I walked my little dog this morning through the old streets of this small town. The grass was dewey and the sweet smell of orange blossoms hung heavy in the air. April is a month of renewal. Spring shows her beautiful face, shaking the heavy bark of Winter, and all is cleansed. I wrote and rewrote this blog over and over in my mind on my walk today because there didn’t seem to be a beginning or an end. Even still as I type this I am only hopeful that it meets you wherever you are in your day and in your life.
The beautiful month of April is dedicated to Sexual Assault Awareness Month. The mission is to spread awareness through conversation, to educate men, women and children in various ways to prevent this crime from entering their lives and to support those who have already faced this demon. The tag line is simple, “It’s time to talk about it.” Let’s bring what we keep in the darkness to the light, let’s remove the power that secrecy provides.
It has been eight years since the night I was raped. I was young and naive, too trusting and too sheltered for my own good. It has been eight years since I sat in the hospital, eight years since I sat with a detective, eight years since I sat through the first of many, many court dates. It has been eight years since I fought with my every fiber to prove that This was real, that I had been invaded.
In the months that followed there was such a mixture of emotions and no sure way to express them. My family sat by through silent tears and hours of attempted rationalization. There seemed to be self-imposed limit as to how much talk of the rape was acceptable. It was as though talking about what happened made it less likely that it happened. As the days passed there was the strange guilt that came with days that I felt ok, days that I didn’t cry, didn’t fall apart, days when life just went along as though I HADN’T just been through hell.
Vanessa Veselka said in her article for Bitch Magazine, “The Collapsible Woman” (Winter 1999), “As a culture, we tell girls from the cradle that rape is the worst thing that can ever happen to them. We say it will destroy their lives and that they will lose their sense of purity. We tell those who were sexually abused that it is natural to feel dirty. We do this because it’s true, and we are trying to prepare them so that they don’t feel alone when it happens. But aren’t we also setting them up to be destroyed, to feel dirty and impure? How much are we training ourselves to crumble? … While there is no positive side to rape and abuse that could be emphasized, we should tell another, fuller truth. We should say, ‘This may wreck your life for a while.’ or ‘Sometimes you’ll feel dirty.’ But we don’t and we are left with the impression that there is no healthy response other than breakdown. It’s as if we see moving beyond the trauma as denying its impact.”
It has been eight years. There was a time that I was a wreck, there was a lot of things that I felt would never be the same and I say with the confidence of a woman eight years wiser that moving beyond sexual assault does not deny what happened. Living life fully takes back the control that was taken that day. Talking about it could never undo what happened that night but if talking about it keeps someone from going through that pain I will shout my story from the mountain tops.
It’s time to talk about it. If you have been the victim of sexual assault, find someone safe and tell your story. The painful things we hide and store in our bones only have the power we give them. It is not a sin to take the power back and have a beautiful life.