Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Letter to a rape survivor. 03.07.14

“There are those hearts, reader, that never mend again once they are broken. Or if they do mend, they heal themselves in a crooked and lopsided way, as if sewn together by a careless craftsman.” ― Kate DiCamillo, Tale of Despereaux

I don’t know anything about you.  I don’t know your background, your personality, your hopes and dreams and fears.  I don’t even know what you went through, as the label of “rape” is now applied to a vast range of events – all horrid, all inexcusable, but all the same very different.  I don’t know you.  Maybe I never will.

I do know one thing about you, however: I know that ever since your ordeal, in many people’s mind you’ve stopped being a person. You are a statistic, a client, a warning or a symbol, but not a person. It’s not your fault. It’s theirs. 

To the police and medical staff you’re a patient, a victim, a case, but ultimately a number. Whilst the individuals may care about you, the system mostly cares about what boxes your case will tick.  Will you be one of the many cases that never get reported to the authorities (1) Will your case be reported but not prosecuted?  Will they be able to secure a conviction?  Will you pass right through the medical system, or will you be back time and time again, requiring long-term care?  What resources will you require?  How much will you cost us or gain us?  The system will eat your individuality and turn you into a statistic.

Some fanatics will try to turn you into a dire warning.  To them you are nothing but a modern-day Red Riding Hood who should be held in front of all the other girls as a cautionary tale: you see what happens when you stray off the beaten path?  You see what happens when you behave improperly, when you dress immodestly, when you are just too damn attractive for your own good?  See what happens when you’re not invisible and inaudible, when you make people notice you?  Oblivious of the harsh reality outside their front doors, these people will try to blame you for your ordeal, often without knowing anywhere near enough about the circumstances.  They don’t need any actual facts, because however loudly they may proclaim their “truth”, it is nothing but the darkness in their heart combining with the ignorance in their brain into a poisonous bile.  They are not presenting an argument you have to dispute; they are spewing forth a vomit you have to avoid getting on you.  

These people are toxic, but thankfully they are incredibly rare. They are so rare, in fact, that every time one of them opens their rotten mouths it seems to make the news.  They shock and astonish us precisely because their position, though it's claimed to be endemic, goes completely against what the vast majority of people hold true.

Most of us, regardless of what you have been told, are on your side. Many of us truly care about you, but may not be able to convert their caring into action, or even words.  Many people just don't know the right thing to do or say, and are desperately worried about doing or saying something wrong.

Some people lack that uncertainty.  Confident and vocal, guided by their mission, they demand the right to defend you.  They see you as a blameless victim of a dreadful violation, whose victimhood should be exalted and protected.  They want to slay the beast that hurt you (not the person, but the crime), to eradicate it from the world forever.  They claim to care for you, to be fighting on your behalf, but they are telling a half-truth.  You are not their priority: the priority is the cause, the epic crusade that they have embarked upon.  And in order to show how important the crusade is, it needs victims.  It needs people who were hurt, are hurting and will keep hurting.  These people need to be able to hold you up to the world as a demonstration of how terrible rape is, of the inescapability and depth of the scars it leaves behind, of the lives it destroys forever.  To them you are the living proof of the magnitude of their cause.  You are not a person: you are a martyr, a sacrifice, a bleeding symbol for their cause - and they will keep you bleeding.

These noble crusaders insist they are the only ones who can help, who can understand. They believe they have the only solution.  But their crusade is fighting Rape - helping you to cope, heal and grow is of secondary importance.  In fact, anything that detracts from their heroic goal must be crushed, even if it’s precisely what you need.  

Because of this noble cause, we cannot give you comfort or hope, because we cannot tell you anything that could be construed as minimising or normalising rape.  We cannot show you how intact you actually are, how the damage done to your body and your mind, however bad it is, is limited.  You are still here, broken and hurting, maybe hurting more than you ever thought you could bear; but you are still here.  Your experience didn’t kill you or utterly destroy you.  The worst is already over.  You can get better, you will get better. 

We cannot tell you that, in a sense, you already are better, because now you know how strong you truly are.  You know you are stronger than you ever imagined, because you have lived through this and you’re still here, still clinging on to yourself.  We cannot tell you that you will be a different person after this, but different doesn’t mean weaker, broken, or in any way worse, because you can not only heal, but guide your healing.

We cannot tell you that we know this to be a fact because countless scores of women have gone through what you’ve gone through and come out the other end changed, but not for the worse.  Whilst some were left broken and beaten out of shape, many or most didn’t.  We cannot tell you that, according to our own statistics, there are most probably women in your life who have suffered like you, and are not only functional, but truly whole, so whole in fact that you don’t even know who they are.

