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Cover 05/22/2013

The Survivors Project

Excerpts from ebook that gives sexual-abuse survivors a chance to tell their stories

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While I truly appreciate their concern for me, every time I hear this, my heart hurts. That we live in a world where people are so frequently surprised that a rape survivor has support is devastating because it shows how many survivors don’t. I couldn’t have gotten through what was done to me without my loved ones. Within an hour of my arriving, the hospital waiting room was populated. My parents made the drive from New York to D.C. in record time. My brother and cousins followed suit. My sister got on a plane in Jordan and was with me within 36 hours. No one told me that she was coming, but when she showed up in our hotel room, I wasn’t surprised. It never occurred to me that any of them wouldn’t be there for me immediately.

Still, even I’ve had small experiences with “victim blaming.” One came during my grand jury testimony. One juror asked, “If you knew your roommate was in the apartment, why didn’t you scream to get her attention?” I’d already very clearly detailed my screaming, which the attorney pointed out to this gentleman. But for a moment, let’s say that not only had I not made that clear to him, but that I never screamed. His question implies that if this was the case, then I bear some responsibility for the crime. If I didn’t scream, then I didn’t try hard enough to stop my attacker. If I didn’t scream, then in some way I was consenting to being beaten, strangled and raped. In that moment, I understood why the counselor who handed me the stress ball before I went in had said, “Just try not to wing it at anyone during questions.”

Only a few days ago, I read a story about a judge admonishing a woman by saying that she should have known better than to be in the club where she was sexually assaulted. I hear so many comments like this, people finding ways to blame the victim. Why? Because no one wants to believe that it can happen to them. If the victim did something wrong, then everyone else can reassure themselves that they’re smarter than that, and therefore safe. As someone who still hasn’t regained her sense of security, I greatly understand the need to feel safe. But I’m not. No one is, no matter what precautions are taken.

In the months following the attack, I wanted to lock my family in my new apartment with me, so that I could watch them at all times and make sure nothing ever happened to any of us. Then, one night, as I sat in bed, dreading the dark, I wondered what would happen if I locked everyone in and then someone set the apartment on fire. We could all still die. Nothing I could do would ever erase that possibility. So, to all who look to bolster their sense of security by blaming rape victims: Stop it. By ignoring the reality of the situation, you’re not only unsuccessful in ensuring your own safety, but you guarantee a society in which rape continues to flourish unreported. It’s been two and a half years and I still think about it on a regular basis. I avoid going out at night and never wear skirts if I do. Neither of these actions has any relation to my rape, but they make me feel more vulnerable.

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