On being a rape victim: why I do not talk about it (and how it changed how I am educating my daughter)

I was an undergrad in university. My family lived closed enough to the university to get there every day by train – so, I still lived with them. However, it was tiring and complicated to get home in the night if I had evening sports practice or if I went out with friends, so I often slept at a friend’s house. She was part of my soccer team, had a spare bed in her room, and had offered me to use it whenever I wanted. Her housemate, a really nice girl and also a student, did not mind.

Then her housemate went to study abroad for a semester. She kept her room, but did not lock it. Soon after, a university guy talked my friend into letting him sleep there, paying her a reduced rent, with the deal that if the housemate was suddenly coming back he would immediately disappear with his things, leaving no trace and staying away for as long as needed.
I did not like it, but then, it was none of my business. Wasn’t particularly comfortable with the guy in the house, either – way to outgoing and popular and a party pooper (and yes, too openly womanizer) for my introverted nerd tastes – but again, it was not my house.

So… that one night, my friend and the “illegal housemate” had decided to have a few drinks before going to bed. I declined the invitation to join: I was finishing up my last exams, and needed to be sharp in the morning. Rather, I put on my Mickey Mouse fleece pajama and went to bed.
Sometime afterwards, the light turned on and they were both in the room. They were drunk had a jar of Nutella. She mostly held me down, he mostly played around with Nutella and with his hands and mouth. They kept laughing most of the time; then at some point, got tired of it and finally decided to leave me alone.

Forgive me if I do not remember or care to write all the details. Luckily, there was no getting screw A into screw hole B (and if you say that does not matter – well, just stop a second, consider the possible consequences, and admit it does). I recall that I tried to get up and away, and that I ordered, asked and pleaded to stop. But I also remember, afterwards, wondering if I had been loud, assertive, or violent enough in my reactions. I recall confusedly considering whether to try to make the house door, but feeling like in the middle of the night I had nowhere to go.

As soon as it was a decent hour, I got up, packed my stuff and left for university. After class, I found two friends, also from my soccer team, and told them everything. I felt ashamed, humiliated, awkward and defenseless – but talking to them helped. In the midst of it, my “friend” (the one that had been holding me down the night before) came by, joined the group as if nothing had happened, and said something, in a joking tone, about sodomizing me the past night. The other two exchanged a horrified look, and one of them dragged her away. I never saw her nor the idiotic new housemate again.

I spent most of the following three days in bed, forcing myself to re-live the whole thing. I asked myself all the hard questions that popped up in my head: Is what happened really wrong or am I exaggerating things? Did I do something to encourage it?
I never told anybody in my family. Somehow, I felt that it would not have helped – that I would have had to manage their reaction and difficulty to accept things in addition to mines.
When I realized I could go through the whole experience in my mind without squishing my head in the pillow to make images go away, I resolved something: I was not going to let two people I despised to have any more influence in my life than I wanted to. Luckily, their control over me was over.

I never sued. The only action I took was asking my soccer mates to have a serious talk with my “friend”. (They offered to kick her out of the team; I did not want to. I was about to graduate anyway, so I abandoned practice myself a couple of months sooner.)

You may wonder why I never sued. Here it is.

First of all, I truly cared for my friend and was grateful for her past generosity. And, believe it or not, I was and still am convinced that she did not fully realized that what she was doing was way past the line of being a bad-taste game. She was not having too easy of a time, either – she was seriously behind in her studies and not managing to catch up; and rather awkward socially. The last thing I wanted was to screw her up further by bringing some sort of irreversible legal consequences upon her. And frankly… maybe it is how newspapers report stories, but vengeance and punishment seem to me the only things that the legal system is (sometimes) able to do, in these cases – I do not have clear how preventing and rehabilitating could have gotten in the picture. And this last, was, frankly, the only thing I would have cared about obtaining.

Second, I was not up for telling and re-living the experience on any terms that were not my own, and having them questioned, dissected and distorted. I had enough questions and insecurities on my own, and needed all the mental quiet and sanity I could get.

