[Trigger warning. Any and all rape apology will be deleted from this thread.]
I’ve been skeptical about the efficacy of trigger warnings in the past, but after reading post after post on the Polanski case on the blogs, and seeing the story cycle through news media hour after hour, and hearing the story discussed by acquaintances day after day, I can safely say I’ve been officially triggered for the first time in eight years, trigger warnings or not.
I was raped when I was thirteen years old. It was my first sexual experience, if you consider rape a “sexual experience.” There are some things that are private and will remain private about the incident, because I do not want to also trigger my family who still unnecessarily feel responsibility for the incident, but regardless, I was raped when I was thirteen years old. I kept it a secret for a long time because I thought it was my fault, and due to the five-year emotional spiral that resulted after I was raped, everyone around me was unable to discern whether I was being truthful when I finally gave my problem a name.
So when I’m reading the opinions about whether Roman Polanski should be extradited and prosecuted for drugging and raping a child, whether or not it was thirty-two years ago, whether or not the man is elderly today, whether or not punishment deters crime, whether or not the man is powerful and successful, whether or not our outrage is inspired by a hatred of all things libertine, whether or not the rapist is remorseful, and whether or not a child rapist has the support of the rich and powerful behind him, I think about a few things:
After years of therapy, personal reflection, and healthy, consensual sexual relationships, after relieving myself of the burden of feeling that I’d “gotten myself raped,” after (today) fifteen years, I thought it was behind me. I am surprised that it’s not. I’m equally surprised at my surprise.
What does rape do to you? Afterward? It changed me; there is before and after. Before, a child, playing with Barbies, looking sideways at boys, wondering. After, confusion. Depression. A litany of fuck-ups and fuck-its, whatevers, mistakes, trusting no one, least of all myself. Before, sex was mysterious; after, miasma. I was tarred as a Lolita. I was called jail bait.
Rape is not the only assault. Around rape is a large segment of the population that questions the victim, a culture that looks down on victims for allowing themselves to be victimized, or keep them victimized, questions about the victim’s credibility, questions about the legacy of rape and how bad it is, because how bad is rape really? Rape, because various levels and forms of sexual assault are systemic and pervasive across all societies, exists alongside one’s experiences of unwanted touching, wanted touching, sexual objectification, sexual desire, sexual harassment, incest, love, leering eyes, cat calls, roaming hands, consent, confusion, tits, vagina, rectum, penis, mouth, rape and not-rape, all of it loaded, all of it veering at rape’s ugly legacy, co-mingling, the legacy that tells us to be more careful, to dress more conservatively, to BE BETTER AT BEING VULNERABLE, or BE MORE POWERFUL, or BE MORE FEARFUL, or GET OVER IT ALREADY. Rape leaks into healthy, consensual experiences. It lingers. It pervades.
I’ve long had an irrational hatred of Roman Polanski, to the point where I’ve openly, publicly, and venomously criticized people I mostly agree with for daring to say they even like his movies. On political and aesthetic levels, I have some trivial issues with the portrayal of women in his movies, but I find him so loathsome because of who he is (a fugitive rapist) and what he’s done (he drugged and raped a thirteen year old girl). What happened is public record. He raped Samantha Gailey when she was a thirteen year old girl. He groomed a girl, possibly two that we know of, to be sexually abused by him. I was raped when I was a thirteen year old girl. The man who raped me, who is nameless and faceless in my memories, groomed me over the course of several days to lure me into his room. The man who raped me was never brought to justice, was never reported. He knew I was thirteen because I told him, he knew I didn’t consent because I told him no. I cried, there was blood, there was a lot of blood. I was afraid of him and of what would happen to me when it was discovered that I’d “had sex.” I ran, I hid, I withheld, I self-destructed, and afterward I willingly invited people into my life who would further take advantage of and abuse me. I think of Polanski and I think of the man who raped me. I wonder who he is, where he is now, and if he hurt other people like he hurt me, whether their families suffered the turmoil mine did. All of it unnecessary.
I also wonder if you ever really “get over it.” Today I’ve been mulling over a passage Melissa wrote, herself a rape survivor, about Gailey’s request to drop the case against Polanski:
When justice is denied, or interminably deferred, often one finds a way of closing the chapter, just to get on with life—to be able to live unencumbered by an ever-present sensation of imbalance. One longs desperately to evade the niggling feeling that you’re betraying yourself, or upending some karmic sense of justice, merely by getting on with your life as though there had been a satisfactory and fair resolution, when there hasn’t been.
When there is no justice to free you, no closure, it can feel as though not living as a victim tacitly condones what was done, retroactively making it not matter. Survivors of sexual assault whom the law has failed often feel they must serve a sentence of suffering themselves, beyond what they might otherwise naturally bear, in order to not join in the ubiquitous chorus trumpeting that what happened to them was No Big Deal…
…Given the opportunity now for the legal justice I was denied, I daresay I’d sound an awful lot like Gailey. It’s not that my feelings toward my rapist have changed; it’s that what closure I have was hard-won—and I fiercely protect it.
I go back and forth about the effects rape had on my young self, and the legacy it has on me today, but I know this: It’s a big fucking deal and it still matters. Eventually, I finally got along with life. I spent years in therapy teasing out the details of the afterward before I could have a healthy relationship with my loved ones again. I owned what mistakes were mine, made goals and achieved them. And as Melissa says, what closure I got was hard-won. It is mine, and it was earned with my sweat and blood and the passage of many years. But what I’ve realized this week is that it’s never really over.
I don’t have a concrete opinion on whether Polanski should be extradited to the United States to face sentencing for a sexual assault he has eluded for over thirty years. But then, I have no artistic fondness or personal sympathy for him whatsoever. Neither am I comfortable with letting him walk away from his crimes absolved of responsibility even though Gailey wants the subject dropped. Rape has an immeasurable legacy, one that is not taken seriously enough by the public or by the law, and I’m not hard-pressed to admit I want to see more rapists brought to justice. The political is personal, too.
- In Case You Needed More Reasons To Hate Will Saletan by Lauren October 15, 2009
- A Case of Morals by Lauren October 7, 2009
- Quick Hit: Child Rapist Polanski Freed in Switzerland by Shelby Knox July 12, 2010
- The Good Old Days by Jill October 11, 2009
- puzzle activity time! by Little Light September 28, 2009