I share the tragedy of my rape because when I snatch my story out of its’ dark corner and shove it into the light, the impalpable shame that surrounds it vanishes and it becomes powerless over me and my future.
I share my story with the man or woman that is raped every 7 minutes in Canada, with the Brazilian woman that is raped every 15 seconds, to the 93 women that are raped every day in India.
75% of Aboriginal girls are raped by the time they reach 18 years of age.
My story is not just my story. It is the story of many. It is the story of one out of four and one out of six. One is still one too many.
1997. I was 17 years old. It was a cold, dry morning, around 7:00 a.m., I was on my way to school to attend choir practice.
Weeks prior to the rape, we had a brief encounter. I was walking from my house to the bus stop to go to school and he came up from behind me, put his right hand underneath my (uniform) kilt. I felt his hand cup and grab my butt and when I turned around startled, he stared at me valiantly and walked away casually, looking back at me with offensive satisfaction. I just stood there, stunned. I blamed myself for that moment. “Why are you wearing your kilt?” I asked myself. So, guess what? Since I placed blame on myself, I started to wear sweatpants every morning and would change into my uniform when I got to school. Now, isn’t it fucked up that we live in a society where girls and women feel they have no choice but to accommodate evil? It took me decades to realize that there is only one thing that causes rape: RAPISTS.
The morning that it happened I was on my usual route, with my Russell Athletic sweatpants on. Hey, my legs are completely covered, no one will harass me THIS time, right?
Everything happened so fast that I had no time to react. From the time he came up from behind me, to when he grabbed me to when he threw me to the ground, to when I tried to fight back to when he got up and left me there – it all seemed like a matter of seconds. Every touch from him was cold and remorseless. When it plays back in my mind, it’s usually out of sequence and the same fog of frustration and unanswered questions swirl around me.
What were the series of life choices that led this “man” to rape me?
I shouldn’t have tried to fight to back, what was I thinking?
You should pay more attention in tae kwon do class!
It’s this same guy from weeks ago, you should have known!
Did she see me?
How could she not see me?
Why didn’t she stop to help me?
I didn’t see her face, but I saw her black heels while I was on the ground – him on top of me. The black heels didn’t stop to help me, I didn’t hear her cry out for help, she didn’t even take steps back, she just kept moving forward as if I was in invisible.
I think of this woman more often than the rapist. For decades, I hated her. Why, why, why? Why? Why didn’t you help me? How can you just walk by something like that? But now, after years of self-reflection, a different assortment of questions have surfaced.
Maybe she thought that someone else would step in?
Maybe she figured someone had already dialed 911?
Maybe she thought there was more than one rapist?
Maybe she was scared that he has going to come after her?
Maybe she simply did not want to get involved?
Maybe her stress response was simply dissociation?
This bystander handed me a gift that day – a mirror. Never will I be a mirror like image of her choices in that moment when she saw me. I am quick to offer help to others because I know what it’s like to be aware that someone has witnessed an incomprehensible situation I am in but does not offer assistance. She has influenced me in my advocacy work. Her actions that day is the reason why I am more than willing to spend hours on Twitter with an online translator supporting a survivor who is 9 hours ahead of me. She is the reason why I point blank asked my cousin if she too was molested by our grandfather. I rather create an uncomfortable conversation and be wrong, then choose silence and be right. I recently spoke at a highschool and shared with them the psychological phenomenon known as the bystander effect. That part of my talk is inspired by the bystander and her black heels. I still think of this woman, but with empathy and compassion now.
I believe that everything happens for a reason and this includes every conversation you hear and everything you see, whether you are overhearing a man disrespecting his girlfriend in public or when a friend slowly starts to confide with you about their childhood trauma.
Always help someone. You might be the only person that does.