Rehtaeh Parsons. via Facebook.
Sunday, April 14th marked ten years since the night I was raped. I'd been dreading that bizarre anniversary like the plague. I didn't really understand what I was supposed to do or how I was supposed to feel.
I have never really acknowledged the day any other year, but ten years feels like a lifetime. A lifetime which girls like Rehtaeh Parsons, Audrie Pott, or countless other girls that we don't even know about, will never experience. That, more than anything, weighed on my mind.
I am the first to admit that the story of my rape is atypical as it was a "stranger rape" (which account for under 20% of sexual assaults) in a foreign country. I had just moved to Tokyo three weeks prior and the time change was still seriously messing with me. I fell asleep fully-clothed to the sounds of merriment in a bedroom at party a friend was hosting at her place. I woke up hours later in the dark with a man I uttered exactly two words to at said party on top of me. I woke up when he was pulling my pants off and before I could scream, it was happening. All I could do was focus on the sound of my heart beating as I felt my body fill with blackness.
As I walked home afterwards, through the silent streets of suburban Tokyo, I felt like an oil pipeline had burst inside me. Every inch of my internal anatomy felt covered in thick black muck. I felt like I was going to suffocate.
I didn't go to the police because I thought it was bad enough that buying cigarettes involved me resorting to playing charades. I couldn't imagine attempting to do the same to explain what had just happened to me.
All my friends and family were several thousands of kilometers away and when I told a co-worker it was shrugged off. So I kept my mouth shut. I began to relish silence and being alone. I would walk for hours at night through the streets of Tokyo, alone and silent. As the days passed I knew that this was going to be my secret. I could not imagine trying to handle what other people might have to say about the violent moments that killed my soul.
If I were confronted by the torment that Rehtaeh Parsons, Audrie Pott, and countless other nameless girls have endured at the hands of their unrelenting, Internet savvy peers I would have thrown myself in front of a train. I say that without a hint of hyperbole. There were days when the blackness that coated my insides and the barrage of bullshit within my own head (You are broken. You are disgusting. How could you be so stupid to assume you would be safe?!) was enough to make me stand in front of an abandoned store near the Keisei line and will myself to duck under the barrier to stand on the tracks. Obviously I never I did, but I'm starting to think that's because the only voice I had against me was my own.
When I think about what these girls endured—the constant barrage of hate and criticism, actual pictures of their rapes being passed around their schools like some sociopathic version of Pokemon cards—it makes me want to vomit. I've been struggling to find a comparative moment in a person's life that would be as painful to have shared, in order to better explain how horrific this would be. Alas, I genuinely cannot. I struggle to think of a universal human experience that reaches that level of violation. Which is really part of the problem as to why this insane slut shaming and bullying of rape victims occurs.
I never in a million years ever thought I would be raped. I took self defense in high school, I always had my guard up amongst strangers, I was too overweight to rock "inappropriate" clothing (the notion that fat girls aren't raped because they aren't conventionally attractive is a truly troublesome myth). I had bought into the bizarre notion that our culture propagates about rape only happening to "certain types of girls" who put themselves in "certain types of situations". But then I learnt the biggest secret regarding rape—anyone (males included), at any time, at any place on the planet can be raped.
There is no such thing as "certain types of people" or "certain types of situations." Rape is about power. Not about clothing. Not about intoxication. What happened to me, what happened to Rehtaeh Parsons, what happened to Audrie Pott, could happen to anyone reading this right now. That is what not only pisses me off but scares me the most about this current "trend" of bullying rape victims to death.
I encourage you to read a summation of the hate that has surrounded the Stubbenville victim because I have a feeling that it is exactly the same as what Rehtaeh Parsons, Audrie Pott, and countless other girls that we don't even know about have had to endure. Except Rehtaeh and Audrie woke up every day to find it posted on their Facebook walls, sitting in their text messages, DM'ed to them on Twitter. Once they left their homes for the day they had to deal with people saying it to their faces. They could not escape the horror within their own heads and they could not get away from the externalization of their internal monologues spilling out of the mouths and keyboards of their peers. And we're shocked that they killed themselves?
Here are some cold hard facts for those that bully rape victims:
- 1 out of every 6 American women will personally experience sexual violence in their lifetime.
- 1 out of every 33 American men will personally experience sexual violence in their lifetime.
- 44% of victims are under the age of 18 and 80% of victims are under the age of 30.
- 80% of sexual assaults are committed by someone the victim already knows.
- 54% of sexual assaults are never reported.
- 97% of rapists will never spend a day in jail.
*although these statistics reflect the U.S., Canadian statistics are very similar.
It seems like a lot of the abusive comments (and law enforcement inaction) hinge on the notion that victims are making it up. False reports of rape (while difficult to quantify) sit at 8-10% which are vastly outnumbered by the 54% of assaults that are never reported.
It is time for society to accept that the suicides of these young women are entirely our fault. As Rehtaeh Parsons' father said in an emotional open letter on his blog: "My daughter wasn’t bullied to death, she was disappointed to death. Disappointed in people she thought she could trust, her school, and the police." In a society where 97% of rapists never spend a day in jail and there are no real consequences (legal or otherwise) for bullying people, we are collectively responsible for disappointing rape victims to death.
If you're a parent—be a parent. Do your best to figure out what the hell your kids are saying and doing online. Do not assume that your child would never be a bully or that your child could never be a rapist. Talk to your kids about sex and about consent. Your child is not a special snowflake, they have the capacity to be an asshole just like every other being on the planet. Do not allow them to be.
If you work in law enforcement—do your job. When a group of computer geeks can do in a couple of days what you have failed to do in almost two years, you officially earn a badge of incompetency.
If you are a rape victim - know you are not alone. There are millions of us walking the planet. It was not your fault. Know that one day the horror of what happened to you will only be a part of your story, not your whole story. You are a good person and you are loved. Never believe anyone who tries to tell you otherwise.
So what did I end up doing on my "anniversary"? My boyfriend made bacon pancakes, we went to the mall, watched TV… So really it was like any other Sunday, although this time I was hyperaware of my gratefulness for every moment of it. I felt grateful to be alive but most of all I felt grateful that I have had the luxury of not having the most horrific and dehumanizing moments of my life define my entire life. I mourn for Rehtaeh Parsons, Audrie Pott, and all the other girls who did not have that same luxury. We need to realize that rape is a crime and stop making excuses for criminals. If we don't we are going to continue to disappoint countless young women to death.