Third, as I said above, I wanted to move on. Building up a case would have required energy, and time. It would have made what happened a central part of my life, and the life of those around me, for months. And that was exactly what I did not want – waste time and energy on it.

I also very rarely tell people about this. It’s not because I am uncomfortable – it’s over, it’s fine with me, and some of the reflections in the three days that ensued have actually been quite precious afterwards. But while this experience is part of my life, I do not want it to be perceived as “what defines my life”. I am not “The Girl Who Has Been Raped”. Or maybe I am, but it is definitely not the first thing I want anybody to think of when they think about me. And somehow I feel like this rape thing is very sticky in people’s minds. You know, how they look at you when you tell them something that makes them realize you are a completely different person than what they thought?? I want to be known, identified and remembered for other stuff – seriously, I have done stuff that is much more impressive than surviving a night with two idiots. And, the two idiots have ultimately not incapacitated me in the least.
But, to be sure that this is not going to have consequences on my so called “public image”, I am still posting this in an anonymous blog.

Why did I write it? Well… there are three conclusions (or hypothesis) that I kind of would like to share. Lately, I have read and listened to a lot of people with opinions on violence against women – and while I think they are doing some great work, I think they are also not getting some other stuff that I personally wish were different – and maybe some other people, too. Here are three personal wishes and considerations.

One is about law and public policy.
I wish prevention and protection actions were designed differently. Statistics say that most rapes are perpetrated by people close to the victims – parents and friends. It does not feel that unlikely to me that some of us may love the people who rape us, and may actively not want to irreparably screw up their lives – no matter what they have done. Policy makers and NGOs: it would be great if you designed, created and advertised options of instruments aimed at preventing, stopping or at least avoiding the repetition of the action that do not cause excessive damage to (and possibly help) the perpetrator.

A second is about society.
What the fuck with the mixed sexual messages and models to youngsters. Adolescents and youngsters are already highly confused by hormones. They do not need to be bombarded by comments and considerations which relate their social success to their sexual life and experience. Being a “womanizer” is not a characteristic of your boy that you should be actively proud of (yes dads, you heard me). And let’s please admit that both maintaining and losing virginity can be highly complicated issues in a youngster’s mind – less jokes and absolute judgements and more empathy are probably a good idea, whatever one’s values.

A third is about educating girls.
I wish the rape monster was unveiled and talked about more rationally. Let’s be clear, rape is NOT a good thing, ever, and should be prevented and condemned – but sometimes I feel like fear of it and post-fact reactions are out of proportion. If it is true that one-in-two-to-one-in-five women (depends who you listen to) are victims of some kind of sexual harassment, then… well, it can’t always be such a traumatic and consequential event such as to mark and condition one’s life forever. Of course, sometimes it is, but so is armed burglary; however, we do not associate victims of armed burglary with the same level of stigma and long-lasting sorrowfulness (… it is generally assumed that, except for the most extreme situations, they will eventually get completely over it); and we do not have the same level of reproach for people who, for whatever reason, consciously or unconsciously chose to put themselves in a situation in which there is some risk of it happening.
Also… one-in-two-to-one-in-five implies a way higher risk than that of a fire in a building. We do drills for those, why not prepare girls for reacting in sexual harassment situations? I am talking about everything from harassment in the workplace (having formal mechanisms is great; but they usually imply escalating the situation and the consequences and should be a last, not unique resort), to situations that imply direct physical confrontation. Let’s teach our girls to scream when they need to: it may be how we educate them, but in karate classes, sometimes it takes weeks to get their voice really out; and to forget niceness and be assertive in saying “no” whenever it is needed. Let’s design and rehearse mechanisms to make it easier to call for support (in this article a dad describes a brilliant idea to make it easier for his kids to reach out to him to pull them out of unpleasant situations). Also, let’s talk openly (when they are old enough) about what reactions are or are not likely to get them into further danger when they are being assaulted. And last, let’s look at rape victims for what they are: people that went through a highly unpleasant and possibly dangerous experience, which may (or not) have lasting consequences for them – but which significance it is up for them to define.