Thursday, March 05, 2009

Speak the Unspeakable

I want to preface this post by stating I have never been raped. I do not know what it is like to experience such an atrocious violation. I am writing from the perspective of an outsider who wants to stand in solidarity with her sisters, locally and globally, who have experienced this atrocious violation. I want to be sensitive to those who have been raped who may read this post and disagree with me. I believe it is every woman’s right to choose weather or not she publicly acknowledges the rape she experienced. It is her right and it is not my right to persuade her to do otherwise.

Yesterday I attended a workshop called “She says no to violence”. It was sponsored by UNIFEM. A variety of panelist spoke eloquently about the need to decrease violence against women and how that was happening in the contexts from which they came. The room was warm. The day was late. My mind began to wonder.

During the question and answer portion of the workshop my attention surfaced in time to hear an NGO representative say, “Of course I would rather have a gun held to my head than be raped.” She was responding to a panelist’s response to her original question and comment. Ironically, the woman who made the statement was from a women’s peace activist group. Leaving the workshop, I walked with the peace activist to the next gathering. She told me she had never been raped and that she could not imagine her personhood being violated in such a traumatic way.

Several years ago a minister friend of mine and I were discussing the disappearance of Natalie Holloway. Ms. Holloway vanished while on a high school graduation trip in Aruba. She is still missing. My friend asked me if I thought Natalie Holloway had been trafficked or if the young men who were being questioned about her disappearance had murdered her. I had no insight and was shocked when my friend remarked that of the two alternatives, she would hope for her death. I was just as stunned after my friend’s statement as I was yesterday when the peace activist made her comment.

If we speak of rape as being stronger than death, how does that honor the life of rape survivors? The World Health Organization estimates that every year more than one million women are raped in South Africa. Women in the Democratic Republic of Congo are experiencing rape as a tool of war in epidemic proportions. In this country we are told that one out of four women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime.1 Women who have been raped are in our churches and car pool lines. They are our children’s schoolteachers and our favorite sit-com actors. They read this blog and their lives, post rape, are just as important and vital as they were pre-rape. We must work to alter the impression that death is better than rape.

I’m tired of being told that rape and certain other subjects are unspeakable. Speaking the unspeakable gives a voice to that which has been kept silent too long. Speaking truth is powerful. The truth of being raped is not my story. However, I will stand beside my sisters who choose to tell their stories and I will remind my sisters who say they would rather die than be raped that the lives of my friends who have been are too powerful to disappear because of an act of violence.
1 Sexual assault does not always mean rape. At the time of this post I was unable to find adequate rape statistics in the US.


Blogger PeaceBang said...

I'm absolutely with you on this. Thanks for posting it.

4:36 PM  
Anonymous DeDe Mason said...

You are so right. It has always bothered me to hear people refer to little girls (or boys) who have been sexually molested as "ruined" or to whisper that the child will never get over it. I think this prediction can probably be self fulfilling. When the family treats the child differently. When the subject seems tabu. To be sexually assaulted is certainly preferable to being murdered. Complete recovery is surely possible. DeDe

4:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Suzanah, thanks for following our live blogging from the CSW, and thanks also for recording your own live posts! Might we cross-post some of your reflections throughout the rest of the commission and onwards--especially this one?

Please feel free to email me:

peace and solidarity--
Alison Killeen
Communications Coordinator
Ecumenical Women at the UN

8:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm with you on this.... indeed, let us speak the unspeakable and walk with those who have witnessed it.

8:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My unspeakable remains unspoken except with a few. I share it now anonymously in response to this post.

I was molested; I was raped; I was burned; I was hit; I was hidden. I died over and over again, although I was still living. I murdered my emotions, cemented my heart, cremated my memory and wildly gave away access to my sexuality. I pretended to be happy, to act like I did not have that history and to live as if that part of myself did not exist. I cut myself off.

I don't know if it is more painful to kill oneself on the inside or to be murdered. At least if one is murdered, she does not have to live with the guilt of continuing to kill parts of oneself. Or continuing to deny the truth of her existence.

Father, Godfather, Uncle, Neighbor. My life back then was full of sheer terror; my childhood was spent hiding, cowering, fearing, pleading, begging, pretending and cutting off myself from myself. My nights were spent waiting, teaching myself to blackout and leave my body. How is that living?, I am glad I am alive, but I still carry around the dead weight of my child-self inside of me. She is afraid. Sometimes, she still wakes up in the middle of the night, crying out in terror. Sometimes, she still cringes when her partner touches her. Sometimes, the pain and fear are still so present and overwhelming.

My emotions and my heart have risen from the ashes, slowly and painfully. I was dead; I am slowly beginning to thaw and work through what happened. Did I wish death upon myself many times? Yes. Did I kill myself slowly? Yes. Am I recovering? Yes...but I think this pain will always be with me, even if just as a memory of a former self or sense of being.

The scars from the cigarette burns healed quickly. The bruises faded. The pain in my private parts is gone. But the phantoms are still very present. I still relive these experiences, as I thaw, the pain that I stashed away comes to the surface. Finally, I am feeling, and that too, sometimes, makes me want to die.

Is death better? No...but in some ways, yes. I am trying to explain the ways in which I die and die again in different ways. The ways in which I killed and am now reviving myself. The guilt and shame that ruled my life for many years. The death I did experience is not so final, but it is incredibly painful...over and over again.

I close with a deep thanks and appreciation and so much love for my partner, who is gentle, patient and understanding as I delve more deeply into this healing process.

Thanks to you for listening to my unspeakable.

8:13 AM  

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