Category Archives: Feminism

I Know Why Victims Don’t Report

I’m in physical therapy twice a week for lingering issues from having shingles.

Twice a week, I lay down on a black table with an oval shape cut out of it for my face to rest in. I deep breathe as tears burn my eyes while the physical therapist dry needles my shoulder blade trying to wake up dead muscles and nerves.

When I took ballet, I was taught early on about finding a spot across the room to focus intently on while learning to pirouette. You focus on that spot and as your body twirls around, you don’t turn your head until the very last second, and then you refocus immediately on that same spot. I could keep spinning indefinitely, as long as I didn’t lose sight of that spot.

So when I lay down on the table at physical therapy, I find one spot on the floor and focus with all my might. But that’s not the only reason I have to deep breathe, focus on one spot, and meditate while I lay face down and dig my fingernails into the palms of my hands.

The carpet on the floor that I stare at twice a week has the same exact pattern and texture as the couch in my grandparent’s Florida room.

The same couch I focused on while my grandfather would pin me down and rape me on the ground in between the exercise bike and the couch while the television blared next to us.

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I just read a thread on Twitter where a female creative was talking about a bad experience she had with men in a creative space. I am being intentionally vague here, for her safety. In this space, she stood up to these men who argued what consent is. These men argued that according to rules of consent, they raped women.

As I started reading the replies, people called her out for not naming names. And for not naming who had assaulted her. 

Okay, so where to start with this?

One, I talk about my abuse and my assault. I’m not everyone, nor am I every victim. I, and I alone, made that choice. Talking about my abuse and assault gives me control of a situation I had no control in. When I don’t talk about it, shame takes over and I refuse to feel shame for the monstrous actions of someone else.

Here’s the thing — I named who hurt me and guess what? Nothing happened. Not a damn thing. There’s no such thing as a perfect victim. I was a blonde hair, innocent little girl and still people didn’t believe me.

My bladder does not work the way a normal human’s bladder should work, I have to buy industrial KY jelly for the catheters I use daily and I have to pay for a prescription for bladder medicine monthly because of what that man did to me.

And yet, people still do not believe me.

There were witnesses. My grandmother got mad at my grandfather one time because he ejaculated in my hair and didn’t realize it. She was mad because she didn’t want to clean it out of my hair because she didn’t have time to do that and finish making Baked Alaskan for dessert.

And yet, people still do not believe me.

I write about my experiences, even though I know that every single time I do, I will receive hate mail. I get rape threats and hate mail blaming me for every victim that came after me. I get hate mail for not handling my abuse and assault ‘correctly’. As if there is a place on this planet where a trauma like that can be handled ‘correctly’ by a victim. Did I survive? Yes. Then I handled it correctly. Did you survive? Yes? Then you handled it correctly. Hard stop.

Stop putting the responsibility on the victim. If a victim chooses to name their assailant, then that needs to be their choice, not yours.

Let me repeat that for you: If a victim chooses to name their assailant, then that needs to be their choice, not yours.

If you take that away from a victim, you are taking one more thing about what happened out of their control.

Stop asking why they didn’t say anything. There are five million examples and counting of why victims don’t disclose. Even now, as a woman in my forties, members of my extended family have tried to taunt me about the abuse. The abuse they could have, but chose not to stop. 

Don’t bully a survivor into telling the world who their abuser/rapist was. It’s not on the survivor to defend herself and make sure she is safe. Maybe start with believing them. I know why people don’t report — it’s because they don’t think they will be believed.

After the #metoo movement started, I had written an essay for a website that has around 7 million followers. I normally don’t read the comments on pieces I’ve written, as history has taught me that I can’t continue to write what I need to write if I read the nastiness. My husband and I had gone to dinner in New Orleans with another couple on the day it was published. I made the mistake on the hour drive home to open up my email. I was grateful for the darkness outside, so no one else could see the tears stream down my face for the rest of the trip home.

I decided shortly after to focus on writing my book and not on freelancing for the year. I need the break from writing about the worst experiences of my life and the emotional labor that would follow. I had been talking about my experiences for almost twenty years through writing, working, and giving speeches. It felt like since people were willing and starting to share their experiences, it was time for their voices to be heard.

Then, people that I know started chastising me for not speaking up more about it. So many of them were disappointed, they said, and were outraged and wanted for the masses to be vocal about the problem.

I was tired. Bone tired. Some of these people are the same ones who would be uncomfortable and change the subject when they asked what I was working on, or wouldn’t show up to an advocacy event I invited them to, or would tell me I needed to ‘get over it’. 

Where were these people for the last twenty years? Now it’s a five alarm fire for them and I’ve been telling them about the smoke for years. 

