I was pinned down with my hands above my head by a monster. He laughed in my face - he laughed an awfully piercing laugh when I whispered "no" through my tears. He entered me, forcefully. He finished inside of me. He violated me.
After it was over, I sat outside, blood dripping down my leg under a flickering light in the backyard.
I didn't report it. I didn't tell. I didn't make a fuss. I cleaned myself up. I told myself I was "fine". I "moved on". I drew into myself and made sure that I kept up the façade, protected my reputation, stayed strong, and faced life. After all, in the end it is just me against the world anyway, right?
It is so quiet when you are alone. When you are isolated. Suffering in silence is so painful. It eats at you like a cancer. It reeks havoc on your soul. It has no empathy. It has no compassion. It is just blackness.
Five years after my attack, I decided to start using my voice. I told family, friends, strangers, other survivors, therapists: anyone that would listen. It was freeing. It was empowering. It was a new day.
Until their responses sank in.
To overgeneralize, I will categorize the responses as three types:
Those closest to me at the time were more #2's than #1's or #3's. They meant well, I know they did. They were trying to protect me. To shield me from the hardship of a social stigma. Their words like "you don't want to be seen as that girl"; "you don't want to get a reputation"; "you don't want them to judge you" were well intentioned. I know that.
But those phrases cut the most. They made me feel even more isolated, misunderstood, devalued, and even more like damaged goods. It meant that the people closest to me - those that were supposed to have my back, be my warm embrace, and my support - were telling me to deny what happened to me, not tell my story, and ultimately just move on with my life. I had one person tell me that they didn't know what I was going through, but encouraged me to "move on" with a smile on their face. It was that conversation that really sent me into a tailspin.
When I realized what they were saying, I got mad. Really mad. It was a bone-shattering anger aimed at my #2's, my attacker, and myself. Lately, though, through therapy and self reflection, I have come to the realization that while my #2's aren't ill-intentioned, they are further perpetuating the stigma surrounding rape survivors. I think this stigma is intertwined with our social responsibility to "save face", "keep up with the Jones'" and respond with "I'm good!" whenever asked how we are. It is this expectation that encourages #2's to quiet any survivor close to them.
To that I say, my hurt is no greater than your hurt. Thereby, I should not have to be quiet and neither should you. You are allowed to feel pain, so am I - that is how we heal. I propose we band together - surivivors of all traumas - and empower one another. My hurt is no greater than your hurt. Let us talk about it and do our best to move forward together. Most of all, let us empathize with one another in each of our traumas.
When I started to talk to friends and strangers about my attack, I continued to hear that I was "brave for speaking up", "strong for being so okay", "inspiring for standing up". I consider these my #1's. They are the ones who are making the effort to empathize, but have instead put survivors in a box - victims picking themselves up from the dust of unimaginable devastation. #1's don't connect with the survivors: we are now just in a box, we are a stereotype, we are a sad story from the news. So, there is no way that the #1's trauma could ever compare to a rape survivor's trauma and thereby, they cannot empathize with us, but instead pity us.
Please hear me when I tell you, my hurt is no greater than your hurt. You can empathize with us because we are all survivors of our own traumas, we are all a part of this human race. Let us empathize with one another.
Victim shamers and blamers are ridiculously ignorant, pompous, inhumane, horrible - but they need the most empathy. While I want to publicly condemn them, shame them as they have my fellow survivors, break them down, and prove they are incompetent, I have to recognize that my hurt is no greater than their hurt. In no way am I encouraging us to listen to these rants, to allow negativity and false claims to resonate with us, or to stop fighting against the stigma.
I am encouraging us to stand against the ideology itself. I am encouraging us to band together and dissemble the social construct that is encouraging us to be quiet. Rather than doing so the same way these shamers do, I am encouraging us to rise above. I am encouraging us to empathize with them. To recognize that their hatred and negativity must come from a place of anger, isolation and hardship. To realize that through each hurtful and hateful accusation or word they write, speak, or think, they are isolating themselves even further. That must really hurt. That must be really lonely. I do not approve of what they say, or even what they do at times. I refuse to let them silence me or any of my fellow survivors. But let us realize that using their tactics does not make us stronger, louder, or more competent. Shaming them does not un-shame us.
Let us provoke change. Let us stand strong and together. Let us rise above. We are worth it.