No Longer Silenced
Society has covered many rape survivors’ mouths. As a rape survivor, I feel silenced and as though the world is constantly telling me to move on and forget what happened to me. I no longer want to be a victim to the way the world handles rape. I am ready to speak up. For the past two years, I have silently lived a life full of fear, shame, and dampened emotion. Since I was raped, people around me have expected me to be the same person I was before, and I have given every effort to appear to be that person. I have endured suffering that I didn’t know could be so painful, but my soul is continuously healing and I am becoming stronger.
In 2015 I was working as a missionary nurse at a children’s home and rural clinic on the northern coast of Honduras. My heart was content and in love with where God led me and the neighbors, community, and children I was surrounded by. On May 21st, I was walking on a beach near my house with Tricia, the director of the organization I was working for. It was a beautiful afternoon with turquoise waves crashing at our bare feet and the sun bright in the sky. While we were talking about God’s love and grace, we were approached by two men with machetes. One of the men brought the machete to my neck and grabbed my butt; I knew immediately that I was going to be raped. As I looked down the beach there was not a soul in sight other than my director, who was also threatened with the machete to her neck. We were pushed into the thick woods.
I was raped, while Tricia witnessed nearby. There was no opportunity to fight back, the weapons were too sharp and the possibility of being murdered was all too real. The only thing we could do was cry out to God. As I laid in the woods, naked, exposed and being raped, God was there. His presence was undeniable and I can vividly remember looking into my rapist’s eyes and saying, “God, I know this is not you.” After he raped me, the men pushed us back onto the beach and threatened to kill the missionaries and children if we told anyone what had happened. After a ten-minute walk, we made it back to our property and I collapsed on my bedroom floor. From there things moved quickly. We drove to the closest town and spoke with police. They sent a team including Tricia to search the area of the attack. I went through a blur of police reports and violating examinations to collect forensic evidence.
I left Honduras the following morning with a fellow missionary, after an HIV test that I never heard the results of, and searching for the Honduran version of Plan B, a form of contraception I never imagined myself taking. The rest of the missionaries left a few days later. We didn’t say any goodbyes. Projects were left unfinished in the clinic, neighbors were left without healthcare, and the children’s lives were immediately impacted. I felt like I abandoned everyone and everything in that little corner of Honduras.
I was back in Wisconsin within thirty-six hours of having been raped. My life went from anticipating nearly two more years in the poorest country in Central America, to being in my childhood bed surrounded by first world things. Culture shock engulfed me, on top of trying to make sense of my life changing so rapidly. After I returned home, I went to a local clinic to get a full medical evaluation and forensic evidence, including pictures of my bruises, scrapes, and the trauma to my vagina. I was prescribed post exposure HIV medication, antibiotics for sexually transmitted infections, and an anti-nausea medication to help with the side effects of the toxic medications. Then I was sent back to my life. I felt expected to go back to how things were, because nothing in the world I had left less than one year earlier seemed any different.
“I am so glad you are okay.” Seemed like the phrase of choice for the few people that knew I was raped. This was understandable since my bruises and cuts were hidden by my clothes and the smile on my face hid the fact that I was not okay at all. I wished that I had broken bones or deep cuts to prove what happened, and to open a conversation about my rape. I continue to search for the scars on my stomach, just as proof that this nightmare and the internal pain I still feel is real. The world around me has believed that I’m “okay” and “doing well” because that is what they want to believe and because I don’t tell them otherwise.
I was not okay. I was hurt and violated so immensely that only other rape survivors can possibly understand the effects that this pain has. I have internal wounds that feel deeper than any physical wound ever could. I live with constant, underlying fear. I often picture scenarios where someone could rape me or kill me and no one would ever know. A picture of a beach brings me anxiety. Women walking alone makes me want to protect them. I deal with the weight of feeling like my virginity was taken from me, a gift I hoped to give my future husband. I walk through my life feeling unclean and impure. I feared being pregnant with my rapist’s child. The multiple HIV labs drawn were terrifying and lonely. Relationships with men have been difficult and intimacy can be threatening. Rape threatened an organization and community I adored. It sent two men to prison for more than 15 years. My rape hurt so many people I care about. I bare the weight of this guilt every day and feel that somehow I should have prevented it.
I have no doubt that God was there that day and continues to give me strength as I heal. Prayer and biweekly therapy have been the core of my healing process. I am learning who I am as a woman. I am finding it within myself to slowly become stronger, more genuine, and less afraid. The wounds had to be opened through therapy and now they are healing and becoming less overwhelming. The world is becoming more vibrant to me and I am beginning to feel life more deeply and passionately than I did before being raped. Through this, I am finding my voice and seeing where God is leading me in my journey. My voice is for opening discussions about rape.
As a society “victim blame” is the default, when we should be creating a culture where rape doesn’t happen. Due to rape often being disregarded, unpunished, and even accepted as normal, I have felt like I am at blame for being raped and that my story should be a secret. I have felt shame and embarrassment. I went for four months living in my current town with only two people knowing that I was raped, one of whom was my therapist. When I have told my story, I have usually said something along the lines of, “I was raped, but I am fine.” Short with no details, and I end the conversation with an apology for overwhelming the other person with the amount of information I shared. These conversations result in a feeling relief that I can share an important part of me, but also feelings of disgust and shame, and that I am burdening others with my problem.
According to the Center for Disease Control, nearly one in five (18.3%) of American women are raped. Our friends, family members, coworkers, and peers are among these statistics. Women in my life have come to me with personal stories of their rape. I have heard stories about her ex-boyfriend, the man at the bar, her husband, or the guy at the party: men that we live amongst. Though these stories are defining parts of these women’s lives, I was for some of them one of the only people they have ever told. They are afraid of how they will be perceived if their story is let out, or they are afraid of making a “big deal.” It is likely that there are people in your life who have been raped and have never shared their story. The shame and silence surrounding rape has kept these women, myself included, from telling the stories we need to tell in order to heal, and to start changing the overwhelming statistics of rape.
It seems like many people do not want to bring up the word rape because they don’t want to remind me of what happened. Maybe it is too uncomfortable for them to talk about, or they don’t want to ask questions about something they think is private. Yes, there is a discomfort that comes with talking about rape. But I already think about being raped every day, every hour, in some sense, every minute. The memories and feelings of my rape are woven into my life. Hearing the word “rape” will not bring up new thoughts, on the contrary, an open conversation will make my burden feel lighter. The word “rape” needs to be a part of our vocabulary, and a word that we aren’t afraid to use.
My hope is that my story will be used to open a dialogue surrounding rape. Rape is preventable, but not if we are unaware of rape as a problem in our society and the effects that rape has on survivors. Take time to evaluate your personal perceptions of rape. Have you ever thought about rape as being the victim’s fault? Have statements like, “If she didn’t dress that way” or “she shouldn’t have had so much alcohol” ever crossed your mind? We each must firmly believe that rape is never the victim’s fault. No one deserves to be raped.
I ask you, as a survivor and advocate for other rape survivors, to start having open conversations about rape with your families, friends, and community. Rape affects your life and the lives of people around you. Daring to talk about it will empower victims to tell their stories, and help us fight against the shame and stigma that comes with rape. This is one small step of many towards a world where rape doesn’t happen.