We cannot paint you a bright picture of yourself in the future, able to look back at this rotten, sordid event and see how far you’ve come, how much you’ve grown, how resilient you are.  We cannot tell you a story about a you who sees herself as infinitely bigger than the event that hurt her so, back then.  We cannot tell you that to get there is totally within your grasp, but it’s all up to you.  It’s up to you to make sure that you don’t grow crooked or broken or bitter.  It’s up to you to keep your eyes firmly on the goal, even during the bad days – and there will be bad days, but you will cope with them.  You know you can because you’ve already coped with this.

We cannot tell you that though coping mechanisms are different for everyone, there are some techniques that are proven to help most people.  We particularly cannot tell you that it is generally healthier to focus on the problem itself and constructive ways of managing it, rather than focusing on the feelings that the problem has engendered.  No, we must constantly encourage you to be aware of your feelings, to constantly poke yourself where you hurt the most, to obsess about your sufferings.  At the same time, we encourage you to avoid all triggers – not to see them as incredibly painful yet useful indicators of an ongoing problem you will in time overcome, but as monsters you should avoid forever.  We encourage you to turn your triggers into phobias by recoiling from all exposure, so you can make your horror permanent.

We cannot tell you how you may be able to avoid this happening again.  Hell, we are not allowed to revisit your ordeal and look for ways in which you may have avoided or reduced it at all, because that may make you feel bad, that may make you feel as if you’ve done something wrong.  You must be blameless in this!  It doesn’t matter if this also leaves you utterly powerless, because the only logical consequence of being utterly unable to protect yourself yesterday is that you will be equally unable to protect yourself today and tomorrow and for the rest of your days.  We cannot give you the reassurance that, though some horrors are random and unavoidable, many are not.  We cannot give you any extra awareness or skills.  We cannot give you any feeling of control, or the hope not to be a victim again and again.

We cannot tell you that it’s ok if you actually just don’t feel that bad.  We cannot tell you that it’s ok for some people to feel as if they did well, because they realise that it could have been much worse, because they didn’t die or lose limbs or got scarred or...  We cannot tell you that it’s ok for some people not to care too much, because it’s a hazy memory they can hardly recall, so they prefer to bury it and move right along.  We cannot tell you all sort of weird and warped and wonderful tales survivors tell themselves in order to keep themselves together, pick themselves up and start moving on, moving forward, moving away from this.  We cannot tell you that sometimes what you need today is not what you will need tomorrow, because what is good short-term may not work long-term, but that whatever makes you feel better, feel more functional, feel like yourself, is just fine. And we absolutely cannot tell that for some people the best and final strategy is to face the unvarnished, inglorious, confusing, painful truth, because you only need to accept the truth once, but you need to reinforce lies all the time.

We cannot tell you any of this, though all or some of it may help you, because that’s not what’s important. None of this is about making you feel better. It isn’t about teaching you how to cope or heal or grow. This monopoly on rape is about slaying the monster. And the fight needs all the fighters it can get, and in order to gain troops it needs victims; suffering, broken victims who, by never getting better, can be turned into martyrs. And now you’re one of them.

So we keep telling you time and time again that this event was an awful ordeal, that it has hurt you deeply, that it has scarred you forever.  We make your victimhood more important than your healing.  We rub salt in your wounds so they can stay open forever for all to see how bad rape is, as if we didn’t know that, as if anyone with half a brain would need reminding.

Rape is bad.  But healing is possible, healing is necessary, healing is natural, and healing should come first.  YOU should come first.  You should be the most important person here, our first priority.  You have earned that right.  This is your life and this is your story.  This is not a social commentary or a moral crusade: THIS IS YOUR STORY.  It belongs to you and to you only, as does the right to heal.

Don’t let yourself be used, nor for evil nor for good.  You neither need nor deserve it.  Anything that stops you getting better is nothing but another iniquity thrown at you, regardless of its intentions.

There are people out there who don’t care so much about what happened to you – not because it wasn’t awful, or significant, or life-changing, or earth-shattering, but because they care about you first and foremost.  They know you are infinitely more important than whatever tragedy may hit you.  Those are the people who will support and help you, who will put you first, who will help you grow strong again and make sure that you don’t grow crooked.  Those are the only people who matter, those who care about you as a person, not as a victim or a warning or a number.  To anyone else you’re expendable.  To them, you are you.

(1) If you don't report, don't think you won't make the numbers. You will still be used, in a very particular way, but that's a pretty complicated stand-alone subject, enough so it deserves its own blog.

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