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Editor's Note: This piece may be sensitive and/or triggering to some readers. If you are, or know someone who is, a victim of rape or sexual violence, we hope this essay serves helpful reminders and resources. For additional help, you can call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE or visit the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.
I am a 32-year-old Black woman who has experienced rape multiple times. Twice at 21 and once at 27. I only began healing from this at 30 after I sought the help of a therapist when I could no longer be left alone with my own thoughts. I didn't see myself worthy or beautiful or strong. I just existed. I didn't think that what happened to me could have been traumatic, but its funny that trauma has another way of working itself out. I had been prone to flashbacks, I shied away from healthy romantic relationships, and I couldn't stand the thought of being touched affectionately. I never thought of my rape as something that changed who I was, just something that if I worked hard enough, I could forget.
After talking with other rape survivors, I've learned the path towards healing has not always been easy and that my healing had to be done on my own because no one could save me from myself. There are many sexual assault survivors who have healed through open discussion, while others have healed privately. But what I've come across through both private and open discussion have been a few common themes. Truths I call it; because regardless of race, age, and gender sexual assault survivors have encountered one or all of these truths.
Some People Will Not Believe You
No one believed I was raped. No one. Not even my own mother believed me and not any of my friends. They all had their own views of rape, what a rape victim looked like, how a rape victim should react, and how a rape victim was even raped. Somehow I never fit the bill because I didn't look physically distressed, didn't report my rape to the police, and because I never did drugs or alcohol. People may not believe you and some may even dissect your very character to discredit you with their own willful ignorance. I admit that before being raped I thought all rapes were violent with bloody noses and fractured jawlines; my experience has proved otherwise.
You Will Never Be The Same
I put up a huge fight internally over this. Months after my third rape I started working out more vigorously, I took up a second job and worked 70+ hours a week. I bought more clothes, I created dating profiles on several apps and went on dates every week, I was extremely upbeat and talkative at work in an attempt to mask how I was truly feeling because I felt more in control. I rarely cried and filled my calendar with random activities when I was neither at work or the gym. I scheduled almost every minute of my life. I did everything I could to avoid how I truly felt: alone, ugly, vulnerable, weak, stupid, and hopeless. I thought if I had put on a facade of being strong and confident I could somehow forget what happened, I thought if I filled my closet with clothes I didn't have the confidence to wear that I would somehow gain a sense of self-worth. I thought if I was obnoxiously happy no one could ever believe that I was sad. With all the time I had put into being someone else or trying to get back to who I thought I once was I never took a moment to realize who I was currently, and that was someone who was not OK.
The Truth May Set You Free
I spent way too much time worried about how I would look to others if I had been honest, but I felt I didn't have much choice. I would sit in classrooms in college and listen to ignorant sexist rape remarks from both men and women about how women who are silent about their rapes who come forward years later are seeking attention or how it is virtually impossible for a man to be raped by women because they're stronger. I sat there in silence at first, but through tears, I raised my hand and said with a quivering voice. "I have been raped three times, by three different men does that mean I'm no longer worthy of belief or respect?" No one immediately answered. Even though I felt a weight lifted off my shoulders and some of my classmates treated me differently, I no longer cared what they thought.
Spousal Rape Is Real
Although my first two rapes were not by men I was currently dating, my third rape was by a long term boyfriend who I had been with. I had the flu, he had an erection and when I told him "no" repeatedly, he pulled me close and said, "You either gon' give it to me or I'm gon' take it." I physically froze and cried the entire time. My ex-boyfriend didn't see himself as a rapist because we were in a relationship and that somehow a relationship meant undenied access to my body yet denied access to his. When I revealed to some close friends what happened they tried to chuck it as a sexual misunderstanding because after all why would my boyfriend who had previous knowledge of my rapes rape me? Why would anyone that says they love me hurt me this way? I hate to say that many people feel that rape in relationships doesn't occur because somehow our bodies are no longer our own. Two somehow becomes one and I admit I used to think this was romantic, but just because we agreed to be together does not mean he owned me. I was a human being in a relationship, not an object. Even in relationship consent is important. No still means no.
No one deserves this to happen to them
I cannot tell you enough how many times I've heard women and men blame themselves for relying on the kindness of a stranger, for never suspecting someone they knew or love as being capable of raping them or blaming themselves for being at certain places at a certain time. They blamed it on their personalities, their use of drugs or alcohol, on what they were wearing; but despite all of that they didn't deserve it. I didn't deserve it. No one deserves this. I used to think that if I wasn't so gullible it wouldn't have happened. If I hadn't got the flu I would have been strong enough to run out of the room. If I didn't freeze that I could've fought back, but now I feel that I reacted in a way that may have been best for myself. I couldn't come to terms for a long time about had happened to me and often excused the men who did this and would say "it wouldn't have happened if I wasn't so stupid."As if it was justification for what was done. It took me years to realize that rape isn't about a strong uncontrollable passion, or a form of trickery, not even an ego check because you were either full of yourself or not confident enough.
At the end of the day, people are always going to have crushes, people will always be lied to, and you will always come across an asshole. Rape has and will always be about power.