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FEBRUARY 24, 2012 10:11AM

Survivors and Anonymity

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I was raped long before I ever took a Women's Studies course, but I was certainly aware of the stigma attached to being a survivor. Terms like "victim blaming" and "damaged goods" were at the forefront of my mind while I dealt with the aftermath of the rape. Scenarios where I fended off some slimy defense attorney's accusations that I'd somehow "asked for it" played out in my mind over and over.

I'd reported the crime to police and been interviewed extensively. I told the story from beginning to end to three people: the officer who was first on the scene heard the story through tears and jagged breaths, the nurse who examined me heard the physical details punctuated with long pauses, and the Detective who would ultimately catch the rapist heard the story from my hospital bed, told in cold, detached detail.  The reporters I called got the short version.

I wanted the local television stations to broadcast what had happened for a couple of reasons: first, my apartment complex issued a letter to the tenants in my building stating that a rapist had entered my apartment "through an open window." This was misleading, as my windows were locked. Second, I knew the more airtime the story received, the higher the chances were of catching him.

Several reporters offered to shadow my face and disguise my voice if I gave an interview, but I refused. I was terrified that one of my son's classmates or friend's parents would see the report and recognize me, and I knew even then that I did not want him to inherit the stigma I now carried. After the close of the trial, I turned down A&E's Cold Case Files producers for the same reason.

Around the time I was raped there was another high profile case in my area - three women had been raped by the same man, and they defied convention by openly discussing what happened to them in interviews and on television. I admired them, and I wished I could have had their courage.

In the years since the rape, I have spoken openly to college students about my experience. When I returned to college as a non-traditional student, I cast off the shroud of anonymity and told complete strangers my most shameful secrets. I did it because I am sickened by the way society continues to treat survivors, sickened by how pervasive violence against women remains, and determined to do what little I can to perpetuate change. It was easy there, though, protected by the notion of higher education in a room of students who were at least somewhat concerned about women's rights. 

I don't regret anything I did regarding the rape and ensuing trial. Every choice I made led to my safety, my son’s safety, and the successful capture and prosecution of a monster who does not deserve to be free. But I often wonder if the anonymity I so fiercely protected in the beginning hindered my ability to heal as quickly as I might have, had I not been ashamed of what had happened to me.


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I've been struggling with this same issue. I am fairly open about being a domestic violence survivor, but very few people really know the extent of it. I write under a pseudonym here, but I've been thinking more and more about "coming out of the closet" so to speak. I've started using a real picture of myself (though I do change the hair using an editor bc I want to be slightly unrecognizable) and I've agreed to have someone connect my real name with my blog in the coming week. It's a hard decision to make. But, I think the more open about your identity, the more it can help others to feel that it's not the end of the world and they too can survive and flourish afterwards.
Yours is a brave and powerful piece, one that serves to remind us all that "stigma" is a force unto itself, one of the lingering wounds of sexual violence that undermines the self-esteem and confidence of the victim. The ending of your piece, that last paragraph,appears to be the greater point you were trying to explore for yourself in this post. And to that, I would say only that you must remind yourself of your extreme brand of courage rather than second guess the what-ifs surrounding a time you cannot re-create the context of; healing is a journey fraught with variables of all kinds. From what I read, your response was a remarkable display of guts and self-protection. And that continues in the work you do for other women--by speaking at colleges and by writing posts such as this, a post that shows that "victimhood" needed also be yet another stigma; that one we get to choose.
Best to you.
As one survivor to another, I salute you. And yes, it makes ME mad too, that the woman is considered "damaged goods" on any level. What about the perpetrator? Hasn't HE forfeited the right to ever be trusted by any decent person again?

It seems that certain men can't deal with women being sexual beings anywhere but in the bedroom when they're about to get intimate.

This is powerful.
You ask yourself if by remaining anonymous you may have did yourself a disservice. Perhaps, but you did what you thought was right at the time for yourself and your family. You deserve nothing but respect.
Thanks for your courage, and my heart goes out to you. This is an important message for everyone.
Thank you . . . you are not alone. I, too, was raped, by my brother. Although I told, not much was ever done. Years of therapy have helped, but some how that stigma never detaches itself. I applaud your courage!
My first wife was attacked and, after a first few months of dealing with it, became quite public about it, testified at her attacker's trial and, within a year or so, had gone on.

