A fixture of news these days are sensationalized stories of sexual assault. If ever anyone needed reminding that we live in a violent culture, this would be the proof. So I've decided to share my own story, with the hopes that it might guide the way we respond to that which is shocking. Trauma manifests itself in different ways for different people. What I have felt has rarely been rage, outrage, and anger. More often than not, I feel fearful, anxious, constantly hyper vigilant. I’m also highly strung. While waiting at the bus stop, should someone blow a car horn or any loud noise be heard, I am likely to jump three feet up in the air. I startle and frighten easily. My trauma therapist has noted that this is an indication of abuse. I suppose if anyone has a right to feel righteously indignant and to forcefully vocalize said indignation, it would be me.
When I read or view the testimonials of women who have experienced rape, street harassment, sexual harassment, or some violation of both trust and boundaries, I look for commonalities with my own story. The parallels are there, except that men who have been abused often respond differently. Sorrow and shame were my default feelings, and still are. For not being able to fight back, I have felt less masculine. And I have never been able to be angry at the man (only a boy, really) who sexually assaulted me. Instead, I project my suffering in a different direction altogether. The trauma produced a collection of several connected issues of which I can hardly keep track. They lay underneath the surface, so obvious that it makes perfect sense why they exist. Once, earlier in life, I got myself angry enough to fight another man and found I simply could not hold onto my rage long enough. I can be riled up enough to contribute to an argument, but even that ability usually passes after a while.
I recognize that I am not a member of a group who has been historically silenced, nor have I been made to feel that my voice should be passed over and disregarded. It must feel satisfying and empowering to speak out, to violate a societal taboo. I did go for years before I spoke out about what happened to me. As is true for many in the same boat as me, there is much I do not recall because those memories have been deliberately repressed. Piecing together after effects is the only available method. In this case, the experience has, subtly and sometimes obviously, negatively affected relationships, friends, and my day-to-day life. It is that pervasive. Learning new details is a bit like being part of a forensic science team trying to uncover a murder. The residual traces are very often all that one can analyze.
My faith says this: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You must love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.” This is an attitude greatly at odds with my fellow feminists, and, to be fair, the rest of the world around me. I have tried to forgive the person who molested me, with minimal success. But still I try. My trauma therapist concedes that she understands why it is so difficult and does not insist that I forgive him for the moment. Still, I know it will probably be much for the best when I can reach that apex. After all, he is also a victim, a product of a father who abused him. His anger is what was turned upon me.
This is indeed a sickening cycle of anger. In this situation, a child, particularly a boy, processes ongoing violence by lashing out at the world. I myself did, and felt the constant pain of my father’s leather belt as a result. Some boys never move beyond this stage, becoming men by way of biology but still children in how they respond to the world. We often express consternation at those whose threatening, aggressive conduct towards women is (here’s that word again) unforgivable, especially when it seems that they have not served their fair share of punishment in jail. Punishment is necessary, but I’d rather seek to explore why these men act the way that they do. If I knew more details, I’d try to understand why the father of my abuser was an alcoholic sociopath. Each of us is a victim of a fallen world, which is why it is our responsibility to redeem it to the whole of its great potential.