UPDATE: Please be aware that this post may be a trigger. The content of the post may be graphic and reignite distress.
I am not one to jump on pop-culture or political hate trains, but every once in a while something happens that is too important not to address. It wasn’t a week ago that Sean and I were talking about the future in store with three daughters. This happens each year as we approach the back-to-school gauntlet. We probably jumped too far ahead, thinking about how we have to teach them how to protect themselves from mean girls and aggressive boys. Before I knew it we were talking about the girls driving.
“If they want to go on a date, that’s fine, but the boys can’t drive. I drove like a bat out of hell, so no teenage boy is going to drive them. Period.” As I tend to do when he makes these sorts of declarations, I chuckled and shook my head. “Babe, they’ll just switch seats at the end of the road, which is more dangerous and then the boy will spend the rest of the night proving himself which will lead to faster driving. It won’t work.” We swayed for a bit in imagining what we can’t yet know.
I looked at him, “we have a lot of decisions to make. Like how much do we tell them? Do I tell them that I was a smoker? Do I tell them about being raped? I don’t know if it helps or hurts.” He didn’t hesitate before saying, “You tell them everything.”
I nodded, knowing that at some point they will need to hear that I made poor decisions (smoking) and that I was unable to protect myself (rape). I will need to say, “I made the decision to smoke. I also made the decision to quit.” A day will come when I will tell them, “I never thought it could happen to me, I thought I was safe and that I was strong. I was raped.”
I was seventeen and I didn’t know him. I was less than 4 blocks from my house. I was stone cold sober. He held me down. He ignored my pleading, ignored my crying, overpowered my kicks and fighting. He forced himself between my legs and in my mouth. He used me as if I belonged to him. I tried going absolutely limp, thinking it would make a difference. Nothing slowed his brutal thrusting. Tears slipped from the corners of my eyes and I looked out the window and stared at a distant street light. Despite being at the center of what he was doing, it was like I wasn’t there.
It was my gagging and vomiting from his forcing himself in my throat that finally made him stop. I remember standing in the shower shaving between my legs and holding the shower head, with the water set to scalding, inside of me until I couldn’t stand it anymore. No matter what I did I could not wash him away. I did not have to decide what to do with a pregnancy. I just had to try and find a way to carry on even though the sensation of his hair in my throat would choke me in the middle of class.
It’s been so many years since it happened, but I could still drive you to the exact spot where he parked the car that he wouldn’t let me get out of. I could walk you to the gutter that I hid in after running from him, while I listened to the violent rumble of the engine as he drove around the neighborhood looking for me. I can describe what it felt like to worry that he would see me near my house, that he would think he could do it to me again.
Yesterday, like so many of us, I clicked on a link to the “shocking things” said by US Representative Todd Akin about victims of rape.
“First of all, from what I understand from doctors, (pregnancy from rape) is really rare,” Akin told KTVI-TV in a clip posted to YouTube by the Democratic super PAC American Bridge. “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”
Akin added: “But let’s assume that maybe that didn’t work or something. I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be on the rapist and not attacking the child.”
This man has been in office for 6 terms and this is what he said after Twitter, Facebook, news outlets and radio programs lit up with wave after wave of response to his comments:
Akin said in an emailed statement later Sunday that he “misspoke” during the interview, though the statement did not specify which points or comments.
“In reviewing my off-the-cuff remarks, it’s clear that I misspoke in this interview and it does not reflect the deep empathy I hold for the thousands of women who are raped and abused every year,” Akin’s statement said.
Akin also said in the statement he believes “deeply in the protection of all life and I do not believe that harming another innocent victim is the right course of action.”
I never imagined that I would share this story here. I write about being a mom, about my work, and about my love. Yet here I am, sharing something I would rather not have the people in my community knowing about me. I run a business, I have people who don’t like me, people who compete with me. I like to have some modicum of control over what I share, not because I am embarrassed by what happened to me, but because I can. I can have a private side, I can keep my hurt safe and away from judgement or opinion. It’s my choice.
I have three daughters who I will do everything I can to equip with strong minds and bodies. I will prepare them for hard decisions and warn them about unexpected danger. Like so many other parents, I’ll try to divert them from the paths I wish I hadn’t walked (willing or unwillingly), but I will not succeed in keeping them unharmed. I cannot. What I can do is speak up when I have the chance, cast a ballot, share a story or own a mistake in order to help shape a society that will help them heal. I cannot help but interpret what Todd Akin said as being akin to another rape. It isn’t that I am wildly pro-choice and think that every pregnancy should start with a, “Shall we terminate or shall we take it to term?” kind of debate.
I do feel that when a woman is used for sex against her will and when that violent act produces a pregnancy it is the woman, girl or girl along with her guardians, who should have the option to select what should happen next. No senator, mayor, representative or judge should say whether or not a woman or girl will house, nurture and bring into the world a physical manifestation of a violent act. If we are going to dissect the issue, her life comes first. It is her body. It is the one choice she has and in some cases she may very well choose to follow through with the pregnancy, who knows? But it should be up to her. Anything else is a continuation of the assault and revocation of her right to decide for herself.
Rape changes you. You don’t ever outgrow, rise above, or erase being raped. It becomes a part of your forever. It makes you think things like, “You know what, maybe you should use a different word than rape to describe how much they charged you for something at the dealership,” and it makes you think, “Joking about rape is not ok,” but mostly it makes you think, “Unless you have been raped, you don’t have any say in what I do to heal after my rape.”
I am choosing to share this because I cry during every pap smear. I cringe every time a movie features a rape. The victim, the survivor, the daughter and the mother in me cannot contribute to building a country that will say to a woman made pregnant against her will that she has no choice. I cannot stand by as men redefine the definition of rape. I cannot keep the graphic nature of my own story quiet while others who are paid to be ready to talk, to know their shit, speak “off the cuff” and suggest that there is a kind of biological magic that happens after a rape.
Rape removes any choice. Narrowing the interpretation of rape and limiting access to the option to have an abortion after a rape are one more way of stripping women of their voices.
Use your voice.