8/25/14

Pepper Spray and Bravery: Talking About Rape




"Mom, someone said I need to get pepper spray."

This was my daughter talking. She's 18 and mere days away from leaving home for a college campus a couple hours away from here. Away from home. Away from me.

We were at the local Home Depot-ish store, doing one of our seemingly never-ending shopping trips to get her geared up for dorm life. Closet organizers? Check. Command wall hooks? Check. Underbed storage containers? Check.

Pepper spray? Oh God.

We asked the salesperson where we might find pepper spray, and without batting an eyelash, he led us to the correct aisle. There it was, a small section, maybe three rows down, three rows across: protection against attackers.

Just the simple act of picking up a package and placing it in our already-stuffed cart was a wordless affirmation to my girl. An acknowledgement that yes, she might need it. She might find herself being hurt by someone, and she might need to spray them in the eyes with this noxious chemical in order to save herself.

"Mom...how do I even use this?" She was looking at the package. We'd picked out a pink pepper-spray dispenser, just because. Shouldn't your anti-rape arsenal be pink? I looked at the package with her. "Oh...there's directions on the back. We'll read them when we get home." Pepper spray? Check.

We didn't read the directions when we got home. Our days have consisted of checking lists, procuring the items a young woman needs to make herself a home-away-from home. I didn't think about talking to my daughter about what she should do if she finds herself being attacked.

But now I know I have to. I have to tell her my story, and I have to make sure she really, truly understands that there is a very real threat out there. A threat that might look like a cute athlete or a shy bookish sort or a sensitive hipster. A threat that is just waiting for her guard to be down, not lurking in bushes but walking down the same hallways she will be walking, eating in the same cafeteria and shuffling laundry to and from the same washers and dryers.

Last week, I wrote an essay. I wrote it from my perch on the couch, on a drizzly Sunday. In between laundry and Lifetime movies and getting my daughter packed and trying really hard to remember that I have other kids who needed me, I wrote an essay about rape.

My rape. There. I finally, finally said it. Well, typed it. But...phew. 

I wrote it, cried a tiny bit, and then found myself struggling with it. It was powerful, at least to me, and it seemed to be something that would help other women, other girls, who had been through it. But. I struggled over whether or not it was something I wanted to put here, on my silly little blog where I talk about Louis CK and single parenting and giant tampons.

The truth? I was afraid. Afraid of my kids seeing it, because although I play dumb sometimes, I know at least two of them have been here. I mean, really...who can blame them? I remember holding my breath, listening to my mom talk on the phone about me, about her life. My ears would catch the words Jennifer and she and I'd strain to hear. The modern day version of eavesdropping is done online, right? This wasn't something I wanted them to overhear.

Another truth? I was ashamed. I thought about different people in my life, besides my children, and imagined their reactions. "You were a slut!" "You totally got yourself into that situation, Jenny. Duh." "Oh my gawd...who was it? Tell me their names!" "You have no proof. It's your word against theirs!" and the worst of all..."Well, you were drunk. You asked for it. You deserved it." Yes. I was ashamed to divulge something awful that had been done to me, because I thought it would make me look bad. Make me look whorish or loose or like a lush. In this age of oversharing and TMI, this was the ultimate overshare. Was it too much information?

I'd never done an anonymous post before, but this one seemed like it would be a good candidate.

So, I consulted three women. The first? Kristen, who writes at Abandoning Pretense. I chose her because she's younger and hipper and is infinitely more current on what's happening in the blog scene. And I trust her. The second? Jill, who is better known as Scary Mommy. I chose her because I trust her with my words, and if I did decide to pursue the whole anonymity route, her website was my first (and really, only) choice. The third? My homie/bff Danielle. I chose her because she's not involved in the blog world, not one bit. I jokingly call her my moral compass but it's not really a joke. She has a level head, she doesn't ever judge me and I trust her more than just about anyone else I know. Let's just say, if you need dirt on me? She'd be the first place you dig. You dig?

