I was raped when I was 18. It was an event in my life that continues to mark the passage of time for me; time that is divided into two sections - before the rape, and after. It was the summer of 69 - I had just graduated from High School and was anticipating entering college in the fall. Against my parents' wishes, I had rented a small beach apartment for a month during the summer - wanting so badly to be independent and grown up - wanting so much for my adult life to begin. Little did I know. I had saved the money for the rent myself, having worked after school since I was thirteen. Lots of kids were doing the same, and though my parents didn't like the idea, they let their little bird fly.
The coastal communities where I grew up, which are normally family-oriented places, took on another dimension during the summer of 1969. They expanded with all manner of visiting citizens, musicians, bikers, hippies, college students -- some of them wonderful, some of them transient and quite unsavory. But go tell an 18 year-old girl who thinks she has the world on a string to be fearful, to stay close to home, to avoid provocative strangers. Talk about innocence lost. And I'm not talking about virginity. What I lost because of the rape was much more precious than virginity; I lost myself. And that person went missing for a long, long time.
I found her, thank God, and I am strong and personally empowered now. I've reclaimed myself, and moved on. But moving on isn't easy for many rape and sexual assault victims. Moving from the wounds of victim to the strength of survivor can be a difficult, long haul. There are lingering thoughts, doubts, and humiliations. I was humiliated into silence -- I protected myself by hiding.
Whenever I see a film with a rape scene in it, I feel myself retreat -- in fear of my memories. When I read an article about rape, my heart pounds -- I can recreate my own horror story in a heartbeat. Not so long ago, it was reported that a woman in Saudi Arabia was pardoned by the King - her crime? She had been gang-raped. Her punishment? Six months in prison and 200 lashes. PARDON ME? I got the sweats when I read that article. The idiodic mindset of blaming women for being raped persists. I experienced a version of it myself.
Though I didn't face imprisonment, and since I live in the United States, I wasn't subjected to the prospect of dying at the hands of a man wielding a whip to punish me because I had been raped, I did endure a you got what you deserved attitude from the police. I was a single young girl living alone during summer break, and in the minds of the conservative police officers and detectives who interrogated me, I should have been home with my parents. Their condescending attitude left a lasting impression. It took years for me to shake off the 'guilt' of being raped.
But I don't feel guilty anymore. I'm also no longer naive. April is Sexual Assault Awareness month. As a survivor of sexual assault, I reiterate the message, BE AWARE. Rape and sexual assault are crimes of violence, control, and power, and are committed against women, men, girls, boys -- even babies.