If he’s still alive, he’s old and probably fat by now. That guy I try never to think about. His face has faded, but I remember him as a little doughy. That guy who did to me what I could not bring myself to call rape at the time.
I was traveling alone. I’d missed the overnight train from Geneva to Paris. He offered me a spare bedroom; swore I’d be perfectly safe. To my 19-year-old eyes, he looked trustworthy, this 30-something pilot in an expensive trenchcoat. So surely it was my fault, right? When I woke up in the wee hours of the morning and he was on top of me?
Judge me if you will. Call me stupid and naïve; that much is fair. But who ever judged him? No one. Yet I knew I didn’t have a story to tell a Swiss police officer. So I got on the train and went back to my study-abroad dorm room in England, feeling a little wiser and a lot older.
When I got back to the States, I wrote a short story about it in which I tried to be very Hemingway-esque, starkly describing what happened but leaving out all details about how I felt. Because of course I didn’t know I felt. Or rather, I felt so many different feelings I didn’t know which was the real one: shame? Anger? Sadness? Outrage?
They were all real and they have all been flooding back to me this month, which has not been a good one for the one out of four American women who harbor memories of sexual assault. First, there was arrest of the head of the Air Force sexual assault prevention program—on charges of sexual battery. Then, just two days later, the Pentagon released survey data revealing in 2012, an estimated 26 thousand active service women and men were sexually assaulted, up from 19 thousand in 2010.
And now we have Amanda Knox out on her book tour, being interviewed by piranhas like CNN’s Chris Cuomo, who so relished interrogating her about the rumors of her “deviant” sex life. Never mind she’s been convicted of murder in Italy, jailed for four years, acquitted and now may be tried again.
No wonder I found myself fuming recently when I saw a TV commercial in which two dads exchange those “boys will be boys!” looks when they catch their sons spying on a female neighbor from their treehouse. What if the ad showed little girls watching a man undress? Would we think that was adorable?
In his eagerness to pry salacious details out of Knox, Cuomo reminded me of the boys in the commercial. But Knox’s long legal nightmare has taught her how to remain calm in the face of the ugliest accusations.
“I was sexually active. I was not sexually deviant,” she said, clearly and without elaboration. In that instant, she became the grownup in the room and Cuomo the prurient child, still stuck in his adolescent treehouse.
Collective outrage over military rape may be what takes us to the tipping point where we can no longer tolerate the double standard inherent in an interview like Cuomo’s. I hope so. Because this is about more than raising boys to treat women with respect. This is about raising girls to understand: shame and guilt need not be their default emotional settings. So when a soldier is groped, she doesn’t immediately think it must be her fault. Or when a naïve girl from Seattle is interviewed by Italian police, she can’t be bullied and intimidated.
Or when another naïve Seattle girl sets out to see the world, she won’t spend the rest of her life thinking what happened one night in Geneva was ALL her fault.
Radio lovers: you can hear the Restless Nest commentaries every Tuesday at 7:45 a.m. on KBCS, streaming online at kbcs.fm and on the air at 91.3 in the Seattle area. Podcasts available.
Here’s nest artist Kim Groff-Harrington’s website.
Fabulous entry! Thank you!
Thank you, Ann, for so clearly expressing what too many of us have experienced. But I would differ with your self-denigration over being “stupid and naive”. Naivety and being in the wrong place at the wrong time does not make ANY of it your fault. We should never be faulted for trusting someone or not having enough experience to read a situation accurately. Or for being forced to grow up the hard way in a society that belittles us from the moment we are born. Had I been brought up in a world that valued me and my aspirations in life, what I glibly define as my ‘young and dumb days’ would likely have been a whole different thing. I recently decided to stop blaming myself for my inexperience and the simple openness of youth and get on with healing and forgiving myself for not honoring the beauty of my femininity rather than be robbed of it by a violently out-out-balance masculine world. Forgiveness is always a good thing, but it never exonerates.
I am travelling through the lands of the Mother Goddess right now, where men reign supreme in this age but not so in the distant past (When God Was A Woman), and I wonder how we came to such a radical extreme – to the point where we are willing to violently destroy all that it soft and yielding and giving and productive and sacred in the name of dominance and control.
Yes, it is time for this long-awaited new era. One of balance and harmony – pono and lokahi in Hawaii. When we turn again to honoring the Earth and all she gives us, women will no longer be abused. And when women are honored in their rightful place in the cycle of life, our Mother will once again thrive.
Finding the key to end the violence – against women , and men, and the Earth – that is the challenge of our time.
Much love to you, Ann. Thank you for being so courageous in speaking on behalf of so many women around the globe.
Thanks, Ann, for speaking out about this. The guy that raped me died (of old age I guess) about two months ago. When I reported this rape to our so-called hero WATERTOWN MASSACHUSETTS (sorry, couldn’t resist caps) cops roughly a year ago (four years after it happened), they did nothing, because I am a “mental patient,” and they did not believe me. I told these hero cops that he would continue to assault women if they did nothing. They told me that because I had written down what had happened, then surely, the story could have been fabricated, dreamed up, they said. I told them I was a writer. “Writer, eh?” They nodded like they were about to offer me a free ride to the mental hospital. Do they have an MFA in Creative Writing? Or any master’s degree? Mostly, not. See ya later, brave lady, sister writer on the other side of the continent. Love, Julie
“Boys will be boys!” Bullshit! Just because he happens to be of the male sex, does that give him reason to rape a woman, or a girl? Hell no! I’m a 40 yr old male, and I’d be livid if someone did something like this to my niece or 2nd cousin. That is SO wrong! Anyone who rapes or beats up a woman and says that it’s ok, that “boys will be boys”, should have their heads examined.
Thank you, Ann. Beautifully and powerfully said.
Thank you for sharing!
[…] what I wrote in 2013, which was the last time I wrote about what happened to me in Geneva. My anger got the best of me […]