A lot of words have been written about Dylan Farrow this weekend. A lot of words have been written about rape culture since the Steubenville rape. And now, I’m going to add words of my own. Because writing is how I process. Because I feel like not speaking up makes me complicit in some way. And because I’m tired of carrying the burden of my story privately. So this is my rape culture story. Trigger warning.
When I was very young (maybe 3) I was sexually abused by my babysitter. I consider myself lucky because it only happened once. When my parents told me this babysitter was going to come back, I burst into tears and told them what happened. Because the babysitter was the son of my parents’ friends and was not much more than a child himself, the matter was handled privately. The boy spoke to a priest. My family continued to socialize with his family, but I was never left alone with him again. The matter was brushed under the carpet and forgotten. I didn’t remember again until I was in my tweens and we had a special assembly in which we talked about sexual abuse. The memories came rushing back to me then. I went home and confronted my mother and she admitted that it had happened. I’ve never really felt like I had anything to contribute to conversations of rape or sexual abuse because my experience was mild compared to that of others. I wasn’t beaten. It didn’t happen more than once. I’d forgotten about it for years. I didn’t feel like I could validly call myself a survivor without being accused of melodrama. I found myself saying things like, “I was abused, but it wasn’t a big deal”.
A couple of years ago, my family became friendly with another family. This family had been torn apart by a series of events which were unfurled when one member of the family revealed that she had been raped by her cousin. At the time of the rape, she was a tween, he was a teenager. He forced her to put his penis in her mouth. She fought him, got away and ran screaming and crying to her mother. As in my situation, the matter was dealt with privately so the rest of the family did not even know what happened until years and years later. When I heard this story, it was like a wound in my heart because it was so similar to my own. I have not spoken to this young woman so I don’t know if she, like me, was told that it would be nice, that she would like it, that it was a special secret just between us. After hearing this story, I told my parents that the rapist was not someone I wanted to meet. That he was not someone I wanted to know. I understand, his parents are friends with my parents. I understand that his parents forgave him. I understand that he may have been abused when he was a child. But I literally can not bear the idea of being in the same room as this person and my parents keep forgetting what he’s done. They really like him. They want me to be friends with him because he’s about my age and he lives in my neighborhood. They’re certain the story was exaggerated. The mental health of the cousin is called into question. The motives and sanity of her champions are also questioned. The cousin is faced with two choices whenever there is a family event – face her rapist or stay home while he socializes with the rest of her family. My parents keep wanting me to be friends with this guy. Our families spent the holidays together and because I couldn’t face the thought of breaking bread with him, of smiling at him and his new wife, I stayed home alone on Thanksgiving and Christmas. I had an excellent excuse – I was sick. I wasn’t faking it. I really was sick. The thought of being in the same room with this man makes me feel physically ill.
Rape culture means that the rapist gets to attend social events while the victim, not wanting to face him, stays at home. Rape culture means the victim has her motives and sanity questioned. Rape culture means the victim is pressured to get over it. Rape culture means the rapist is innocent until proven guilty and the victim is guilty of lying until she can prove her innocence. Rape culture places the burden of proof on the victim. Rape culture shames the victim into keeping silent and then gleefully pounces on her when she finally speaks up, asking why she didn’t bring it up earlier. Rape culture is almost every woman I know has experienced some form of rape or sexual abuse. Rape culture is I can count, on one hand, the number of women who have successfully pursued a case in court. Rape culture is being afraid to speak up because you can’t bear to recount the shame of what happened to you, because you can’t bear the way people look at you when you tell them. Rape culture is sometimes they roll their eyes at you for bringing it up at all. Rape culture is knowing that they think less of you because this thing happened to you. Rape culture means knowing your parents and friends may question your sanity, your memory and your motives because you’ve heard them do this to other victims who have dared to come forward. Rape culture is holding one of your best friends while she sobs because ten years earlier, when she was raped by one of her brother’s friends, her adored father blamed her for being provocative.
Rape culture is getting your dream job on a television show and then having your boss, someone you idolized growing up, repeatedly offer to pay you to perform sexual acts on him. In public. During staff meetings. Rape culture is no one meeting your eyes when this happens. Rape culture is sitting there quietly while he speculates about what sexual acts you performed on someone else. Rape culture is feeling relief when he moves on to another target. Rape culture is absolutely no one who was sitting in that room with you acknowledging what was said to you. Rape culture is being afraid to tell this story because it makes you look weak or bitter.
Rape culture is sitting in a meeting with your bosses and hearing them talk about a director they really want to be in business with. Rape culture is hearing them discuss which young attractive production assistant to assign to that director. Rape culture is listening while that girl is told to make sure the director is happy. Rape culture is hearing the girl called a slut if she accepts the advances of the director. Rape culture is not making eye contact with the director’s wife when she comes into the office. Rape culture is knowing people assume you got a job because you performed a sex act with your boss. Rape culture is knowing you can’t defend yourself against these charges because people have already decided what happened. Rape culture is not speaking up when a girl who slept with a director is called a slut. Rape culture is feeling shame because you actually did have consensual sex with someone older, richer and more famous than you. Rape culture is feeling like an idiot because you actually thought he liked you. Rape culture is thinking, even if just for a second, that this makes you a slut or at the very least weak and stupid. Rape culture is having a director yell at you and abuse you until you are crying in the corner and THEN tell you to resume the scene. Rape culture is knowing that he did that to get a better performance out of you. Rape culture is knowing that this is considered acceptable behavior. Rape culture is leaving the entertainment industry and your dreams behind because you can’t take it any more. Rape culture is knowing that for a lot of people, this means you are weak.
Rape culture is when your drunken boyfriend and his friend think it would be a funny practical joke if the friend snuck up on you and stuck his penis on your neck. Rape culture is running around the apartment trying to get away from the friend, who is chasing you with his penis, while your boyfriend laughs. Rape culture is locking yourself in the bedroom. Rape culture is your boyfriend saying, “oh my God, baby open the door, I’m so sorry, we went too far”. Rape culture is opening the door to find the friend waiting. Rape culture is hiding under the covers while this friend pretends to have sex with you and hearing your boyfriend laugh. Rape culture is losing your shit and telling the friend that “IT IS NOT OK TO DO THAT.” Rape culture is your boyfriend being mad at you because you can’t take a joke and you made his friend feel bad.
Rape culture is being afraid to speak out about my experiences with rape culture because maybe people will think I’m emotionally unbalanced or weak. Rape culture is being scared my parents are going to mad at me for making waves and bringing up the rapist they want so badly for me to be friends with. Rape culture is feeling that peace and good manners and sociability are more important than your feelings. Rape culture is knowing that the person who is richer, more famous, more successful, whiter and more male than you will never have to defend himself because he always has people who are willing to leap to his defense. Good people. Smart people. People with excellent reputations. Eloquent and educated people. Condescending people. People who are more famous, more successful than you. People who you thought were your friend. Rape culture is your friends, your parents, your boyfriend leaping to the defense of the person who is not you. Rape culture is keeping silent because you can’t bear the idea of being attacked as you have been attacked every time you’ve spoken an unpleasant truth. Rape culture is knowing that this makes you a collaborator in rape culture.