I recently replied to a reporter who asked me questions related to the furor that’s been in the news over the man running for office who talked about “legitimate rape.” In order to respond intelligently to her questions I had to first Google “legitimate rape” to know what she was referring to. (I’ve mentioned before in my blog that I very, very rarely watch news on t.v. and only scan headlines of news articles in national papers.)
Nonetheless, when I read of this fellow who was running for office and his comment about “legitimate rape,” (and his subsequent spin doctors trying to do damage control on his behalf), I thought, “What an idiot.”
I have extensive experience in helping people who have been subjected to sexual traumas. It is not a topic I take lightly.
The first thing this reporter asked me to do was to define rape and address how it affects the survivors. I have to admit that I never thought I would have to define rape. I’m sixty years old (actually 59+ but close enough to 60 to scare it). Everyone knows what rape is. But in the landscape of today’s world of ambiguity it seems it’s become important to reassert things that have always been understood.
Simply put, rape is an unwanted assault on a person (male or female) in which that person’s sexual organs are part of the target of the attack. Rape is not about sex. It is about rage and power. It is about dominance.
The survivors of rape nearly always come away with a sense of deep shame. It is a shame that can color the way they experience the world for the rest of their life if they don’t find the help they need.
Depression, anxiety, panic attacks, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder are all common in the aftermath of a rape.
Just as in an extra-marital affair the sex act of your partner with another person is not the wound, it is the betrayal of trust; so it is that in rape it is not about the physical trauma as much as it is about having control of your body taken from you. That sense of “lost control” proves haunting to the survivors.
I was next asked to address the concept of “legitimate rape” that has been mentioned in the media. How statements about “legitimate rape,” and women being unable to conceive if they are “legitimately raped,” could affect women’s mental health and physical health?
I cannot tell you the number of times women have told me stories of being raped while growing up and when they tell a parent about it, the parent tells them either they don’t believe them or that they brought it on themselves. That is a damning curse to put on anyone, that is, telling them that what happened didn’t happen or that it was their fault. It is a curse that they will spend the rest of their lives trying to ferret the truth out of. And it can result in them putting them in abusive situations over and over because they question the truth of their experiences and always doubt themselves.
To introduce the word “legitimate” as a qualifier of rape is to suggest there are different kinds of rape or different degrees of rape. I’ve known women and children who were raped by objects, a male organ never touching them. Is that a “non-sexual” rape? I’ve known women who were raped after having something put into their drink and being rendered unconscious. Is that “unconscious” rape? What about the woman whose husband wakes her in the morning by sitting on her chest and forcing his penis into her mouth? Is that “boys-will-be-boys” rape? To suggest any of that is both obscene and insulting.
So what about women suffering from mental health issues after being raped, what are some treatment and coping options? I always encourage them to become involved in therapy. Find a support group. See your physician to have a good physical performed. (women are often reluctant for any type pelvic exam following rape)
Tell yourself over and over again – “It wasn’t my fault.” “I didn’t ask for it and I didn’t deserve it.”
Do not let what happened to you define you. It may have shaped you, but it does not define you. You are more than your abuse.
(You can find many articles in my blog that address trauma and its affects. Simply do a search for the tag words – trauma, rape, sexual abuse, recovery.)