This week, an article about a famous individual who was raped many, many years ago and opted not to report it showed up online. It came up during a radio interview, and the one who was raped moved the conversation along, not dwelling on it, or even bringing it up intentionally, to begin with. Then the online comments started flowing about how hard it is to report rape, how bad rape victims are treated, blah, blah, blah. But, these folks also seem to know that they’d be treated horribly, even though they never came forward. That, along with someone who was beating a dead horse, and more of a troll than anything else (I’ll call her ‘Inot’), really got to my belief that if someone wants something to change in their life, or a part of their life, they have to show up and contribute to the process. For rape, that means going to the police and doing the rape kit at a hospital.
*For the purposes of this blog, I’m referring to females, but there are a LOT of reported and unreported cases of male rape. The stigma is even worse for them. I still encourage them to report the rape/assault to the police, and seek justice.
*My main points refer to “general” rape (stranger/acquainance), one-time attack- which can be minutes to weeks in length (or longer- look at Elizabeth Smart and Jaycee Dugard).
Justice isn’t passive; it requires participation. Being a survivor, vs. a victim, takes work. The victim mentality is absolutely repulsive to me. I don’t have sympathy for those who won’t take part in their own recovery and justice process. Staying mired in the traumas of the past is as good as that person’s life will ever be- and that’s a choice. That isn’t the responsibility of the one who did the abusing- OR the justice system. That’s on the one who has to go on living. It requires a lot of work to work through sexual assault and trauma recovery, but the alternative is to go around feeling defined by victimization, stuck in the memories of what happened. Working through rape doesn’t mean the memories ever go away… it makes it so the attack isn’t the defining event in someone’s life. Rape doesn’t define survivors. It defines victims. And survivors don’t use the rape to manipulate others- whether for pity, a means to be taken care of, or anything else that is age inappropriate, or indicative of regression to an earlier developmental stage. It isn’t the focal point of the life of a survivor.
Once the man who raped me was no longer ‘in’ me, my survival and recovery were on me. Not him. Not ‘the system’. Not the courts. Because no matter what happened, my life had to go on. I’m an RN. I’m a dog owner, a doll artist, a gemstone/mineral collector, a daughter, and many other things. The rape was 6 hours of my life- that’s it. With his imprisonment, I became the strong one. He became the captive. His parole protests are still hard, but I’m still the one who ‘won’.
As I’ve blogged before, I was raped for 6 hours at knifepoint in 1987. I managed to escape when numbnuts fell asleep after exhausting, constant sexual assault and beating of me. The police came and shot him in my bedroom, not killing him. I went through the trial process, and long story short, he’s either in prison (as he is now), or on parole until 2047. He’s my bitch now. I showed up to make sure of that, and I was a 23 year old ‘kid’, who had no experience with being vocal about anything to do with sex, or crime. I wasn’t brave, but I was determined. I wouldn’t accept the lower number of years offered in the plea bargain that happened mid-trial after I’d testified after 2 hours. I went ‘all out’ to get the maximum punishment possible. I could sleep better at night knowing I did all I could to keep him off the streets- for myself, and whoever else he might have gone after, for as long as possible. He has a very long list of convictions for progressively more violent crimes.
I was treated very well by the police, District Attorney’s office, judge, rape crisis personnel, detectives, people at the hospital, and pretty much everyone but my employer at the time (being off work as an RN is very much frowned upon, and they actually “encouraged my resignation” about 2 weeks before the trial, because I was distracted – ya think?- … so sweet of them). My apartment complex also tried to bill me for the damage to the sliding glass door in my bedroom, as well as the carpet, from the shooting (bullet damage and blood). Otherwise, the actual people in the legal process were extremely compassionate. In 1987, in good-ol’-boy Texas. And things are improving all the time..
For those who don’t report rape, that’s their decision. I get it. It’s not an easy thing to discuss, and while I disagree with that decision to let someone stay on the street to rape someone else, I know it’s ultimately their decision. But then they have no room to whine about the system, or how rape victims are treated (since they have no clue). IF someone wants ‘the system’ to treat rape victims better (but hasn’t gone through the process to actually know what that is), they have to show up and report what was done to them. Show up or shut up. Get some help in making that decision if needed. Rape crisis centers have hotlines, and trained folks to help with these things- they’re free, and available 24/7.
There are situations that make it more difficult to report…
For those who were raped by people in their families (no matter how often), or friends they’d known for a long time, it’s more difficult. I understand that. I’d encourage them to report the situation as soon as possible. Someone can call a local rape crisis center to find out where to go for kit collection, without naming names at the time, and to get some counseling for the violation aspect of what happened.
For children, it’s even more difficult- especially if they don’t tell their parent/ guardian because of threats or fear. But if a parent knows about incest or non-familial sexual assault, it’s really not a favor to the child to try and pretend it didn’t happen (think future addict to numb the pain of the memories). Rape crisis centers can also help with kids. And if you know your kid was molested by someone you know, don’t make the kid see them socially. I’m not sure what could make someone want contact with their child’s molester, but I’ve heard about it repeatedly. That in itself is abuse, and continues the pain.
No matter when someone is sexually assaulted, their life changes. If they don’t deal with it, it can become a chronic ‘victim mentality’, and the chances of meaningful recovery dwindle, and increase the risk of drug/alcohol addiction. That healing process starts when someone seeks justice, and deals with the emotional and physical violation. There are statutes of limitations on rape… it differs by state, as well as when it happened (i.e. if someone was raped as a child, but doesn’t disclose it until they’re 18, the clock starts then, I believe; each state is different there, as well). But, at least for now, there comes a time when the rape can’t be prosecuted. Better to deal with things sooner than later, whenever possible, before the choice is taken away in an already “powerless” situation.
