Normally I listen to the problems that we go through as a country and withhold my comments. However, in the recent months I have been blindsided with news of another rape, sometimes two in one week. As a recovering victim for the past nine years, I have often felt the need to speak out on this horrible crime. I do so now, for the first time, while still undergoing counselling. It is my hope that my coming out, so to speak, will create in this society a greater awareness of what it is to be a victim of rape. I feel certain that a third of this nation’s women will relate. It is my wish that more of us will bring into the open what so many of us are going through in self-destructive silence.
I feel the need to remind everyone that rape is a devastating crime, with life-changing effects on women. Some are badly injured. Some become pregnant. Some contract HIV. But the emotional trauma is usually a lot worse than any physical injury. And this I say from personal experience. Women who are raped suffer recurring nightmares, panic attacks, anxiety, depression, waves of self-doubt, an overwhelming sense of distrust.
The lives of women who have suffered this tragic crime are forever changed. Some say they can never be the same; that it’s like dying. Recently, a mentor of mine spoke to me on this issue and made me realize we actually die when we are raped. The person I was before my incidents is forever gone. Or so I felt.
I was no longer kindhearted. I stopped being respectful to others. I was without an ounce of self-worth. The person I was died and was replaced by someone I never knew before my experience. I believed that if my innocence could’ve been taken so easily, then it was never worth much. I spent years of my life upset at my family for not knowing, but afraid to tell anyone, since the only person I told blamed me for what had happened to me.
I don’t blame him for blaming me. We live in a culture that has convinced us we have choices in life and that we’re responsible for what happens to us. If you get beaten, you’re said to have provoked it. If you’re raped, then you invited it. From a very young age, you’re taught that you’re responsible for the things that happen in your life, positive and negative. So when a rape situation occurs, the first question in a victim’s mind is: What did I do wrong?
I questioned myself for many years, trying to find answers to excuse this man for what he had done. Maybe I instigated it; maybe I wasn’t supposed to be where I was; maybe I led him on.
It’s not only the victim who blames herself. Society is quick to blame her as well. Even a four-year-old girl would be held responsible for seducing her adult perpetrator. Now what are we saying? We’re saying we don’t know how to take responsibility as a society. Therefore, we continue to blame the victim.
As rape survivors, we often think: Why did I get in the car with him? Why did I go to that party? Why did I get drunk? Why did I dress so provocatively? Truth is, we can second-guess all day long but the bottom line is that we would not have been raped had our rapist chosen to respect us—not commit a crime against a decent human being.
Being raped can make a person paranoid and compulsive, a battle I have struggled with for years. I struggled with living alone. Every sound I heard outside or inside, however small, would send me into a panic and keep me up all night huddled in a corner on my bed with a knife in my hand. You cannot understand the severity of the situation unless you’ve been a victim. It is just one of the many issues we face. Being a victim of rape kept me searching for something to fill the void in me. I would imagine that by doing something in particular the void would be filled. But when I still felt empty and continued to search, I found myself becoming unstable in jobs, my relationships and so on. I felt like everyone was trying to hurt me; to abuse me one way or another. This led to some very uncompromising situations, bad relationships and so on.
I became what I consider promiscuous. No relationship was ever good enough. I was constantly on the look-out for a better one. I engaged in sexual activity in an attempt to feel wanted. I know it may sound silly and pathetic, but only if you’ve never walked in the shoes of a rape victim. Sex was anything but enjoyable; it was something I did to satisfy whoever I was with. I used to wonder why other people exaggerated their sexual activities.
As I said earlier my personality shifted from respectful to mean and angry. I would throw tantrums and rant over the slightest things. I partied excessively and would do precisely what my parents said I should not. I was constantly rebelling against everyone while trying to be good enough for everyone. Confused? Join the club. When I wasn’t angry or drunk or with some no-good guy, I’d be in my room crying and wishing someone would understand what I was going through. I felt so alone and abandoned.
Having been raped once at age 15, imagine my condition after it happened a second time. I completely blamed myself on the basis that you blame the dog that bites you first. But the next time a dog bites you, you blame yourself. It did not matter that the dog that first bit me was not the same dog that bit me the second time. I was convinced I deserved what had twice happened to me. I felt I was doing something to turn seemingly good men into monsters without conscience.
For years, I lived with hurt, trying to keep a brave face, seeing my abusers walking the streets—and smiling at me—secretly hating them and wishing they were dead. Finally help would come when it was least expected.
I reluctantly agreed to accompany someone to CITAC Pentecostal Church and after a while I had some sessions with Pastor Kendall. At first it was difficult to open up to a man about what his gender had done to me. The last thing I wanted was a preacher man. He spoke to me as a friend and a mentor and eventually I opened up. With the pastor’s help I gradually learned to forgive those who had hurt me so badly. When I encountered them in the street I no longer experienced fear. Slowly but surely I started to move on with my life. It took guts; it took a lot of work; determined effort. But I was able to see them in public and no longer fear them.
Years later, I am still piecing together my life, trying to figure out who I am. I have had some satisfying accomplishments but what those sick men took from me can never be regained. I now spend a lot of my free time advising other young women, helping them follow their dreams.
My message to anyone out there who has been raped or otherwise sexually abused is to talk to someone; there are ways to deal with what you are going through. Whether or not you have the strength to forgive your abuser, still you must move on with your life and not permit yourself to get stuck in the horrible past. You need to be strong for your own sake and for the sake of those who truly care about you.
Important: report your rape as soon as possible. There are services available to victims, however limited. Reach out to a counsellor, someone trained to work with sexual assault victims. Work at convincing yourself of the truth that in your own way you are beautiful, you are a person of worth. The process may be difficult, you may need the support of people you trust. But rest assured, you’ll get there if you try hard enough. And remember, you are not alone.