[TRIGGER WARNING: The following text contains information about sexual violence which may be difficult to read. If you or a loved one are a survivor of sexual assault, please know that we are here for you if you need to talk. Call us at 716-834-3131 for support 24/7/365.]
It’s been 12 years since that Indian summer day on October 10, 1973, but I remember it as vividly as if it was yesterday. My heart begins to race, my mouth gets dry, my breath is shallow and can feel the fear begin to over-power me. I tell myself I shouldn’t feel this way now. I’m better and I thought I had my life under control. But there are reminders everywhere – my ex-husband, my old house, the police I dealt with, my attorney, and of course my assailants, if I pass them on the street or someone who resembles them in voice, dress, or actions.
You can’t begin to understand the thought process that quickly runs through my mind if someone comes up behind me and puts their hand on me or jokingly pokes me in the ribs. My body reacts as if we’re going to do battle on the front line for World War III. Certain television and movie scene or phrases set off an anxiety attack that would keep Freud working for a year. At times I have to talk myself into calming down. I’m so adept at it that if you weren’t aware of my background you would just say ‘Gee, you got awful quiet a minute ago – Don’t like that kind of stuff huh?’
I was a victim of a gang rape and even though I tell myself that I didn’t do anything there is a part of me that feels guilty. I suffer from the great disease – ‘If I only had…’ Sometimes knowing that I survived a tremendously traumatic experience just doesn’t cut it – I feel that I should have done something – but what? I was outnumbered (5 to 1), I was overpowered (these were strong men who had been drinking), I was alone, they had knives and a gun. I was and at times still am a victim.
I’ve long since healed from the physical attacks, although I did miscarry the child that I was pregnant with at the time and lost my ability to ever have more children as a result of the brutality of the attack. The bruises are gone and I do manage to function quite well in this crazy world of ours. At times my social life suffers as a result, especially if I meet someone I really care about and want to be with. It’s not easy to establish a sexual relationship with me. I’ve got to trust you and sometimes it can be very aggravating to wait for me to be sure. I’ve been told that I’ve got myself in a personal cocoon and that the shell is too thick to break. That statement may be true but I believe it is possible to break through it and I believe that I’m worth the trouble.
Emotionally there are days when I feel raped all over again. The lack of control over your life that this crime enforces on the victim is horrendous. First of all I lost control over my body during the rape itself, then the police came and they looked at me and acted as if I was making the whole thing up. (It could be that my perception was a bit off but I don’t think so.) They couldn’t seem to keep the details straight or in order. It didn’t seem to matter that this was too horrid for me to try to talk about right then, I just wanted to be alone for a while and not be bothered especially by big burly men, wearing guns and taking tough. I was told, ‘Speak up honey, we can’t hear you, could you repeat that Mrs.? Could you stop crying and look at these pictures, are these the men?
What are you so upset about now for it’s over.’ Then I was berated for not telling them that I was bleeding. I’ve gone over the day many times in my mind and I don’t remember talking to anyone about bleeding or pain or anything. After a brief interlude of people screaming about where to take me and what to do about notifying my husband as to where I was, the ambulance came and took me to another scene of chaos. ‘Where is your insurance card, can you talk dearie, who is youur insurance carrier? Who is your Ob/Gyn? Where is her husband? Who is going to sign for this? You know that you’re losing the baby, do you want a priest? Are you thirsty? (Better not give you any water until the doctor gets down here.) The police were present in the examining room all the time with their guns and their walkie-talkies. This was pre-advocate program – I was alone. New police arrived with new mug shots which they laid on the stretcher and asked me to take my time and tell them if these were the men. At that point they all looked like the men. What did they want from me? Meanwhile the background conversation was going on about the awful condition I was in. Was there any hope that they could save the baby, what about the mother, can she testify later this afternoon if we make an arrest (who in God’s name were they going to arrest?). Don’t give her the form, she’s in shock, have the husband sign it for consent. Prep her and send her up for a D&C. Her doctor is on his way.
I realize that they had their job to do but what about me – I’m still a person, I have a name (no one used it). I was honey, dear, sweetheart, Mrs. This is my body you’re cutting on and thinking about – me – my baby you want to take – I’ve got plans for this baby. He has sisters and a brother that are looking forward to his arrival. There must be some other way. Couldn’t someone just ask me how I feel or hold me and let me cry in peace and get all these people away from me?
I felt then and at times still feel violated and very stupid. I felt that I must have been stupid, no one wanted to discuss what was happening to me with me. Oh I saw the psychiatrist; He came down after I came out of recovery, sat on the bed, patted my arm and asked me if I was ready to cooperate with the police and why didn’t I see my husband and talk to him about what had happened? Did I want to see him again before I left the hospital. I must have given him the answers he wanted because he went humming out of my room and back to wherever it is that psychiatrists come from.
I deal with my pain when it comes up for life does go on regardless. My pain becomes very vivid when I hear about a victim being lost in the bureaucratic shuffle of papers and regulations, especially the legal system. I know that there have been many gains since my attack 12 years ago but the system was so far down in the hole then that what ever has happened in the future has been small and almost insignificant. Attitudes need to change from all sides, myths need to be dispelled and goals have to be set and kept in sight.
I feel that if I can help just one person get through some of the murkiness then I have grown and shared and I’ve healed a little bit more. I’m not through with the pain from my attack. I doubt if there will ever be a time when I won’t feel like a victim but I’m trying. For the most part I’m making it. I have a strong belief in my God, supportive children and friends in my life. I have people that are there for me as I am there for them and that allows me to grow and heal. I worry about the victims that don’t have what I have.
Editors note: As mentioned in this account, there was no Advocate Program at the time this woman was raped. Now, advocates are present in the hospital to support the victim. Hospital and police procedures have changed in recognition of the special trauma inflicted on sexual assault victims. No longer will a victim be shuffled about without concern for her emotional state, with no one there to act in her interests. We have come a long way.