Twenty-nine years ago, in a country halfway around the world, I was raped. Until now, only a handful of people knew. I was very young, very scared, and never reported it. I wanted to just go back home and leave the experience behind me. If only it were that easy- it took a whole lot of therapy to get to a point of no longer being consumed by that night. And yet despite that all that work to rise above the trauma, I stayed silent.
I stayed quiet not out of fear of my attacker; I was lucky enough to be returning home shortly thereafter and didn’t have to live in fear of running into him again. I chose to remain silent because I knew I would be perceived as a victim, and the thought of being looked at that way for the rest of my life repulsed me more than the act itself.
I saw how that played out in my high school, and later in college. Whispers, rumors, girls who stared at the floor as they shuffled from class to class. I didn’t want to be pitied, to walk with shame on my face, to always be seen as A Girl Who Was Raped. Why should I have to endure a lifetime of being stigmatized? If I just went on like nothing happened, life would be good.
Amid the rising allegations against Bill Cosby, and the constant questioning of why some of the accusers had not come forward for decades, I began to see how my own silence has contributed to rape culture. Not only did it allow my attacker to get away with his crime (and potentially attack other women), it left other survivors to stand alone. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy: people stay silent because there is a culture of shame, yet the more we stay silent, the easier it becomes for people to get away with rape. Can we change this? Maybe we can, if we erase the stigma and stop defining and viewing women and men by their rape. Maybe then we will see reporting rates increase, and an end to rape culture.
Which is why, twenty-nine years later, I am giving back my silence.
I am not my rape. It is one of a million memories I carry with me, and does not define who I am. Please don’t give that night more power than it deserves. To those who know me, don’t let this change how you view me.
I am a mother.
An occasional blogger.
A curator of black cardigans.
An unrepentant F-bomb dropper.
An enthusiastic cook of meals my children refuse to eat.
A budding surfer
A sleep-training ninja.
A serial houseplant killer.
An underachieving Pinterest addict.
I am all of these things, but I am no longer silent.