“I work for a sexual abuse support group. It’s a nonprofit, I’m a volunteer.”
“Oh, that’s so cool! How did you get involved in that?” “Well, I was raped.” After visibly starting, he recovered. He moved closer and put his hand on my upper thigh. He looked me in the eye and said in a measured tone, “That’s terrible. Men can be so disgusting. I would never, ever do that to you.” He rubbed his thumb on my leg as he spoke.
This is a description of the end of a first (and last) date I went on. To anyone not affected by sexual abuse or rape it may seem innocuous, even supportive. But to us, it’s romanticizing our trauma, and frankly, we’re sick of it.
My first issue with this guy was simple – why, oh goodness gracious WHY, would you touch someone suggestively immediately after they told you they were raped? I’m not saying rape victims can’t be touched. But maybe don’t hit on someone right after they disclose the fact that they’ve been sexually violated before?
My second issue was more analytical. Why did he just make my experience about him? Why did he generalize men that way? I don’t think men are disgusting. I think rapists are disgusting. Why did he feel the need to assure me he wouldn’t rape me? I mean, I HOPE not! Otherwise I’m getting out of here, and you can pick up the tab.
Many survivors I’ve spoken to have similar stories; they tell someone their story, and their reaction seems…calculated. In cases like the above, it’s potential sexual partners sensing a vulnerability they can exploit. They can be our “savior”. They can be sympathetic, caring, and then they can…get in our pants. Other times, people romanticize our trauma by implying it has led to greater things.
We are empowered survivors! We’ve “reclaimed” our trauma! It seems every week we see stories of rape survivors who’ve made fantastic performance art, or ran for government, or transformed their community. These stories give me hope and are truly inspiring. But I wonder – what do they say about those of us who aren’t thriving after our assault?
My coworker asked about AVFTI. When she discovered I volunteer because of personal experience, she said, “That’s amazing. Terrible things happen, but people need to turn them into positivity.” She meant well. She truly did. But the thing is, rape is not a temporary roadblock that’s going to lead to great accomplishments. It’s not “character building”. If we channel the psychological fallout from our trauma into something good, that’s great. But it’s also okay if we don’t. It’s okay if we can’t get out of bed, if we’re angry, if we’re struggling. Rape doesn’t make us vulnerable, broken little things in need of saving. It also doesn’t make us warriors for the cause, meant to change the world. It is a criminal, horrifying violation of a person’s very essence, but it does not define us. We are not characters in a movie. We just are.