le lyons created Blog to Raise Awareness of Sexual Violence. Be sure to head over to her blog and read the stories. There are far too many. Here is mine.
I am incredibly lucky. At this point in my life, I have not been raped. But I’ve been traumatized all the same. Part of it comes from the constant fear in which any woman has to live. The rest of it comes from my experience as a research assistant.
In college, I signed up to work on a research project focused on victims of sexual assault. The question being investigated was which of two types of therapy was more effective in helping rape victims who developed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). To measure physiological symptoms, each woman was connected to equipment that measured heart rate, skin conductance, and movement. After being connected to the machines, the woman would give a detailed account of her rape. I sat in a separate room, monitoring the equipment. But I could see and hear each woman via a camera.
The stories were the same in that they were all full of terror and pain. The stories were different in terms of the characteristics of the rapist, where the attack took place, and how the woman’s significant other and family reacted. I witnessed story after horrifying story. In some cases, it was a coincidence that the woman was alive. After all, the men who raped her discussed where they would kill her as they waved their guns around. The majority of women participating in the study were raped by strangers. They were raped on their way to work, on their way home from school, or in their own homes. An alarming number of attacks happened at bus stops, while the women were simply waiting to get to work or school.
With each story I heard, my fear intensified. The women in this study were my age. They worked near where I worked. They went to the same bars as I did. The assaults happened in all of these familiar places. They lived in the same area as I did. My fear grew, and I started having trouble leaving my apartment. As I went about my life in the city, I would shudder as I walked past an area where a woman was abducted. Eventually, I restricted my movements and I stayed home. But the irony wasn’t lost on me. Several women were raped inside their homes. There was no safe place. After I left the research project, my fear decreased very slowly, over a matter of years. I stopped restricting my movements very gradually.
The world women live in is intolerable. We have a choice to make: either face the ubiquity of rape, and live in constant fear, or bury that knowledge and live in denial so that we can function. Unfortunately, women who are rape survivors don’t get this choice. Yet society chugs along, situation normal. What do we have to do to put an end to this? Women are brutalized and it’s considered routine. We need to be out in the streets, screaming until our voices are gone: “We live in a rape culture and we will not accept it any longer.”
My life returned to normal. I live the way most women live: with a combination of denial and fear. I’m an environmentalist, so it’s important to me to reduce how much I drive my car. I fail to follow my beliefs. It’s 12 years after I worked on the research project, but I still can’t take the bus.
And I’m one of the lucky ones.