- Posted September 5, 2012 by
This iReport is part of an assignment:
Surviving sexual assault: Your testimonies
Every Voice Counts. Every Story Matters.
On several occasions these past few weeks, my husband has stopped in the middle of one of my rants to say, "Todd Akin's comments aren't personal. They're political.", to which I can only reply, "It feels personal... very personal."
I was sexually assaulted by my first husband over a two and a half year period. I will never forget the pain of having someone I loved so much use my body for his own sexual gratification, with absolutely no regard for who I am as a human being. I will never forget what it felt like to look him in the eye as he told me I deserved it because it was all I was good for. I stayed as long as I did because I believed him. After all, I had trusted him with my entire life and future when I said "I do" and rape within marriage wasn't something I had even considered a possibility. I wasn't sure I was even allowed to call it by name.
Ironically, this happened 20 years ago, around the same time Mr. Akin was pondering the idea of marital rape, wondering if women would use it "in a real messy divorce as a tool and a legal weapon to beat up on the husband." As my ex-husband was destroying my soul, I struggled to find the courage to leave. "Is it ok to leave? Is this really all I am worth? Is this my fault?", I asked myself over and over again. At the same time, Mr. Akin was voicing his disapproval of the anti-marital rape law, and asking himself if supporting the law was worth the risk. In the end, he did choose to support the law, but after his recent comments, I can't say with total confidence that I believe he truly understands what rape is, how it happens, or how intensely it affects the rest of a survivor's life.
It is not Todd Akin's comments alone that are disturbing, and I don't see this as a Republican / Democratic issue. It is a societal issue. I am angered by the fact that only 3% of rapists will spend a day in jail (Rainn.org). I am irritated by rape jokes and sexually explicit materials that flood society. I am frustrated that my abuser and I share common Facebook friends, a constant reminder that what he did to me doesn't matter to them. I am furious that he has refused to admit to anything more than "borderline" rape.
Words are important. "Borderline", "legitimate", "forcible" and "real" are all words that belittle our experiences, sending the message that although rape is a horrible crime, it is not what each of us, individually, has experienced. We should "get over" our experience and leave the "real" healing to those who have suffered "real" rape. Although what happened to me is against the law today, I can't say it would be seen as any more "legitimate", "real" or "forcible" than it was back then. Regardless, I cannot accept another's definition of my experience. They are my words to define, not yours. I am intelligent enough to know the difference between having consensual sex and being raped. I was raped. The pain and emotional scars are real and legitimate even if you can't see them. I will not sit down and stop talking about this just because you are tired of hearing about it.
I am proud and honored to be a sexual assault advocate in Todd Akin's home state of Missouri. I speak out for and provide emotional support to victims of sexual assault in the ER. I am grateful for the opportunity to comfort a stranger who is frightened and alone... lighting the path toward counseling and support for the next step on her journey. I have learned so much as an advocate. Each woman I sit with is infinitely important to me. Every story is different and every story matters. My story is not less important than yours and yours is not less important than mine. Rape is an attack on your soul, on who you are as a woman. I can no longer pretend it didn't matter because doing so implies that it is ok to treat my body and soul with disrespect. I can only heal by speaking the truth. The truth is, I was raped. It was not my fault. It mattered. I matter. I deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. I am worth more. I am beautiful. I am brave. I am courageous. I am stronger than I ever dreamed possible.