Rape by Another Name

As he enters me, my breath catches.

“Stop!”

Except he doesn’t. Until he’s done.

It’s OK. (Because he’s my boyfriend. He greets me with a bouquet of flowers at the airport. And he talks about me to his grandmother.)

Until it’s not OK.

He calls me one night, and I’m inexplicably silent. He senses my distance, and so do I. I am unable to name the feelings I am only beginning to feel.

To my relief, he never calls again.

Two kids and twenty years later, only a handful of people know this story, and I have yet to call it “rape”.

I don’t plan to watch the Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing, but seeing the nominee “live” in my newsfeed draws me in.

How he answers questions baffles me. For someone asserting his innocence, he’s doing a shitty job of it. All I hear is anger, arrogance, and bold attempts to dodge the truth.

I take it in and mull it over until the information unexpectedly travels from my head to my heart and the rest of my body.

After two decades of pushing this memory to the farthest recesses of my being, I finally allow it to be — for the ugliness of the truth to surface.

For the first time I see how I have adopted the belief that sexual violation is an inevitable part of me being female. Unless I’m dragged into a dark alley by an anonymous assailant, it’s not worthy of reporting…or acknowledging.

What to do?

Feel the feelings.
Let them bubble up and out. Allow them to move, breathe, and burn.

Notice the urge to shove them down or numb them completely.

Be gentle with the tendency to smooth them over or minimize their impact.

Seek support.
Not the nice, half-hearted kind. The fully present kind. Support that witnesses the story without judgement, without the need to rescue, and without translating the story into a personal attack.

Find respite in those who “get it”.

Be a champion of consent.
Of sexual consent and all kinds of consent. Ask, “When is it appropriate to force others to do what I demand? Is it really for their own good? Or for my benefit and convenience?”

What are loved ones to do?

Believe us.
Accept our stories as true and complex.

We are wading through shame, denial, betrayal, anger, confusion, and isolation as we heal from these personal and collective wounds.

The most hurtful things you can do are to disbelieve us or to dismiss what we share.

Worst of all? Blame us for inviting the attacks.

Stand with us.
Be brave enough to turn inward and examine how your conditioned ways of thinking and behaving perpetuate toxicity and violence (however minute).

Re-examine situations when you over-power others simply because it has become socially acceptable to do so.

Revisit, denounce, and dismantle jokes and conversations that are cowardly attempts at feeling superior.

With your conscious reflection put into action, we all heal.

Be patient with us…
And yourselves. This isn’t going to be solved in one conversation, in one solidarity march, or in one awkward exchange with an off-color jokester.

We will be re-triggered. And we will need you with us when flashbacks overwhelm, when news headlines strike like punches to the gut.

Re-commit to being conscious advocates when you fall short of your intentions, and we’ll be right there with you.

We need to do this together. All of us.


Lydia Waggoner