All three of them readily agreed to read it. And all three responded immediately. Interestingly enough, one of the first thing all three of them said to me was this:

"I'm so sorry this happened to you."

They all liked it. Two said, almost immediately, "Fuck it. Fuck them. Put your name on it. You owe those guys nothing." The third one came around to that, eventually. They collectively coddled me while I fussed about the anonymous thing. They put up with facebook messages and texts and my super annoying habit of hand-wringing and second guessing myself. Most importantly, though? They all supported me. I am so grateful for that. There wasn't a shred of disapproval, not one little voice asking, "Are you really sure this is something you want to do?". And that was the nudge I needed.

Jill ran my article on her site. You can read it by clicking here on the title: "Why Hello There, Old Rapist In My Facebook Newsfeed." 

So there it is. I'm admitting it. I'm coming clean. I'm doing this because I have a daughter, and I have sons. I am doing this because of the hundreds of comments on that piece, the comments like, "I saw mine at the store" and "You are not alone" and "The song Funky Cold Medina makes me want to vomit." The comments from women who were once 16 and went to a party and had bad things done to them, women who were once 5 and were violated by men with whom they shared DNA. Women who have been carrying around this hot coal of embarrassment, of self-blame and doubt and all those other things our culture has taught us about victimization and sexual offenses and being female.

And most of all, I'm doing this because we need to talk about rape. We need to educate our daughters, we need to educate our sons and we need to stop being so mother-effing ashamed of it, and of ourselves.

One of my best friends says that part of us just stops growing when something traumatic happens to us. Like, say you're ten and your parents get divorced. She thinks that for the rest of your life, there will always be a sad ten year old somewhere inside of you.

I think about the bad things that have happened to me, and about how many sad versions of myself there are:

The 9 year old me, looking down at the angry red hand print my stepfather left on my thigh.
The 15 year old me, stuck on the floor between a bed and a wall, feeling indescribable dread.
The 39 year old me, watching my husband leave our house, leave our family before dawn on the last day of school.

But now there's this brave, 47 year old me...the one who has been through some hell but who has lived to tell about it.

I'm ready to tell, folks. And it feels great. Scary, but great.








53 comments:

  1. Thank you. I read that post and wondered if it was you. I saw mine on TV and in magazines and will forever wonder if it was or wasn't because I put myself in the situation, in the room and I didn't try hard enough to leave. It was the mid 80's so HIV was a really big fear and I spent the next several years terrified that I would develop that, too. I am still ashamed that I let myself get into that situation.

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    1. Umm...Stacy? SERIOUSLY? He's famous? I'd want to go after that big fish. But I totally understand why you haven't.

      Regarding the HIV thing? Yep. After my induction into the Rape Club, I went back to my chaste ways for a while. But then I got older and made some really stupid decisions, most notably on stupid spring breaks. The HIV fear haunted me even after I had kids. When one of them would get sick, I'd think, "Oh shit...I passed it on to my babies." I didn't get tested for it until after my husband first walked out.

      I hate that we are so ashamed by this. Even now, when someone in my "real life" mentions this article, my face flushes because I'm certain that they've already decided I'm some kind of whore for letting this happen.

      Thanks so much for reading, and for sharing your story. ♥

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  2. Amazingly powerful! I am so very proud of you! And yes, I am so very sorry this happened to you.. but I am very glad you are sharing and have found an outlet or forum to help yourself and many many others! Love ya!

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  3. Wow Jenny! The tears are flowing....I'm sorry this is your story but your words are beautiful. Yes you are a very strong, brave, and amazing woman and mom. Even though we've never met, I am happy to call you my friend.
    I recently bought a book about being brave:

    "How often does fear hold us back from the very things we most want to taste, touch, and experience? The call to be brave isn't just for one person---it's for everyone. Let's All Be Brave is more than a book, it's a battle cry. Annie challenges us to live boldly, she calls us to step into those places that require courage, and she gives us the help to take the next step forward---even when it's scary."

    https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/19886258-let-s-all-be-brave

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    1. Thank you, Sil. Your "friendship" (because I consider us friends, too) means the world to me.

