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REVELATIONS - December 2017
by Julia Laughlin
I WAS RAPED.
Those are the hardest words I’ve ever had to say. It’s only three words but the enormity of their weight kept me at the bottom of an abyss like an anchor at the bottom of the sea.
They were difficult when I said them to the emergency room clerk right after it happened. Over thirty years later they weren’t any easier. But I had to speak those words out loud, to form my mouth around each word. Because saying them meant I had to accept the truth of those words. And accompanying those three syllables was crushing shame that it happened to me. And like a pile up came the next wreck—it was my fault.
I willingly went with him to the desert. Even after I didn’t trust him. Even after he had once warned me to get away from him, threatening to shred me like the cabinet he smashed his fist into if I didn’t leave him. And most damning of all—it was my body. Aren’t I in control of what I do with my body? Didn’t I give my consent since we once had sex? Since we had been in a relationship?
Those questions were running through my head in the days after the attack. My stomach dropped when the prosecutor told me that was what the jury would ask.
Ever since it happened, I punished myself for “asking” him to rape me. Though he released me physically, he still held me in his control, as I continued to do his work of destroying myself for him. My tongue was tied by my shame that I was raped, and that it affected me — that I didn’t let it roll right off me and get on with my life. After all — it was over. Right?
But after thirty-three years it was not “over”. I was a woman drowning in a sea of incriminations: “How could I have let this happen? How could I let him do this to me? How come I let it bother me? Why aren’t I over it? What is wrong with me?”
I denied it had any impact. I was tough, “I didn’t need anyone; nobody could hurt me.” If I took the blame, then I could protect that belief of myself. It allowed me to live under the myth that it did not have any bearing on my life, nor that it forever changed me. It covered up the truth that I had lost control of me, that someone else had taken control of my body and my life.
In the years that followed, I slowly unraveled what happened, walking the steps backward from those terrible hours in the middle of nowhere and no hope of coming out alive on back to the beginning.
I had agreed to go with him to the desert. After I broke up with him. After he had threatened to shred me. After I had moved in with him. After I began a relationship with him. After I said, “Hello.” After I saw him wearing a home-town radio station tee-shirt. After he set me up. After he had targeted me.
When I looked at each step, I saw that I did consent to say, “Hi, are you from . . ." I did consent to begin a relationship. I did consent to move in. I did consent to stay in the relationship after he had threatened me. I even consented to go to the desert with him after I left him. For all of those “consents,” it was my fault that he raped me—right?
For thirty years I circled through those questions trying to get back to that precise point so I could unmake it. But it was when I pictured myself sitting across from him in prison, and I saw him as a pathetic, broken human being that I realized it wasn’t about me. He didn’t rape me because of me; he did it because of him. It didn’t matter what I did or didn’t do. I was doomed from the moment he targeted me. I wasn’t the cause of his rage, his hatred, his violence, his attack on me. It was not my fault. I did nothing wrong. It was then I said, “No, I am not taking the blame for your raping me.”
Today, I say those three words, “I WAS RAPED,”, without shame.
I AM NOT TO BLAME.
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Julia Laughlin is the author of The River and the Sea A Story of Forgiveness about her path to healing from being brutally raped, beaten and tortured by an ex-boyfriend who was a serial killer. She is a speaker, advocate and lawyer, and works to help those affected by sexual violence heal. To learn more about her or to purchase a copy of her book, visit the publisher’s website: www.laughlindaughterspublishinghouse.com also available at local bookstores in Lawrence and Salina. She may be reached for speaking engagements or information at: firstname.lastname@example.org.