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Date Rape

I am a rape survivor.

Those words have taken me years of therapy to say out loud because just like the title of the book from 1994, I Never Called it Rape.

I am just one of many statistics on rape:
I am one of the 1 in 5 women that are raped in America.
I am one of the 68% that don’t report being raped.
I am one of the 44% that was 18 or under at the time of the rape.
I am one of the 2/3 that knew their rapist.
Almost 35 years later, it still affects me. After becoming more aware of sexual assault rates and the lack of reporting and prosecuting, I realize I am part of the problem. I am also part of the solution. I need to talk about it. We all need to talk about it.

I recently read a book from a survivor of Jonestown that made a statement that resonated with my experience, Deborah Layton states, “I thought I could keep the past hidden forever…but that is no longer healthy or possible. I must return to the suffocating confusion of my youth to understand my sorrow, make sense of my shame, and integrate the secrets of my unclaimed history. I must break the pattern of well-intentioned deceit…”

Brene Brown, a popular shame researcher, states:
“Shame is the most powerful master emotion. It’s the fear that we aren’t good enough” and
“Empathy is the antidote to shame”

Telling the story of my rape shouldn’t be any different than telling the story of my car being stolen or my foot being broken. There is too much shame surrounding sexual violence and we need to confront it and remove it. Until we remove the shame and victim-blaming that keeps survivors of sexual violence from talking, we will not change the current statistics. We must give empathy to ourselves, own our own stories, so that we can give empathy to others and break the silence surrounding sexual violence. In the book, Burial Rites is a quote, “…any woman knows that a thread, once woven, is fixed in place; the only way to smooth a mistake is to let it all unravel.” I’m speaking out to let the mistake of my silence unravel the shame that has been woven into the fabric of my life.

This is my story:

I was raised LDS. The man who raped me was 23, a returned missionary from the LDS Church. He wore the sacred LDS underwear called garments. He was an active priesthood holder in the Church. He didn’t look like a rapist. I had met this boy through his sister, he had just moved to the area and didn’t know anyone. My boyfriend was currently serving an LDS Mission and would be gone for 2 years. So it didn’t seem to be a big deal if we went on a few dates. Eventually, although I wasn’t sure of my feelings at the time, we did kiss before he held me down and forced himself on me. I was a virgin. My rapist was much larger and stronger than I was. I did not fight to the death, I froze….completely. I remember very little of the experience except the memory of what I could see outside the window which is very vivid, a parking lot of cars. It seemed like I wasn’t even in my body, as if I were floating above it. I remember wondering if I could screa m would anyone hear me, would anyone come in time to save me and if they did, then what? But it happened so fast that I couldn’t do anything. I was like a traumatized animal who plays dead as a defense mechanism, I was immobilized. When he was done he left the room. I hid in the bathroom bleeding and in pain, afraid he might come back. I waited for what seemed like hours until I was fairly certain he was not coming back. As I came outside, I could see him washing his car and I tried to sneak around to where my car was parked without being seen. He saw me and said, “How come you let me do that to you when you never let your boyfriend?” I didn’t answer, I got in my car and drove home.

Why didn’t I report? I was raised in the LDS Church where sex outside marriage is considered next to murder. I had been taught that as a girl I had the responsibility of helping boys to not yield to temptation in thought or action through my own dress and behavior. If I tempted them, I held responsibility for them dishonoring their priesthood. I had also been groomed by the LDS Church to believe that having pre-marital sex made me less than, unworthy, not ‘good enough’. I was taught in our Young Women’s classes lessons such as ‘boys don’t want the soiled flower by the side of the road, they climb to the highest mountain for a flower that’s never been touched’. I also read the popular LDS book written by a prophet, The Miracle of Forgiveness, with quotes such as:

“There is no true Latter-day Saint who would not rather bury a son or a daughter than to have him or her lose his or her chastity – realizing that chastity is of more value than anything else in all the world.”
– Prophet Heber J. Grant, Gospel Standards, complied by G. Homer Durham, p. 55

