The Truths I've Come to Notice in the Aftermath of Rape
I haven’t had to experience the trauma of being raped by a stranger, though I’ve read a good deal of personal accounts from women who have and I cannot even begin to imagine the feeling of loss that these women must experience every day. I fall victim to a different type of sexual crime: acquaintance rape. I was raped by someone I personally knew and deeply trusted.
I was young then — it was all within my first few years of high school. I was naïve and some would argue I was too trusting. But this article isn’t about what happened leading up to or even during my rape. Instead, it’s about what I started to notice — and am still noticing — in the hours, days, months and years after.
While I am trying to write all of this as accurately and honestly as possible, I realize that some of what I have to say may still be jaded by the pain and confusion I continue to wrestle against even years after the fact. Though I try to remain encouraging and optimistic about my experiences and where they can lead me, sometimes I allow the pain to catch up with me and the confusion to guide me. Bear with me in that.
For me, this is what I’ve noticed:
Trust becomes trickier. Suddenly you’re not only afraid of strangers, but you’re also afraid of those you believed you knew. The acts of one man seem to have tainted the world of its goodness. And if you’re like me and you’ve kept your trauma to yourself, you can’t explain to those who love you why you’re suddenly uncomfortable being alone with them.
This lack of trust, combined with the weight of the secret you hold makes you feel isolated and alone. Which makes you even warier of others — who you begin to view as outsiders and therefore start to trust even less. The cycle is vicious.
The longer you stay quiet about what you’ve gone through the harder it is to open up about it. Rape itself makes you feel shameful because of its pseudo-sexual nature. Keeping it a secret makes you feel less like a victim and more like a guilty participant.
If you do manage to open up to an individual – or even a few – you trust, the issue of blame surfaces. You find yourself buying into the idea that because you placed your trust in the wrong person, you somehow asked to be raped. It becomes all too easy to believe the idea that because you didn’t know better it was your fault. You should have known this person was lying to you all along. You should have seen through his mask. You shouldn’t have dressed so provocatively and you shouldn’t have been alone with him. Never mind that you were wearing a baggy tee shirt and flannel pajama bottoms, or that you had been alone with him dozens of times before with absolutely no issue. You shouldn’t have trusted. You should have predicted the future. It is your fault. The lie that it is your fault gets harder and harder to decipher from the truth — while maybe you could have, and perhaps should have, been more careful with your actions, nobody asks to be raped. Nobody is at fault for a rape except for the rapist.
As much as people try to say you shouldn’t have given your trust so easily to your rapist, they become offended if you have difficulty trusting them. They have trouble understanding the trust you placed in him has scarred you, and that only time and patience will heal those wounds.
Comments made by the people you’ve told can seem hurtful or malicious. Often you may hear the phrase, “Don’t you think you should move on?” or, “You really should try to forget about it.” These comments are not meant to hurt. The people you have trusted are honestly trying to help. Most individuals who haven’t suffered a trauma like this have very little personal experience with its repercussions. Often they’re acting solely from what culture has taught them. They’re trying to help. Be patient with them.
Depression and anxiety become very good friends of yours. There is no proper mourning process for a rape victim, and because most victims suffer alone there is no support system. Depression creeps in and disguises itself as mourning. Anxiety creeps in and disguises itself as protection. If you don’t catch them, they’ll often make themselves long-term visitors. If you let them, they make you feel worthless.
You become weirdly possessive of your things. You don’t want anyone touching or taking anything that belongs to you. I am still upset that an old roommate borrowed a shirt without asking and never returned it even after moving out. I have hidden a measuring cup in my kitchen despite the fact that there is half a dozen measuring cups in a cupboard above my stove because this measuring cup is my measuring cup and I don’t want it going missing. It all sounds silly, but I cannot stand having my belongings invaded by uninvited hands.
Maybe because of the issue of blame and victim status, as well as the worthlessness that depression and anxiety welcome, it becomes much easier to allow others to commit wrongs against you. I find myself often forgiving individuals who have lied to me or used me despite no hint of remorse on their end.
You can be triggered by seemingly unexplainable things, and when you are you feel as though you have no control over your emotions or yourself.
All of this is subconscious. It takes a conscious effort to recognize all of this, and a larger conscious effort to find goodness within it.
As difficult as it is, you can work through all of this.
This is only a short list of what I’ve come to realize in the past few years, and I know there is more to still be uncovered. You only begin to work through all of this if you start to dig through the mess the rapist left behind. This is difficult. This is ugly. Sometimes you will feel like it is pointless. A lot of the time it will make you want to cry. Often you will feel like giving up. Take the time to cry, but don’t give up. It is not impossible. And with the right support team, therapy and a lot of prayer, you can start to see beauty in the broken pieces.
He doesn’t have to win. I’m still learning that. Years later, I’m still fighting. Part of that fight is reminding the world that rape isn’t just a solitary moment. It is a trauma that bleeds itself into every other aspect of an individual’s life. It is a trauma that cuts deeper than we see and heals slower than we expect. Be patient with us. We don’t need you to push us past it. We need you to journey the path with us. We know you’re afraid. We are too. We don’t expect you to have the answers. We just hope that you’ll see the beauty in the brokenness, too.
If you or a loved one are affected by sexual abuse or assault and need help, call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-0656-4673 to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area.