A rape victim speaks out

By EMILY PARKHURST  |  January 17, 2007

But I am a survivor and part of my survival is telling my story. If I keep silent then I have let the men who raped me retain some of their power over me. In speaking out I regain some of the control over myself and my world that was so violently torn from me. In speaking out, I begin to heal. But I don’t just speak out for myself. According to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports there were 93,934 forcible rapes reported in the United States in 2005. In Maine that year, there were 322 rapes reported in 2005, of which 40 happened in Portland. (Stats from 2005 are the most recent available.)

According to the Rape Abuse & Incest National Network, 58 percent of rapes are not reported to the police. A few simple calculations lead you to the almost unimaginable numbers that in 2005, there were 223,652 rapes in the United States, 767 in Maine, and 95 in Portland. But those are just numbers on a page. And as long as sexual assault is followed by silence, one of the rape victims could be your sister, your wife, your daughter — or even your son — and you may never know. It took me six years to tell anyone about my first rape. Some people never tell.

There is something inherent in our society that keeps people from asking a rape victim who does choose to speak out, about the details of her (or his) attack. Although the police do want details, it is clear when speaking to them that they want and need this information for the collection of evidence. It is not their job to help the victim deal with the effects of such a violation.

Although a few people at my office were privy to the knowledge that I was attacked, none of them asked for, nor received, details about what happened to me. My family accepted the facts I volunteered and never got beyond their first question: “Can I kill him?”

So why are rape victims expected to keep quiet? Is it the incredibly personal nature of the attack? Is it because the belief still exists that a victim is asking for it with his or her dress, actions or lifestyle? Or is it that we are still confused as a society about how to treat a rape victim? Perhaps the explanation lies in the fact that we still have not asked ourselves enough questions.

We, as a society, have only just begun to address the issue of rape. Susan Brownmiller’s groundbreaking book, the first to examine the effects of rape on women and society, Against Our Will: Men, Women, and Rape was published only thirty years ago. Many of the studies conducted by non-governmental organizations that have included rape victims who did not report to the police were first published in the early 1990s. It was only ten years ago that Congress passed the Drug Induced Rape Prevention and Punishment Act as an amendment to the Controlled Substances Act, allowing prosecutors to ask for up to 20 years in prison for anyone convicted of committing a crime of violence by administering a controlled substance without the victim’s knowledge. And it was 1993 before all 50 states accepted that marital rape was a crime. Rape is an act of violence unlike any other, but the effects of this crime on our society as well as the individual are only now beginning to be taken seriously.

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