I appreciate the 12 Days to End Violence Against Women and particularly the focus on calling violence what it is. I have had this written since I was pregnant with my first son over five years ago.
I try to be open about my experience of being raped in high school: of drinking too much at a party, being led down to a basement room, having my clothes taken away, and being locked in a room and raped multiple times.
No, I did not report it, didn’t even think about reporting it. All I could think about is getting home alive. But even my attempt to be open about my experience seems controversial.
For one, I do not like the word “sexual assault.” For me, it is a dry, emotionless word that I’ve felt at times pressured to adopt because “rape” is unacceptable – a dirty word that people shy away from. But I was raped, and I was ashamed and felt dirty, used and useless. It is the term that best fits what happened.
I also do not like the term “survivor of sexual assault.” I was raped, I am still recovering and will never be fully recovered. I am not a survivor.
I have nightmares and flashbacks that my wife has to hold me through until I return, defeated and vulnerable in a haze that lingers into the next day. “Survivor” makes me think of the many people who have had cancer, gone through the emotional process of treatment, remission, and sometimes recovery.
But rape is not cancer. Cancer does not choose its victim, like I felt this man chose me and isolated me from my only friend at this party. This man chose to rape me, used his physical power over me, taunted me, threatened to kill me, and then chose to release me the next day.
I went home to an empty house and had my first of many unsuccessful suicide attempts. I am not a survivor: I am regaining my strength and feel stronger every year, but I am still living with the results of being raped 20 years ago.
I have two wonderful sons. As they grow, I have to decide how to tell them my story. How will I explain to them, the first time they witness one of my flashbacks, when I am curled up in ball crying, “please don’t touch me, please leave me alone, I just want to go home,” recoiling and attempting to escape by any means possible?
How do I explain that I don’t know what is going on around me or where I am? Or that sometimes in the night I return to the night I was raped, that I think that they are the person who locked me in the basement and raped me? How do I explain that they should just let me be, that I will cry myself to sleep and in the morning I will return? That in the morning I won’t remember my flashback, but I will be emotional, tired and distant?
I am lovingly raising my sons to never take advantage of another person, to never use their power over another person, to stand up against wrong and never be a silent bystander. As young boys I repeatedly tell them, “I will always love you, no matter what, you can be whoever you want, as long as you are a nice person, I will always love you.”
I do not know how or when to tell my two wonderful sons about my experience of being raped. But I will do everything I can to raise my sons to know it is never OK to rape, that they are always to be in control of their bodies, and that love is wonderful and sex is an intimate part of loving someone. Sex is about pleasure, deep understanding and asking what your partner wants. It is never about taking or coercion. That is rape, and rape has nothing to do with love.
If we teach all of our children this, then hopefully no one will have to go through the shame and silent suffering that I and too many others have. One in 17 women in Canada have been raped.
We parents must talk to our preteens, teenagers, young adults, and adults about their choice. That guy chose to rape me. We need to teach our children not to rape.
We also need to stop talking about the victim: what I did, what I wore, where I was, what I drank (it still runs through my head that if I just did one thing differently maybe I wouldn’t have been raped). It doesn’t matter. Someone chose to rape me.
Rape is wrong, always wrong. End of story.
Cai Krikorian lives in Whitehorse.