Almost exactly five years ago, on May 2nd, 2006, I was raped.
I had to look up the exact date, which probably speaks well for my mental health, and I don’t think of him, or the experience, often. Yet I find myself thinking about it more as this anniversary approaches, and I felt compelled to speak out.
I don’t believe we should compare and create categories of “better” and “worse” rapes, but I will be the first to point out that I was very lucky in many ways: I had no serious physical injuries; he used a condom; I suffered no lasting sexual dysfunction; although I knew him, we did not have the sort of relationship where I had to deal with him – and thus be concerned for my physical and emotional safety – on an ongoing basis; I had many, many, many sources of support and caring.
Yet the fact remains: I was raped. Or, more appropriately: a man raped me. A man intentionally turned my instincts against me, confused and manipulated me, and told me what I wanted in a way that allowed no room for disagreement. For an instant, I believed him, and in that instant, I said ‘yes’ –not even ‘yes,’ but only ‘I guess so,’ or ‘why not?’ – after saying a hundred times or more, ‘no’.
Those who suggest the approach to all wrongs is to forgive and forget are misguided. We can, and should, forgive, but forgetting is impossible. We are who we are because of what we have experienced, the good and the bad, the beautiful and the hellish. I may never forgive him, and I may never even believe that he deserves forgiveness, but I do choose not to hate him. (If I allow myself to grow bitter with hate, I will be no better than him. I choose, instead, to believe of humanity that we have a certain essential decency. Perhaps that means I choose to be naïve, but I will keep making that choice.)
Looking back, I want to share a thought with all of you, both for those who have had the misfortune to live through rape, and for all of us, because we dream about a world where nobody will have to.
We need not be ashamed, or blame ourselves in any way. Nobody should be obligated to share their story or have their privacy stripped from them, but neither should we keep our silence out of shame. That’s why I write this now. We have all heard the numbers – 1 in 4, or 1 in 5 – and yet how many of us can say that a quarter or a fifth of the women we know talk openly about these experiences, or talk about them at all?
Around the same time, a woman mugged me. Nobody has ever told me that by not running – for fear of the knife she held – I had made a choice to give my money away. Nobody has ever tried to make me feel complicit or ashamed.
A man raped me. I am not ashamed.
If by writing those words, or by saying them aloud, I can somehow make it possible for others to feel the same way, for others to speak, that is enough for me. If we can stop being ashamed – if we can stop believing that those who are raped are somehow to blame, instead of those who rape – maybe someday we can live in a world where nobody rapes.
I want us to think of sex, and of rape, not only in terms of consent but of enthusiasm. It should never be enough that the people concerned didn’t say ‘no.’ They, and we, should say ‘yes,’ and listen for that ‘yes’ – not simply the absence of a refusal, but a passionate, fervent, wholehearted eagerness to participate. Isn’t that what sex should be, the most joyful kind of sharing there is?
Because I am certain that someone – perhaps many someones – will ask me, if I am not ashamed, why I am publishing this piece anonymously? The fact that I’m not ashamed doesn’t mean that I am willing to give up the right to determine who can connect a very personal story with my identity. It doesn’t make it necessary for me to disclose my rape to everyone I know. It doesn’t mean that I don’t want to protect particular loved ones from knowing that I was raped, or that I don’t want to protect myself from potential harassment. It doesn’t mean that I have the luxury of working in a field where self-disclosure is an asset and that it would be desirable, or appropriate, for people seeking me professionally to find this story.
It doesn’t mean that I have to tell all things to all people, or that by refusing to feel shame I forfeit my right to privacy. I tell this story to people I know, and often, but I will continue to choose exactly who those people are.