My Rape, Your Rape
When I was 22-years-old, I went off to the movies with a group of girlfriends. We all packed into a car and listened as one of my friends complained about her roommate. “She is always having issues. There is always something for her to have a meltdown over. And then she always complains about how she was raped. I mean, come on, who hasn’t been raped?”
It is a strong statement, but all of us in the car were quiet. After all, we had all been raped at some point or another. This isn’t the 1 in 3 statistic you see in billboards, this was reality. I never reported mine. I was 14 and a virgin. I wasn’t shocked at all and that is the most frightening realization so far.
When I was 16, I ran into one of my rapists at the jukebox in a local pool hall. He was my age. The other rapist was much older. “Are you mad at us for what we did?” he asked me, innocently.
“Yes,” I said. “I hate you.”
He slowly nodded, hung his head and walked away. I never saw him again.
Though I knew what rape was, I hadn’t really identified myself as a rape victim. I didn’t report it so my parents wouldn’t find out that I lied about what I was doing that particular night. And here was a boy, just beyond puberty, who hadn’t identified himself as a rapist. We were just kids. Our lives were just starting.
I was assigned to cover an event, a reading and discussion with Eve Ensler (author of The Vagina Monologues and the new memoir In the Body of the World) and Jody Williams (Noble Peace Prize winner and author of Insecure at Last and My Name is Jody Williams: A Vermont Girl’s Winding Path to the Nobel Peace Prize) It was Ladies Night at the downtown library. There was an auditorium filled with white, middle-aged women all waving their credit cards in the air for a copy of the latest publications.
I hadn’t read them yet. They were selling for $30 a book at the door. I couldn’t afford it. I went to the library to check them out, but the few copies in circulation were either on hold or checked out. It looks like I had to settle in to a seat and experience the conversation as a cerebral virgin.
“One major reason why I wrote the book is disembodiment; the result of trauma and violence. It is in all of us,” said Eve. Her book In the Body of the World is a memoir of her battle with a growing tumor in her uterus and her experience working with women of the Congo, who are brutally raped and mutilated. “I had the diagnosis of cancer. I had the Congo. And I had the book; this is the most physical book I have ever written.
The Congo is where I saw the end of humanity; the eradication of the female species. Inside the women of the Congo is a life of force,” said Eve, coolly. Her legs crossed, one foot kicking up slowly, with the pulse of her heart.
For those of you who don’t know what goes on in the Congo, it is beyond the darkest corners of your imagination. There is a powerful documentary called “The Greatest Silence: Rape in the Congo” that not many have seen or discussed. I also spoke with another filmmaker who spent time in the Congo. There are stories of women who are raped with guns while bullets are unloaded inside of them. They live without bladders and involuntarily drip urine for the rest of their lives. There are worse stories. Stories of pregnant women who are cut open and forced to drink the blood of their unborn babies directly out of their womb. Stories I have spent the last few years carefully juggling in my mind, trying to rationalize the “type” of violence; that kind of backlash against your own women and children. I don’t have any answers. Not even a little seed I can present you. It is beyond sexual gratification. It is beyond power. It is simply evil. “We were sewing up women as fast as [they] were tearing them apart,” Ensler said.
I knew the strength and character it took for her to go and bear witness. She was a rape victim herself, Ensler was raped and beaten by her father as a child. “That journey that I went through, the (cancer) treatment, connected me to the Earth. If we do not come into our bodies, we cannot connect to each other,” she said.
“There was deep revelation of the tumor. I envisioned it as a ball of string about rape, mutilation and incest.” Ensler acknowledged a connection between disease and trauma. “When you are made to feel stupid or bad, you collapse or you develop the ‘I’ll show you’ attitude. After the Congo, that shifted. It is an energy. I feel like I am with my body.
Trauma of childhood met the trauma of the world. Whatever that cyclone of trauma is … that disassociation was keeping me away from the energy in myself. I had to come into the body to be whole.”
What is the connection between four American white girls in a car who were all raped and a country of poor, black women who are brutalized beyond comprehension? Sex and violence. What is it? It is popular. It is common. Whether we are in a theater with a bucket of popcorn or reading about the backlog of untested rape kits in the United States, no one is shocked anymore.
Are we being forced out of our bodies to fear something? To fear life? To fear men? To be controlled? Or are we just the weaker of a species and easier to physically dominate? Easier to target? And there has to be a target for human aggression, right? Does there?
“We are shamed. The genius of patriarchy and capitalistic [strategy] is to be divided and then subdivided,” Ensler says. “Women are amazing everywhere. Vagina Warriors! We take the pain and become activists. You transform the pain and make sure the pain doesn’t [move] to other people. It is inspiring to turn pain to power; suffering to joy. Holding in the rage and moving forward.”
“I don’t feel rage,” Jody Williams said.
“You don’t feel angry?” Ensler asked.
“I feel righteous indignation. But I am not angry.”
There was a chuckle.
Jody Williams was raped in Salvador while working as an activist. Her rapist was a soldier trained by the U.S. Government. “What they thought they would do was the one thing that would devastate me as a woman. After he (the rapist) left, I read a book to calm myself down. The next day, he pulled up next to me in a car on the street. He said, ‘Want a ride?’” The audience gasped. She described her rape in a deep, calm voice. She never shook with emotion or cracked her voice in weakness. She sat there and smiled.
Williams is a strong woman. In 1997, she was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize for her work to ban landmines. She is also the founding chair of the Nobel Women’s Initiative. Her new pet project is banning “killer robots”.
“Check it out. It is real. You know the movie ‘Terminator’? They are just like that. Look it up. It is exciting stuff,” she said, sipping her water.
The conversation of books, trauma and activism petered out in questions from the crowd. The “But what can I do?” questions. The “How do I work full-time and go to school and make a difference?” questions.
“It doesn’t happen overnight. Pick one or two things that blow your skirt up,” Jody said. Work on those issues. You want to save everyone and everything, you break down real fast. We can’t all save the world. And it is hard to believe we could ever eliminate rape on a global or domestic scale. What we can do is mold thoughts and conversation. We can build unity.
The book I was able to check out from the library was The Vagina Monologues. In the 10th-Anniversary Edition, there is a beautiful entry concluding the Introduction:
“Women are not some marginalized, insignificant group. We are more than half of the world’s citizens. What happens to us determines everything. If we are beaten and traumatized, our children will hold that in their DNA and grow up manifesting that in who they become. If our esteem is destroyed, our daughters’ self-confidence will be hard won or impossible to come by. If we are violated and raped or abused by men, our sons will be made in the witnessing of this, and in our bitterness.
Ending violence against women is actually about each of us being willing to struggle to be a different kind of human being. It means not accepting force as a method of coercion and oppression—in our homes and in our world. But really it means examining what is at the root of that need for force? Why are women still muted, controlled, silenced, weakened and contained? What would happen if they were safe and free?
Ending violence against women means opening to the great power of women, the mystery of women, the heart of women, the wild, unending sexuality and creativity of women– and not being afraid.” (page xxiii-xxiv)
I was raped and I am still not afraid. I still love sex. I still love men. I still love my body.
And I still belong to you.
- “The Greatest Silence: Rape in the Congo”
- Eve Ensler
- My Name Is Jody Williams: A Vermont Girl’s Winding Path to the Nobel Peace Prize