No matter what you do, you will never affect me again
(Elizabeth Smart, to Brian David Mitchell, the man who kidnapped her at age 14, and kept her captive, raping her daily, for nine months)
The arrest of Dominique Strauss-Kahn has spurred a wildfire of incredibly active and moving dialogue about violence against women. In my writing group, where normally the discussions are about how to query a publisher or get over an editing block, the stories are pouring out with incredible cathartic rage, one after another, heartfelt, disturbing images of rape…
I was raped twice before I was even 16. I didn’t tell my mother as I knew I would be held responsible… (Vicki)
I was kidnapped at gun point and raped when I was in my 20’s… (Wendy)
From the time before I even knew what rape was, I knew my mother had been assaulted when she was pregnant with my oldest brother. Her would-be rapist had already broken her jaw when, by the grace of the goddess, a cop drove by. She managed to scream and the rapist was caught and arrested. He served 10 years in jail. She spent two months of her pregnancy with her jaw wired shut. (Anne)
My great-grandmother was raped by my great-grandfather nearly 90 years ago, when she was no more than 14…though it may have started when he was younger. (Cara)
I picked my rapist out of a lineup, yet in retrospect… did I? Later, I was not sure I picked the right guy, after all. I was young, confused, scared – and my rapist, twoo, was young and scared. Like many rapists, he did not have a full erection, because RAPE IS ABOUT POWER, NOT ABOUT SEX. (Beverly)
Nearly all of them also involve insensitive and ineffective law enforcement procedures who only exacerbate the trauma experienced.
Most of them end with a call for change.
Rape, I believe, is far more ingrained in our psyche than we understand, which is why it has been studied extensively from all perspectives: historical, biological, social, evolutionary, legal… Definitions have been crafted to cover the myriad of its forms: date rape, gang rape, spousal rape, child rape, statutory rape, prison rape, war rape… So many forms, but all the same.
I wish I could say that working on sensitivity and awareness would change things, but given the prevalence of rape in most societies, throughout written history and surely before, I would question any belief that it will ever go away. We can try to avoid it, to discourage it, to mitigate its effects, but I don’t believe we can eradicate it completely.
Rape is power. Rape is dominance. Power and dominance have and always will exist in man, and women by her very nature will always be vulnerable to its expression.
It’s a heinous crime, by all accounts, monstruous and devastating, yet if you look at the shelves of your local Barnes and Noble in the Romance section, a huge market which targets mostly women in all demographics, and read a few passages, you’ll find that rape is intrinsic to the genre. “Consensual ravishment,” some call it, or “forced seduction,” but I’ll just call it what it is: rape fantasy. In the last couple of decades, when it became less PC to mention such things, rape fantasies became more veiled, but they are alive and well.
In her blog post “Sexual Force and Reader Consent in Romance,” Janet says, “I was stunned by the genre’s apparent comfort with sexual force against female characters and uncomfortable with both the contention that it’s pure fantasy and therefore completely resistant to analysis and that it’s pure patriarchy and therefore part of a reactionary agenda in the genre.” She was referenced in another interesting blog post by Laura Vivanco entitled “Rape and the Romance Reader.” (The source of the image, above.)
Sex sells. Rape sells. Stories of men’s dominance over women sell…. and to women!
We read about it, we write about it, and even the most enlightened men and woman often flirt with it within their consensual sexual roleplay, which is based, ironically, on the illusion of non-consensuality.
How confusing it is to understand how this thing which we almost universally condemn and loathe, which devastates the lives of so many women around the world, can be at the same time so intricately knotted as it is in our history, in nature. Consent is the only way to separate the two. What remains certain is that one thing is to fantacize, to create the illusion of something, and far different is its non-consensual expression.
What happened to these women, what happened to so many women has nothing to do with fantasy.
We all have our stories, all of us. If a woman hasn’t been raped she came close to it, and regardless of her own experience she most certainly knows others who have. We can rattle them off like chapters in a book, “that girl in high school, the woman next door, my friend in college.” Mothers. Friends. Sisters. All victims of sexual agression.
What can I as a mother, do to protect my daughters? To make clear to them and to my son what is right and what is wrong and how no always means no. How can we support those who have been victimized, and make certain they know that it was not their fault, that they, like Elizabeth Smart, have the strength within to refuse to let the rape define their life?
I will share with them these stories.