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Talking about rape: 5 years later, I hesitate for different reasons

Emily Parkhurst: Heels in the Snow

Talking about rape: 5 years later, I hesitate for different reasons

Five years later, I still get a knot in the pit of my stomach when I talk about the night I was drugged, abducted and raped.

I don't imagine that admission comes as too much of a shock. I think most survivors of sexual violence feel hesitation discussing what happened and I think, as listeners, we expect that hesitation.

However, my twisted guts have nothing to do with my own hesitation and everything to do with making other people uncomfortable.

While I am a reporter, and sometimes making people uncomfortable is part of my job description, usually that discomfort has everything to do with them and nothing to do with what happened to me.

And that's just it — it happened  to me. I did not "ask for it" any more than someone who is diagnosed with cancer asks for that.

Yet, when I talk about rape, many people get this blank look on their faces. People are paralyzed by the word. It's no wonder victims feel hesitation.

Don't get me wrong. I get it. Rape is a very personal crime, unlike any other. For many victims, their attacker is someone they know, someone they trusted, someone who cared for them or someone they called a friend.

My attacker was a stranger I'd never met before he handed me a drink in a crowded dance club in Portland. I wasn't drunk. I was the designated driver for some of my friends. So, I took a small sip to be polite, then put the drink down on a table. I thanked him, then tried to make my way back to my friends. That was the last thing I remember, until I woke up, five hours later, in a dank basement apartment, naked, bleeding from deep cuts on my hands, covered in bruises, with a man I didn't know, raping me from behind.

Whether you know me personally or not, whether you have experience with sexual violence or not, I'm sure that's a hard thing to read.

It may be harder to know that the South Portland Police investigated, but told me they did not have enough evidence to take the case to the District Attorney. Last I knew, my rapist had a child and was still living in that basement apartment where he raped me.

And, you see, that's the problem. For most rapists, there's no trial. In fact, for most rapists, there's not even an accusation. I can't help but believe part of that stems from the fear victims feel when they talk about the crime against them.

It's hard. And when the person you're talking to stares blankly back, terrified about what to say, that makes it even harder.

The five-year anniversary of my attack is tomorrow (Jan. 20), or technically, tonight at about midnight. So, with five years of experience talking about rape, and some time volunteering for a rape crisis hotline, here are a few things that have struck me:

- Rape is different than other crimes. However, if you're talking to someone who was raped, it's not all that different than talking to someone who has lost a loved one or was just diagnosed with a serious disease, like cancer.

- Many survivors want to talk, but they don't want to burden the person they're talking to (myself included).

- If the survivor brings it up, she (or he) probably wants to talk about it. If you're totally uncomfortable talking about it, get over it and just listen.

- A victim is still a person. Rape is about dehumanizing someone. This seems obvious, but don't dehumanize her further by not believing her or suggesting something she did caused the attack.

- And relax. Just relax. If a victim chose to tell you, she/he chose you for a reason. If you relax, you won't say the wrong thing.

And if this victim is like me, and feels comfortable talking about this to anyone, you can be pretty confident you won't hurt her by saying the wrong thing. 

In fact, when I first met my husband, before we were married, before he knew about my rape, he made a funny, but crude, rape joke. It was such a relief that finally, someone wasn't treating me with kid gloves.

(Want to talk to someone? Call the Sexual Assault Response Services of Southern Maine at 1-800-313-9900 or RAINN 1-800-656-HOPE)