A 23 year old woman who was recently gang raped and beaten on a public bus in New Delhi has died. The trauma was too much for her poor body to overcome. When I read the details of her rape I was repulsed, enraged but not in a state of disbelief.
The summer that I was twelve years old I went to our family doctor for my junior high school health exam. The doctor was not someone unknown to me, he was someone who for years had treated each member of our family for the normal annual exams and ailments. This however, was my my first exam with the doctor alone. Initially a nurse was present and a few minutes into the exam he sent her out of the room. He led me to a room adjoining the exam room. It was a room about the size of a walk in closet with a wooden bench. I was only wearing underwear. He shoved me onto the wooden bench and went through the motions of testing my reflexes while he roughly fondled me. After, he told me to dress as he made notes in my chart. Before he released me to the reception area he told me that if I told anyone he would tell my parents what a dirty whore I was.
My father was waiting in the reception area reading a magazine. We left the doctor’s office and I stared out of the passenger side window as the town became the countryside and said nothing. I didn’t cry, I simply felt sick and soiled. I remember that my father asked me if I was okay and I quietly responded, “Yes, I just want to go home”. I recall going home, going to my bedroom, shutting the door, moving the dresser in front of my door, sitting on the side of my bed and staring at the floor for hours. I never told anyone until I was well into my thirties and until now those that I told were limited to less than 4. That doctor’s appointment defined how I saw myself through my teen years and most of my twenties.
The doctor who molested me died of a brain tumor just a few years after. At the time I felt relieved to hear about his death and then I tucked the event away. I recently read an article about a man who began acting out of character, he was accused and convicted of pedophilia. While in prison a large tumor was found to be pressing against his frontal lobe. When the tumor was removed his urges subsided. Later the tumor grew back and the urges returned. When I read this article I thought of my molester. Some part of me wants to believe that his behavior could be explained by his tumor. The other part of me doesn’t give a damn about any explanation and hopes his suffering was long and painful.
RAINN (http://www.rainn.org/) reports that out of 100 rapes in the United States only 46 will be reported. Twelve will lead to an arrest, nine will be prosecuted, five will be convicted of a felony crime and three will do time.
I often send my learners in France articles about women in countries like Afghanistan or Yemen where women are treated like livestock. We have read about a 17 year old woman who was raped and impregnated by her married relative and then sentenced to prison for seducing a married man. We have read about 11 year old girls that are forced into marriage and die giving birth at age 12. I ask them if we have a responsibility to women like these women in countries unlike our own. Some will say, “Life will change for these women over time”. Some say, “Yes, we must help them, but how?”. Some tell me that we simply need to respect that the culture is very different than our own. Some say we can start to change the world by educating our own sons and daughters.
I don’t know how to implement change in countries like India, where that young woman who could have been my daughter, my niece or my neighbor was brutally gang raped on a public bus. I don’t know how to implement change in my own country where victims are too ashamed and frightened to report their rapes. I only know that I am very, very angry and something has to change.
The man that molested me was a trusted member of my community. I’m certain that I was not his only victim but I know that he went to his grave without ever having to take responsibility for his crimes and that is a tragedy. The other tragedy is that like most victims, I was more concerned with being identified as a dirty whore than with seeing my molester convicted and I told no one.
If you are a victim of sexual assault or if you would like to learn more about how to prevent sexual assault please visit http://www.rainn.org/ .