Horror Stories: What They Aren’t
At one point in my life, I volunteered as a Sexual Assault Advocate at a rape and domestic violence Crisis Center. This basically means that when needed I sat with women/children and comforted/lent support while they went through the evidence gathering process for a SANE Exam. This exam has also been called a rape kit. We were told not to use the term “rape kit” to the clients because for some people that could be incredibly traumatizing if they hadn’t admitted to themselves that what happened to them may have constituted a “rape”. The job description was two-pronged, the second prong, which took up a greater majority of my time on call, was screening crisis calls from women and men that called the crisis line. These callers had been raped at some point in their lives, either ten minutes or ten years previous. I would then explain the options they had, whether it be a SANE Exam, or the free counseling they were entitled to at my agency. They could hear about and tap into as much or as little of the services at my agency that they felt they were ready for or wanted.
I had to undergo pretty extensive training in order to start volunteering. The worst part entailed learning about the disgusting men that would call for their own sexual satisfaction. I was actually told that I was not equipped to handle any calls from males because 95 percent of the time, they were not calls made from people that wanted our help, they just wanted help getting off.
Like, seriously, think about this. The Crisis Center had a serious problem with men calling a sexual assault crisis line and trying to tell really vivid accounts of a rape for their own sexual pleasure.
And some people say that there is no rape culture, but I digress.
Most of the time I received these calls, I would go through the process of getting the critical clinical information I needed, phone number, whether or not they were safe at the moment, and their and and the names of those that are with them. The client would usually talk as little as possible, giving me the bare minimum information. I never blamed them because it always felt a little cold when I went through my spiel. Nearly always, when I was finally able to ask, “So, what happened?” the survivor would word vomit the entire horrific story from start to finish, not allowing me time to interject so much as a, “You know this isn’t your fault, right?” Sometimes they would be bawling, sometimes they’d tell the story in an emotionless, matter-of-fact manner. The only thing I could count on was that there wasn’t one reaction I could count on.
I remember my first client. She was the hardest for me to cope with. The story was so bad that afterwards the Nurse, who was also very knowledgeable in dealing with clients like these, told me that she had been doing this for upwards of ten years and she had never encountered a story as bad as this.
After the client left, the nurse told me she wouldn’t allow me to drive home until I had cried all of it out. She sat a box of tissues in front of me, told me she would be back after she was done cleaning up in the exam room to check on me, and promptly left me alone.
When I saw the door close behind her, I realized that in order to emotionally get through that SANE exam, my emotions and body had gone numb and I had went into instinctual social worker mode. Now that I no longer had to be strong for the client, I felt myself burst open at the seams.
I went through the entire box of tissues.
Maybe part of the reason her story is so melded into my brain had something to do with her being my first, but I think a greater part had to do with the actual details of the case. Her story was so heartbreaking, the details made me want to scream, cry, hold her, and curse the evils of the world all at the same time.
I could tell you details about her rape that would make your blood boil.
I could tell you details about her perpetrator that would keep you up at night, as it did me.
I could open your eyes to a world that most people are uncomfortable facing the reality of.
But I won’t.
Why? Because the story isn’t and will never be mine to tell.
Contrary to popular belief, rape is not about sex. Rape is about power and control. When someone is raped, the sudden loss of control over your own body is devastating. This is the avenue in which the crippling shame flows in. Survivors grasp at any way to make sense of what happened.
They make excuses like, “I may have wanted it,” or “I guess I had flirted with him earlier that night, I must’ve put off the wrong vibes.” In my personal rape, I blamed myself because I was the one that drank that night. I was the one that decided to drink that tainted JD Whiskey. I was the one that allowed myself to be coerced into that room. It was my fault, obviously. In this way I could gain some semblance of control over what happened. That way, I could make sure it would never happen again if I just didn’t go to house parties, drink JD, or go into boy’s rooms again.
This self-blame quickly morphed into shame. You believe that you must be seriously repulsive if someone is willing to do something like that to you. It molds itself into a part of your identity and festers.
You feel worthless. You are worthless.
Sometimes, survivors are able to gain their power back by telling their story. This is why the telling of a personal trauma is invaluable. The telling is the mental act of getting back on your feet and feeling no longer ashamed about what happened to you. It is a way of gaining your life back, of recognizing the hurt and putting blame where blame is due.
This is why there is so much pain that comes when you tell a story that is not yours to tell. You demean their pain into a sort of entertainment. You tell it for shock value. It is usually told along the lines of, “Did you hear what happened to her? She actually was drugged. Six men? That is just awful. And the depression that came from it, man I feel so bad for her…”
You are taking a highly personal trauma and turning it into a horror story.
A story that was never yours to tell in the first place.
How dare you.
While I do not have a problem with people talking about what happened to me or about what happened to anyone else (with consent), for that matter, I ask that my experiences not be told to get a gasp from your neighbors. My story should not be told so that you can blubber over coffee with your girlfriends about how bad my story makes you feel and how sorry you are for me.
This does not mean that I will be offended every time my story is told through another person’s mouth. I just don’t want it to turn into something it isn’t, a story that raises eyebrows. Instead, let is be a story that raises awareness of a bigger issue.
I just ask that you remember that I am a person, not an event. I have spent three years trying to realize that exact fact. Please do not reduce me or any other survivors to their trauma, we are so much more than a horror story.