When I began to write this morning the sun had just begun to paint her first stroke of orange and pink across the sky.
In all her majesty she sent out that initial ray, it appeared as a fine line across the horizon, then in time it grew wide enough to push away the dark.
But in order to bring in the light, first, the sun needed to show up.
If only I possessed the power of the sun to push away the darkness that has been the news as of late.
The quiet and beauty that surrounded me earlier did not match my mood.
But, like the sun, I knew I needed to show up.
Because even though dark clouds hovered, if light was what I was after, I needed to find a way to create that first brush stroke, no matter how thin it was to begin with…
I couldn’t stop thinking of the post I had published yesterday. Or more specifically how I felt after I published it.
It all began with the article I read in Rolling Stone.
On November 19th, Rolling Stone, added to the already overflowing well of US Universities plagued with stories of sexual assault, when they published, A Rape on Campus: A Brutal Assault and Struggle for Justice at UVA. It is a horrific story of gang rape and a University steeped in a culture of denial, coverup and victim blame.
As I read the Rolling Stone article it brought back memories. Memories that although I had tried to write of — until yesterday — I had been incapable.
After I published, The First Time I Was Raped, I felt nervous and unsettled.
I was reluctant to share my essay widely on social media, even held the story back from some of the groups I am part of. Groups filled with other women writers. Women who more than likely would have supported — if not celebrated — my decision to publish it.
It wasn’t until late in the day that I realized why.
Turns out I felt I had already reached my “things to share” quota. Somehow I was allowing my well documented experience as an abuse survivor to eclipse the raw feelings buried inside me from that first rape. And in so doing, I was not affording the 16 year old girl inside me to access what she needed in order to heal. Empathy.
Not just anyones empathy. She needed my empathy.
In other words, until yesterday, I was not extending empathy to my 16 year old self. For years I had told her things like this:
At least it wasn’t as horrific as the times Derrick raped you.”
At least it didn’t last long.”
At least he didn’t string you along.”
At least it was only one guy, not a gang.”
At least you weren’t a virgin.”
Brené Brown, in her brilliant short video, says, “Empathy rarely begins with the words — At Least.”
Showing up for myself yesterday meant putting all my other experiences to the side, in so doing, room was created for me to have access to my memory and see the girl I was then.
I was a young person with a crush. I thought the guy I liked also liked me. We all want to be seen and noticed. I offered my trust and in exchange that trust was violated. I did nothing wrong.
My story of rape adds to the chorus of those that came before me.
Mine is another example of a rape where the woman knew the man — or in my case — the girl knew the boy.
We have to do better for our next generations.
We need to teach boys and girls early and often that intimacy is something to cherish, value and honor and that everyone is entitled to their emotional and physical safety. Everyone.
Sharing our stories helps to remove the bricks in the barrier that is rape culture.
Rape culture is about the acceptance of women as objects to be used and disposed of — a mindset that creates a culture where sexual assault and blaming the victim are both normalized — that mentality is a barrier in the way of progress and it needs to be dismantled.
People want to cleave to the idea that rapist are “monsters.” Degenerates who hide in the bushes, lurk in dark alleys, subway and bus stations.
The rapist as a “stranger” is far easier for us to imagine.
We want to picture him as an intruder, a violent individual who lies in wait for the right opportunity to claim his victim. No one wants to consider that their husband, brother, father, cousin, friend, idol, hero — could be capable of sexually assaulting another human being.
Yet some are.
Look at the allegations against Bill Cosby, the countless assaults on college campuses, famous actors, Hollywood producers…the list goes on and on.
The stories of men sexually assaulting someone they know break every day — not in the news — behind closed doors. Behind walls that harbor shame, secrecy and torment.
Men we know — rape.
Here are some statistics I pulled from the Rape, Abuse & Insest National Network, also known as RAINN website:
- Every 2 minutes, another American is sexually assaulted
- Each year there are about 237,868 victims of sexual assault
- 60% of of sexual assaults are not reported to the police
- About ⅔ of assaults are committed by someone known to the victim
- 38% of rapists are a friend or a relative
Can men be victimized? Of course.
Here is the breakdown by gender.
- 1 out of every 6 American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime (14.8% completed rape; 2.8% attempted rape).