“Also far-reaching is the effect of loss of chastity. Once given or taken or stolen it can never be regained. Even in a forced contact such as rape or incest, the injured one is greatly outraged. If she has not cooperated and contributed to the foul deed, she is of course in a more favorable position. There is no condemnation when there is no voluntary participation. It is better to die in defending one’s virtue than to live having lost it without a struggle.”
– Prophet Spencer W. Kimball, LDS Prophet, The Miracle of Forgiveness, p. 196

“I know what my mother expects. I know what she’s saying in her prayers. She’d rather have me come home dead than unclean.”
– Gordon B. Hinckley, Conference Report, April 1967, pp. 51-55

Well I didn’t come home dead as I felt I should have if it was rape. I became very confused by what it was…did I let him? Did I participate? Was I responsible? I debated calling the police or telling my parents but the humiliation and shame was intense. I felt about myself all of the things I had been taught, that I was unclean and incapable of regaining what had been stolen. Not only from me but from the boyfriend I had intended on marrying when he returned from his mission, I was used goods. My entire life had changed in an instant. I imagined the scene at the police station, with my parents, with my LDS Bishop. The questions they would ask, the assumptions, the doubts; my word against this nice returned missionary. I knew I would be on trial, I knew I would be blamed for being where I was at, what I was wearing, and what messages I was sending. I gave up any idea of telling anyone. I questioned if it was even rape. I did kiss him. I did tempt him. Mayb e I did let him, as he suggested. I never called it rape, I blamed myself. My parents were also having financial difficulties, my sister was about to get married and my grandma was visiting. A rape would cause so many problems for everyone. It seemed to be the best idea to just keep my mouth shut.

This boy continued to call as if nothing happened. I avoided his calls. I avoided my boyfriend’s calls. I felt like a zombie. My self-esteem and self-worth had dive bombed into the toilet. How could my boyfriend ever forgive me? Who would ever want me? And yet, this ‘nice’ returned missionary that I had ‘let’ have his way with me seemed to still want me. In the confusion it seemed my only alternative, I could make it right by being with him and pretending it was what I wanted all along; pretend it was normal. If I did participate…this is exactly what I deserved. I saw him a few more times, I felt numb to everything, I learned he had been sexually abused as a child. We had sex again, not intimate or loving…just robotic sex, I was completely numb to everything. I wanted to die every day. I can remember being in the bathtub underwater as he pounded on the locked door to see why I wouldn’t answer. I stayed underwater until he left. I didn’t care if I died, I couldn’t see any other way out of this situation.

When I got my period, it was a couple weeks late, full of clots and much heavier than normal. I didn’t know what it meant but it scared me and woke me up from this black and white zombie world to full color and made me see what I was doing. I hated myself with such venom. I came out of the bathroom and cut all of my hair off with a scissors as short as I could. I wanted to be as ugly on the outside as I felt on the inside. I wanted some control over the life I lost control of. I talked to my boyfriend finally on the phone, but I could barely talk so I’m not sure what he understood happened, or if I could even understand it enough to relate it to him with any cohesion. I stopped seeing the boy who raped me.

My boyfriend was kind. He showed up that night after I talked to him on the phone from out of state, with his Mission President’s permission to help me. He let everyone believe he just missed me. He was home with me for a week. He took me to his bishop for a blessing but I couldn’t even look this strange man in the eye much less let him touch me. He took me to my bishop where I just sobbed until I finally said, “I had sex” just so I could get out of there. I was advised to read Miracle of Forgiveness to help me repent. I was done. I was done with all of it. I didn’t want to ever speak of any of it again. My boyfriend still wanted to marry me when he returned from his mission. We made all the plans for it, I even bought my wedding dress. But when he returned, I backed out, he would only marry me in the temple and I felt so ashamed and unworthy, I did not want to marry in the LDS Temple, this became a huge issue between us and we eventually b roke up, long and traumatic break up for both of us. Again, I felt not only unworthy for the temple but for this boy I loved.

