Our society has a tendency to quantify pain. As a result, we end up in these futile discussions about how my pain is worse than your pain, or why what happened to you is far worse than what happened to me. As a survivor of rape, I am all too familiar that the "default position" for many victims of rape is to say to yourself, "It wasn't that bad. I can get through it on my own." When it comes right down to it, this is just the brain's way of coping with a violent, traumatic act of violation. Can't we all simply agree that no one's pain is worse than anyone else's. Rape is just that -- it's rape, and it's unconscionable.
The Twitter hashtag campaign #BeenRapedNeverReported has become a global phenomenon. It's allowing people to come forward and say, "This happened to me too." For many people, it's their first tentative act of disclosing the trauma they survived.
As I write this, I feel guilty in some weird way for entering into this debate that has been eye-opening for so many people, as it sheds light on how many female victims of sexual assault are among us. As a man, and as a survivor of rape myself, I worry that adding my voice to this might in some way usurp or direct the conversation away from highlighting the abuse of women in our society. But part of me thinks that this shouldn't be a debate about men or women, but rather, it should be about creating a culture in which stepping forward and disclosing sexual assault becomes a much more supportive and empowering experience.
I am also aware that I have benefited from a lot of resources that many victims of rape don't have at their disposal. I have been in a loving and supportive long-term relationship; one in which my wife has been able to hold the pieces together for me when my life was falling apart as a direct result of the ramifications of sexual assault. I have battled issues with drug and alcohol addiction for years. My mental health was so tenuous at times that suicide became a stark reality. I stand here today feeling empowered -- feeling that the sexual assault, which has indeed shaped me, does not define me. I am also aware that I live in a privileged society; one in which this type of public disclosure, although never easy, is still possible. There are many victims of sexual assault who live in societies in which a disclosure can mean certain death, forced exile, or a devastatingly isolated fractured life. There are those too, who live in societies in which a sexual assault often entails exposure to deadly sexually transmitted disease.
The real question here is now that we are having this discussion -- now that many survivors of rape and sexual assault are coming forward with their stories, what are we going to do with it, and more importantly, what the hell are we going to do about it?
I pray that if anything comes from this #BeenRapedNeverReported campaign, this global discussion, the one thing that I'd like to see materialize is that we, as a community, embrace each individual who has the courage to come forward with her or his disclosure. These people, these survivors, need to be received as our heroes. For every individual who has the strength and the faith to publicly open up about what has happened -- this one individual can be the beacon to pull two, three, four...hundreds of other people out of their darkness. If we really want to live in a society free of sexual violence, we need to create an environment in which survivors of sexual assault feel empowered, liberated, supported, and encouraged to let go of feelings of shame that are not of their volition. This is what I pray for. This is what needs to come of this discussion.
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