13 Reasons – What’s Worse Than Being Raped

by, Renee wood

Introduction

             Watching the last two episodes of 13 Reasons, I knew I probably should write this blog and share my story to help others with DD, and those close to them, to get through the tragedy of being raped, but I hesitate out of fear people will see me differently – the same fear that kept me quiet in the first place.  I had to go through mental gymnastics in the past six weeks of telling myself that I am in a good place in my life now, I am respected and am believed, but still this nagging fear of some “do-gooder” coming in and trying to “protect” me was/is a bigger fear than the small chance of being raped again.

Also, in the past month, while deciding to write this, besides reliving the trauma, I had to process how much details of the incidents (yes, more than one) to describe, and from my point of view, why it happened, and how I chose to deal with it (which some may disagree with, but that’s just who I am).  Through that process, I’ve decided what I mostly wanted to convey to professionals, parents/guardians, friends, first responders, etc. is what NOT to do, as well as what to do when it’s been disclosed that someone with DD has been sexually assaulted. I decided to include enough details of the incidents so that the reader can understand my helplessness to stop the situation from occurring, and the physical trauma that occurred on one occasion and how the hospital chose not to deal with it.

My Story of Being Raped

To start, it’s important to realize, or maybe for myself to point out, that the 3 incidents happened between when I was 27 & 33 years old.  I moved out of my parent’s house at 19, just before my 20th birthday.  Between 19 & 25 I had zero paid help from Medicaid coming in, my house was somewhat messy, but I did dishes once a week – I don’t think anyone would say it was filthy, but I could have used some help because it was quite difficult doing laundry, vacuuming, mopping floors, scrubbing bathroom – I did it but it took time and too much energy and didn’t do it as often as probably a non-disabled person would have, but it was done.  At age 26 Medicaid gave me 19 hours a month of Homemaker services which really helped ease the burden of housework that was becoming more taxing.  So why am I mentioning this?  For those parents/guardians and professionals who may wrongly think, “If Renee had someone coming in on a regular basis this wouldn’t have happened”.  Nope, obviously that didn’t have nothing to do with it, since nothing happened til I had someone come in.  Having someone coming in, of course, had nothing to do with it either – it just happened.

In full disclosure, after I moved from my parents I had a very active social life and a steady boyfriend whom I loved to the moon and back!  We broke-up when I was 22, and like any first intimate relationship that goes south, I was devastated.  Of course ones hormones don’t quit at that age (although I often wished they would) and it wasn’t too long and I found a new love.  I was always true to the person I was with, but once they dumped me, rejected me or moved on, whatever you call it – I was back on the dating scene.  Looking back, I never thought of myself as “attractive to men”, but now I know I was.  They also liked that I wasn’t a push over, I said what I meant, and I meant what I said, and for some reason guys liked that.  Oh, and ok, I was a big flirt too!  I gave lessons to my non-disabled girlfriends on how to affectively flirt, because they would marvel and say, “How did you get that guy across the room to come sit and talk with you without saying a word”?  I said, “Use your eyes”!  My point is I was not ignorant about sex and what it meant to be a willing participant.

It’s also important for me to let the reader know that I always was very careful, I guess I got that from my mom who preached to us incessantly about all the bad things that could go wrong.  I never left a bar alone with a stranger, never gave my address to a stranger in the bar, phone number on occasion, but never my address.  I remember going out one night with my best friend and we had been flirting with these guys all night, it was 2 am, and time to go, and my girlfriend says, “They offered us a ride home, let’s go“, (truthfully, they gave me the creeps).  I told her that I was calling a cab just as we planned, and wasn’t getting in a car with a creep we don’t know!  We were 2 blocks from our apartment, but I still wasn’t getting in a car with strangers and both of us, women with disabilities – nope, not gonna happen!  I called a cab and went home.  I point to this one example, but this is the cautious Nelly I always was, loved to have a good time, but never caught off guard with strangers.

