Rejecting Cultural Toxic Swill
“We are products of our past, but we don't have to be prisoners of it. ”Rick Warren, “The Purpose Driven Life: What on Earth Am I Here for?”
I feel extraordinarily vulnerable writing and talking about my personal sexual healing journey—and I accept that vulnerability clearly comes with the territory. Yet, this post has been even more difficult for me to write because it involves confronting a culture that believes in blaming rape survivors—and because for too many years, I unquestioningly swallowed this toxic blend of cultural swill and blamed myself for being date raped when I was 18.
I realize that I have very little—if any—control over how people react to what I disclose about the sexual abuse I experienced in my childhood and teen years. That said one pervasive fear I have is that others will read what I write and either think of me as a “victim,” or in at least one situation, think I “had it coming.” To the “victim” characterization, I say this: I am not a victim and I do not dwell in the “story” of what happened in my past. My past informs my healing process and has helped me grow—it does not define or limit me. To those who think anyone who is raped “had it coming,” I say this: shame on you. Nothing gives anyone the right to violate another person’s body. The blame for rape belongs on one person: the perpetrator.
Unfortunately, for many years, I blamed myself for being date raped. A group of friends and I had rented a beach condominium after graduation, and we were drinking heavily, attracting lots of guys to our condo. Over the course of a few days, I had made out with a particular guy, who was pressuring me to go further than my comfort level. I told him on several occasions that I did not want to have intercourse because I was in a relationship back home. One night, I drank to blackout stage and passed out—and he raped me. Our culture taught me well: I readily accepted the blame for his choice to rape me and reasoned that surely it was my fault since I had been interacting with him sexually and had gotten drunk. Many years later—after much healing work— I could finally absolve myself from this misplaced blame, and move to a place of self-forgiveness (for blaming myself), compassion, tenderness, and healing.
I’ve often wondered why it was so easy for me to shoulder the blame for his choice to violate my body when I was unconscious. And I now realize that with every rape discussed on the news, in social media, in newspapers—when the survivor is blamed, the survivor, and all other survivors are told, “it’s your fault.” Even more insidious: future survivors also get the message that should someone rape them, this culture will blame them, not the rapist. Our culture’s blame shifting is bizarre and unacceptable and must stop now. The blame for rape resides in one person: the rapist.
The sexual healing journey I’ve undertaken has been—and is—about empowerment, reclaiming my sexuality on my own terms and becoming grounded. It is also about standing up to a culture that—to this day—amazingly, still blames women for the choices and criminal actions of another.