OpEd: My Rape, Rape Culture, & Why Women Need to Talk About Rape
As a stage artist, I trained my voice for years. I studied the sounds we make and how we make them. As a writer, and especially as a lyricist, I have toiled over the perfect words to scribe for dialogue or a song because the sound of the word itself has as much of an effect on the listener as the meaning of the word.
Just talking about rape brings strong emotions from women (and men!) who have experienced rape as a teen or an adult, or rape as a child, more commonly known by its euphemistic pseudonym, molestation.
Years ago, I realized that “rape” is a harsh word just as the act of rape is harsh. The growling of the “R”, the blunt hit of the unaspirated, hard “P” mimics the sharp, precise consonants’ onomatopoeia effect of “BruTal” and “aTTacK.” Conversely, the word “molestation” rolls of the tongue, rendering the word practically useless in conveying the horror of being raped as a child and softening the disdain society might otherwise feel. Example, decide for yourself which sounds worse: “A priest molested a boy” … or … “A priest raped a boy.”
I’ve rarely talked about my “molestation” as a kid, and I’ve almost never talked about the night I was raped. Only recently did I even tell people that I was still a virgin at age 21 — it was here on this blog, actually. For some reason, our hypersexualized culture has made it shameful to hold off on sex until a person is really ready. It’s as if teens must be sexual or they’re not normal. I was normal in many ways, but still dealing with my “molestation,” I had lots of issues I had to work out on my own when I was a teenager.
Also, my rape was not “real” rape. My rape would be sub-classified as “date-rape.”
We were in my bedroom — so clearly, I was “asking for it.” I was wearing a button down shirt and jeans. In 1994, it was fashionable to wear jeans that had rips in them. Mine did, right along the ass-line of the left leg. If a woman can show some butt cheek when she wears a swimsuit or shorts, I didn’t see the harm in a little peek-a-boo of my upper thigh at the butt line. And I was in my own home.
We were talking on the bed — but neither he nor I even mentioned having sex together. The next thing I knew I was being flipped over, my shirt ripped open, and he was inside me. I couldn’t think. The shock of pain like a thousand daggers stabbing me in my core and up my spine was something I’d never felt before. I couldn’t breathe. My brain started going into survival mode, and I felt like I was about to black out. I felt as if I were falling backward into an abyss. I couldn’t feel the bed or even him in that moment, just falling and shockingly intense pain throughout my body.
I realized I was still wearing my jeans. The button was still done, the zipper was zipped. He had entered me through the rip in my jeans. Dry mouthed, I asked him to slow down so I could adjust. All the while, I’m thinking, “How did he do that? Just breathe… How did he get inside of me with my jeans still on?” He said my tightness just made him harder, so he went faster. He said he couldn’t help himself… He pulled out, pulled me on the floor to my knees and told me to suck him off — he’d been wanting me to give him a blow job “for forever,” he said. Then he grabbed my hair and rammed my head down on his erection. I was still in shock, so my mouth must have felt like sandpaper. I was in a daze, on my knees, trying not to throw up, wearing all my clothes, trying to process what was happening. Just as quickly, it was over, and he was leaving. He was a friend. Dazed, but still true to my Southern upbringing of being polite, I walked him to his apartment a few buildings over. I walked home, but noticed I couldn’t feel the ground beneath me; my legs felt like jelly.
I stood in the center of my room, looking at the bed. I felt this whoosh of fluid. I was bleeding. I bled for 4 days. I thought about going to the police, but most of the people I knew also knew him. And if it went to trial, my “character witnesses” would all say they thought I’d been whoring for years — everyone assumed I was “loose” because I had large breasts. I feared being laughed at by the male policemen, ridiculed in court, verbally attacked by the opposing lawyer — I’ve watched enough TV to know how rape accusers are treated in court.
Yet, the hardest part — the part that actually made me not report my rape — was having to say in public that I was technically still a virgin at the old age of 21. Who would believe that? So I didn’t go to the police. Or the hospital. I just prayed I had not contracted some disease. After all, it seemed getting raped was inevitable in our society, so why should I complain? It’s not like is was a “bad rape” like being mauled in an alley by a scary boogeyman.
So then, maybe I wasn’t really raped. Maybe it was “just sex” after all…. Maybe sex with all my clothes on and without my permission is just “date-sex-I-didn’t-want-to-have-especially-since-I-was-a-virgin-but-it’s-not-really-rape.” Maybe Comedy Central comedian Daniel Tosh has a funny rape-joke commentary to make on my behalf?
People still think rape only occurs when the scary boogeyman assaults a woman in the mall parking lot at 10 p.m. Most women are raped by men (or women!) they know, particularly their spouses, family members, or neighbors. Rape is not the bullshit storyline you’ll see on Lifetime Television for Victims, just like you won’t find the secrets of orgasms in a Cosmo poll.
Because of my experience, I don’t do “blow jobs” — I do oral sex on my terms. I tell a man ahead of time not to grab my hair or he’s getting a fist in his balls. I also don’t get on my knees for any man or any god. More importantly, I don’t blame all men or hate the penis for what was done to me by one man.
As the mother of a daughter, the one thing that guided me in practically every decision I have made in her care and upbringing was that I wanted her to get to the age of 18 without being molested or raped. Now that she’s 14, I’m working on making sure she has a foundation of what is right for her and that she never has to succumb to an abuser. The age of 18 is now innocuous as I no longer hold the pessimistic world view that being raped is an inevitable fact of life for women.
Rape is not inevitable. Rape is preventable. To me, “rape culture” is a society that knows rape and sexual abuse are wrong but looks the other way while mocking the survivors who are willing to speak up and shaming the survivors too scared to speak out.
When our culture stops heeding the media’s marketing and drinking the misogynist KoolAid that de-values our experiences as rape survivors, only then can we adequately prevent rape from happening. Women, men, and children are experience rape on a daily basis. Rape culture exists in religion as well as government and society. Rape is a tool of war. It’s time we put an end to the rape culture that propagates sexual abuse while it terrorizes and punishes the survivors.
Rape is not inevitable. Rape is preventable. End #RapeCulture.