It's been almost a year since I last posted here and there are a couple of reasons for that. One, I'm a full-time PhD student (which would be enough of a reason in and of itself) with a heavy course load, publication and presentation deadlines, conferences to attend, TA responsibilities, and lots of writing to do. Two, something happened a year ago that has profoundly impacted not only me and my life, but also how I am able to engage in the world. So I want to share my story, because there's just too much at stake in this election to stay silent.
As I begin, I'd like to do two things. One is to offer a trigger warning, because some of what I'm about to say may be triggering for sexual assault survivors. Two, I'd like to apologize to any of my friends or family who are hearing this for the first time. While, ideally, no one would be hearing this for the first time in this forum, the reality is that it's simply not possible to have conversations with everyone about it.
A year ago, give or take a few days, I was raped by one of my classmates. It wasn't until mid-April that I was able to name what had happened and it was only because of the bravery of another classmate, who was also raped by the same individual, that I was able to do so then. Being forced to face it, being forced to deal with it, meant that I spent the better part of Spring quarter simply trying to survive. I filed a report with the school and he was found responsible of sexual misconduct and his expulsion (he had already been expelled after the hearing in the other case) was upheld. I applied for and was granted a temporary protective order; I went to police headquarters downtown and made a formal complaint against him. I had to go through STI testing, which is traumatic even if you're not terrified of needles (which I am). I moved from my apartment, five minutes from school, to a house about 35 minutes away from school. I did everything I was supposed to.
And yet, time and time again, I realized just how poorly our system treats survivors and how ridiculous the whole thing is. While the school did a tremendous job of supporting me and taking the necessary action, it quickly became clear that he was not going to face any other consequences. Despite the fact that two different women filed criminal complaints against him, the DA declined to press charges. Not only was my permanent protection order not granted, but there were errors of fact in the judge's ruling (for the record, and to make this as public as I can, I had NOT been drinking on the night in question and most certainly did NOT drink with him that night). The permanent order hearing was about two hours of unmitigated hell; I was on the stand the entire time and if it hadn't been for a dear friend (who is a public defender and a hell of a trial lawyer) prepping me the night before, I would have, at the very least, had a panic attack on the stand.
I tell you all this because rape has been part of the national dialogue during this election cycle, and yet, we still don't seem to get it collectively. It would be impossible to overstate just how painful and hurtful and flat out offensive most of the things that have been said about rape lately are. As a survivor, as someone who has chosen to try and get justice, the idea that people who think that there's a difference between rape and "forcible rape" are being elected is terrifying.
Let me be clear: rape is rape. It doesn't matter if the assault is a 1 on a scale of 1-10; if it's on the scale, it's a rape. Every person reacts differently to trauma. Some people fight. Some people flight. Some people dissociate and leave their bodies. THERE IS NO RIGHT OR WRONG WAY TO REACT TO A RAPE. It doesn't matter if you were drugged or beated or scared; rape is rape.
You can get pregnant if you're raped (sorry, Rep. Akin, but our bodies don't have magical powers that allow us to determine what's sperm from a rape and what's sperm from consensual sex). In more than a few states, rapists can sue for custody of children who result from their attack on a woman. Other states want women to have to prove they were raped in order to gain state benefits for that child (there's a bill currently in Arizona, I believe, that would require women who are receiving financial assistance from the state to prove that any additional children are the result of rape to get them covered...and the "proof" specified requires pressing criminal charges against the assailant). Others think that, if a woman becomes pregnant as a result of rape, she shouldn't have a say in how she responds to something that, according to one male politician, "God intended."
Let me be clear: I am a Christian. I am a Catholic. I am a theologian and an ethicist. And the God I believe in does NOT impregnate women via rape. Think about that. If you believe that God intends that women get pregnant by rape, what does that say about your god? Because that's not a God I want any part of. Because you know who hates rape? GOD. I feel confident saying that. Need a good example? Mary had a choice; she said yes. She wasn't forcibly impregnated.
I realize that a lot of what I'm saying here may cause conflict and make people upset. I don't care. Because I am sick and tired of hearing a bunch of men talk about this. You know who should be having this conversation? The women and men who have actually lived through rape. Yes, men get raped, too. But for a bunch of politicians who have never known the feeling of having their consent and their body violated, who have never had to wait for STI results and who have never had to take a pregnancy test, praying that your nightmare isn't about to get worse, to sit around and make pronouncements about all of this...it's bullshit. There is no right way or wrong way to respond to a rape or a pregnancy resulting from a rape; the point is that it's not okay for people to judge a woman's decision and it's not okay to try and take away her agency AGAIN. Rape violates your agency, your consent, your body. Having someone try and dictate how you should respond to it is another violation. And it hurts.
Every one of you knows someone who has been raped. Probably more people than you expect. There's a reason people don't report it: the process is invasive, humiliating, and it rarely results in the guilty party being punished. For a second, I'd like you to think about your most terrifyingly horrible moment. Now imagine being forced to tell that story, to relive that moment, over and over and over again. Imagine having to tell strangers what you went through, knowing that some of them think that "some girls rape easy." Imagine having to tell your parents, your friends. Imagine having to tell your boss or advisor or supervisor. Pretty scary to think about, right? Reporting means having to do all of that. And it's miserable. But it's more than that, too. It means having your motives questioned. It means having people question your integrity. It means hearing things like "Are you sure you didn't lead him on?" and "Why didn't you scream for help?" It often means being publicly shamed, called names, and told that it's all your fault. We talk about the need for victims to come forward and yet we don't do everything we can to make the process fair to them (while still maintaining the rights of the assailant to a fair trial).
I know most people have already made up their minds about who they are going to vote for in this election cycle, but I'd like to encourage anyone reading this to really think about this issue before actually casting your votes. It's not just at the national level that things are at stake; every person on your ballot matters when it comes to talk about violence against women. States pass all kinds of legislation that relate to this issue. So I'd really encourage people to think about this issue when making decisions. Elections should NEVER be about only ONE issue, but I'd hope that this one registers in your thought process.
I know this is long, but I'd like to close by linking to an open letter from one of my heroes, Melissa Harris-Perry. It takes a lot of courage to put something like this out in the open and after hearing Melissa's letter, I wanted to take what social capital I have and add the voice of another survivor to the conversation. Please watch her piece; it says much of what I want to say far more eloquently than I've managed to do here.