Rape has disoriented me. It has left me stranded in a world that not only terrifies me but also thoroughly perplexes, dismays and appalls me. I can no longer seem to find any reliable indicators to reassure me of what to expect, I no longer know how to get my bearings or ascertain the correct path to follow. I look about me and I note that the world appears more or less the same as it did before, but all I really see is a thin veil, a deceptive simulacra of the world I knew, masking a network of chaos, injustice and horror. Everything I know about the world has been shattered. My basis for living, my confidence in my own capacity to control my destiny, to make choices and to have them respected, is gone. Snatched from me determinedly, purposefully paraded in front of me before being savagely crushed, there is no way that I will ever again be able to orient myself in the world with the kind of confidence I had before.
As human beings we search for meaning, we search for a narrative that will string together the events of our lives into some kind of harmonious form. But rape steadfastly refuses to cooperate with this basic human need. Rape doesn’t make any sense. Rape isn’t fair. It is essentially, straightforwardly unacceptable. Always. There is never an excuse, a justification or a reason for rape. Nothing can mitigate its unlawfulness, its disgracefulness, its senselessness. And yet, rape happens. Frequently. Far too frequently and for no good reason. Rape could end tomorrow – why not today? – if, as human beings, we all agreed to accept and respect each other’s inviolable right to determine where, when, why, with whom and how we will engage in sexual activity. If we, each and every one of us, pursued open and honest communication around sex and agreed to abide by each other’s desires, decisions and limits, then, there would be no rape. It actually is that simple. We can decide to prevent rape. Unlike earthquakes or plane crashes or cancer, and many kinds of devastating trauma, rape is one catastrophe that we can actually keep from happening. It is in our control as human beings.
As a victim of rape, how do you digest this knowledge? How do you swallow it down without becoming permanently sick? Not only do you have to manage your own trauma but, on top of that, you must accept that your own trauma was only able to occur in the first place because of a deep-seated injustice that informs every aspect of human life. When confronted with brutal, systemic injustice – when confronted with the heart-breaking horror of rape statistics, for instance – our natural response is to try to distance ourselves from this information, to try to tell ourselves that it couldn’t happen to us, to try to find some direct cause, someone to blame or something to fault that can be readily dealt with, remedied, solved. As a victim of rape you cannot do this. You know that horror is real and it happens everyday to ordinary people for no good reason. You know only too intimately that violence and injustice are (often unacknowledged) facts of life for many people. They, unfortunately, are not exceptional. Rather, they are terrifyingly commonplace. Lastly, you are forced to live with the knowledge that there is no neat retribution, no instant solution for your trauma only because society has yet to confront rape with the genuine willingness to be rid of it.
The truth hurts. It also creates a deep, unabiding sorrow. Every single time, I hear a news report or the testimony or even the barest suggestion or mention of another sexual assault, my heart breaks anew. I wouldn’t have thought it possible for the human heart to break so frequently but, as it turns out, it is only too possible. I struggle to hold back tears every time I am made aware that someone else is going through this. It isn’t right. It isn’t fair. It’s sickening. On top of that, to realise that we live in a world where rape is both prevalent and invisible is debilitating. It happens constantly, almost normatively, and yet, it is an unseen, unacknowledged epidemic whose effects are not recognised or bothered about. How often do we hear of the road toll? How often do we hear about the rate of deaths from cancer? When was the last time you heard mention of the numbers of people impacted by sexual assault? As rape victims not only are we betrayed by the rapist but moreover we are betrayed by the systemic injustice of a world unwilling to confront and combat rape. That injustice descends this deep is beyond demoralising – for me, it generates a kind of hopeless confusion. Sometimes, I think of the effects of trauma as a sort of brain damage, a kind of mental confusion that has unravelled my capacity to make sense of the world. It is tempting to think that is the case. It would be far preferable to believe that my mental capacities had been impaired by trauma than to admit that this is the world we must live in.