All of these conversations would end with people telling me how I should tell my story. How I should do this or that. I am so sick and tired of people telling survivors how to tell their stories. Telling my story thousands of times over the years is thousands of hours of emotional labor and it is exhausting because I have to tell the story on the defense. People want to hear the story in a way they can control through victim blaming questions and statements, as if to further separate the possibility of them being in same the situation by placing blame on something I did or didn’t do. People want to control my story in order to make themselves comfortable.

I am not here to be controlled.

My story, my terms.

I’ve been telling my story for over twenty years. When I want, how I want. I do it because there are little girls out there, like I was, who will tell someone and they will not be believed. I want those little girls to know that there are people like me, paving the way for them to tell their story if they so choose.

And if those little girls grow up and choose to tell their story, it won’t be because I pushed them to. It will be their choice. And I will believe them.

‘Only one victim’ is a Lie

Only one victim.

Only.One.Victim.

The words ‘only one victim’ rolled around in my brain while I tossed and turned in my bed last night.

Twenty-five year old bus driver Shane Piche pled guilty to raping a fourteen year old girl in June 2018. Last Thursday, he was sentenced to probation by New York Supreme Court Judge, Judge James P. McClusky. He also has to register as a Level 1 sex offender, someone who is described as someone with a low risk to reoffend.

Piche’s attorney is quoted in a CNN article saying, “He’s on the sex offender registry for a long time. Maybe not the rest of his life because of the level, but this isn’t something that didn’t cause him pain, and this isn’t something that didn’t have consequences.”

Oh really? Why does his pain even matter? Why does his pain matter more than the victim’s?

And now for the most infuriating part, according to the Daily Times, “Judge McClusky said because Piche had no prior arrests and there was only one victim in this plea, Level 1 was more appropriate.”

Only one victim.

Those words were still rolling around in my head this morning while I was unpacking my delivery of catheters that show up on my doorstep every month — you know, the ones that show up because I have scar tissue from when someone touched me where they weren’t supposed to. It occurred to me, while looking down at this box on my bathroom floor and thinking about this fourteen year old survivor, that while I’ve talked and written about the emotional toll that rape and abuse takes on a person, I’ve never discussed the financial portion of what it takes for this one victim (me) to live the life I want.

So today I’m going to throw numbers at you. Not the typical statistics, and not my normal writing, but money.

Here are the line items in our monthly household budget that only exist because I survived childhood sexual abuse and rape:

Self catheters:   $74.50

Industrial size KY Jelly:   $10.00

Two sessions with my therapist: $300.00

Two lab appointments to run my urine to see if I have an infection: $160.00

One primary care physician appointment if I do have an infection: $180.00

One Urologist appointment where my bladder output is measured: $210.00

Prescriptions to manage the damage caused from the abuse (out of pocket): $700.00

Monthly cost for me as a survivor, only one victim:          $1,634.50

This isn’t always the cost, of course. Sometimes it’s more, sometimes it’s less. So far in 2019, it’s been less because I haven’t had to see the urologist for three months (Thank the Lord for that!) and I’ve only had to go to the lab four times. When the anniversary of the rape is near, I up my therapist visits to once a week. Two years ago, I was visiting the lab weekly, seeing my primary care physician weekly, the urologist monthly, and having nuclear tests performed on my kidneys quarterly due to an infection that would just not go away. Like I said, sometimes it’s more, sometimes it’s less, but there are always expenses.

This also doesn’t take in to account the tens of thousands of dollars my parents spent on specialists when I was younger, trying to get me well, both emotionally and physically. 

The financial aspect of the aftermath of abuse is something that often gets overlooked. There’s a ton of other economic implications that abuse and violence have, but those studies are for another day. In my life, not only do I, the survivor, deal with the trauma of what happened emotionally, I deal with it physically and financially. I’m not the only victim here, because my fantastic husband, children, parents, brother and other loved ones are also victims because they are part of the collateral damage. We all agree the money is well spent — my life is of my choosing and it is fantastic in every sense. But it’s amazing because I chose to put the work into it with the support of my parents and husband and some of that work takes money.

So, no, there is not just one victim here. Saying that there is minimizes the effects sexual trauma has on survivors and the people in their lives. 

The Place Past Forgiveness

In my late teens, I forgave the people who abused me. I can remember the day clearly, as though it was last week, instead of some twenty years ago. The sky was a remarkable blue color, the color of a ring I often wear, with a single cloud in the sky.

I remember looking up because even though the sky was clear and it was a beautiful day, it felt like I was working every muscle in my body to put one foot in front of the other, that I had to remind myself to actually breathe because my body felt so heavy.