Unfortunately, many times it’s not the strangers you have to watch out for, but those whom you gave a piece of your heart and soul to in the past.  Those whom you trusted and became part of the fabric of your life, whom you shared your hopes, dreams and secrets with.  It’s hard to know where to put past loves (true relationships) in your life when things have moved on for both of you, it’s years later, you’re over it, whether it’s the pain of the break-up, or just mutually outgrowing one another, or whatever, so your lives have moved on, but you still remember that you were once something to one another.  If the relationship has been over long enough I have no problem being “friends” – I hate calling it “friends” because you were family to one another at one time – but there is no word in the English language to put a person who is a past love – true love, but who has taken a different role years after the relationship ends.

I guess that’s where it began with 2 of the 3 times.  The first guy was just an egotistical, moron, jerk, who I never really loved (he was a neighbor), who just thought when I said, “No, I really don’t want to do this with you anymore“, it meant, “Pick me up and carry me to the bedroom and have your way” as I am kicking and crying saying “No, why are you doing this”?  After, he just gets up and walks out leaving me sobbing.  Well actually, now that I think about it, the other two guys who raped me, walked out leaving me crying too – I guess sobbing after being raped is a real turn off.  With the guy I didn’t really love though, it was more of a “stupid you” feeling towards myself, rather than a betrayal of trust feeling with the other 2 guys.

Sometimes it’s hard to distinguish the rapes from one another because although the guys were all different, and our relationships were very different, the pattern of how it took place was similar, in that, I clearly said “no” more than once, I cried, pushed them away the best I could to let them know I was not participating, and when I realized it was going to happen no matter what, had to submit, which was the hardest thing to give-up the fight because it feels like you’re giving permission.  Of course, you’re not, but you’re submitting because there’s just nothing left to fight with, and you just want it over.

The time my friend took me to the hospital because I was hurt and had gotten an infection – I disclosed to her what happened and I was honest with the hospital staff about what happened.  Although my friend was very supportive and would have helped me through whatever I wanted to do, the attitude of the hospital staff was that of “I was a problem”, whether they intended it that way or not, I, having a significant disability, was causing them a problem that they probably never dealt with before.  One picks up subtle attitudes (whether spoken or unspoken) such as, “Who was watching her”, “Who let this occur” etc.  They’re looking for someone to blame (besides the obvious perpetrator), and someone to talk with (besides me, the obvious victim).  I could tell this was going south fast.  If the hospital staff had this mindset, I know police are 10 times worse!  Police know nothing about people with disabilities rights to live independently in the community, and/or they don’t give a rats butt about “rights”, they just don’t want to see it again and will say “I shouldn’t be on my own because it’s dangerous”.  I couldn’t deal with facing this reality, so I said to the hospital staff, “Forget it!  Give me the antibiotic I’m leaving now”!

First thing NOT to do: Do not treat disabled victims as children.  Use the same protocols for adult rape victims whether disabled or not.  If one has an intellectual disability, the “interview process” might have to be on their level, but they are the victim and should not suffer any consequence (other than what they are already suffering) from being victimized.  Telling their story in their words starts the healing process from victim to survivor.

Why I Didn’t Tell Or Didn’t Pursue Legal Action

People with disabilities know all too well, their community, especially the Developmental Disabilities Community, lives under the culture of paternalism and protectionism.   This means anything that happens to us that causes a hospital visit, the law or both, is given heighten scrutiny and we are coerced, cajoled, coaxed, persuaded, or forced into a more protective environment.  No matter what we say, we will not win, and our life as we know it will change forever.  Our lives have already been altered emotionally, psychologically and possibly physically forever by the assault, now the system wants to take away what little freedom and independence we have left because of what was done to us?! I would call that a trauma on top of what we have already suffered.

A disabled person with any cognitive ability, will have foresight into what will happen to them if they tell of the rape.  This may be hard for parents, professionals and first responders to understand, but the fear of the likely possibility of losing one’s home, freedom to associate with whomever, to use your own judgment, and to go about by yourself freely in the community, is a  greater assault than the remote possibilities of being raped again. THIS IS WHY WE DON’T TELL!  Our loss of freedom will be greater than our perpetrators in many cases.  The rape is a moment in time (with possible lifetime trauma), whereas, having one’s home changed (assuming the perpetrator lives elsewhere), given more restrictions by way of supports and being told what you should do to avoid this in the future, is being raped every day for the rest of one’s life!

