Yesterday, I participated in a discussion on "BBC WHYS" called "WHYS 60: Survivors of rape have their say." The discussion included five other rape survivors and the input from a group of survivors was extremely thought provoking.
Though many of us were from different countries, we shared a lot of the same experiences and injustices regarding our backgrounds dealing with being a victim of rape. One of the topics was our reactions to Todd Akin's now infamous comments on the subject that he titles "legitimate rape." How did we feel about these words? Did they make us upset or angry?
From that conversation and other articles I've seen over the last few days, it is obvious that many rape survivors reacted with anger and hurt. I do not blame them. I reacted like this last February when New Jersey Representative Chris Smith attempted to redefine rape to suit his bill H.R.3, the "no taxpayer funding for abortion act." How dare he invalidate us, was my initial response, however, with Akin, my response has been completely different.I am not taking it as personally as I did last time. I do not feel attacked. It is as if I have grown to expect this type of rhetoric and stupidity from that side of the aisle, especially regarding this subject. Akin is not only ignorant, but arrogant as he refuses to concede despite his party's desperate pleas for him to do so.
What truly bothers me is the effect this may have on rape victims who find themselves in the spot I was in for ten years. I blamed myself for the assault and blamed myself for being in the "wrong place at the wrong time," thus making myself susceptible for the violent crime that rape is.
As if the rape wasn't bad enough, this inner torment I experienced for a decade seemed even worse. Addictions and suicide punctuated my thoughts. I wished I could somehow obtain a new body. The feeling that this one had been violated without my permission gave me chills and made me nauseous. At that point in my life, all I needed to be was invalidated, to hear "Yes, Hayley, it was your fault."
The truth is I did hear it from boyfriends and people who just didn't understand rape or consider what happened to me to be within the definition of that word. This invalidation from others confirmed what I already believed: that it was my fault. From there I continued beating myself up over and over again. Hearing a public figure like Todd Akin publicly deny rape is not always rape not only invalidates the victims of rape but confirms and encourages the validity of the victim-blamers and rapist-sympathizers claims.
Had these thoughts never been contradicted with the truth, my self-blame would have never ended and I may have never healed. However, over time, I was able to receive rape counseling in which my counselor, a rape survivor herself, convinced me that despite the poor choices I made that night, I was certainly not responsible for the rape crimes themselves; that nobody had the right to violate or intrude on a person's body without their permission regardless of the whys and hows of how the victim entered into that situation.
You see, some rape and sexual abuse victims never stop blaming themselves. Some lack the support of friends and/or even family. Some victims even have family members who blame them for being on the receiving end of incest!
I find that people, in general, are more apt to first blame the victim before confronting the rapist. Why is this? Is it easier to kick a person who is already down? Is it easier to silence the problem by quieting the victims rather than confronting the facts (that we live in a society where only 3% of rapists ever see jail time; a society where 95% of rape victims are women; a society that blames victims)?
As I mentioned before, being raped is a difficult experience to endure and the recovery from this traumatic event is just as difficult. So difficult that some people never get over it.
It is irresponsible for people like Todd Akin to question the validity of rape, to add more confusion and blame to the mind and emotions of a person who has been emotionally broken and is already confused and likely blaming themselves.
Below I've posted comments from victims and survivors that exemplify the self-blame associated with this traumatic experience.
"During my time in DRC and working on SGBV, there's one woman I've never forgot and never will. At the age of 16, she was raped when her village was raided by FDLR rebels, she was then hauled off to the forest where she was kept as a sex slave for 6 months before escaping. Pregnant and alone she trekked through the forest back to her village only to be blamed for her rape and rejected by her friends, family and the community. After listening to her recount her experience I asked her if she had any questions for me and she responded: "yes, what should I do when people boo me as I walk through the street?" It was the hardest question I've ever been asked. The only answer I could muster was it's not your fault, you did NOTHING wrong. It wasn't quite what she was looking for, there was no practical advice given, but I hope more than anything that hearing those words made a difference, as small as it could be."
"I was sexually harassed myself, too. I am afraid that I will not say, no, because at that time I was so scared not to."
"It's only been one year, 4 months and 21 days since my first rape by a relative. It has torn my family apart and a lot of people resent me. It's understandable, but inexcusable. I will not be the subject of ridicule anymore and I will not hate myself anymore."
"I am a guy who was raped by two women more then 12 years ago and I still haven't recovered. I have only had one real relationship since then and it ended badly. I am also a soldier who has deployed and participated in combat, still enlisted for a long time yet.
When ever I touch on the soldier subject women run like there is a wildfire around the corner. How would they react if I told them about being raped and them not running even faster?"
"I was raped 3 years ago and had successfully not thought much about since. The only person I have ever told was a friend who was there at the time (but unaware of my rape), even though she felt sorry for my experience she also mentioned how I could have sent out wrong messaged to the guy and hence it would have been my fault."
"I want so desperately to forgive my rapists. Now, though, I AM angry. I found out that the guys who did that to me, had done it before. AND, one of them has moved to France. What a coward."
"Rapists are monsters and will stop at nothing. It is never a woman's fault for putting herself in that position or being careless, that is the stupidest thing I have ever heard. Also, by the sound of the above story, the two guys probably put drugs in her drink. And guess what... it is not even .00000001% her fault for hanging out with them & not knowing they were psycho rapists. Congratulations for trying to help some women at your concerts but you really need to work on your perspective on the whole situation."
"I was raped on November 7, 2010; I was also drugged and don't remember much of what happened. I just told my husband on Monday. We've just contacted the police; I give my statement and file the report tomorrow. My best friend, who was with me that night, is still friends with at least two of the men who did this to me. I hate her now. "
"Glad you got it right in the end. And thanks it was an eye-opener for a male.Frankly speaking no male would get it unless it happened to his family member."
"Ms haley rose ... nothing is invalidating as being invalidated ... i was the victim of childhood sexual abuse at age 11 by a male from our church who was a friend of my Father ... 'it's not to be brought up, it doesn't help anything'... it took me til age 47 to acknowledge it myself and to see how it poisoned relationships with females and males (and sexual relationships, as well) ... at least I'm not female and have to hear 'did you entice him?, how were you dressed?'"
"I had a similar experience happen at 5. I will never get over it."
"Yup. It's fifteen minutes of my life I'll never forget. It happened almost thirty years ago, and I still have a lot of trouble trusting strangers, especially men."
"So many of my patients have been sexually assaulted and the emotional scars take so long to heal. My prayers go with you."
"I have a friend who was raped in prison and he was devastated. Being in jail for a misdemeanor and put in with animals will always be with him. When he drank, it was terrible. He had to quit and started going to church. I haven't seen him in ten years, but I bet he carries this with him everyday, still!"
"I have a friend who is a rape victim and I so wish she could learn to see herself in the way you describe: that she's still alive for a reason."
"I was raped in 2001. Blocked it out for a couple of years and then crumbled. Battled with substance abuse and abuse in a relationships. Pushed those who cared most away. You are right when you wrote that that's not living. Looking back now I call it survival mode. Just trying to get through the day. When I hit my rock bottom and finally realized that this wasn't living and that this wasn't me, i started to rebuild my life, a day at a time."
Comments were borrowed from my webblogs and personal emails.