Monday, November 24, 2014

Christmas and Rape Culture

When I started this blog five years ago, I was having a lot of anxiety about the holidays. At the time, my mother wrote to me and her comment was “Since when do you not like Christmas?”

A lot has changed since that first post. Three children, US citizenship, one of my kids died, I have quite a few more gray hairs.  I keep telling myself that sharing my anxiety just continues to let my rapist win.  It truly is the gift that keeps on giving. So since it’s 4 am and I can’t sleep, I think I will let this go when it lets go of me.

If you have ever been raped and still have any anxiety or mental illness and you get triggered by stories all over your Facebook feed about Jian Gomeshi and Bill Cosby and Lena Dunham and all the others who are being tried in the court of public opinion – this is for you.

My rapist was 15 when he started sneaking out of the bed he was supposed to stay in all night and coming into mine. I was 7. I’ve started calling it rape because the word is so overused right now by people who felt raped after someone looked at the pictures they stored on an internet site or got cat-called on the street, I felt I needed to give some context to the sexual assaults that were perpetrated on me.

My rapist’s name was George but everyone called him Dick. My family called him “Poor Dick” because he had such a rough life. His stepdad was a rapist. His stepdad was my uncle Jack who served time in jail for sexual assaults on little boys and then again for threatening a prostitute he had taken to his isolated cabin in Goulds, Newfoundland, with a gun.  My parents knew that about my uncle but took us around him anyway.

Back in the day, I mentioned to some family members a few times that it bothered me to hear my rapist pitied in that way. “Poor Dick” used to ram his penis down my throat while the rest of my family slept.  “Poor Dick” threatened to kill me if I ever told anyone ‘our secret’ or what we did when he wanted to ‘have fun’ with me.

I was 7 years old when it started. I wore size 6X shirts.  It went on for two years. My rapist had an active sex life with girls his own age. He claimed his stepdad used to abuse him when the police questioned him about me.  And on the way home in our pickup truck, after the police officer had told my parents about Dick’s rough life, they talked the whole time about “Poor Dick” and what he had been through.

“Poor Dick” ran into one of my older brothers in the Avalon Mall while the whole court thing was happening and admitted to everything I had put in my statement to the police.  I had not told my parents most of the details because it was too humiliating. When my brother came home asking about the most horrific parts of my experience, he said it was only because Dick couldn’t recall doing that particular thing and had asked him to ask me about it.

Dick fought the charges at first but then agreed to plead guilty. Then he changed his mind and the police grilled me about whether I was sure I was ready to testify in court. At the time I asked if my brother could testify since Dick had admitted everything to him. My mother insisted it was too dangerous and my brother was putting himself at risk by doing that. When I asked about the danger I must be putting myself in if that was the case, she said it was different for girls and “Dick’s not going to do anything to you.”

I wonder every Christmas what exactly it is that triggers me so violently and vividly.  Why I can’t sleep. Why I can’t swallow food. Why I wake up each and every night in a sweat.  And why it continues to happen even though I am thousands of miles away and I am happy now.

I don’t need to keep wondering. It’s because that’s what sexual abuse does to a person. 

I have been reading so much about “Rape Culture” especially since I am a university student here in Maine. Here’s what I think rape culture is.

Rape culture is being told that I was lucky Dick didn’t pass the violence he suffered on to me.  It’s being told that it doesn’t count as rape because he wasn’t a grown man. It’s knowing that there was a child rapist in that house and we went there anyway and they came to our house too. It doesn’t matter that my uncle Jack wasn’t the perpetrator in my case. We had no business being there. He was a RAPIST.

Rape culture is seeing both my brothers still friends with the rapist who served time in jail for raping me. It’s recalling one Christmas when our family visited “Poor Dick” and I was left with him and my brothers while my parents and my uncle Jack and Dick’s mother went to do some Christmas visiting. We were in Dick’s room, my brothers were at the end of the bed facing the television playing Atari games we had gotten for Christmas. At the other end of the bed, was Dick with a blanket over both of us. He was asking my brothers if they knew their balls were the warmest parts on their bodies. They told him he was a weirdo but never turned around. Dick was shoving his hand down my pants under the blanket and forcing my hand down his pants while my brothers sat just a few feet away.

Rape culture is my two older brothers who are both fathers of little girls keeping in touch with someone who served time in jail for raping their sister. When she was 7.

Rape culture is the message this sends my nieces. That rape doesn’t count if you don’t like the victim – in this case me. Even if she’s your aunt, and even if we call ourselves tough guys, we still don’t have the strength of character to at the very least steer clear of our sister’s rapist.

Rape culture is my father going back to his old fishing spot and taking a chance on running into his brother Jack. It wasn’t a good enough reason to find another place to drown his worms. But if knowing his brother was a convicted child rapist wasn’t enough reason to stay away, certainly a few mud trout was a driving force.

Rape culture is my mother standing by. Playing the helpless victim who couldn’t change anyone’s behavior. She could have at least stood by me. Back then. And now. Rape culture is telling me that teaching self-defense and telling my story was like putting a target on my back and begging to be raped. Rape culture is telling me that I am powerless against men and that if one of them gets ‘turned on’ they physically cannot stop themselves. Rape culture is the environment that makes it so hard to come forward, and punishes women for coming forward and sides with rapists.

It was been 30 years since the first time someone came in my room at night and violated me. I am safe now. I am happy now. So why am I up at five in the morning? Because rape is a big fucking deal. The trauma it inflicts is a big fucking deal. And the story I read in my newsfeed before I went to bed was a big fucking deal. But I am so glad there are still people out there who choose to survive. Curling up in a ball and living in denial only hurts me.
I was raped when I was 7. Repeatedly. And again as an adult by someone I was in a relationship with.
Hopefully this will be my very last post about stress around the holidays and flashbacks that keep me up at night.
And if the rapist who served time for raping me wants to put a notch on his belt because it still bothers me from time to time then I can give him something to read. His name is Dick. I couldn't make this shit up. He is a dick. And I hope his penis rots off one of these days.