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A Survivor’s Anger

(Ed. note: Trigger warning for discussion of rape and sexual assault.) I am angry. Actually, angry doesn’t even begin to cover it. I am pissed off, livid, infuriated… and I have no idea what to do about it. The recent onslaught of high-profile sexual assault and rape cases, coupled with the real-life experience of taking calls for a Rape Crisis Hotline has lead me to a very bad place. This happens; every so often, I either read about a rape case or speak to a survivor who leaves me so shaken that all I want to do is sit in my room and cry.

Well, that’s not true. I want to go out there and find some way to bring each and every rapist to justice, to stop any sexual assault from ever happening again… but that’s not really possible. Crying seems to be the only thing I can do, so that’s what happens.

On one hand, what right do I have to even feel this way? I am not the victim in this scenario; I am nothing more than a bystander who sometimes is lucky enough to give some information or say a few comforting words, provide some sort of confirmation that the survivor is NOT at fault.

True, I am a survivor of sexual assault, but my personal situation is complicated and muddy. There are days when I feel strongly that it was more an accident/miscommunication than a “true” assault. Even though I know that the ambivalent feelings (and feelings of guilt/personal responsibility) that I have towards my own situation are normal, but unhealthy, means of rationalizing a betrayal of my boundaries by someone who should know better…  I still can’t help but feel more sad than angry.

Given my own mixed feelings, it makes perfect sense then that the sexual assault of other women would make me feel so furious at the rapists, and at the society that allows them to continue violating other people’s bodily autonomy.

Every time a public figure makes a statement that puts the responsibility to not be assaulted on the woman, rather than expecting the rapist not to rape… I get angry. Every time a reporter feels the need to mention a survivors dress, or level of intoxication, or anything really when reporting an assault cause, I get pissed. What the hell does it MATTER what she was wearing/drinking/saying? If a woman was raped, she was raped.  These comments only make it easier for people to rationalize away their own assaults, as well as the assaults of others. (“I shouldn’t have asked for a massage, it’s my own fault…”)

Every time someone picks apart a survivor’s actions, looking for what they have done differently, my blood starts to boil a bit. Sexual assault already inspires guilt, do we really need to make it worse? (“Why was I paralyzed? If I had just gotten up, or smacked him, or yelled no this wouldn’t have happened. It’s my fault.”)

Every time I hear someone make some joke or offhanded comment that trivializes rape (“That test just raped me.”) I can feel my blood boil. Comments like these create an environment where rape/sexual assault just isn’t seen as a “big deal,” an environment where survivors feel like failures if they go through any trauma after their assault. (“What happened was just a lapse of judgment, and really he just touched me a little bit… I’m overreacting.”)

The words written in blue are all things that I have said and thought in the past; things that I still say and think on bad days, about my own assault.

Five insignificant minutes of my life, just five minutes… yet they still lurk in the back of my memory years later. I still have moments where I snap from my own assault; moments where someone touches me the wrong way, or the TV show that had been on in the background comes on and I just shut down. I cry, I lash out, I feel trapped all over again. Five minutes changed me, forever.

I never had to deal with reporting my assault. Didn’t have to go through the trauma of retelling the story to the police, to a court. I never had my story rehashed again and again, picked apart by the media. I never had to deal with blame (trivialization, maybe, but not blame). Instead, the person who I first confessed to was understanding, and supportive, and loving, and educated enough to say everything I needed to hear. Basically, I’ve lived through a tiny splinter of the trauma that many of the women who I read about and speak with have faced and yet, I have still been brought to my knees (multiple times) by my assault.

I am sick of well-meaning, decent people making things worse. It is already impossible to come to terms with living in a world where rapists almost never see any form of punishment.

