Life is good, until it isn’t

My daughter was attacked.  Assaulted.  Sexually assaulted.  It’s so hard to say the word: Raped.  Saying it somehow makes it feel more tangible, as if the film in my head begins by just saying raped. The event feels so close and yet somehow far away. In the film, someone I love is brutalized; but if it’s a film, why do I feel knocked down?

This is the part that I didn’t understand when I had children.  This is the part that where I go through life with them, beside them — sometimes stepping to the back of them, when they try to keep their lives from me. I’m still here.

 My daughter took three days to tell me.  After celebrating with a couple of girlfriends, two of them drove off; she found herself alone with a drunk friend and a guy she didn’t know. How much does it hurt that her so-called friend knew the guy? Believe me, it’s worse. Though she will question herself on having drinks, we’ve told her the guy saw an opportunity and would’ve taken it as soon as he could. It’s likely he has done it before. A man who rapes is one who has no respect for others. She didn’t deserve to be attacked. No person does. She’s already questioned the company she kept that night. Given that it happened in the home of one of her (former) friends, a place she had felt safe for over a couple of years, it felt like betrayal. When this so-called friend refused to believe her and tipped him off, it was outright betrayal. She’s dropped that friend. I have nothing kind to say about her.

But staying away from that house and that friend doesn’t make my daughter feel any safer. It doesn’t make me feel safer either, to be honest. Safety is elusive. It is an illusion. No guarantees. That’s another part of having children that is difficult to accept. For a long while, every time she’s out, I’ll worry about her. I’ll wonder if she’s safe. I’ll pray that she comes home soon. And each time she walks in the door, calls me on the phone to reassure me, I’ll be grateful and send up a prayer that she’s safe for now.

Of course, she isn’t ok, not like before-the-rape-ok. I can tell because she procrastinates on school assignments more often. I can tell because she spends more time in her room. Even the life-long friend who helped her that night, who saw her and immediately knew something was wrong, the one that convinced her to go to emergency and have the rape kit done, has been removed from her Facebook. I am hoping that in the long run they’ll return to each other. Women need their friends in such times.

They also need professional support. I wish I could say my daughter has had plenty of help in coping with this and with seeking justice. But I can’t. Not that her therapist hasn’t been wonderful. But the rest: it’s been like a bad TV show–the one in which the cast, hardened by experience, needs to find a new line of work. From the sullen advocate at the Rape Crisis Center whose matter-of-fact attitude on the lack of justice and the likelihood that none will be found, to the policeman who she felt treated her like the criminal instead of the victim, the one who leaves her sobbing telling it’s unlikely he’ll ever see the inside of a jail, she hasn’t found the support she needs. Even the victim’s compensation program hasn’t been helpful. I called them to find out why she was denied. Apparently, they depend on the filing of the police report before they can compensate her for the therapy that she needed (still needs). Where does one turn for how to deal with rape, once the professionals aren’t helpful? Is there a primer to help us through this?

Recently Elizabeth Smart was in the news to speak out against Rape Culture. She told NPR in an October interview, “After being raped, I felt completely worthless. I didn’t even feel like I was human anymore.” Smart spoke to a ballroom packed with teens that it was critical to let survivors know they are still loved. I wish my daughter could have heard her. I wish all women could have heard her. While she recommended that we don’t pretend a rape didn’t happen, the major news outlets do just that. While they denounce India for its culture of rape, they seem stunned when a judge in Marysville, Missouri lets off a rapist, as if we aren’t aware of our own culture that condones rape. Quickly they’re off to another more interesting news feature. The problem is that for so many women the story is real life, not just some fading headline.

According to Margaret Talbot’s New Yorker article, Smart told the teenagers, “Never be afraid to speak out. Never be afraid to live your life. Never let your past dictate your future.” I’ve seen my daughter revisit the degradation of that night and crumble in pain as if it was all happening again. So it’s hard for me to justify speaking out about her rape. But I want to believe Smart.

My daughter has plenty of scars. I tell her that no one gets out of here without them. Smart said about the people who imprisoned and raped her, “They no longer have a part in my life, I have just moved on.” I hope that my daughter will get to that point eventually. But while her scar takes time to heal, just maybe, just maybe, it’ll heal faster if we all step up, speak out about our own rapes, speak out against our rape culture to anyone who will listen. To those who have shared with me that they were raped (something I hadn’t known til now) when I told them about my daughter’s experience, I want to say it’s high time we stop hiding our story. We will only end the culture of rape and the violence against women in our own communities if we demand it.

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