A couple years later, I eloped to Las Vegas just weeks after I started dating another boy, who was not LDS…shocking I know…but there was such freedom in distancing myself from the LDS Church and all the shame I felt from it. He had his own difficulties and we were much like life preservers in a storm and seemed to just grab on to each other. I eventually went back to the LDS Church after we had a children, along with my husband and we went on to raise all of our children in the church. I did not have the strength or knowledge to understand the damage the LDS teachings did to me and others. The LDS Church was the only tribe I knew and that’s where all of my family was. I was taught all my life it was the only true church on the face of the earth and without it I would have no connection to my family in the afterlife. Those beliefs that are ingrained in you from childhood are hard to dismiss. I wanted to feel worthy and accepted and I overcompensated by trying to do everything perfect so that I could be. I eventually went to the temple with my husband and children. In the LDS Church you have to meet certain criteria to be considered ‘worthy’ to go into the temple and ‘worthy’ to be with your family for eternity and live with God. It is the ultimate quest of the LDS. Despite my struggle with LDS teachings, I wanted to believe I was ‘worthy’ and knew no other way to do it. Going to the temple was a confusing and troubling experience for me, not at all what I expected, but I was assured I’d get used to it. I stayed active in the church for the next 20 years and continued to attend the temple despite my misgivings about what went on in there.

In my late thirties I began to have triggers of the rape, I didn’t really understand what was happening. I was very emotional and would break down in sobs for what seemed at the time no real reason. One day my husband was watching a movie with Jodie Foster, she was raped and in the trial the rapist was found not guilty. I wasn’t really paying attention until she went in the bathroom and cut her hair off. I immediately started sobbing uncontrollably. Eventually, I researched rape and PTSD on the Internet and realized I had a big problem. I felt so unstable that I carried around the phone number to a mental trauma center just in case I needed to admit myself. I didn’t think I could ever commit suicide but felt so out of control of my emotions that I definitely thought about it a lot. I had never been to a counselor before, other than an LDS Bishop, which are not trained to be counselors. I found a counselor and told her my story, it was incredibly difficu lt to verbalize it and I sobbed for so long she cancelled her other appointments and kept me in the office for several hours. I finally began my journey to healing. Although I didn’t have the ideal start in my marriage and it had been somewhat rocky over the years, we managed to make it work for 23 years. Unfortunately, unraveling my traumatic experience and opening up about my feelings about everything (as well as my husband’s as we worked through things) definitely began to unravel the marriage. We eventually divorced a few years later,. I also began to question the experiences and feelings I had about the abusive teachings in the LDS Church and officially resigned my membership as a gift to myself when I turned 50. I still have triggers and have a difficult time discussing the story of my rape. At 51 I’ve started counseling again to help me own and tell my story, a story for obvious reasons, I didn’t want to own or tell, I really just wanted it to go away. Understanding my own behavior of continuing to see the boy that raped me AFTER I was raped was incredibly difficult and a huge source of shame. Until I read the book, I Never Called it Rape and met other rape survivors with similar stories, I had no idea how common that was with acquaintance rape. Finally I felt some normality in my abnormal circumstances.

According to Phases of Recovery at DON’T HIDE SPEAK OUT there are four stages of recovery, I didn’t reach the 3rd phase of Integration until I was in my late thirties and am still in phase 4, Renewal, at 51 years old. I’m just starting to be more open with my story, admit I am a rape survivor and to tell myself, it was not my fault. However, I’m not sure I’ll ever feel normal or stop feeling the pain, it doesn’t seem to ever go away. It’s like a part of your body is cut off and the missing part of you, deep wound and scarring become just a part of who you are. Recently I went to see the Vagina Monologues, at the end of the play they asked rape survivors to stand as a support to each other. I felt frozen, in capable of standing and owning my story and yet a coward and betrayer of all the other survivors if I didn’t. I eventually stood and fought the tears until I was home alone and then sobbed uncontrollably for hours. It’s been almost 35 years since I was raped and it still has this effect on me.

