Valerie’s Story

Valerie’s Story

I have been raped twice, over a decade apart. I have struggled with this. I’ve heard it cited often in the media that a person who has been the victim of sexual violence are likely to be raped for a second time, so a person who’s been raped once is more likely to be raped again than another person of the same age who hasn’t been raped before. Essentially, you are more likely to be raped twice than once. This statistic bothers me, implying that there’s something in us – whether it’s something that we’re doing, saying, wearing. Like there’s some sort of beacon or subtle signal were giving off into the universe, blinking lights and a bullhorn shouting “Rape me! Rape me!”, always flashing above our heads. Maybe even with a catchy tune. Whatever that cause is, whatever the beacon, I am that statistic.

They say there are “good victims” – those who are more likely to see justice served because we clearly weren’t at fault – and bad victims – those who have worn a skirt too short or too deep a shade of red, who drank alcohol with friends or strangers, who foolishly left those drinks unattended or who entrusted the wrong person to watch them. Bad Victims who went out with men and should have expected to be hurt, not protected, by friends. At the time of my first rape, I was a Good Victim. I was young, white, blonde, and pretty-but-not-too-pretty. I was a virgin. I fought back valiantly. I was treated for weeks for my physical injuries – a dislocated shoulder, separated ribs, a fractured color bones. I had stitches, demonstrating that I had bled to retain my virtue. My fingers and arms were wounded, but my face was relatively free of disfigurement; the bruises would heal by the time a trial occurred and I could be made appropriately sympathetic and attractive. I could still demure, looking away from the men who interrogated me about how I could have let this happen. I cried at the appropriate times. He was older than me by more than twice my years, but did not work a regular job and he had no children. He lived with his parents. I had not placed myself in his bed. He was an ingrate, and I was judged Worthy. I was a Good Victim. It Wasn’t My Fault. It Didn’t Count – more than one of the men who took my statement made sure I knew this. “Don’t worry, this doesn’t count. You can still say you are a virgin. We’ll give you a copy of the whole report so your husband will know, when you find one, that this wasn’t your fault. You fought for your virginity, so you’re Still A Good Girl.” Before they said it, I didn’t even think to worry about such a triviality. To think they believed I was fighting for my virginity, for my honor, for my worth. Here I’d so foolishly thought I was fighting for my life.

Clearly my life was not so worth protecting as my value to men in the future. That value, in their estimation, was somehow higher than that of someone who preserved their lives by *not* fighting, by doing as they were told and hoping that spared them. At the time, I felt foolish and shamed by it – I had fought, yes, but I had failed. Those people who cooperate to spare themselves the physical pain I suffered seemed smarter to my 13 year old self, and I wished I had just gone along with him. In retrospect, I now know that those people suffered just as much as I did, and that their shame and pain was different – but no less – than mine.

My second assault seemed farcical in comparison and at first I rarely talked about it, in part because I wasn’t even sure if it really happened. Even now, part of me doesn’t know what to do with the assault that occurred when I was 26. It actually only now occurs to me that I apparently get raped every 13 years. Talk about an unlucky number. What I call “my second assault” was actually several assaults, carried out in the succession of days. When I say farcical, you must understand not only what happened during the assault, but in the days before. I had suffered brain trauma. Brain trauma impacts everyone differently, depending on HOW you are injured and WHAT is injured, and even in how the brain compensates and heals. I do not mean that the assault(s) was funny, or that I wasn’t severely impacted. So at first, I didn’t understand what happened. What I mean is that it seems so crazy to me, something that could appear in stand-up or in a comedy of errors. Six years later, it still makes no sense to me. Additionally, that brain trauma caused a disconnect in me – I still don’t connect with emotions from that time period, positive or negative. I still don’t respond properly to serious events, because my mind simply cannot wrap around them. Many of my memories have the quality of watching a movie – I am aware, intellectually, of what happened, but it’s as though I watched it happen to another body and not to my own. What this means is that I tell the story with a flat affect; I no longer cry at the appropriate times and, rather than being shaken and timid, I can come across as brash and even joking to someone who does not understand the nature of my brain trauma. After the second assault, when the time finally came that I talked about it and reported it, I learned what happens when you are a Bad Victim.