 

Second thing NOT to do: Do not change anything about the person’s living situation (assuming the perpetrator lives elsewhere), don’t change supports (unless this request is initiated by the individual without undue pressure), and/or don’t change their freedom to move about the community as previously.  This empowers the person to know everyone understands and believes that it was not their fault and that they did nothing wrong to deserve this.  This empowers the person to take control of their recovery and to feel safe with themselves.  It also gives them the freedom to reflect in themselves, if they want to change something or not, without rapid-fire-input from parents and professionals on what changes should be made, which only causes the feeling of re-victimization and additional trauma.

How I Dealt With It and Regrets

I’ll start with regrets – the guy who I had to go to the hospital because of, I learned went to jail for 6 years for sexually molesting 2 young (well under age) girls in his family.  That still haunts me ‘til this day.  If I would have been brave enough to tell the police that night what happened to me, and follow through, maybe that would not have happened to those girls.  One cannot predict what might have been if they did something differently.  It’s just as possible, since I was his past girlfriend, that he would have convinced the court that I did want it that night and now am changing my mind because of some kind of religious frenzy.  Besides the possibility of it killing me from the court not believing me, it’s quite possible that the courts, thinking I was endangering myself, would have called the county board which would have change my life forever and there’s no guarantee that that wouldn’t have happened to those 2 girls anyway!  I’ve learned you make the best decision you can with the information you have at that moment and then you have to live with it.

Since my mid-20’s I’ve been a religious person – I may not where it on my sleeve, but I pray about everything – where does God want me now? What does God want me to do about this?  Even now, when I am in important meetings with important people, where I know I have to say something that might not go over well, it’s like “God, give me the right words that will not tragically offend anyone but will get my point across”?  So one way I handled the rapes is seeking God’s solace, especially when one can’t share with friends and family because they would just totally flip-out!  In the face of tragedy that’s just not who I am, and it’s not helpful seeing others flip-out when you’re just trying to make sense of it.  When I speak of “making sense of it”, I’m not talking about the “indefensible”, but processing the tragedy.

Priests have always been better counselors for me than secular counselors.  Secular counselors seemed to want to “fix” things, when all I really want to understand is; how this fits into the bigger picture of life?  I already understand that I live in a world where people do bad things to one another, but for the most part people are good.  I choose to love and trust anyway, even though I know that comes with huge risks and I might – probably will – get hurt sometimes.  You know, it’s not like every guy I ever let in my apartment raped me.  I had many guy friends who came over, played music, watched movies or cooked.  Occasionally they wanted something more and, if I didn’t want to go there, I would say “No” and they listened to me – nothing happened.  And it’s not like I let strange men in my house who took advantage of me.  In fact, I didn’t open my door to strangers ever because that’s a risk I wasn’t willing to take.  So upon much reflection, I came to the conclusion, if I change myself from a trusting and caring person with those who have given me no reason not to trust them, then the rapists truly raped my soul and destroyed it, rather than just using my body without consent.  My body will eventually die and rot in the ground anyway, that’s not meant to minimize what they did, but if I would have let it destroy my soul, and change who I am as a person, then that would have been the true tragedy!

Healing

One way I chose to heal, and understand this will be controversial, but remember, I am a spiritual person and take a different approach than most, especially since when one is disabled, you are alone and have to handle things without support, for fear of losing your freedom by those who should support you.  I distinctly remember the image of Pope John Paul II sitting in the jail cell with the guy who shot him.  Most people would say he was brave, but I think part of healing from something intentionally done to you by another, is trying to see from they’re point of view.  Doesn’t mean they were right in what they did, but for both humans to move on, especially someone you knew and respected, a conversation should happen.  Forgiveness is easy, understanding another’s point of view is difficult.

