Fifty Shades of Rape

| August 23, 2012 | 4 Comments

No sooner had we introduced ourselves than he insisted we go somewhere else for another glass of wine. We were walking toward my local wine bar when he pulled me into a vestibule and smashed himself against me, slobbering, and grunting. I tried pushing him away but he continued and within seconds he’d slid his hand down my jeans and inside me while his other arm pinned me at my neck. I screamed and threw him against the wall as hard as I could, then tunnel vision’d into traffic and flagged down a cab. I got in one side, and he opened the door on the other side, pleading for me not to leave. He grabbed my leg and said, “I thought you wanted it.”
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I kicked him away and yelled at the driver to go. As the cabbie drove me just a few blocks back to my home, my heart raced, my fingertips went numb, and I sobbed.

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That incident happened three years ago, and as minor as it may seem, it felt like the first act of a three-act play that would have ended horrifically. I was lucky. And throughout the years, with the exception of a rape scene in a film, I’d more or less forgotten about it. However, this week when the definition of rape rose to the surface, so too did the face of my potential rapist.
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And I wondered: If my incident was the palest shade of sexual assault, what must the darkest shade of rape be like? And how do you ever wash it off? And I asked friends to tell their stories.
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An eighteen-year-old goes to her boss’s house for a party, only to realize she’s the only one there; he’s older and she admires him. He gets her drunk. She asks him to slow down, but she trusts him. She wants to leave, but he insists she stay to spend the night. She pushes him off, but he continues and tells her to be quiet. He tells her he’s been planning this all along, and then he pins her down and while she squirms to get away, he does it. Repeatedly. Twenty years later it still haunts her and still she questions it, because she didn’t say the magic word, “I never said, ‘no.’”
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A thirty-seven-year-old mother of two in Amman, Jordan, was walking home from the market when she felt a man trailing her. Down an alleyway, just steps from her home, she was grabbed and pulled inside a van. The man punched her in the stomach and revealed a knife. He raped her and spit on her face and told her she deserved it. Weak, and emotionally and physically battered, the woman returned home and showered while scrubbing her skin so hard that she wanted “to rip my flesh off to make me clean.” She kept it to herself and still lives in fear that someone may find out and she wonders if it’s because her headscarf was “exposing too much” of her hairline.
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There were other stories, including one about a college student who got a ride home after a concert from an acquaintance who then raped her in the back seat and dumped her off in her lawn the next morning like garbage. And there was the story of a sixty-four-year-old gay man who was nearly raped by an ex-boyfriend who punched him while screaming, “Malo, malo, malo [bad]!”  And even though he escaped, and even though he’d once been in a relationship with his perpetrator, he said it still makes him “tremble five years later.”
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In the early 1990s, hyperbolic author Camille Paglia became a media sensation when she claimed that rape was generally sexually motivated, and in every interview the self-described dissident feminist scoffed in rapid-fire monologues that date rape was very much a new construct born of women’s lack of responsibility and abundance of imagination. What Paglia did bring to the forefront of discussion, however, were scorned opportunists who after drunken one-night stands claimed they were raped, when instead they’d simply slept with a cad who didn’t call back. A loquacious extremist on everything from pop stars to Supreme Court justices, the author was emotionally and intellectually unable to see any shades of grey. It is precisely Paglia’s belligerent stance that had many women (and men) in the ‘90s questioning if indeed they were raped or just jilted. The difference between the two is this: strumpets sued while rape victims stewed over the “legitimacy” of their rape.
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And the question of what constitutes rape is, once again, making banner headlines thanks in part to Missouri Congressman Todd Akin, who recently coined a new term, “legitimate rape,” and suggested that pregnancies rarely occur during said rapes because women’s bodies simply shut down and prevent conception. Meanwhile, presumptive Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan is currently being asked, again, to define the term “forcible rape” that he and Akin used in proposed anti-abortion legislation. While the term was later removed from the bill due to protests, the intention remained: If the victim lacks signs of physical trauma, she can be denied the right to an abortion. Paglia on the far left couldn’t see the varying degrees of rape, and Akin and Ryan on the far right can’t see past their own callousness: a virtual ménage-a-l’extrêmes.
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And while the debate slimes and drips over newly attached prefixes to the word “rape” — whether it’s legitimate, assault, or forcible — the suffix of “rape” remains. Whether from watercolors or ink wells, every shade leaves a permanent mark. And no magic words, and no amount of time will ever lift the stain.
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  1. Lacuna says:

    Thank you for this.

    I was 14 when I was “lucky” enough to call what happened to me an “attempt” by an ex-boyfriend.

    26 years later, I still worry about “bumping” into him.

    “She kept it to herself…” breaks my heart. I kept it inside, as well, because my father actively mocked rape victims when they spoke out. I knew he would blame me.

    And 26 years later, I read an honest opinion written by a man who said that if we would “just” decriminalize rape, the rapists wouldn’t be “forced by the feminists” to kill their victims.

    We have SUCH a long way to go.

  2. Alex Gnu says:

    Thank you for this — I hope it helps people to heal.

  3. Rene says:

    I was lead into a dark room by someone I trusted. I had no reason to fear him, I was in a safe place. But I did have reason to fear and it wasn’t a safe place. It’s been nearly 50 years and I can still see the room, still smell the dank moldy smell of basement, still recognize the moment went life was no longer safe.

    I didn’t cry out because I didn’t understand what was happening. The pain and the fear stole my voice. That said, I guess Akin and his ilk would say I wasn’t raped…when I was 3.

    If it wasn’t rape, why am I still having nightmares 47 years later?

  4. Susan Skorc says:

    My heart aches for all rape victims and I know how lucky I am to have never had it happen to me, but I know it happens to far too many people and they are too many times raped again by law enforcement and ignorant people

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