After I was raped
[Obvious trigger warning]
I think a lot about rape. But I rarely think about my own.
Thinking about rape is literally my job. I'm a sexual violence expert with a focus on public education. I spend my days, training people on how to prevent rape; talking to the media about better ways to talk about sexual violence; advocating for sexual assault survivors through the government and justice system; encouraging folks to build communities of accountability.
Most of my walking hours are spent thinking about rape in all its nuance and complexity.
But my own rape? Until recently, I had pushed it to the back of my brain or chucked in the pile of "Horribly traumatic things I've survived and never want to think about."
I've been forced to think about my own rape(s) and the aftermath because we are currently in the middle of a national conversation about rape and trauma. On the surface, we're in the middle of the high-profile Jian Ghomeshi trial. But notice how few people seem to give a shit whether Jian ever punched, choked or raped womyn. Nope. What we care about is whether Jian's actions were traumatizing to our outsider, non-expert, totally irrelevant point of view as the general public.
I can't tell you off the top of my head the date or time when my (then)boyfriend raped me. But I do have an e-mail, buried out of eyesight, sent to me the next day, where he apologizes for it. In that sense, I do know. But I don't know it from memory.
What I do know is that I was 19 the first time my boyfriend raped me. I was 19, going to university, working a shitty retail job, living with roommates and angsty as fuck. I was angsty and trying so hard to get the world to treat me like the adult I felt I was.
I mean, Jesus. The angst was clearly oozing from my 19 year old frown.
On a seemingly ordinary weeknight, my boyfriend raped me and afterward, this is what I did:
- Kept sobbing
- Pressed my hand against the wall separating me and my brother's bedroom. I hoped and hoped that our childhood habit of mind melding would kick in and he'd rush in the door, knowing I needed help
- When I received the infamous e-mail apology, I know I responded to him but I couldn't tell you what I said
- I went to class
- I went to work
- I paid my bills
- I listened to him cry about the perils of being unemployed
- I bought him a birthday present
- I had sex with him (countless times)
- I brought him home to spend Christmas with my family
- I defended his obnoxious behaviour to others
- I moved in with him
- I wrote him love letters
- I made wedding plans
Do these things mean I wasn't raped? Do these things point to someone who wasn't raped?
If you're a gross defence lawyer or an armchair "expert" on Twitter, the list of things I did post-rape would have you thinking "There's no way she can be trusted."
I eventually left him. A little over a year after he raped me (the first time).
When his abusive behaviour escalated and I had to call police, I filled out lengthy police reports that never mentioned rape or sexual assault. Not because I wasn't traumatized by them. Not because I'd forgotten.
But because the action of sitting down in front of two police officers in your kitchen and outlining every traumatic thing someone has to done to you is terrifying. And knowing that you will require proof of all those things is even scarier. Sure, I had an e-mail apologizing. But the e-mail never used the word "rape". And besides all that: Nobody wants to stand up and say "Someone I loved and continue to love long after, violated me."
I don't judge younger me for staying silent. I don't blame Lucy, either.
The sky is blue. Snow is cold. My boyfriend is not a rapist.
It's what I had to believe in order to survive. The great thing about memory repression is that it works. The horrible thing about memory repression is that it's temporary.
But I chose to keep the peace instead of seeking justice.
I prioritized my own survival. We all do. (Even when we don't survive)
I prioritized my own survival and did not think twice about whether doing so would damage my credibility.
I prioritized my own survival over "reporting my rape to police" because even now, all these years later and with all the expertise I have, I see absolutely no positive in people reporting their assault. I see absolutely no reason why anyone should report their sexual assaults to police.
I'm not here to encourage womyn to report to a system that is not broken; it is literally doing as it was intended to do.
I'm not here to judge my 19 year old self; or Lucy; or any other victim.
I'm not here to judge womyn who can't take it anymore and take their own lives.
People who've experienced sexual assault and who prioritize their own survival? I'm here for that. All day. Every day.
[If this post made you feel gross, or hell, if this entire trial is making you doubt your faith in humanity, I gotchu. Have you subscribed to Farrah Khan's Self-Care Newsletter? Have you logged off social media for a while and just talked to actual humans face-to-face? Have you eaten a super stellar meal? Have you binge watched Hit Record on TV? Joseph Gordon-Levitt's weird little side project makes me so happy. Have you had a sweaty dance party with all your favourite pals? Whatever you need to do, just do it. You don't need permission.]