For someone in a domestic violence situation, it’s even trickier. There can be threats that are very real if the victim has been physically injured before by the perpetrator. My suggestion to someone in that situation would be to do as much documentation as possible, including photos, and keeping any clothing that they’re wearing in the photos, to at least have something if they report the crime later. Having a trusted friend keep the evidence, so it’s not discovered by the perpetrator, might also be something to consider. Obviously, the best scenario is to get away from the abuser and report it immediately to police, for collection of evidence (rape kit) ASAP. But, I understand that sadly there are situations when someone’s safety after the rape might be even worse than during it. Safety is always the priority. Domestic violence shelters can be a resource, knowing that getting away is a delicate process. They can offer support and advice.
The military and university campuses have notoriously been lousy at listening to someone who makes accusations of sexual assault. They’re getting better, but it’s not great yet- but those who have been assaulted still need to TRY ! If you don’t do anything, you’ll get nothing in terms of help- or improvements in how cases are handled.
The rape kit isn’t horrible. It’s not painful- but does require some intrusive things that can be very hard after being violated. But it’s one of the best ways to convict someone. Now, with DNA, a rape kit can link other rapes, and get serial rapists off the streets (think if someone had done that and gotten your rapist convicted before he got to you). Mostly, it’s swabbing the mouth, vulva, anal area, collecting hairs, trimming fingernails, and taking photos of any injuries. That can be very daunting after something so traumatic, but it doesn’t take that long, and HELPS the police when a suspect is found. It will prove what happened, in terms of the physical contact. Knowing the purpose of the kit made it easier to tolerate for me. There are backlogs of kits that haven’t been tested, but the more information someone has to give police (including the information in a rape kit), the faster they can find a suspect. There are many states that are making rape kit testing more of a priority. You might also be fingerprinted, to corroborate who touched what and when. It’s not to make you ‘complicit’ in the rape, but to clarify what is going on with the evidence. I had to do that, and it was just to see if my fingerprints were on some of the things used to penetrate me (they weren’t). They must have the evidence to make sure the chance of conviction is as good as possible.
Dealing with the detectives was sort of hard for me initially, but not because of them. It was only 6-7 hours after I’d gotten free, and I was still a little shocky. But they made it as tolerable as possible, and had me come back the next day to finish when I was getting sort of punchy from being exhausted and overwhelmed. It required detailed descriptions of what happened. I talked with two male detectives, and that wasn’t an issue, as I knew they had a job to do. They were very professional, and I had a female friend or rape crisis volunteer with me. It was not easy to talk about what happened. My fervent belief that reporting rape is necessary isn’t in any way to say that it’s easy. But for the type of justice I wanted (lengthy imprisonment), it was what I had to do. I had to know that I’d done all I could to prevent him from hurting someone else- and to keep him locked up for what he did to me. He’d been on parole when he raped me, after being in prison for attacking someone at a bus stop with a screwdriver. His violence was escalating.
As I’ve said in other blogs, it’s not a bad idea to have a mental plan of what you will do in the event you are attacked. Survival is the first priority, and sometimes that means dealing with being violated. I made it clear that I wasn’t consenting to anything, but complied purely to avoid physical injury. I had to make a calculated decision when I escaped. It took 6 hours for him to not have the knife at my neck or my body. Even when he peed, he had me on all fours, tracing the blade on my spine. You have to stay alive in order to survive. Do whatever it takes to stay alive.
After an attack, the priority shifts to getting medical attention, and hopefully, reporting the rape, and participating in the legal process. Have a mental list of who you would call in such a situation. DO NOT wash or shower after the attack. Save clothing and anything the attacker touched or left saliva on (even your face or other parts of your body). If you are bleeding, take off the underwear you were wearing during the attack, and put it in a bag to take to the police/hospital. Put on clean underwear without washing/wiping your vulva/anus/ perineum (area between the anus and vulva), and a pad- not a tampon. Do not brush your teeth. If he kissed you, make sure you don’t wash those areas of your body. They will be swabbed. In short, don’t do anything that could remove body fluids before getting help. You will have a chance to shower- as long as you want- after the exam. It’s a small price to pay for increasing the odds of catching the jerk. If a lot of things happened in your home, there is a chance that it will be sealed as a crime scene- so know where or who you can stay with for a few days. (I ended up with a friend/co-worker I trusted for a week).
Reporting rape can sound overwhelmingly frightening. There have been stories of victims not being believed, stupid and hurtful things being said to them, and other dismissive and inappropriate actions. That isn’t everywhere. More education about sexual assault has been done in police departments for years. I’m an example of someone who was treated very well, nearly 30 years ago. Nobody deserves to be raped. Everybody deserves justice- but that involves coming forward and reporting the assault. It’s not easy, but in the end, there is such a sense of getting some sort of justice, and relief. For those who choose not to report, for whatever reasons, please reconsider (for some, that means when it’s safe to do so). If you don’t report, don’t complain about the way rape victims are treated, or ‘the system’. Even if someone you know was treated badly, everyone is different- and every case is different (not to excuse being treated poorly at all- but it’s not a sure thing that it will be the same for you). The only rape that applies to you is the one that happened to you.
Rape victims stay stuck in the past in a self-defeating way. Rape survivors work to put the rape in perspective, and don’t let the rape define who they are.