Rape culture is back in the news; this time it’s about the casting couch once occupied by Harvey Weinstein, and the dozens of ingénues who were lured in with perilous promises. These women tell a universal story, and frankly it doesn’t matter who the man is, or the woman or girl involved—it’s always the same setup: a male dominates and uses a female sexually with whatever tools he has at his disposal. They include coercion, threats, retaliation, promises of rewards, or the responsibility of families or liasons being broken apart if she tells . . . and sometimes death.
Me, too . . .
Sexual abuse and rape are as common as house nails. Get a group of women together, and although it is a dark secret, if the conversation is safe, and if there is enough wine, there will be at least three stories in a group of twelve.
I remember the word “rape” being uttered in my sixth grade English class by a boy, followed by guffaws from his compatriots. I was confused: I had never heard that word, although I understood it viscerally.
I had never heard that word, although I understood it viscerally.
So yes, me, too. I was three or four years old when the touching began, and six when I was raped. The perpetrator was my grandfather, a man who was brilliant, blind, talented, and afflicted. My grandmother, his wife, found me wounded and curled at the bottom of the bed. She plunked me into the kitchen sink and scrubbed me like a potato—kept me for an extra week to heal.
I thought she hated me, and it confused me when that Christmas, she gave me a sophisticated gold watch, with a thin black strap
I thought she hated me, and it confused me when that Christmas, she gave me a sophisticated gold watch, with a thin black strap. But at six years old, I understood the unspoken message, just like the young women Harvey Weinstein abused: There can be lucrative pay-offs. The tools of rape culture are universal. Girls and women are burdened not only with the assault, but also with a perilous responsibility: if we tell, we blow up the world in some way. If we don’t, we get gold watches.
And we become powerful victims.
Had I told back then, my family would have somehow shattered, and I would have been blamed. To not tell, to not reach out, or find comfort and healing, consigned me to an internal battle. No one should be in that conundrum. Like so many veterans of wars, PTSD for abuse survivors is akin to battle wounds. It was no different for me.
Like so many veterans of wars, PTSD for abuse survivors is akin to battle wounds. It was no different for me.
Rape shaped my life, for good and ill. I was wired to think deeply about life, about choices and consequences. I struggled to heal, and did—not to say there weren’t landmines along the way. God, I never imagined I would write this piece . . . time and place move me.
There are good and wonderful men in the world. I am married to such a man. And there are men who need to be stopped. They are men who are not well and they need help and compassion, but also they need a clear line of demarcation, and consequences supported by society.
Powerful victims cannot do it alone.