I’ve been in and out of therapy for a long time, much of which addressed trauma to some degree, and I live with chronic dissociation. But the consequences of my choice to not report have been less clear to me. There’s been no common narrative regarding what it meant, or what it means, for me to have made that decision.
Listen to me read this piece here:
Note: I do not post formal trigger warnings in the Chronicles. If I write a piece that I consider to be potentially triggering, I will make clear in the title what the piece is about; in this case, rape and sexual assault. Less significantly, I will also no longer be sharing Places to Go, People to See — the weekly links list — on Saturdays, and will be posting writing there instead. My links list is moving to With Love & Squalor, the mailing list; please sign up in the right-hand column for access. Thank you for your attention.
Before I get into the gist of this, it feels necessary to share the oft-cited statistics about sexual assault. According to RAINN, an American is sexually assaulted every 2 minutes. 60% of sexual assaults are not reported to police. These statistics, like most facts based on numbers, don’t mean much to me; I raise them because they put my story in context. Maybe it’s your story, too.
As a teenager, I was raped and abused by someone I was dating. In my early-to-mid-20s, I was sexually assaulted by a doctor. I didn’t report either incident. In the first case, I was in love, afraid, and ashamed; in the second case, I was confused as to whether something illegal had actually happened (it had). The consequences of those incidents are still in my life — in my body — today. I’ve been in and out of therapy for a long time, much of which addressed trauma to some degree, and I live with chronic dissociation. But the consequences of my choice to not report have been less clear to me. There’s been no common narrative regarding what it meant, or what it means, for me to have made that decision.
First off: what happened to these men.
In the case of the boyfriend, whom I’ll call Marshall, I was not, ultimately, the one who sent him to jail. When I discovered a few years later — we were still in contact after I went to college, although no longer dating — that he’d been in jail, and was on probation with an ankle bracelet, I also learned that he’d been arrested in a sting. Someone had posed as a young girl. He’d tried to seduce her over the Internet. Later, I would learn that he was also found guilty of possessing child pornography. He is, to this day, on the California Megan’s Law sex offender registry, and we are no longer in touch.
In the case of the doctor, I had, years later, considered filing a complaint. When I discovered that he was no longer a practicing doctor, I was relieved. I didn’t, and still don’t, know why he’s no longer practicing.
Although neither man is absolutely incapable of potentially harming someone sexually, one will be registered in the sex crimes database for the rest of his life, and the other is no longer a doctor. I had nothing to do with what happened to them. If there was justice, it wasn’t of my doing.
I used to watch an unusually large amount of “Law & Order: SVU”.
One recurring technique that Olivia Benson uses, when trying to convince rape survivors to report, is to play on the woman’s — it’s almost always a woman — guilt: “He’ll get away if you don’t pursue this, and you don’t want anyone else to go through what you’ve gone through, do you?” My feminist friends who watched the show used to rail against the strategy, saying that it put more weight on survivors who were already weighed down with enough hell.
Oddly, it wasn’t until after these two men in my life were — and I’m presuming, in the second case — caught that I started to worry about what had happened in between the time I was assaulted and the time when something happened to them. If other women were hurt. If, by remaining silent, and by making the choice to remain silent, I had done something horrible. As the Edmund Burke quote goes, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good people do nothing.”
And I don’t have an answer, not really. All I know is that I wasn’t the one who chose to rape or assault someone else, but whatever else may or may not be mine to carry still weighs on me.
A few weeks ago, I even called a rape counseling line about this question.
I told the story. I asked whether or not I should, or if it made sense for, me to feel guilty. The counselor, a young man with a thick, Eastern European-sounding accent, told me that I should think whatever would help me to feel the most peace; it felt like he was offering a cop-out. Knowing that he had more urgent calls to take, I let him go without argument.
Sometimes I think about Marshall’s ex-girlfriend, Mia, who was a friend of mine while he and I were dating. She’d been with him for years before I knew either of them, and rarely spoke of him to me during our brief friendship. I admired her because she was aloof and stunning and wore a Sex Pistols t-shirt with checked pants. It’s likely that I also admired her because, unlike me, Marshall seemed to have loved her with a Heathcliff-on-the-moors-esque ferocity and devotion that I couldn’t imagine.
There was one night, though, when we were listening to Weezer on her Discman together, with one earbud in each girl’s ear. The song “Butterfly” came on:
If I’m a dog then you’re a bitch
I guess you’re as real as me
Maybe I can live with that
Maybe I need fantasies
A life of chasing butterflies
I’m sorry for what I did
I did what my body told me to
I didn’t mean to do you harm
Everytime I pin down what I think I want
It slips away — the ghost slips away
The song ends with Rivers singing, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”
Mia looked at me. “I know what you think about when you hear that song,” she said.
It meant nothing to me at the time. Later, it would.
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