It was never a good memory but she has prospered and progressed in all ways.
It seems to me that you did what you needed to do at the time, for yourself, including seeing that the rapist was caught and punished. And you're doing what you need to do now, also for yourself. You're a brave survivor any way you look at it. If coming out more now will help, do it, for yourself, including sharing any doubts with the people you speak to about your experience. But don't doubt yourself.
I was in the military in the '80s when it happened to me. I don't remember the event, but I remember that I was labeled an alcoholic and was the basis of all sorts of wild rumors about that night. I even had to explain to friends. Luckily, there were lots of witnesses. The two guys got jail time and dishonorable and bad conduct discharges. I'm glad I got even with them, but I am still dealing with the loss of control engendered by them and the military framework. And I was embarrassed about it for a long time. Now, I'm honest. But I don't tell too many people about my military time because I don't want to be thanked for my service.
I'm so sorry that you had to go through this. Please don't second guess yourself. Healing is a work in progress, but it is my hope that your writing helps others as well as you. Best wishes to you and your son!
I think the best part of this story is your non biased stance. You said, "I did it because I am sickened by the way society continues to treat survivors." Your leading reason isn't prefaced by gender. I have also had a dark experience, though mine involved an extremely close-and related-individual. No matter what the circumstances, rape is a scar that, I believe, can only begin to heal with the catharsis of discussion. Thank you for your bravery... and I completely understand being afraid at first. Who wouldn't be? Wonderful post and totally deserving of an editor's pick.
Thank you for your courage. It encourages the rest of us too.
What courage! This is a beautiful piece, powerful, personal, informative. Your son is lucky to have you. I've not suffered domestic violence, but as a mother, I can understand the powerful need to protect your child. They are stronger and wiser then we sometimes give them credit. Whatever you decided at the time, it was the right decision for you. I'm sorry you had to make that decision at all. Sending caring, healing thoughts as you continue on the journey. Keep writing!
I am utterly blown away by everyone's comments and support. Thank you so much for sharing this space with me ... I treasure the camaraderie I am finding here.
I still have not told my parents about what happened to me as a child. I think of it that I was infected with my rapists evil. I carry the virus, and suffer the searing pain, and he does not. There is no justice. The Republican party is moving to enslave women, and, truly, all working people. This is a scary time to be alive.
I thank you for writing this piece. I am sure it will help many who have been in similar situations. Your honesty, openness, and courage to share this is commended. I know you may forever have questions swirling as to whether or not you did things the way you should have, but you did what you thought was best at the time. I am glad you have no regrets. I wish you nothing but the best. Thank you for sharing a part of yourself with us.
Even for people who have not suffered anything nearly as traumatic, your stories are a welcome reminder that forces us to think more deeply about the dubious comforts of anonymity. In so many areas of our lives -- after events large and small, good and bad -- we instinctively retreat to secrecy and silence. A familiar voice in our minds assures us that we'll cope more effectively that way. Depending on the person and the circumstances, that assurance may be right or wrong. But, in any case, thank you for reminding all of us that silence is not the only choice.
I have been dumbfounded since reading this story last week, wondering how to respond. For a while I thought my own survival of an attempt on my life would inform my understanding, but it wasn't much help. In terms of survival it has parallels, but rape is of a different level, an attack on the soul. Being open about it is heroic, and I believe it is an effective way of reclaiming what was lost.

In regard to the notion of "damaged goods," the human body in no way should be considered "goods." That is a cultural term, specific to a commercial society, and is kindred to archaic traditions of chattel and slavery. Maybe as a result of more open conversation about rape such conventions can be discarded for good. In this regard you are a pioneer.
John, you raise an excellent point. People should not be referred to or treated as "goods" at all, damaged or otherwise - I think that is the more offensive aspect of that term.