Rape doesn’t make you interesting. It is not a plotline or a trope, and it certainly doesn’t make you special. My story is not a unique one. Nor is Kesha’s. Ours is a story shared by billions of women and men, spanning hundreds of thousands of years. It is woven so deeply into the tapestry of human existence that we have become numbed to its presence. Even when we treat it as we ought to, with disdain, disgust and arrest (which is rare), we still sensationalize it. We can’t help ourselves.
I understand your pain, Kesha. I f*cking love your song, and I admire your resilience and courage. But is it real? You thank your attacker for how strong you’ve become, that he taught you to fight back, and that “the best is yet to come.” Do you honestly feel that resolved, whole and healed after just three years? This is not an attack or a dismissal of your feelings, I’m astonished at how quickly you seem to have rebounded. For most this is a burden, the repercussions of which will be felt for a lifetime. But I understand why you have put up the mask of pure unbridled resilience. We force victims to define their pain. We tell them to “hurry up and heal.” We tell them to Survive.
In fact, “Survivor” has become the preferred idiom to describe our plight. A line has been drawn in the sand and you must choose, you are either a Victim, imbued with assumed weakness and frailty, or a Survivor proudly thriving in their newfound strength. But you cannot be both. The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network even lays out the “crucial difference” between these two stages in their mission statement. This new moniker has been carefully promoted and spoon-fed to us under the false assumption that we will all reclaim our trauma and go on to lead stronger, braver, bolder lives than we would have if we weren’t raped. Society is quick to encourage us to embrace the resolute tenacity of a Survivor. It forgets that we’ve been bruised, beaten and penetrated, in every way a person can be. It forgets that healing takes time and that this isn’t just a heartache or a loss. You are resilient, they say. You are warrior! You will rise from the ashes of your pain with more power than you ever knew you had.
Do you want to know what happened to me? How long did it last, how deep were my bruises? Did my panties rip as he pulled them down? Did he choke me into submission? Did I fight back, claw at his skin, spit in his face and scream bloody murder? Did he violate me with his cock or did he use something else to change the course of my life? Are you so sure it was just one man? Maybe it was two, or 5, or a dozen. Maybe it lasted for years.
I understand being titillated by all the traumatic details, you’ve been conditioned to think this way; but I won’t be giving you the answer to your questions. Contrary to what “Game Of Thrones” would have you think, rape isn’t entertainment.
We speak about rape like it is a trauma that knows an end, one that can be tied up in a bow, mixed into the melody of a pop song and released into the world to empower all the other strong-willed Survivors. That after three short years, like Kesha, we’ll be “praying” for our Producer/Rapist, and “wishing him farewell.” That we’ll swiftly move beyond what happened - the whole world at our feet. I want nothing more than to believe in this rhetoric, this inspiring story we’ve been fed time and time again about our swift triumphant endurance. But it’s not realistic, and for that it is dangerous.
“Is this is a sin that can be absolved? Should we feel pity for the monster who drugged you, raped you, tried to ruin your career, and then lied about it?”
I admire you for being the bigger person Kesha, for rising above and “praying for his soul to change,” hoping he “finds his peace.” But by doing so, are we not inadvertently turning our rapists into false victims? Sending the message that not only is this is a sin that can be absolved, but that we should feel pity for the monster who drugged you, raped you, tried to ruin your career, and then lied about it? I too pray that Dr. Luke feels remorse and changes his ways, but statistically that’s extremely unlikely. Men who have raped once are 80% more likely to rape again. Did we learn nothing from Cosby, Woody, or Terry?
What does this tale of perseverance say to our rapist? That his dick made us stronger? That we have him to thank for our fortitude and our Survivor mentality? That he has somehow bestowed upon us the ability to transcend adversity and find tranquility. That the grit and courage we so powerfully embody wouldn’t exist if he hadn’t raped us?
What does it say to the victims who don’t feel whole and healed? To those who still wake up screaming in the middle of the night plagued by memories of their abuse. To those triggered by a sound or a smell or place. What does this jargon say to those who remain broken beyond repair, to those who haven’t publicly rebounded and come out the other side “proud of who they are.”
The unfortunate reality is that healing doesn’t have a distinguishable end. Healing is irreconcilable pain. It is instability and loss and grief and fear. It is shame so deep it mars your soul with scars that never fade. It is trauma that sleeps under your skin, only to manifest in ways you could never imagine, in ways that will stay with you your entire life. Rape is not a singular thing, it doesn’t exist in a vacuum and it will never just be, something that happened.
What happens when we become our own abusers? Seeking self-harm because we’ve been taught that is what we are worth. Re-traumatizing ourselves over and over again, because someone took away our choice.
Those who have been raped are three times more likely to suffer from depression, four times more likely to consider suicide, 13 times more likely to abuse alcohol, 26 times more likely to abuse drugs, and 32 times more likely to develop an eating disorder. These are not ailments that appear only in the days, the weeks, the months, the years directly after your rape - these maladies stay with you the rest of your life. I should know; I am all of those statistics. I reacted to my rape with every single one of those symptoms. Does that make me weak? Does that make me the dreaded Victim?
What if I told you that while battling all those demons I also rose up, like Kesha. That we both became the brave and fearless rape Survivors we are supposed to be. That while contemplating suicide I was also aggressively speaking out against harassment, abuse and assault online. That while obsessively binging and purging, I was launching a business to promote female empowerment. That while numbing my shame in booze and uppers, I was throwing my first Anti-Harassment Gallery Show. That despite reclaiming my torture, despite Kesha’s empowering and courageous ballad - there will always remain a deep well of trauma and pain that cannot be filled.
Healing cannot be repackaged and commodified, sold to the masses as an attainable goal. Rape breaks you. It rips you wide open, peels your flesh from your bones, leaves you raw, your pain reverberating through the world. We treat this trauma as if it can somehow be “fixed.” That a few years and a break-out hit is all it takes to move on. That the simple act of speaking up will heal you - but that is not the case. I’m not trying to downplay the power of telling your story, nor am I encouraging silence - in fact I believe we should speak of our tragedy often, and loudly. Recounting it over and over until the world is forced to see rape for what it is. It is not the topic of a heated he-said/she-said debate about ‘America’s Dad.’ It is not a drunken mistake made by a promising Stanford frat-boy swimmer. And it is certainly not fodder for the President’s “locker room talk.” It is a soul crushing attack, whose unrelenting and lifelong repercussions should appropriately horrify all of us far more than they currently do.
My rapist didn’t give me my strength and Kesha’s rapist doesn’t deserve our prayers. We are Survivors, but we are also Victims - erasing the latter does nothing but erase the responsibility of our attackers. It tells us that our recovery is incomplete until this Survivor nirvana is attained, which is not only foolish but serves to invalidate those who fail to achieve it. It emboldens the rhetoric that rape makes its victims strong. But our violent violation is not what bestowed us with that power, it always existed. Our grit came from within, and even though it might take a lifetime, our healing will too.
Need help? Visit RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Online Hotline or the National Sexual Violence Resource Center’s website.
If you or someone you know needs help, call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also text HELLO to 741-741 for free, 24-hour support from the Crisis Text Line. Outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of resources.