The other day, outraged about the early release of Brock Turner, who sexually assaulted a woman, I posted on my Facebook page the general outlines of my own rape, which occurred when I was 19 years old and on my first solo trip abroad. And I wondered, in the post, how many of my friends also had been raped.
Several women posted their own stories in the comments; others contacted me privately. Some had been raped more than once, and a few stories were horrifyingly violent, even beyond the violence of the sexual act itself. Mine, thankfully, was not; my rapist used threats rather than actual blows. (“You’re having evil thoughts,” he said when I struggled, “and I kill evil things.”) Just two women said they reported their rapes.
Friends who had been spared the experience expressed surprise and dismay over how common and close-to-home the crime was. And more than one person praised me for my “courage” in sharing my story.
I’m still puzzling over this.
What is courageous about saying that I was the victim of a crime?
Before I continue, here’s the don’t-get-me-wrong disclaimer: I fully support every woman’s right to choose what she reveals about herself. Your life, your privacy, your choice. (Because women are raped in far greater numbers than men, one in five women as compared to one in 71 men according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, I am focusing on women.) As a friend pointed out, for some women privacy aids the healing process. Of course. I don’t suggest that women who reveal are stronger or more whole than women who don’t. (Is that what compliments about my courage imply?)
But I do wonder why women are so reluctant to reveal this all-too-common experience.
“I don’t share details of my private life on Facebook,” said one woman. Understood. But I hardly think of my rape as part of my private life. Rape is a crime, an epidemic, a scourge of society. It is not my life. It is ours.
Granted, I made mistakes that day. I was young, naive, in a different culture for the first time and hungry for life. In retrospect, I shouldn’t have trusted that “nice” man to show me a beautiful beach. I learned something – which was the reaction of my therapist at the time. “Well,” she said, with a slight shrug. “You learned something.” And we never mentioned it again.
For years, I was ashamed of my naivete. But these days, I am proud, because the experience did not stop me from traveling alone. It didn’t even stop me from finishing that trip. I just changed hotels (he knew where I was staying) and went on. And I have traveled alone many times since then.
Many of my friends’ stories contained an undercurrent of self-blame. One woman blamed herself outright – she shouldn’t have been hanging out with the “friend” who raped her – and said she found comfort in that. She didn’t want to blame someone else, to be perceived as a victim.
But none of the women who told her story, publicly or privately, came across as a victim to me. They all came across as Wonder Women. Strong. Angry. Unbroken. Not only that, but they are joyous, loving people.
I’m bothered by the tradition of news outlets declining to name people who have been raped. Again, I don’t suggest rape victims should be outed without their permission. But doesn’t protecting them also perpetuate the idea that they have something to hide, to be ashamed of? We’re not squeamish about revealing the names of people who have been assaulted in other ways.
Alice Brine, a comedian from New Zealand, explained consent in a Facebook post that went viral. In it, she compares rape to robbery. “I’m gunna start going home with random very drunk guys and stealing all of their s–,” the post started. “Everything they own. It won’t be my fault though … they were drunk. They should have known better.”
It’s a terrific post, a brilliant analogy. But it raises the question: If we want the world to start viewing rape as it does any other crime, isn’t it time we all – including we “victims” – start treating it that way? I was raped. I’m not ashamed. My rapist should be.
The writer lives in Dallas and the author of “100 Places in the USA Every Woman Should Go (Travelers’ Tales).” She wrote this for the Dallas Morning News.