Friday, September 28, 2007

Reclaiming a Shattered Life

Just between friends, I have to tell you, this summer, a high school-aged close relative of mine was at home in her bed in the middle of the night where she belonged. A normal night, just like hundreds of others. Except that this night, while her mom and stepfather slept right down the hall, an intruder got behind the closed doors of their home, behind her closed bedroom door, and, with what she knew was a knife at her throat, spent the next two hours raping her. He'd been to their house once before. Knew what screen to cut. The dog recognized him.

She's a strong girl. Raises pigs for slaughter, hunts with her step dad, knows how to gut a deer. But he was stronger. And she is forever changed.

The story doesn't end there. He's older than her but attended her school last year. He claims that she invited him over. That she cut the screen. The prosecutor is reviewing the evidence and is to decide this week whether or not she's going to prosecute. This young girl who was violated in ways she shouldn't even have to imagine, then put through the difficulties of a hospital rape kit exam, and interrogated twice by the police, now faces the possibility that she will be blamed for all of this. And if she gets lucky and the prosecutor does prosecute, she faces a trial where a defense attorney will attempt to prove that the rape was her fault. That it really wasn't rape at all.

She has demons now. Fights them every single night. She, who was so strong and able, panics at the idea of being left alone. She feels guilty because she's pretty. And her only sin was being born female.

I have a book out from MIRA this week, a psychological thriller, Behind Closed Doors. The first scene in this book, written a year ago, is a home invasion. A bi-racial couple is asleep in their bed at night—behind the closed doors of their home. Two men break in. They tie up the man and take turns with the woman. And the husband and wife are left with the remains of their lives, their marriage. She has demons. Fights them every single night. She, who was so strong and able, panics at the idea of being left alone. She feels guilty for her existence. And he does for his, as well. He's convinced that the attack was racially motivated, suspects The Ivory Nation, a white supremacy organization, and is hell bent, prepared to go to hell, to prove his theory and make these men pay. The two of them are put through medical procedures, interrogated by the police several times, called in for line ups—and if their attackers are found, they will be put on trial, made to answer while every minute detail of the nightmare is dissected. They will be made to feel as though they are liars, that they somehow asked for, provoked the attack.

I am very personally acquainted with another woman who has suffered. She was a college student. A virgin. On a date with a classmate she'd known for more than a year. A church-going man she trusted. He took her out to a dark road in the middle of miles of farmland and forced himself on her. He was one hundred pounds heavier than she was. Eleven inches taller. He could lift her with one arm. But who would ever believe that this nice man whom everyone looked up to, who was a big brother to her sorority, would ever do such a thing? He told her it was her fault. That she'd teased him. Led him on. She'd owed him. And with a heart full of shame, she never said a word to anyone about what happened. She knew she'd have been put through humiliating medical exams, interrogations, perhaps a trial. And what proof did she have? Who'd have believed her? It took her years to admit what had happened. After all that time, some still didn't believe her. And she still has demons. Fights them in the dark of the night. She, who was so strong and able, has always panicked at the thought of being alone. She has always felt unworthy, deserving of abuse and ashamed of what happened to her that night.

I cry for each of these women. And for the millions of others just like them. They suffer, every single day of their lives, consciously or not, for something that is criminal. Worse than criminal. Rape is a sacrilege against all that is natural and beautiful and gentle. It desecrates one of life's most precious gifts. And the aftermath damages, sometimes forever, the heart of the woman who has suffered so.

Our society does what it can, in many cases, to help us prevent the crime. But we need to do more, far more, to protect the victims of this crime. Counseling, where you sometimes feel as though you are singled out as “different” from other women, is not enough. We need to band together as women—and aware men—wrap our arms around all women. To watch each other's backs. And if they get dirty, to wash them, too. We need to be aware, to keep our eyes open, to know. And to realize that when rape happens to one of us, it happens to all of us. Because we live in a society where rape exists. We all have to fear, or at least be wise. We all have to watch our steps, and our daughter's steps.

And, I hope, the more aware we become, the more we suffer with our sisters who have been raped, the more we speak of these things and openly proclaim that rape is NOT the victim's fault, no matter what she did or didn't do to provoke it, the less different they become. These sisters of ours had a precious gift stolen from them, and our love and support, our validation and understanding, is what we can give back to them. We can help fill the empty and scary places, to replace some demons with angels. To give new life. Just between friends, please think about that. Please don't look away. Our sisters need us. We need each other. Just between friends.

If you—or someone you love—has suffered this unspeakable horror, here you have a chance to talk about it—anonymously, if you like. Here you can find support and love and reassurance that it was not your fault.

Tara Taylor Quinn
Author of Behind Closed Doors


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