Yep, I called each one and told them, in no uncertain terms, they raped me!  Those conversations were – no word for it – but these guys I accused were each shocked, surprised, unnerved, disappointed that I would view what happened between us in that way.  The closest I got to an initial confession was, Him, “I just thought once we made love you would snap out of it – and remember – and give up this religious stuff”.  I said “Did that happen” {giving up religious stuff and realizing I really did want sex}?  Him, “No”.  Me; “Well, if I’m crying and you admit your ‘experiment’ didn’t work – how’s that not raping me”?  Him, “It wasn’t my intention”.  Oddly enough, in each of their separate stories they thought they were doing me a “favor” or being “good” for me.

Why they just didn’t hang-up on me I don’t know, but I surmise that they really didn’t see it as “rape” and valued our relationship (although I had no value in our relationship after, but they didn’t know that because they didn’t initially know that I believed they raped me until I accused them). Also they were probably so hurt, curious or whatever, that they stayed on the phone because they just wanted to know why I would say that.  Eventually I got them each to admit, my fighting them was lack of consent, and my crying was having to give-up and submit.  Two out of three said they now realize it was rape, but didn’t initially.  The hold out admitted to the above, but wouldn’t say it was rape – but I know it was and that’s all that counts.

This helped me heal knowing that they didn’t seek to hurt me.  Should they have known I was refusing and that constitutes rape?  YES!  But understanding one’s intent (although wrong), helps make them human and not pure evil.  It’s also helped me heal in putting power in my hands to get the confession from them.  God was in control, but next was me.  To hear “I’m sorry” uncoerced by threats of jail, which I let each know upfront that that was not what this was about, would have never happened without honest conversation.  I doubt if law enforcement, counselors, county board people or family would have gotten involved, that I would have healed or took back my power, as I have.

For me, it also reinforced the fact that biologically, hormonally and socially, the male responds differently to sex and relationships than females.  This means what you talk about after a relationship ends, should be scrutinized as to not create the male to think a female needs him in some unintended way because he then thinks his “wand” can fix everything of course.  I am very careful when I discuss things with men from previous relationships, in making them think I’m unhappy when I am just venting – men don’t understand venting.

Third thing NOT to do:  Don’t prescribe a set method for healing.  People have different ways of healing and dealing with issues.  Traditional rape counselors may not work.  This is because often times counselors carry the ablest stereotypes of people with significant disabilities, therefore are so dumbfounded by “how something like this could happen to someone like that [disabled person}”.  Many of these secular counselors when dealing with a person with a significant disability, lose their objectivity and perspective, and start treating the person as an eternal victim, rather than helping them work through their feelings.  Or worse, in a well-meaning way (and because they don’t know any better), the counselor tries to convince the person it is not safe for them to be by themselves.  Once again, re-victimizing the disabled person by essentially saying “They did something to cause this”.  It’s like telling the victim with a disability that they are either too stupid, or too weak to protect themselves.  When beautiful women get raped, society doesn’t say, “It’s not safe for them to live on their own and walk unchaperoned in the community because their bodies attract predators”.  That would be just stupid, and it would be blaming the victim for their body type.

People heal from sexual assault at different rates, so if the person has talked for weeks about it and one thinks they’re obsessing over it, sometimes it takes time to process, feel safe with yourself and others, and get to the place where they can move on with their life.  Remember they were just robbed of the control of consent for sex, so they need to lead and control their healing process.

Conclusion

Most people with disabilities will never disclose that they were raped as long as there’s an extreme threat by loved ones, and a system that’s supposed to support them, of robbing them of their freedom.  This is blaming the victim, it is re-victimization and it is more devastating than the initial rape.  It also assumes the disabled person who has been raped is safer in a “protected environment” such as an institution or group home, but they are just as likely, if not more so, to be, not only sexually victimized by other residents, but emotionally victimized by staff.  So what people hope to prevent, doesn’t, and may indeed make it worse.

To heal from the trauma of being raped, people with disabilities need to be believed and empowered to take their control back.  Being raped is usurping consent and making one feel powerless.  One has to be empowered to lead in their healing process and control their future destiny.  Until this happens we will not share our stories of rape, and handle tragedy the best we can.

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