“Rape is an ugly word. I find it troublesome to read the word rape, not because I have experienced it, but because it is a harsh word, it has an appalling connotation. Can’t you use sexual assault instead? I think it would appease more readers.”
A reader sent me these words in an email. I read them over again in my head probably twenty times before I worked on a reply. But as I wrote my response, I wondered why she felt so strongly about a word that apparently had never affected her. Consequently, as my reply flowed from my fingers, I noticed my tone becoming one of anger, my passion concerning the topic of rape turning into hostility towards her.
I slowed my fingers down, stopped typing furiously and did my best to discern her strong feelings on what to me is a paramount word in my life. Not just some letters placed together, not only a noun, adjective, or verb, but a volcanic term erupting with emotions.
My mind wandered off to a place I despise going, to the memories of this appalling word, a word where describes a moment I lived through, rape.
I was raped, and sure I could describe it by saying, I was sexually assaulted, but here is why I don’t.
It took me five years to tell anyone I was raped. For five years I pushed every shameful thought I had deep inside myself. I blamed myself every day, every minute. From thirteen years old until I was eighteen years old, I believed I deserved to be raped. That it was my fault for walking to his house, for believing he thought I was cute, and that he wouldn’t hurt me.
DESERVED, let that resonate with you for a minute. I considered whole-heartedly everything about my rape was my fault.
At eighteen I continued to believe it was my fault, that is, until the man who raped me showed up in my life again. Over the years I wondered where he was, or if I would ever run into him. It’s debilitating to look continually over your shoulder, to live in fear. But there he stood one day, directly in front of me, and every hair on my body stood at full attention. It felt as though my heart had stopped. My stomach fell so hard; I vomited minutes after he walked away.
Without going into all the details. He stalked me for some time after seeing me that day, turning my life into a living hell.
It wasn’t until I came home from work one day, to my tiny apartment in the city, in which my nightmare would soon come to an end. As I stepped out of my Jeep and placed my bag on the dark street, I felt a blow to my head. Four or five severe kicks to the rib cage and then darkness. I woke to blue and red flashing lights, the taste of blood in my mouth and a police officer standing above me. He had been caught, assaulting me. Not raping me, but beating me up, striking me.
Immediately he was charged by the police, and I would become a witness to my personal assault. Eventually subpoenaed and asked to give a victim impact statement.
But first, I was brought into the police station, to give my declaration. It wasn’t until I sat directly in front of the woman police officer who placed her hand on mine and softly stated, “We won’t let him hurt you again, talk to me, we are trying to protect you,” that I began to recognize I didn’t deserve any of this.
My story, I puked it on her lap. Every shameful grotesque, appalling word of it. I told her he had raped me six years ago and that I thought he was trying to scare me into keeping my mouth shut. If he had only known, I was too ashamed to have ever opened it, before this.
But what mattered, is I finally said the words; I said rape.
Giving my victim impact statement had to be one of the most cleansing moments in my life. It is a grueling process in which police first question you. The police do not use words like rape, or sexual assault; they cannot. ‘Innocent until proven guilty.’ Instead, they ask you cold, clinical questions, i.e., “Was there digital penetration?” “Was there anal or oral contact?” “Was there vaginal contact, and/or penetration?” You get the point.
When I sat through the questioning process, I found it hard to believe anyone could ask such intense, yet cold questions, and with what seemed like no compassion. I now understand it is their job, and one they carefully have to master as to give the victim the best results when proceeding to charge their assailant.
Throughout these moments, the charges, the court dates, the appeals, his sentencing and my final meeting with my assailant at his parole hearing, not one time was the word rape used. Here is why:
Definition of Sexual Assault in Canada’s Criminal Code
Canada’s Criminal Code has no specific “rape” provision. Instead, it defines assault and provides for a specific punishment for “sexual assault”. In defining “assault”, the Code includes physical contact and threats. The provision reads:
265. (1) A person commits an assault when
(a) without the consent of another person, he applies force intentionally to that other person, directly or indirectly;
(b) he attempts or threatens, by an act or a gesture, to apply force to another person, if he has, or causes that other person to believe on reasonable grounds that he has, present ability to effect his purpose; or
(c) while openly wearing or carrying a weapon or an imitation thereof, he accosts or impedes another person or begs.
(2) This section applies to all forms of assault, including sexual assault, sexual assault with a weapon, threats to a third party or causing bodily harm and aggravated sexual assault.
It took me five years to say the word rape, six years to have the courage to speak my truth while standing before the man who raped me and when it all came to a head, I wasn’t allowed to use the word. Because in Canada, it isn’t called rape.
Yet, I relate to the word rape more so than sexual assault. I relate to it because so many women are too ashamed to come forward, to say that they have been raped. And simply saying sexual assault doesn’t leave the same taste in your mouth. Too many women are afraid to use a word which is minimized daily by #RapeCulture.
I am no longer afraid, nor ashamed.
So, Dear Reader, you are right, RAPE is an unpleasant word. It bites at you; you can feel it gut you when a woman says she’s been raped. It stirs emotion in you. It holds an ugly connotation, one that took me years to finally realize I didn’t deserve. Because my rape wasn’t my fault. So I hope you understand that I will continue to use this word, and I will continue to speak out about RAPE. Because no one warrants years of believing, they deserved to be raped. No one.
So let’s try to change this, let’s stop saying rape is an ugly word. For I am not repulsive because I was raped.