Many things made me a Bad Victim this time, much of it bewildering to me even now. To begin with, that previous assault that had left me so physically broken – that assault wherein I was deemed a Good Victim, a Good Girl, and Still A Virgin – that assault in which I had been so fully vindicated, the very fact that it happened made me Not A Good Victim. Rape me once, game on you; rape me twice, well, you know. About half of you probably read, in Dubya’s voice, “Rape me twice, it’s not nice to rape people.” I know I did. Ha. Anyway, that siren song I was talking about – whatever that thing is that makes us more likely to be assaulted again, became firmly my fault. And then came the questions about why I didn’t report it earlier – something that I wasn’t sure had happened, something that occurred where I should have been safe, something that happened in a situation where I wasn’t away from my abuser for three weeks after it happened. All of this played in my head, but none of it mattered. It seemed to matter greatly that I hadn’t said “no”. I hadn’t said, “I do not wish to have sexual contact with you, kind sir.” It seemed to matter less that I was not conscious or able to speak on account of the brain trauma. I was asked if I was sure that it happened and, when it became undeniable that sexual contact had occurred, it became a question of if I had given my assailant any reason to believe I was consenting. No one could say I’d given verbal consent – my altered level of consciousness and inability to speak was a matter of record – but perhaps my eyes had said “yes”. Perhaps I’d swayed my hips suggestively during a transfer assist, or maybe put my hand on his when care was being provided. I’d had a catheter and wore adult diapers during my rehabilitation; maybe I had enthusiastically nodded and squealed when he changed them? Surely I had done something to give off consenting signals, as semi-conscious female patients are want to do. Who knows? Somehow, I was no longer a Good Victim. That first time, when I was young and pretty and fought back, I’d used up all my goodwill and benefit of the doubt.

I sometimes like to tell my story in pieces to watch people’s reactions. I will occasionally tell someone about my second assault, leading with “I wasn’t conscious when I was raped.” I had always expected that these cases were plain, that anyone would agree that having sex with an unconscious person is not okay. What I find instead is that by leading with that, a brief silence is usually followed by attempts to both educate and blame my friends and me, filling in the details that place the “rape ball” in my court. A slow silence will invariably precede the evaluation, “Women really should be more careful about what they drink.” or “Did you leave your drink unattended?” There’s the righteous blame cast upon my friends by those people who wouldn’t dare blame the victim: those great thinkers will more often assert that “When *my* girlfriends and I go out, we always stay together. I would never let one of them leave with some strange man!” Imagine their surprise when I tell them that, while none of those behaviors justify a person being assaulted, none are true in my case. I was not unconscious because I drank too much or was dosed with a substance surreptitiously. No, I was under anesthesia and the effects of brain trauma. I was not in a club, frat house, or dorm – I was in a medical facility, recuperating from injuries. None of these facts really matter in the overall narrative, but it’s interesting for me to see it from both sides; as both a Good Victim and a Bad Victim, all I’m left with is the sad feeling that our way of helping rape victims leaves much to be desired.

I also have to say that I struggle to find my place, even with other victims. The most commonly perpetrated rapes in America happen when a woman is with a person she knows, perhaps even knows well, and drinks too much alcohol. While there is often a loss of memory or even consciousness, we’ve actually found that “drugging and raping” is less common than simply using alcohol itself as a weapon. I have been to a few rape survivor support groups, and what strikes me is that all of those things that made me A Good Victim when I was 13 and the odd and highly publicized circumstances of my rape at 26, all of those things that make any reasonable person tell me that I am not at fault for what happened – all of those are the very things that make me an outsider with regard to other rape victims. In both cases, even though I was certainly “put through it”, I did receive some justice. The first man to rape me in still locked up – he served his prison sentence before being “civilly committed”, a hot-button issue of constitutionality in my state and many others. The second man to assault me had assaulted many other patients, and one of them had as astute family member who caught him with a nanny cam. He may not have been prosecuted specifically for what he did to me, but he did eventually face prosecution and is a public pariah – you can’t just have sex with semi-conscious patients and get away with it. The very fact that I got some modicum of justice TWICE when so few get it once sets me apart; that both instances boil down to stranger rape, that I did not drink, that I wasn’t “reckless” is worse, in the context of a survivor group, because I don’t fit for a number of reasons that I couldn’t begin to address in so small a space.

I wish that we lived in a world where survivors could be kinder to one another, too, and where we didn’t need to explain our stories or hold them up as measuring sticks of whose rape was worse. The world has tried to turn us against each other, has created this dynamic of The Good Victim and The Bad Victim. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could stop doing it to each other?




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