Multiple Victimization of Rape Victims
I wondered for years what was wrong with me...
The first (and sometimes the only) thing a rape survivor is told in any support group is that it wasn't their fault. It's true: rape is a crime like any other, the blame is solely on the perpetrator of it, and of course it's not my fault that someone decided to break the law. However, if I keep getting raped over and over, simply reminding myself that it's not my fault doesn't really comfort me anymore. I can't help but wonder why me, what makes me different from other people, does it say "rape me" on my forehead? Multiple (or repeat) victimization is somewhat of a taboo topic, often perceived as "victim blaming," but avoiding the topic doesn't solve the problem. Studies show that women who had been raped before were seven times more likely to be raped again, compared to those who have never been raped. The topic of multiple victimization comes up in our community once in a while; not that we like to beat ourselves for past mistakes, but recognizing the patterns helps us break them by changing what's within our control to change.
Not trusting my gut
The first rape is a trauma, it can cause Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and one of its symptoms is hypervigilance. I keep worrying about safety, constantly screen my environment for potential threats, jump at every noise. I know consciously that my environment is safe now, I'm overreacting, so I try to breathe and ignore my anxiety whenever it comes up. As a result, I might dismiss even a valid threat as yet another manifestation of my PTSD, and won't take measures to protect myself when I should. Having a support network helps: family, friends, someone I can run my worries by, to check if I'm overreacting or the situation really is fishy.
When I was raped, I was probably threatened (with physical force, weapons, or blackmail), told to keep hush or else. It's a scary experience that I will remember for the rest of my life, especially if I do what I'm told and keep the incident a secret, rather than reporting it to authorities. As a result, the next time someone tries to violate me, I freeze and revert back to the old pattern of "don't tell," even if I'm not being threatened in any way. For example, if a coworker flashes me when we're alone in the office - I leave the room, but I don't tell anyone about what happened. I feel ashamed, scared, not wanting my coworkers to gossip about me, blame me perhaps. This is how a potential rapist knows that I'm a good target: I didn't tell anyone about the flashing, so I probably won't make a scene if they grope me, follow me home, attempt a rape. Speaking up helps, even if what happened doesn't feel like a big deal, or if it feels like it might have been your fault, or if it's been going on for years. You have the right to say "no more" at any point, and have it respected.
Giving up on safety
Rape is a degrading experience. It's not about sex, it's about violence, the rapist is asserting their belief that they can do to me whatever they want because I'm a nothing, I don't matter. It's not true: I do have worth, deserve as much as the next person, and people can't violate me whenever they feel like it - even if someone got away with it before. However, convincing myself of it after a rape takes time and effort. As a result, I don't even try to resist when someone crosses the lines with me, no matter who it is or how often it happens, because I feel worthless and undeserving of any better. In such a situation it might help to still protect yourself, if only for the sake of the future. To preserve yourself till you feel like you deserve it, so that the future you would have less trauma to work through in therapy. It might feel like life is hopelessly ruined beyond repair, but some months/years down the line your current efforts at self-preservation will definitely make a difference.
Seeking out danger
A lot of rape survivors put themselves at risk needlessly: drinking with people they don't know, walking through parks alone at night, arranging one-night stands with strangers online, etc. It might sound bizarre, but actually makes a lot of sense. Rape is a huge blow to self-esteem, so I want to revisit the situation to conquer it, to end the fear, confront the bad guys, reassert my worth, make for a different outcome, be a winner this time around, and be able to respect myself again. Here's how one Fort member described it (and gave permission to use this quote) - "If I felt scared or uncomfortable about something, I'd use that as a proxy to mean I MUST do it, I MUST conquer my fears and triggers. I felt like I'm giving in, I'm being controlled by my fears if I don't challenge them." However, some situations are just best avoided; there's no shame in being unable to protect myself in circumstances where most people would be equally unable to protect themselves. It's just a bad situation to be in, for anyone, there's nothing to win and nothing to prove here. It's just like leaving my apartment door open at night and sitting there waiting for thieves to come in, so that I can protect myself from the intrusion. I could, but why would I do that? I can just lock the door and avoid the hassle.
Refusing to act responsibly
There's a popular slogan among women's rights activists, "Don't teach us how not to get raped, teach rapists not to rape." Gender bias aside, making the world a better place is a noble goal, and it makes perfect sense to target criminals rather than victims, in order to prevent crime. However, social justice and my personal safety are two separate concepts; I'm not doomed to be repeatedly raped until all crime is eradicated. I can advocate for change while taking steps to protect myself in the meantime. Refusing to exercise basic self-care doesn't make me a hero and doesn't help the cause any, just like refusing to use an umbrella doesn't eradicate rain. It only results in repeat victimization: I keep putting myself in unsafe situations, getting hurt, and growing more and more bitter with the imperfect world we live in, where crimes still happen. On the other hand, taking a more practical approach allows me to learn from the experience and lower my chances of getting hurt. It's not about blame, it's about constructive problem-solving.
Using sloppy terminology
A lot of people say "I'm depressed" without actually meaning clinical depression. Some use the term "rape" rather loosely as well, meaning anything from violent assault to catcalls. It confuses the issue, hurts other people, and impairs my mental health. I end up feeling constantly abused/raped, nobody takes me seriously, frustration builds up, and I turn into a hostile and deeply unhappy person who views everyone around as a rapist or rape enabler. If you're not a victim of kidnapping but feel as if you're being raped on daily basis - check your terminology. Rape means non-consensual sexual intercourse (vaginal, anal, or oral), so if someone catcalled at you, you can complain of sexual harassment - but you can't complain of rape because no rape took place. Using correct terms to describe the problem makes it a lot easier to get help and support that you need.
The world would be a much better place if there were no rapes, theft, murders, or other crimes. I shouldn't have to worry about my safety when I walk down the street at night, drink at a nightclub, or date someone new. It's unfair that some people choose to break the law. However, I'm not entirely at the mercy of their choices. I have the power to stop this rape revictimization scenario from repeating like a broken record, by taking charge and changing what I'm doing. Maybe one day rape will be eradicated worldwide, and this page will become obsolete. Until then I hope it helps you stay safe.
~ Mahatma Gandhi
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