Monday, March 3, 2014

An Apology?

I don't like that title.

But this is an apology - and specifically, an apology to my daughter.
But not just to her.  It's an apology to women and girls in general.
But, specifically, to my daughter.
Because as much as I try to instill in her ideals and values and self worth, I've been less than honest about why.  Because it's so easy to believe what society says, especially when it's about yourself.

A quick search on Google reminds me that as many as one in four women will be assaulted during their time in college.  A similar search pulls up the statistic that one in five high school girls will be assaulted.
And so I find myself preaching, attacking our society's rape culture.  And yes, I do very firmly believe that it's "a thing."  And if we don't speak out against it, then it continues to be a thing - a subconscious (in many ways), insidious thing that plagues our society and makes it necessary for me to have conversations with my daughter about how she needs to be careful, how she needs to be responsible for not making herself a victim.

And there.                                                   Right there.
That's why I need to apologize.
Because no matter what she does, if a woman is assaulted, she DID. NOT. make herself a victim.

But I contribute to that culture, as well. 
As a mother, trying to protect my child, but also as a victim.

I was part of that 25% in college.  It was a surreal summer.  There were a number of events in that short space of time that have allowed me to look back upon those few months from an outside perspective.  And, for a long time, that allowed me to not deal with what happened to me.
I briefly dated someone who thought it was okay to coerce me into having sex with him - to force himself on me after I'd fallen asleep, drunk.  Who kept going when I'd said no.
And I didn't say anything to anyone afterwards.  I was ashamed.
I'd put myself in that position.  
I'd gotten drunk.  
I'd fallen asleep there.  
Me - it was my responsibility.  
I'd done that.

And the next night, when I'd seen him at the bar, I'd left early, claiming I didn't feel well.  He followed me outside and apologized and asked me to walk with him while he went back to his apartment, so we could talk and he could more fully apologize.
And, again, it was on me.  
I believed him.  
I went willingly with him.  
I walked the four blocks back to his apartment with him and went up in the elevator with him and expected him to apologize.  
And I entered his apartment enough for him to deadbolt the door and physically block me from leaving.  
I blamed me.

I credited my adrenaline, as well, that pushed him out of the way and managed to get the door open, that pushed past him, when he blocked the elevator and tried to pull me back to his apartment, that spurred my run down the many flights of stairs.
I credit, as well, the friend who happened to be driving the campus security van past that building as I ran outside, who sat with me while I calmed down, who drove me home.
I don't think I have ever thanked him enough.

But mostly, in all of this, there was blame - and I settled it solely on me.
What kind of an idiot was I?  
I put myself in that position less than 24 hours after he'd forced himself on me.  
And so, I stayed silent.  No matter what I'd read and been told, my inner voice told me in a much more convincing way, that I'd asked for it.  I was to blame.

And as years have gone by, I've dealt with it in silence.  Ashamed.  And as many times as I've said aloud that it's never the victim's fault, that the person to blame is the rapist, the person committing the assault, I've stayed quiet about my own experience - because I've continued to blame myself.

This post is coming in the midst of my attempt, as a mother, of staying in our family photos - of not marginalizing myself out of our family.  There are so many reasons why I'm doing that project - so many that I've stated about my own self image, my daughter's, about the lack of photos of me with my own mother.  This post may seem to exist within that conversation as an anomaly.  It's not really anything to do with being "crunchy," or even, on the surface, about being a mother.  It's about coming to terms with the fact that I did not cause my own assault - and that I was, in fact, raped.
But, as I framed in my head how I would write this, I realized that it does relate back to my photo project.

By blaming myself, I am marginalizing myself.
I have removed myself, out of shame, from the picture.
If I continue to pretend that it never happened, to allow my shame to keep it secret, I'm hiding that less-than-pretty part of myself behind another filter, another lens.

And so, I apologize.
Not for what happened.  I did not do that.
But for my years of silence and of shame.
Because I do know that the only person to blame for a rape is the rapist.
The only person who is to blame for a sexual assault is the perpetrator.

And I'm working now, so many years later, on no longer blaming myself.


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  2. <3 so so so much love for you my friend. I deal with the same issue. In high school I had met this guy online and he said he would come pick me up...and he showed up with his friends. I had called a girlfriend to come with me so I wouldn't be alone. It didn't matter. They had a gun. They brought us to a dark street, where there was a crowd of about 20 other guys. They had an older gentleman that lived on the street who was a friend. They raped me. All 4 of them raped me. I stayed silent about this until my early 20's. I was 14 at the time it happened. To this day only my mom and close friends know because I feel shamed to talk about it with my family. Ashamed to say I'm a victim. Why? This whole shooting issue lately have brought up so many feelings I have tried to keep bottled up for a long time. I can't stop crying. I'm having frequent nightmares about it, but I still keep to myself and don't talk about it.

  3. I am proud of you for sharing this story. I struggle with how to put the blame on the perpetrator while teaching my daughter to be vigilant. This self-blame happens because we think we could have done more, but the rape itself is always the full responsibility of the perpetrator. It's awful. It's unfair and it's sickening. Thank you for showing your daughter that you put the blame squarely where it belongs.