      I am going to check out that book. Thank you ♥

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  4. This made me want to seriously hurt someone. Your story was beautifully and powerfully written, and it should be told. But I'm completely ragin' here. I'm sorry this was done to you. (Nothing like this "happens to" people. It is done.) Much love to you...

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    1. Thank you, Queniff. You are so right. It's done to us. I appreciate your love and support, so much.

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  5. Once again your bravery for your children, and for others is why I read your blog. I read that post on Scary Mommy. I thought it was you and I was sad. Sad for whomever wrote it. Similar things have happened to me that I'm not quite ready to remember.

    P.S. I have a Danielle in my life too and I thank God for everyday!
    Andrea

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    1. I'm so sorry, anonymous. With each comment that says "this happened to me too" my heart gets heavier.

      I love that you have a Danielle. Everyone should have one ;)

      Thank you for reading, and for your kind words.

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  6. Me too. I blamed myself for many years, but now I'm just angry.

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    1. I'm so sorry you can relate, Sarah. I'm mad, too. Since posting this, I've heard from 5 women from my class in high school. They were all raped. One of the guys who hurt me, also hurt one of them. It appears as though we attended a very rapey high school. So freaking sad.

      Thank you for reading, and big hugs to you.

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  7. I cried when I read your story at Scary Mommy and I cried again reading today's post. I'm sending you lots and lots and lots of hugs. I'm sorry this happened to you and to countless other women. It does need to be talked about. You are very brave.

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  8. This should not have happened to you; no matter how drunk or how high or how a woman/girl dresses or flirts... It just does not equal consent. I am so sorry. Thank you for writing, so others know they are not alone.

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  9. I want to give you a big, giant, strong hug. That was brave of you to share, and even braver of you to share *all* of the details, not just a vague outline of what happened. People need to know, really KNOW, what happens when a woman is raped. You were a victim, 100%, period. As for your daughter, please have her read this book before she goes to college. It's a great book about learning to spot danger, and about learning to trust your inner voice and honor your intuition: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0036Z9U2A/ref=rdr_kindle_ext_tmb

    I hope you allow yourself to let go of some of the shame and self-doubt and realize that the people who should feel shame are your attackers, not you.

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    1. Thank you, so much! I cringed as I wrote about the gory stuff, but you know what? You're right. People need to know what goes on, not only the physical stuff but what goes through the mind of a girl when crap like this happens. It was scary, and even though decades have passed, thinking about it still gives me such gross feelings.

      I am off to check out the book. Thank you :)

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  10. And your post is why I have stressed to my son that no means no--and if a young woman is hammered/drunk/high/anything at all that takes away her reasoning he is NOT to touch her. And that if he is in the vicinity of anything like this happening he had damn well better stop it any way he can. I trust him to do that. It is sad that we have to teach our dauhters to defend themselves--with pepper spray if they have to--but it is empowering also--for them to know that they are NOT asking for it, that they have a CHOICE in the matter--and most of all--that it is NOT their fault. Tears for you, my wonderful blogging friend--you make me cry, you make me smile--you make me drink, occasionally--and you always make me think.

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    1. Thank you, Anonymous! It's up to us, as mothers of boys, to start teaching them this stuff when they're young. It's not enough that we arm our daughters with knowledge and pepper spray, you know? Perhaps if one of the moms of the boys who hurt me had been like us, this wouldn't have happened.

      Thank you for your kind words. And, cheers ;)

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  11. If that had happened to my 15-year-old self, I don't know that I would ever have recovered. You are a strong person, for sure.

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    1. Thank you SC. It's pretty amazing how resilient we all are.

