Trigger Warning: Rape
One of the main questions hurled at Dr. Ford, Brett Kavanaugh’s accuser, was, “Why now, after three decades?”. Implicit in the question is the suggestion she is reporting something that happened 30 years ago. There is a problem with this suggestion.
In her devastatingly true book about sexual abuse (indeed rape), Hunger: A Memoir Of (My) Body, Roxane Gay says, “What you need to know is that my life is split in two, cleaved not so neatly. There is the before and the after. Before I gained weight. After I gained weight. Before I was raped. After I was raped”.
Like Gay, my life too is thus split in two. In April 2010, a colleague raped me during a work-related event. I was a couple of months short of my 27th birthday. The morning after, even as I was still teetering over the incident, I told my friend about it. I didn’t use the word rape or sexual assault.
By the evening, I had met up with a close friend and again discussed the incident. Again, the words rape or sexual assault did not feature in my narrative. The friend asked a few searching questions, but mostly just allowed me to talk. I spent a couple of days with her, processing this information, even as we, together went through the motions of everyday living, interacting with others. At the end of those 2-3 days, I arrived at the conclusion that I had been raped. This was difficult for me. It meant that as an adult, I was not able to take care of myself.
My friends listened, supported and gave me kind words. And yet, each time I shared, the old feeling of not being able to take care of myself returned.
It’s been eight years since the event. Over the years, I have revealed this part of my life to my friends. After the first two friends, I opened up about it almost immediately to my parents and my sister. My parents persuaded me to get a medical examination done. I relived the experience with the gynaecologist, the psychologist, and the woman at the reception at Fortis hospitals who loudly read out my HIV blood test in a room of around 40 people. But the tests revealed nothing untoward.
The same year, I spoke to another friend about it. And then, my boss. I moved jobs and cities, primarily because I needed to get away. My boss passed away. I wrote an email documenting the incident to another senior colleague (because I felt someone in my old work place needed to know). And she responded, commiserating. But under those kind words, I also sensed disappointment. She asked, “I still wonder why a strong young lady like you should undergo such a trauma quietly and in such an isolated and deserted manner?”. Without intending to, she had turned the knife in the wound. I was still doing the wrong thing. I still couldn’t take care of myself.
Subsequently, I have shared this with many friends. Almost always in intimate interpersonal moments. Always with friends I felt comfortable with. One night on a winter trek up in the Himalayas, a friend and I went out to pee. Finding a secluded spot, peeing into the snow as the full moon shown radiantly, I was moved by the intense beauty to share this experience with my friend. Every time I spoke about it, I was intensely aware of the discomfort I was causing.
If I do decide to come out and talk about my rapist publicly, remember this is not an 8-year-old trauma, but 8 years of trauma.
Most of my friends reacted with anger, outrage and shock. No one ever questioned the veracity of my claims. My friends listened, supported and gave me kind words. And yet, each time I shared, the old feeling of not being able to take care of myself returned. Why did I need my friends to know this about me? Why did I need them to understand and support me? Why can’t I deal with this on my own?
Last year as the #MeToo movement unfolded, I found my rapist on one of those umpteen lists (of sexual abusers) that were making the rounds. Bursting out in tears, I told some of my friends about it. I felt vindicated. Overwhelming emotion made me share this with some not-so-close friends but friends who understood. Over the years, I have spoken about it to around 20 people. Although, I revisit it with only 10 of them. And then there are the innumerable number of times I have rehashed it with therapists.
If I do decide to come out and talk about my rapist publicly (unlike anonymously as in the present case), remember this is not an 8-year-old trauma, but 8 years of trauma. If I decide to seek justice next year, it will be 9 years of trauma. And if I decide to speak about it publicly the following year, it will be 10 years of trauma. All this is not to say that memory of the trauma is static but to say that the trauma is never actually ever over.
Featured Image Source: Pro Publica