Sorry for the late post, folks! Today’s glory is a guest post from another of our awesome volunteers, Caroline!
I don’t remember formally learning what “rape” meant. The first time I heard the word “rape,” I was six years old, with my parents as they watched the news. The anchor said that a woman had been raped. I was confused. “She got raked..?” I asked. ‘Rape’ was not yet in my vocabulary. Likely relieved, my mom placated me with nods and vague mentions of physical injury. I later had nightmares of bandits dragging the metal rake in our garage across my body.
If you are reading BARCC’s blog, you likely have a better understanding of sexual violence than I did then. Today I am writing on behalf of my nearest and dearest friend, with full permission and encouragement, in hope of broadening your perceptions about sexual re-victimization.
This friend has survived instances of sexual assault that cross the spectrum: a decade of incest, a violent and abusive domestic violence relationship, has been drugged and raped by an administrator at her university, and beaten and sodomized by a friend’s housemate, to name a few…
When the tone in someone’s voice falters as conversation shifts to survivors of more than one sexual assault, my defenses go up. Unnervingly, over the past decade, I’ve discovered that even compassionate, decent individuals, who actively support survivors and are vehemently anti-rape, may shed some of their empathy when they regard survivors of multiple sexual assaults.
My friend is remarkable. Not because she survived the nightmarish slew of traumas I mentioned, but because she’s an intelligent, compassionate person who is creative, quirky, and loving. “People think I’m strong because I survived all these horrors,” she says. “I tell them, ‘I was always this strong. Surviving all of this just made that clear to you,’ like, evidence…” She survived. She perseveres. Nowadays, she is quick to amuse with her wicked sense of humor. She extends compassion willfully to others. I doubt you would suspect a long list of sexualized violence to be part of her history.
When we talk about predators, however, we must also discuss those whose expertise is in sniffing out any potential vulnerability. We must address this evil manipulator as we rally our counter-efforts. I ate a bowl of fruit with lunch today (bear with me). To my knowledge, time travel still evades us. Therefore, I’ll never again be the ‘me’ who hadn’t eaten cantaloupe at lunch on Friday, June 11, 2010. I cannot become a person who, when first hearing about ‘rape,’ thought of a rusty garden implement for gathering leaves. And my dear, dear friend cannot become a person who has never been sexually abused.
How do we address this without misleading our audiences? How do we make it blatantly clear that the responses to sexual trauma are diverse and individual in as many ways as are the instances of sexual violence? How can we inform everyone that sexual assaults are never brought on by or the fault of the survivor, and that that line of thought contradicts the very definition of rape? And make that info stick, regardless of the circumstances?
Studies have been done on perpetrators- the infamous “Frank video” (a video interview that Professor David Lisak did with a perpetrator after his groundbreaking study at UMass, now used as a training and education aid), and the targeting and testing of subjects by such predators. We discuss ‘boundaries’ on a continuum; the effects of experience, learned behaviors, and how these personal guidelines are malleable and prone to change. Even with all this knowledge and good intentions, we haven’t yet managed to unite our fronts.
On Animal Planet, one might see a lion has set its sights on the Zebra with a slight limp in its stride from a past injury. As a carnivore, the lion’s existence makes every zebra potential prey being stalked. When the lion chooses its target, it does so an adept predator. It is not the intention, nor the fault, of that zebra to be singled out from the herd! When the lion’s presence is realized, they scatter to evade capture, racing to distance themselves from the lion - and in doing so, from their captured peer.
We are above zebras in the food chain, folks. Yet, we do this symbolically when we regard survivors who are re-victimized with any less empathy than we show others. We distance ourselves by incorrectly identifying the bloodlust of humanity’s breed of lion as an imperfection possessed by the prey, and not a carnivorous drive in the hunters, the manipulators, the abusers themselves. Let’s not run blindly from this threat, leaving those who are targeted to fend alone as victims, impugning them for being caught! Let us band together in this movement towards healing - and ending - sexual violence. No more shying away uncomfortably from those amongst us being targeted, having already survived so much!
Today, let’s reward the innate strength of my friend, and that of infinite others out there who also survive. Say it with me, out loud: The blame lays fully on the lions in our midst.
Even a zebra has defeated a lion. “Cowboy up.” It is time to defend humankind, and chase the predators out of our packs.