Women’s Independent Press

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Surviving the Storm: A Call for Change

April 06, 2015 By: admin Category: Consumer Education

It’s been nearly two years since my rape. As I got ready that night, I remember the excitement as I anticipated spending the evening among great people, celebrating a friend’s birthday. She and I learned to salsa dance together, so I was equally excited that our plans included salsa dancing at a nearby restaurant that was hosting a Latin social. A group of us, including the birthday girl, carpooled into the city together, where a few more acquaintances joined us. It had all the makings of a great night.

I enjoyed every minute, dancing and laughing with my friends. Not only were we celebrating a birthday, it was also the last time all of us would be together. Knowing I was moving to a different state just a few days later made this night all the more special. Before I knew it, the DJ was announcing “last song.” As we got ready to leave, I started wrapping up the conversation I was having with an acquaintance from our dance socials. He asked if I would like to continue our conversation, offering a ride back to my car instead of carpooling with the others. I discussed it with my friends, excited about the invitation and wanting to get their blessing. They gave it, I hugged them goodbye, and my soon to be rapist held my hand as we walked to his car where he chivalrously opened my door. We listened to music and talked. Not ten minutes later, everything changed.

My breath escaped me and my stomach churned as he took an exit twenty minutes too early. The rain pelted the hood of the car as he took several quick turns and eventually pulled off next to a field and some trees. There was nothing and no one in sight. Before I had the chance to catch my breath, he stopped the car and climbed on top of me. When he kissed me, I asked him to stop and explained that he had the wrong idea. I wanted to believe that we just had different understandings of where the night was headed, and once he knew we weren’t on the same page, he’d reasonably drive me back to my car. It only took a moment, as his hands pulled at my pants, for me to realize that this was not simply a misunderstanding. For three hours, I begged him to stop. When forcefully saying “no” and attempting to physically halt his advances didn’t work, I tried to appeal to any compassion he might have. I let him into the most vulnerable part of my heart, sharing that I had made a personal decision long ago to wait to have sex until I was married. I knew he could hear the desperation in my voice. I knew he could feel my fear permeate through my pleas. There was no room for confusion in my demands to stop, and I kept hoping he would listen. I kept thinking that he would just realize it was a mistake, apologize, and take me to my car.

My words fell like the rain around me, and nothing made a difference. For three hours, he touched every part of me, with every part of him. All the while, pieces of me died inside. When it was over, he stepped outside, taking his clothes and my self-worth with him. I dressed as quickly as possible. After climbing back into the driver’s seat, he apologized for being so “brutal” and drove off in the direction we had come from. Paralyzed and numb, I stared out the window in disbelief, as he attempted small talk. I was completely hollow. It’s a feeling I will never forget.

It was nearly 6:00 am when I finally clambered behind the wheel of my vehicle. I made the hour trek home on auto pilot.

This is my story of survival. Although it’s uniquely my own, I believe the general themes of my experience run rampant amidst sexual assault survivors. We’d like to think that rapists only come out at night in dark alleys, and while indeed they do, far more often they are a friend, a family member, or an acquaintance. More than a couple of people I’ve shared my story with have asked, “Well, what did you think would happen?” My response, once I’ve taken a deep breath to calm my anxious heart, is always the same: “I thought he’d drive me home, maybe kiss me goodnight. It never crossed my mind that I should think he was probably going to rape me.” While misplaced and remarkably insensitive, I think their question illuminates that there is still a great deal of work to be done to change the way we think about these crimes. We have to stop wondering what the victim could have done differently, and start asking what we can do differently as a society to minimize rapists’ propensity to act.

Ultimately, I think it’s just easier to blame the victim. While most of the reactions I have received in response to my assault have been encouraging and supportive, I have also had family and friends inadvertently respond by blaming something I did or did not do. As hurtful as their replies were, I was admittedly beating myself up with the same questions. “What could I have done differently?” “Why didn’t I…?” I began to wonder at the logic behind this reasoning. Where were these questions of blame originating?

I’ve come to this conclusion: we like to feel that we are safe; that evil lives in a far away land. When our world is penetrated by a darkness, such as sexual assault, we want to believe that there is a reason it happened. We want to believe that the victims must have done something to bring it about. Because if it was the victim’s fault, then we can quickly take the whole terrible ordeal and box it up. We can simply avoid whatever culprit we’ve chosen, rather than face the pain, the questions, and the unsettling reality that sometimes bad things just happen. Undeserved. Unprovoked. Unwanted. They just happen. Sometimes, people choose evil over good. Once we’re ready to admit this, to sit in the discontentment of all our unanswerable questions and to place the blame where it belongs - with the one who chose to commit the heinous act – then, and only then, can family and friends accompany victims through the aftermath. Then and only then, can we as victims begin our journey to wholeness.

I could not have known that night, as I laughed and danced with my friends, that I was experiencing the final carefree moments of the life I once knew. In only a few hours, my world would be irrevocably changed. That rainy evening destroyed the woman I knew so well as “myself.” The Danielle my family loved, the one my friends knew, the one I felt safe and comfortable being, was shattered, without my consent, sending me on a painful journey to build someone new out of the nothingness. I never asked for this. I didn’t want this. I know I didn’t deserve this. My assailant, alone, is responsible. He is responsible for his choices, his actions, and my pain. He chose to drive to a deserted location and he chose to persist after I asked, then begged, him to stop. He chose to strip me of my clothing, my vulnerability, and my dignity.

What I thought was an innocent, well-intended gesture to drive me to my car to get to know me better, left me broken, with not even me knowing who I was. He had every reason and every opportunity to make a different choice. It’s time to place blame where blame belongs. We need to look at the source of the problem, rather than those impacted by it, to finally examine the epidemic itself: how it’s spreading, why it’s spreading, the root of the infection. Let’s start asking “Why do rapists rape?” instead of “Why do victims get victimized?” Instead of asking, “What were you wearing?” Or “Why did you accept a ride?”, or any other query that insinuates the victim could have somehow prevented the assault, let’s ask why our culture accepts those questions as reasonable in the first place. We have to stop ostracizing those affected by this painful crime and begin working to cure the epidemic itself.

-Danielle Castellucci hopes to bring light from this darkness. Subsequently, she is working toward her graduate degree in Forensic Psychology and volunteers locally as a victim advocate. You can find more on her personal journey to healing and venture through the legal system on her blog: www.diaryofasojourn.com

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