How is it okay that the average convicted rapist serves 5.4 years in prison on average; only .4 years more than to the minimum sentence for someone caught selling drugs (not hurting anyone, mind you, just dealing). These crimes don’t seem equal to me – one involves someone’s life being altered against their will, their autonomy being violated, while the other involves the sale of (illegal) materials to a consenting customer. Yet, percentage-wise, many more people go to jail for being drug dealers & users than for being rapists, because those crimes are easy to convict (especially when the “criminal” is a low-income individual with no hope of affording a decent defense). Only about a quarter of rapes actually lead to arrests (and most of those don’t lead to a conviction), whereas around half of inmates in Federal Prisons are in for drug offenses.

How is it okay that, within a few years, most rapists get to walk away from their crime free and clear, while the people who they attacked usually have to live with feelings of guilt, paranoia, and sometimes even PTSD? How is it fair that most rapists are never even arrested, and most of those that are never see a conviction?

Honestly, there is no way for this to be okay… but it is the world that American women must inhabit every day.

I’m not saying that rapists should be locked away in jail forever and ever. I believe strongly that rehabilitation, for most crimes, is better than simple jail time anyways. What I am saying, however, is that we should live in a society that unequivocally views sexual assault as bad. No, we don’t right now. Until our society stops trivializing rape and looking for ways to blame the victim; until we stop marginalizing male survivors of rape; until consistent, freely-given consent is stressed as one of the most important elements of sex education; until we stop accepting the fact that so many rape kits are left untesteduntil we take rape seriously, things will never be okay, and I (along with many survivors) will never be able to feel truly at peace.

These goals are reachable, provided everyone in this society makes the commitment to do something (even something small) to encourage culture change. Please check out this post I wrote awhile back about the Green Dot program if you’re looking for a small way you can make a positive impact. Also, feel free to ask any questions you might have about bring a volunteer rape crisis advocate! I’d be happy to answer as best as I can.

To everyone who is a part of the solution, however small, thank you for giving me the courage and hope to go on.

5 replies on “A Survivor’s Anger”

I haven’t been sexually assaulted, but i recently read a piece (although not on Western experiences) where i ended up in tears. It was the push i needed though to start making a monthly donation to charity. I can’t volunteer time but hopefully that little bit of money will begin to help. So that’s my small way of, if not making a positive impact, trying to reduce the negative impact that sexual assault is having on lives.

As a survivor of sexual assault this really resonated with me (and inspired me to delurk and post for the 1st time). I remember watching an episode of Grey’s in college with friends and having to leave the room to go hysterically cry in the bathroom when a sexual assault victim was treated on the show. For a few days afterward, hearing male voices brought on a rush of panic. An (ex) friend told me that I should just get over it because I wasn’t actually raped (even though I was bleeding afterward from what he did). Like you, I had a lot of ambivalent feelings. I felt ashamed for a long time and blamed myself. It took a few months of therapy for me to truly know and believe that what he did to me was sexual assault, and it was wrong, and it was not my fault. Thank you for speaking out against the trivialization of sexual assault that is the status quo in our society, it is just plain unacceptable. It’s terrible enough to be sexually assaulted, it’s even worse to to have such a traumatizing experience be generally regarded as insignificant.

I am sick of well-meaning, decent people making things worse. . . .we should live in a society that unequivocally views sexual assault as bad. . . . until our society stops trivializing rape … until we take rape seriously, things will never be okay, and I (along with many survivors) will never be able to feel truly at peace.

As a survivor of sexual abuse, I used to be angry, long ago. I used to rage and scream and argue, and OMG, first with my family and then with the world at large, every time I encountered rape, abuse, violence and as I watched families minimize, justify, excuse and rationalize; as I watched people lie/deny/cover up and pretend so they wouldn’t have to deal with the situation, I kind of just settled into a state of desperate wonderment.

I believe we live in a society that is run by predators. And I’ve come to an awful conclusion that a lot of people, so they won’t be targeted by the predators, will avoid dealing with stuff if it makes them uncomfortable. So you have the predators, who don’t give a damn, and the apathetic public, who are too afraid to stand up for what’s right. I’m simplifying and generalizing, of course, but that’s an over all sense of how I look at this issue. There are those who don’t care and those who can’t afford to care.

But I’m glad you’re expressing that anger, though, because I believe if you don’t, it poisons you inside.

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