The ‘r’ word
The two recent high-profile rapes in India — a country historically known for its peaceful principles and lifestyle — have lowered the bar of respect for their people and their legal system, but raised the bar of awareness throughout the globe.
Each year, the media broadcasts reported rape case statistics. The unreported cases offer more concern, for society’s stigma on victims of this unique crime prevents numerous women from coming forward to their families, let alone law enforcement offices, to receive assistance — physical, emotional, spiritual, and mental.
It’s the only crime of such a personal, intimate violation, and one that can never quite leave the psyche.
I backpacked across Europe at age 19 with Richard, a 28-year-old fellow college student. The journey was quite an experience — exposure to diverse cultures, foods, and fellow travelers.
While crossing the sea from Italy to Greece, Richard and I met an Ethiopian, Bebbe (bad spelling guess), and an Egyptian, Ahmud (again, bad spelling guess), who invited us to their cabin for music and drinks.
Bebbe sat on the floor, showing off his knowledge of American songs from the ’50s and ’60s on his guitar. Ahmud, me, and Richard sat on the bed, as Ahmud plied us with shots of ouzo — my first introduction to hard liquor/liqueur. I was a fairly naïve 19-year-old, especially when it came to drinking alcohol.
Ahmud kept pouring Richard shot after shot, with an encouraging, “Drink! Drink, my friend!” I sat there giggling and singing along with Bebbe.
At some point, Richard left the room. (I learned later that he had passed out in a restroom.) Bebbe left not long after, leaving me alone with Ahmud.
Looking back, it’s kind of a blur. One minute I’m laughing, and the next, I’m pinned to the bed. He was very strong, and lying on my back, I was completely incapable of pushing him off. His large body flattened against me, as he rapidly unbuttoned his shirt, while forcing his mouth against mine. I was stunned and terrified. Nothing had prepared me for this. I mentally screamed for help.
Ahmud ignored a knock on the door. There was a second knock, and a voice I recognized as a fellow traveler inquired if I was in the room. Ahmud reluctantly lifted himself off the bed, and opened the door. I flew off the bed, out the door, and ran and ran and ran. I didn’t know I could move that fast. I didn’t stop until I reached the top deck, where I ran to the railing, gripped it with white knuckles, and stared into the water, gasping, inhaling the ocean air, and freedom.
The fellow traveler showed up just a few moments later, and as I told him what had happened — thanking him profusely for the rescue — I was aware of passengers in my peripheral staring at me with shocked, sympathetic faces. Richard eventually joined us, ignorant of the transpired event.
When we disembarked from the ship that evening, and took seats on a bus headed to our next destination, I quietly told Richard what happened, but he didn’t believe me, until he saw the bruises on my mouth as we rolled under streetlights. When I returned home, I didn’t say a word about it to my family or friends. I was angry and embarrassed.
A few months later, a good friend from high school was gang raped outside Sutter’s Fort after a Job’s Daughters meeting, which resulted in an obviously unwanted pregnancy and, ultimately, an abortion. She never used the “r” word in describing the evening’s events, saying only, “they took turns.”
Later, I worked with a woman who was raped inside her home at knifepoint. He returned for seconds a few weeks later. She didn’t use the “r” word, either. She simply said that with the knife, “he was able to do what he wanted with me.”
Over the years, the few times I shared my personal experience, I always said “physically attacked.” The first time I actually spoke the words “attempted rape,” I felt emotionally sucker punched. It expanded the occurrence to the vile criminal act that it was, hacking my cell memories with a virus that can never be removed.
Rapists are like a walking swine flu. Stronger laws — in all countries — can be shots of prevention for potential victims.
Acknowledge the problem, and take control — away from them.