I am the face of the statistics of the 68% that don’t report rape. I hope that statistic will change as we talk more about sexual violence and remove the shame and victim-blaming. I understand why survivors don’t report. I respect the choice to report or not, the survivor is the only one that has to live with the consequences. But silence hurts the survivor, we need to talk about it even if we choose not to report.

As I’ve analyzed my choices and my options I realize:

I could have fought to my death and died. Which really wasn’t an option since my traumatic response was to freeze…and I’d be dead which would be silly to choose over life…do what you have to do to survive!
I could have fought until I killed him. I wasn’t physically strong enough or mentally prepared for it.
I could have gone back and killed him later. Revenge just isn’t me.
I could have killed myself. The fear of pain and possible failure kept me alive, but I thought about it a lot!
I could have told my parents, had their support with me through the legal system and possibly won, put him in jail and the LDS Church excommunicated him. I laugh at this scenario, it is the most UNLIKELY course to happen thirty-five years ago.
I could have told my parents, my LDS Bishop and the legal system and had no one believe me and be humiliated for life since he would never admit it and all appearance suggest he’s a great guy. Yes, this is a very likely scenario for the time so I now feel I was pretty smart to protect myself by not telling and putting myself through that trauma when I was already traumatized.
I could have cut his penis off. I just had to say that but could never actually do it .
I could have refused to see him again rather than try and ‘make it normal’ and pretend it didn’t happen. Yes, that would have been much smarter. Unfortunately, I internalized it instead of externalizing it as I should have, he was to blame, not me…thanks to the LDS Church for teaching me otherwise.
I could have gone to a rape crisis center and at least received support even if I never told anyone else. This is absolutely what I should have done along with never seeing him again. I WISH it was an actual option for me, I had no knowledge of the resources available; sexual violence was never a discussion in my home, school or church.
Since starting my quest to understand and unravel the mistake of silence I made, own my story and fix the blame where it belongs, on the rapist rather than myself, I’ve read books, watched documentaries and listened to mental health podcasts about sexual violence as well as worked with a therapist. As I made the list of options I had I realized that the Sexual Assault Awareness campaign is vitally important for all of us because just like death and funerals, sexual violence comes unexpectedly and it is difficult to make decisions in the mist of it because of the trauma and confusion experienced. The survivor needs the support of those around them, so we all must be aware of what to do when it happens to you or a loved one…so we know what to do!

When I was raped, I was not aware of anyone having been raped, I was never taught ‘what to do if’, I was sheltered from any discussion of sexual assault information and sexual discussions were not part of the LDS Community or public schools. I only learned shame and discipline about sexual behavior from my church community, I learned it is better NOT to talk about it. If I had that information, if I knew I could safely and confidentially call an anonymous number for advice and talk through my experience without the intense shame, I could have had a very different experience and made much wiser decisions.

My dad taught me to drive. Shortly after I got my licensee, I was hit by another car. I was in a parking lot and this car hit the side of my car. It was his fault and he admitted it. We got out of the cars and looked at the damage and he apologized. I didn’t know what to do. I accepted his apology and thought it looked pretty small so I said “Don’t worry about it”. I went home and my dad was a little frustrated with me but he also realized that when he taught me to drive, he didn’t teach me what to do if I got in an accident. He then gave me the information that I needed to be more prepared the next time. In much the same way, we need to inform people ‘what to do’ if faced with sexual violence.

Sexual violence education is important information for everyone because it has a huge impact on the lives of many, making it a public health concern. It causes physical and mental issues for both survivors and their loved ones, sometimes for life. I prefer the term Sexual Violence to Sexual Assault because it encompasses so many more issues that don’t classify as assault such as harassment, bullying and stalking, which all lead up to even more serious sexual crimes. Creating a required Sexual Violence Awareness component in our public school sex education programs as early as elementary school, age appropriate, would be helpful to prepare our youth. Starting on college campuses is way too late for this information, it needs to be on college campuses as well, but it has to start earlier than that.

4 comments

  • Alexis
  • Broken robot
    • Maria

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