I had been in therapy for years and years at this point and my therapists and doctors were solely focused on getting me to a point where I would be able to be a functioning human, a feat of superhuman capabilities, no doubt. While I remember the word ‘forgiveness’ coming up occasionally, it wasn’t something I was concerned with, nor was anyone caring for me concerned with it, either. Anger and vengeance, those were topics I was familiar with. And who could blame me or anyone else? These people had basically destroyed me and no one would dare argue that level of evil deserved forgiveness.

That blue day, the sky the color of blue topaz day, with its single cloud changed everything for me. I had the epiphany that they could no longer physically hurt me. The secret was out and they could no longer touch me. The physical power was now mine. I was now an adult and it was my decision to continue to live in anger or in peace. The emotional power was now mine, too.

It felt as though a bag of physical bricks fell off of my shoulders. Even though they no longer had access to me or my body, I let them continue to hurt me through my festering resentment and anger.

What people don’t tell you about forgiveness is that it is a power that only you have. It doesn’t mean that you have forgotten or that it’s okay, it just means that someone else’s actions have no control over your emotions and actions. You, and you alone, are more powerful than the person who hurt you, if only by the mere fact that you hold the key to forgiveness.

I recently have started going back to church because I started to have anger towards my abusers that I had not had since that blue day. The anger came back because no matter how healthy I am, physically or emotionally, their actions have wrecked my body. For a few weeks, I wondered if I was struggling to forgive, but then I realized I was struggling with new anger, and the anger was appropriate and the length of time it would stay was in my control.

I really want to throw a tantrum some days, just throw myself down onto the ground, roll around and scream that it’s not fair. It’s not fair that I have to do all of this bullshit and the people that hurt me just went on with their lives. I don’t do it, but when I’m sick, sitting in the doctor’s office, I close my eyes and picture myself acting like a toddler and it makes me laugh. Because, really, who doesn’t want to throw a tantrum once and awhile?

A few months ago, after I had moved past my anger and onto acceptance, while kneeling in church to pray, the service came to the Litany of Healing. The Litany of Healing is a part of the service in the Episcopal church where we pray for those that need healing. Most of the time, I pray for those that I know are sick, family and friends. That day was different. I was the sickest I had ever been with a kidney and bladder infection and I also needed healing.

Dear Lord, please help them find peace. Their redemption is not my responsibility, but I wish them peace.

All of a sudden, I couldn’t breathe. Instead of praying for myself and my sickest point, I was praying for the people who caused the sickness. Why in the hell was I praying for the people who put me in this situation to begin with? I forgave them and that’s all I can give. The tears started to stream down my face, mainly because I was so unnerved.

After the service, I went to the bathroom and wiped my face. When I came out of the bathroom, the Rector was waiting for me. I told him why I was upset and he studied me for a moment. “Maybe they need your prayers, Audrey.”

I’ve been sitting with this for a few months. I knew my birthday was coming up and the anxiety would start the closer it got, so I stopped questioning my thoughts and just sat with it, expecting no explanation.

The last two months, my birthday started creeping up and I felt different than I have in years. I had no anxiety about it until three weeks ago. I had started the day out
meditating, and I found myself praying for them again. I do not understand why I keep praying for them to find peace, I want to scream. I think maybe it’s finally happening, maybe I’m finally cracking up and losing my mind. Or maybe it was something else entirely that I had not thought about: the place past forgiveness.

We’re so focused on forgiveness, acceptance, revenge and karma, no one talks about what happens next. I had a very wise person tell me that day when you’ve genuinely forgiven someone, you can pray for them to have peace. This is the place where forgiveness isn’t just a word, it’s an act.

I normally don’t celebrate my birthday, but that day I decided I was going to do something this year. Choosing the life I want to live, with the love of my life and children, close family and a very small circle of trusted friends is absolutely something to celebrate. I did this. I walked through the flames of hell that are actually people in this world and made it to a very simple and beautiful life that I created with the people I love. The demons will remain, of course, but I celebrate knowing that my choices are stronger than the demons.

I woke up yesterday, on my 39th birthday, let my husband and precious boys sing happy birthday to me and ate unicorn cake for breakfast. Yesterday was bittersweet. I deserve every bit of happiness I have but it’s easy to grieve what could have been. I’ve accepted it’s okay to feel anger and sadness for all of the things that were taken from me. I’ve also accepted that praying for the people who hurt me is where I want to be. It’s uncharted territory and I have the tools to navigate through it.

My birthday has always been an easy litmus test for me to check where I am emotionally and in my life. It’s also an easy one to pass.