The Other Side of Rape

March 24, 2013

woman cryingThe media lately has fallen down on the job. Sympathizing with rapists, failing to sympathize with the victim, failing to censure the people who blame the victim…

I could write about that. But I am not going to. It has been written and reported about. Over and over again. Sometimes well and sometimes not.  I am also not going to write about whether or not the boys deserved what they got (the answer in my mind is they didn’t get enough consequences) or whether their lives are effectively over (they aren’t).

I am instead going to write about Jane Doe, the young rape victim, and the perception people seem to have about her future. In the opinions of the outraged that take up her cause there is an idea that repeats itself. An idea that bothers me. An idea that I happen to know is false. This idea? That Jane Doe, teenage rape victim, is doomed for life in some nebulous way because of what was done to her. I see it everywhere. In blog posts, in news coverage, in responses to posts on Facebook.

“What about her? She has a life sentence!”

“Her life will never be the same. She will have this trauma to deal with forever.”

“What they did to her is a trauma she may never get over!”

All these people, these well meaning, outraged people, are not helping. Not her and not the collective consciousness that drives our reaction to rape. It isn’t that there won’t be trauma, there will. Especially given the very public nature of the crime. It isn’t that she won’t have things to work through. She will. It isn’t that it might not at times be difficult. It probably will be. It is that the underlying idea that she is broken/traumatized/ruined for life?  Is complete bullshit.

Rape victims need ears to listen, shoulders to lean on, therapist to teach how to deal. What they do not need, what no victim of so personal a trauma needs, is to be told over and over again by strangers how broken they are and will likely remain. This idea only exacerbates an already complicated emotional situation. And does more harm than good.

I know this. I know this because I wasn’t that much older than her when it happened to me. And the same type of well meaning people went all Cassandra as played by Sara Bernhardt. They were so sure that this thing that was done to me would either fundamentally change me or cause me a lifetime of trauma to deal with. This was not at all helpful.

That idea, that I was damaged goods forever, emotionally if in no other way, only added to the shame and guilt I had. Shame that even I knew was nonsense. But their well meaning declaiming about the great tragedy that was visited upon me made it harder to move past the rest of it. Harder to trust myself to know when a reaction I was having was healthy and immediate or a residual effect of the rape. Harder to let it go. Especially that last.

When everyone around you is telling you that you should still be fragile, still be damaged, still be traumatized… how do you tell them “Hey, actually? I’m not. I worked through it. I am fine.”  And what possible response is there when you do screw up your courage to tell them and they pat you on the head and assure you that, no, actually you are not. You, poor little creature you, are obviously in denial, or have PTSD or whatever psychology term they heard on Daytime Talk that week.

So here is what I have to say to everyone:

Just stop it. Be angry about what was done to her. Be pissed off about how it was handled. Be murderous about the aftermath and the reaction of the people who should have had her back in her town. But stop pulling a Cassandra and telling her what her future is. If you must write about it? Instead tell her that she will heal. She will be okay. That it may take time? But eventually she will wake up one day and NOT remember. That this thing that was done to her does not define her now and will not define her then.

To Jane Doe:

I don’t know you. What I do know is that you have it within you to grow wings and fly above this thing that was done to you. You are not this thing. Don’t listen to anyone who tells you otherwise. Trust yourself. Yours is the only voice that really matters here. The only one.  I believe that with everything in my being, because I have been there done that. As have many of us. Find those that get it and reach out to them. They are the ones that can and will provide the support you need.

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