- 17.7 million American women have been victims of attempted or completed rape.
- 9 of every 10 rape victims were female in 2003.
- About 3% of American men — or 1 in 33 — have experienced an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime.
- In 2003, 1 in every ten rape victims were male.
- 2.78 million men in the U.S. have been victims of sexual assault or rape.
Information is powerful. The more we teach, the more we share, the more we learn…the closer we are to ridding the world of sexual assault. When we are brave with our voice, our courage may inspire another person to be brave with theirs.
Don’t you think it’s time to say No More?
The RAINN website is filled with fantastic resources for people who need help and for individuals who want to help end sexual assault.
Lisa at GrandmasBriefs says
I need to go back and read your post from yesterday. I hurt for you, but am so thankful you gave voice and attention to your 16-year-old self. I also hurt for my three sisters who went through similar horrors as it sounds like you have. And I’m somehow just now, because of this post, realizing I am a statistic, included in the “attempted” column, having escaped what my sisters couldn’t.
Cathy Chester says
Elin, I am hugging you right now. Can you feel it? Wait a minute. There. How about now?
Your words told me of the raw emotions you have had to deal with, what you endured and I cannot fathom what you went through. Reading the words are one thing; feeling how you felt is quite another.
I feel love, friendship and sisterhood that I hope you feel coming from me across the many miles. I am here for you. Many blessings to you, dear one, because you are so honest and lovely and so…Elin, deserving of many blessings. Thank you for sharing yourself with us. With me.
Carol Cassara says
Thank you for this comprehensive look at a serious issue.
Carpool Goddess says
Elin, I am so very sorry you had to go through this. I started writing a piece on rape a few days ago fueled by the many articles covering the gang rape at UVA. Having a daughter in college, who like many frequents frat events, that story and many others like it, terrifies me. Almost every woman I know my age has experienced at some time in their life some degree of unwanted touching, or worse, from a man. Our culture of rape has to change. Thank you for speaking out about your experience.
What a beautiful sunrise. I have read so many stories about this. It just breaks my heart. I agree that public awareness will help and these stats shed a new light on the problem for me.
Lois Alter Mark says
Please feel empathy for the 16-year-old you and do whatever you need to heal her. You know I’m here for you if I can help in any way. xoxo
Ruth Curran says
Honor yourself with empathy…. I absolutely love and embrace that idea. You are so right – we need to do better. We need to speak up more. We need honor those who do. And we need to stop blaming victims and allow each to honor him or herself with empathy. Beautifully said Elin….
Helene Cohen Bludman says
I send you love and gentle hugs, my friend. You now and the 16 YO you. So brave of you to share your story, but you are helping dismantle the fortress protecting the rape culture.
Ines Roe says
I takes a lot of courage to find your voice and embrace the 16 year old self and comfort her. It takes having to “touch” the pain in order to move beyond it. But it is important to speak up and say “no more” and empower women to not feel like victims or experience self blame. Thank you so much for allowing us to be part of your healing.
Mary Lanzavecchia says
Once again, I find myself hugging the 16 year Elin as well as the very grown up Elin. I know both well, and I understand the fear that comes after the click. However, you shined a light–your light–on a very serious topic, and the more lights that are shined, the less the evil can hide. The subject of rape must be brought out and discussed. Victims must not be left to feel as though they are the ones that “did something wrong” because they didn’t.
Sending much love to you, my friend.
I love Brene Brown. In being vulnerable — expressing painful experience — we have power, strength. How toxic to keep these “secrets” bottled up inside. You were the victim. You did nothing wrong. I’m so very, very sorry for that scared, hurting 16 year old. There’s anger too. This was a brave, brave thing to do. The right thing to do. xoxox
Elin, thank you for sharing this part of you. Sending you Hugs.
Hakikah Shamsiden says
Elin, I am so very sorry you had to go through this. I too am a survivor. Thank you for speaking out about your experience. Empathy for ourselves and then others is the key to nurturing our humanity.
Silence is deadly… and shameful. I am so glad that you found the courage to share your story. The statistics are alarming and, as such, I think that they get lost. When someone tells THEIR story, though, it gives to those statistics a name or a face and from that others who have been similarly affected discover that they are not alone. Bravo to you, Elin! As always, you are a remarkable person.