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  12. Wow! What a brave post! Thank you for speaking up and speaking out. I do work and scholarship revolving around college campus assault and public policy. It is maddening because you can legislate and rule make until you are blue in the face, but the problem is so much deeper. You said it perfectly that it isn't always the violent perpetrator in the dark alley; it is usually the predator whom the survivor knows or is acquainted. Sometimes those nice boys with the nice beer and liquor are not so nice I want to say so much, but at the risk of posting something that is not well-received because it cannot be fully articulated in a blog comment, I will refrain.

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    1. Oh Joan. Yep, this problem has such deep roots. I'm so proud of our society and how far women have come, but from the feedback I've received from this post (here and on Scary Mommy) it's woefully apparent that we are still lacking. Lacking support and empathy and understanding. I am going to live in fear for my daughter and women everywhere until something better happens.

      Thank you, for reading and chiming in, and also for working with college-aged people.

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  13. You are so freaking brave to claim this post as yours. I'm sure it was not easy to write. You are my hero. I'm so sorry for what those monsters put you through.

    You seriously have got to be one of the strongest women I know.

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    1. Thank you, Jen. I know a lot of strong women! I think we have to be, you know?

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  14. That was very hard to read...And I am also getting ready to send my daughter to college. It is nauseating to think that she may be in harms way..... I have used the recent media explosion to inform her of the dangers. But, probably just like I was at her age, I am met with eye rolls and "I know, Moms". Terrifying. I will have her read this as well. Thanks for being brave enough to write it and giving us another tool to educate our children

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    1. Thank you! Here's to our daughters having a successful first year of college. And also, here's to hoping the boys they are there with have parents who have raised them well.

      Thank you so much for reading!

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  15. You are fan-freaking-tastic, Jennifer and I love you

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    1. Oh Renee. Thank you. This means a lot to me.

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  16. I'm really, really sorry that it happened to you. It always amazes me to hear how many women have stories like this--I have two close friends who have both been raped, and it was pretty horrifying hearing what other people said about and to them afterwards. One of them had something similar to your situation happen to her, where she got high (and therefore vulnerable) with someone she thought she could trust. She went through a lot of denial and self-blame until she started talking to others about it who had been through the same situations. It's why I want to thank you for sharing your story with the world. Without those other stories from other women who weren't "asking for it" no matter what our rape culture society insists, I worry about where my friends would be now or how they would have processed the experiences, especially since in both cases they never reported the rape and they had to see their rapists in other contexts pretty regularly. If they hadn't had other women to lean on and talk to about it, they might not have been able to move on eventually. I hope that you found some healing even after all these years, and were able to come to better terms with the experience. I know you've probably heard it a lot, but the simple reality is that you weren't at fault. Being vulnerable isn't an invitation, and they had no right to your body. It wasn't your fault. It wasn't my friends' fault. The only people to blame for rape are rapists. It's just such a shame that we can't seem to agree on that as a society. We may have made astonishing, sci-fi level advances in our technologies, but socially we haven't really changed very much at all in some regards. I hope as more women speak out, we'll be able to change things, and we won't have a society where so many women can say "Oh, yeah, that's my rapist hanging out with my friends at the event I couldn't go to because I knew he'd be there, and no one else besides me cared."

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    1. Thank you so much, Athena! I love that you have so much empathy for your friends. Thank you for being there for them.

      You know what, after I decided to "come out" with this, I heard from several (SEVERAL!!!) women I went to high school with who had also been raped. Most of the stories were like mine: a party, booze or drugs involved, guy overpowering girl. Others were different, they were ambushed at school, a couple at stupid Little League games. It's sick. And all of us just kind of buried it, did nothing about it, didn't talk about it. At the very least, I'm glad that reading what I wrote gave them the nudge to speak about it, even if it was just to reach out and say, "Hey, it happened to me, too."

      Our society is a wonderful one in many ways. There is a lot of good out there, and I see things getting better for so many. But...like you said, some aspects of our society are still mired in the dark ages, and sexual violence against women seems to be one of those things that is continually ignored.

      I, too, hope more women speak out. This has to stop!

