Upon reading After Silence: Rape and my Journey Back by Nancy Venable Raine, I have come to a great many conclusions regarding my own experiences and opinions of the act. Like her, I had fallen prey to many of the rape myths that has pervaded culture and the media - for example, that women are often 'asking for it,' that they secretly want to be raped, and that they should expect it if they are dressed provocatively. Writing this book seven years after the event is evidence of tremendous forethought, research and reflection on her experiences. Given enough time to properly process such a traumatic event, it is clear that she meant to exorcise certain demons through this book, and educate people on what it is like to be raped.
I find a great deal of strength in Nancy's recovery from rape, and also a lot of understandable vulnerability. That kind of flagrant dehumanizing of an individual, man or woman, is traumatic, and to assault someone in so intimate a way can shake the victim to their core. Post-trauma, Nancy falls into a pattern of blaming herself - since she thought that no undeserving woman got raped, she felt as though there was something that she did to warrant what happened to her. She was raped, therefore something was wrong with her. This affected me deeply; I completely understood the feeling of being 'not good enough,' or feeling like I deserved what was coming, even when it was just bad luck or a simple mistake. Of course, none of these mistakes are so damaging as a sexual assault, but the feeling of blaming oneself for something someone else did is very familiar to a lot of people, including myself.
I found myself incredibly touched by the support of Nancy's friends and family; from her friend Victoria to her later-husband, Steve. They seemed to provide a safe place, and an educational resource for Nancy; Victoria showed her that being raped is not dictated by how 'good' you are, and Steve shows that even after a rape, a woman can still be desired and loved. At the same time, I was alarmed and impressed by the treatment of Nancy by medical staff after her rape, and by Francine Shapiro and other mental health professionals. The fact that even the post-rape examination felt like an invasion helped conjure up images of being outside of one's body, of the physical body not belonging to you. It was a very shocking, and at times very relatable, feeling to convey to the reader.
The EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) treatments that Nancy undergoes helps her discover many different aspects of how the rape affected her. The feelings of helplessness and vulnerability continued to haunt Nancy, and I imagined myself in the same situation. I simply would not know how I would live with such a deeply enforced fear of the outside world. Nancy herself begins to describe even going outside to take out the trash as a huge risk; "I lived with sudden fear the way others live with cancer. The fear was always there, in warrens just below the surface of my skin, waiting" (Raine, Preface).
Nancy's husband Steve is a powerful supportive force for her in this time. After Nancy is raped, Steve remains by her side, despite her own self-loathing. "Life seemed to me then to be desirable simply because it had gone on. It had carried me to this moment, and I felt Steve was there with me" (Raine, Ch. 10). Meeting after the rape, Steve is Nancy's first real test, in a way - her trial by fire to see if she can handle another man in her life after what happened to her.
Steve's unending patience and willingness to be there for Nancy is his greatest strength, and hers. His stability and steadfast loyalty to her - he provides her with a rock, a means to trust again. This is absolutely important, as not only has her faith in men been shattered by her attack, her faith in herself has as well. With Steve, not only does she see that men can be trustworthy, but she must be worthy of affection too, given how much he cares for her.
Nancy's friend Victoria played an incredibly important part in her journey back from rape - having become friends previously, Victoria's opening up about her own rape allowed Nancy to gain a much needed perspective on the idea of rape. Before this, Nancy just thought rape happened because people were asking for it, or because they secretly wanted it. Hearing about Victoria's harrowing experience helped her humanize the subject of rape, and help Nancy understand exactly what goes through the minds of those who are raped.
The overall importance of Victoria's perspective on rape was to show Nancy that, indeed, even respectable, modest women who are not stereotypical 'rape bait' can have it happen to them as well. After the rape, she maintains contact with Victoria, who coaches her through the trauma at times, especially the first anniversary. "'It always comes back,' she said" (Raine, Ch. 9). Instead of trying to force herself to feel better, Victoria allowed Nancy to experience her own feelings of fear and loathing, knowing that they had to be faced in order to be conquered.
Rape culture is somewhat taboo in modern society; the subject of rape is something simply not talked about. It is a traumatic situation to think about, and more than that, it tends to place blame on the victim. While there is typically always the thought of placing blame on the rapist, many minds wonder whether or not the victim could have done something to avoid it. Whether it is not going out at night, not dressing provocatively, or not inciting situations, these are thoughts that many people have, especially if they have never consciously talked to someone who has been raped before. "If the rapist is not a knife-wielding stranger, but a boyfriend, neighbor, or coworker, the law, Estrich writes, still 'binds us to the past,' where the victim is implicated in the crime" (Raine, Ch, 13). No one walks to talk about rape, because it is an uncomfortable subject, as well as a controversial one. They also do not want to feel responsible for potentially 'taking care' of her, or shouldering her emotional baggage. They may also think that a rape victim is 'damaged goods,' someone who is unable to function or have healthy relationships again.
There are many things that could potentially be done to repair these sorts of ingrained societal issues. First of all, greater education and openness must be performed at the individual and societal level to bring awareness to rape. Cultural ideas of rape and the rape myth must be challenged, so that people can understand that anyone can be raped, regardless of social status, behavior or age. More stories like Nancy's must be brought to the forefront and forced into the national conversation; this way, more effort can be placed on providing resources to stop rapes from happening and to help rape victims recover. Cultural expectations of rape victims not being able to love should also be challenged; a greater sense of tolerance and understanding regarding events that happened in the past would help foster healthy relationships, and also bring about further healing in the victim.
Further exposure and education on EMDR should be made available to rape victims; it seemed to help Nancy's recovery immensely, and therefore it should be considered as a viable option for post-rape therapy treatment. By getting to the bottom of what essential issues or traumas that the rape creates in a person, they can be more equipped to seek help for them and, eventually, overcome them.
D. Reflecting on the Raine book and your future, discuss at least two things that you learned about rape and the recovery process that you can use in the future. Explain how you will use this information.
I learned two very important things about rape and the recovery process, which I will take from this reading and this course and apply to my own life. First, I learned just how psychologically damaging rape can be to an individual, and how that can affect recovery. The most affected aspect of a personality after a rape, in terms of Raines' story at least, is the sense of safety one feels in society. After the rape, Nancy was too afraid to do anything, or to open up about what happened to her. Because of something that was out of her control, she felt powerless, and did not feel the strength to continue as a worthy, respectable part of society. She also felt that others would look down on her, or that it was her fault that she was raped, thereby ruining her chances of a future, both romantically and socially.
I also learned that breaking silence is an important part of recovery. For years, Nancy felt stigmatized, that she was alone in her grief and her struggle. However, upon recognizing that others had gone through the same thing, she realized that it would do her no good to stay silent. By writing this book, she could help others as well as provide herself with a catharsis; I very much respected that level of courage in her.
These ideas shook me to the core, as it filled me with a sort of fear that made me feel it could happen to be too. The truth is, it could; however, reading Nancy's story, and learning a bit from Victoria, I was able to understand that, even though these things could happen to me, I could not allow these possibilities to rule my every waking second. Instead, I would be sure to use every single moment I am alive, safe, and motivated to enjoy my life and make the most of it. This is something that Nancy gradually relearned over her long, hard journey, and decided to teach to whomever read her book.
Raine, N. V. (2010). After silence; rape and my journey back. Crown Publishing Group.