I was raped once. It was back when I was younger — a happy, hard-working grad student who drank too much one night and woke up to find I had somehow lost my voice. That and so much more was forcefully taken from me.
Losing your voice is devastating. For a while, you forget you even had one. You keep your head down, hoping no one will notice you. You try to forget what happened, convince yourself it was a bad dream. You assume blame for what happened. You feel lucky that at least he didn’t kill you and bury you in some ditch or a lake. You stop drinking. You stop laughing. You lose sight of who you are and what you once felt vocal about.
It is excruciatingly painful — although at the time, you often feel so numb you don’t even realize what’s going on. You are in survival mode, just trying to get through each day, and hoping that the next one is a little less scary.
If you’re lucky like me, you find people who can support you, who help you find your voice again and help you feel reconnected. You find a therapist who can help you make sense of what happened, help you learn how to accept it and move forward with your life.
I look around now, 10 years later, and I find myself happy and hard-working again, with a wonderful family and so much to be thankful for. I have found my voice again, thanks to my amazing husband, supportive family, a few great therapists, and a job that I could pour my heart into. And for the most part, things are normal again.
But sometimes things pop up — for instance, this recent sexual assault that occurred at Stanford. I usually avoid reading too much about rape and sexual assault in the news because I find it disturbing and triggering for me. But when I heard the victim had released an impact letter — a 12-page letter that she read directly to her assailant in court — I couldn’t ignore it. I read every word of her heart-wrenchingly vulnerable statement, which left me sobbing and angry. It felt like I could have been writing those words, having those awful, dark thoughts.
And then I couldn’t sleep. My flashbacks returned, reminding me of my own evil night so many years ago.
That is the real bitch about rape. It never fully leaves you. You can move past it, be happy, healthy, stronger. But random things can pick you up and throw you right back into the past as if it were just yesterday. And while this happens less and less often, it is still debilitating.
For me, it means that I spend a few days remembering, seeing things I don’t want to, succumbing to random tearful fits, feeling scared, threatened, hyper-vigilant — looking over my shoulder and assuming the worst in people, especially men.
Worst of all, I feel very alone. I can’t talk to my husband — my loving, compassionate soulmate — about this because he gets so angry and frustrated. He just doesn’t get it. His reaction helps neither of us, and so I stay silent. It’s not his fault. He shouldn’t have to worry about how to comfort his wife who was sexually assaulted a decade ago before we knew each other. It’s not fair to put that burden on him.
I don’t tell my friends, either. It still feels shameful, embarrassing, and burdensome, even though I know better. My parents? Forget it.
And so I suffer those few days in silence, losing my voice yet again, with no one knowing how demoralized I feel, why I took an extra long shower that day to try for the millionth time to wash the invisible filth off me that will never completely go away, or why I didn’t sleep well last night because I had nightmares of being pinned down and suffocated.
At least now when I do get triggered, it’s no longer an all-consuming free-fall into depression, fitful sleep, and binge eating. I can generally get past it by cutting myself some slack and taking it easy for a few days. Now, when I cry reading another victim’s 12-page statement, I shed angry tears — tears for all the other women who continue to be abused, a growing group that is bound by our fear, shame, and silence.
Now that I have a daughter, I am fearful yet again, although this time not for my own safety but for hers. I stay awake late at night, worrying that she too will have the same fate as so many others — a thought that is so painful I cannot bear it. At times it feels hopeless and overwhelming, but like all troublesome things, I’m learning the best thing I can do is talk about it.
Sexual assault is a very difficult thing to discuss, but we need to be teaching our sons and daughters about appropriate, safe, respectful, consensual sex. Avoiding the conversation only creates shame and confusion and perpetuates the cycle.
So moms out there, I beg of you to talk to your children about the importance of consensual sex. Teach them how to treat others with respect and how to stay safe. Teach your girls how to say no.
It’s not an easy conversation to have, but it has to happen. Otherwise, all of us victims will continue to suffer in silence — when what we really need to do is find our collective voice.