      Thanks so much, Athena! For everything ;)

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  17. I just recently started reading your blog because let's face it, with all of the crap that you've been through, you are still full of life. All I can say is I'm sending you giant hugs. I'm so sorry. You should have never had to go through that and yet because you did, you will help so many others to tell their stories. It doesn't make it right but thank you for being strong enough to face your demons. Much love from across the internet.

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    1. Oh, thank you, Adinda. I appreciate this. So much.

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  18. I am so sick that this happened to you. Im sorry. And you know what . . . it's even more powerful with your name on it. It just is.

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  19. I hate that you have this story to tell. I admire you for sharing it, for owning it and for being you. You amaze me in so many ways. xo

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  20. I hate that so many of us have stories of violence to share. You are brave and strong, and I thank you for allowing us to read your story.

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    1. Debbie, it makes me sick. I hope by sharing what happened to me, other women will feel a little bit better about it. Or at the very least, a little less alone.

      Thank you :)

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    1. You're welcome, Stephanie. Thank you for being here.

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  22. I am so sorry that this happened-my daughter was raped and I have never felt so helpless in my life-we found this out in November 2011 and the following month I was diagnosed with breast cancer. She was able to get in touch with a counselor that she connected with and it seems like she is stronger and has realized that nobody ever deserves that-the only one at fault is the rapist. I think this also helped her when my husband of 24 years admitted that he has been going into chat rooms and meeting women (l use the term loosely) and then meeting these trolls in various locations around our home area for sex for the last 5-6 years. Yes-even while I was going through chemo and radiation. I also had to have a hysterectomy and after I got moved to my hospital room-he went on a date. He says they didn't have sex so it wasn't a date. I may be rusty in the dating scene but I don't believe dates always involve sex. I am glad I found this blog-it's nice to know that I am not alone and that things will get better

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    1. Oh Maggie, I'm so sorry!! Sorry about your illness, sorry about your sweet daughter and sorry about your husband's shitty behavior. I am so glad that your girl got some counseling and is picking up the pieces. I hope you are feeling better, and that you are kicking cancer's ass. And I truly hope that once you are feeling 100% again, you are able to give your husband an ultimatum: knock off the chatroom garbage (and I am using that word to describe both his behavior AND the skanks he's meeting) or you are done.

      Sending you love and hugs, my friend. Thank you so much for being here.

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  23. Powerful words that hit close to home for me. Your story is hard to share but it's an important one that's all too common. Women shouldn't have to feel like they've done something wrong when a crime is committed against them. I'm so sorry this happened to you.

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    1. Ugh. I really, really hate that so many of us have stories like this. Thank you, so much.

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  24. That was truly beautiful. So brave. Thank you for sharing.

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  25. It happened to my 17 year old this year by bf and then when he was ex. Just found out. Nightmare doesn't describe the impact. She reported it and case is active...actively going nowhere. Restraining order denied bc the judge said that he seemed articulate and intelligent enough to just "know better" to stay away. Really?!?! bc we all know that's how it works. I could say SO much more but yes the statistics are dismal and my daughter is the stupid, brought it on yoursel, whore/slut...and more. She is NONE of those things. This happened to her not because of her. She is brave and strong and beautiful. Broke my heart to hear her say things like I got what I deserved and no-one will ever want me now. Have a good counselor but it'll be a long road. Makes me such that he gets to live his life trashing our daughter...laughing and mocking while her life has been robbed. Girls get raped and it feels like they keep on getting "raped" again and again by everyone and everything around them. Every memory every dirty look...it's so wrong and we feel utterly helpless.

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  26. Mine was BRUTAL and done by my daughters dad. Talking to the mother of his older two kids, he did it to her too, not as brutal as mine but more frequently. I will say that if my daughter and his two kids weren't in the house one of us would probably be 6 feet under right now... not too sure which one of us it would be

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    1. Ugh...Katrina. I'm so sorry. Please tell me you're not still with him??

      I hate that this ugly thing has happened to so many.

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