhow, she said that a woman who went home with a man at 3 a.m. was asking for it. She was leading him on. I was so upset by the whole conversation, it felt like she was telling me that I hadn’t been raped, that it had been my fault. Yet she didn’t even know. Driving home that evening, I shook and cried, feeling shameful and guilty and dirty all over again.
Right now I’m very angry. He had no right to do this to me. I’m reduced to a frightened, crying child whenever something brings back the vivid pictures. This from a woman who was once self-assured, trusting.
There is no way you can understand how I feel unless you have been through it. But rape is much more common than you think. The guy who raped me, who did this to me, probably would never think it was rape.
I am left with these feelings, this terror, this anger. And I am told that I led him on. Or that I should get on with my life. Or that at least I wasn’t hurt. Well, I have scars. Deep scars. But no one can see them because they’re on the inside. Maybe if I had a big, ugly scar on my face, people would understand that the rape was not about sex – he didn’t just get carried away. Rape is about power. He took away my power to be happy, and I’m fighting to get it back. I hurt inside. I see him in my mind all of the time.
But I’m a survivor. I’ll never forget the pain, the feelings. But I won’t let him ruin my life forever. I’ll never get my old personality back, but maybe part of it will return, or at least the bad feelings will stop.
I hope so.