In the shoes of others

The trauma of rape

- So, I feel like many people that get to know me, look at me as someone who is quite happy and who goes with things with ease, but also quite a lot of people have noticed that even though I look happy like I'm smiling, my eyes always look very, very sad. Or in many photos, they look intense but not in a very happy way, and I feel like the reason behind that is obviously going through a lot of things, and if you spend a lot of time in your life being depressed, your physical state also matches that. The way you look, you know, your face will match that a lot... and what I would like for people to understand I guess about that is that why I have such strong feelings about certain things is always because of trauma... there is always some sort of trauma that will follow you your whole life. And for me, it is about men. And it's not all men, there is no such thing as all men or all women, but all the worst things that have happened to me in my life were caused by a man. Starting with my father, and I guess the way our relationship was. How I then related to men was very similar to that, and then when I was 13 I was raped, and then when I started to kind of process these things after 6 years, because there was a lot of denial around this topic, I was molested by a very close family member, I was 19. And also in hindsight between that time, the way men... some men, but in my life, I met a lot of these people I guess, these experiences found me or I allowed them to, they treat you like an object, you know... the way they approach you in the streets, the way they approach you in a nightclub or bar, the way they approach you to try to have sex with you and try to use you basically, or your body, it triggers me a lot. And it triggers me more now than it ever has before because you start healing, that's when you realize the pattern of what you try to heal from. And so your triggers can get quite strong, you know. So, in the last month, I had at least 3 very panicky, scared episodes. Because even though I'm not actively dealing with these things in my daily life, there are moments where I'm walking down the streets and I just feel scared. Or I'm watching something, a TV show, and there's just a mention of rape, there's nothing graphic and I go to bed, and I'm being raped in my dreams. And I wake up, and I'm panicking, and I don't know if this is the truth or whether it's a dream, or what's happening. So I would say that trauma response for a lot of people... it will follow you your whole life, you know. And rape doesn't only affect women, it affects people in general, but unfortunately, most perpetrators are men. Obviously, men and boys need to be educated on this, and consent is very important.

Also, when I started talking about this, my gynecologist who is a guy, back in Slovakia, actually told me to never speak about this to anyone. So there are still people who will tell you to go against your healing process, but nobody should. So it's intense, and it stays with you... forever. I'm sure that with time, things will become easier, but even nowadays, I was having a very intimate sexual experience, a very safe sexual experience, and it resulted in me just crying, not because of the person I was with, but just because some things sometimes hit you and you are taken back to that moment, or those moments. So, definitely destigmatizing these things is something that, I think, as a rape victim, I feel to be somehow a responsibility of mine: to speak to my friends, to speak to my family members, to speak to my younger sister when she is older... for them to be aware. Even if it does happen to you, you need to ask for help and you need to speak up because if you don't, it just becomes worst.

- The more people talk about it, the more seriously it will be taken as well, no?

- Yes, I think it's the same as the way we perceive mental health issues or depression, the more people talk about it, asking for help or going to therapy or whatever else it is, the more...

- Basically, being vulnerable and say « Hey, basically this is me and that's what happened »?

- Yes, with some friends, I brought it up to them a few times, about this rape thing, because we have some interesting discussions, and at some point, one of them who is a vegetarian says like « animals are being raped, what would you say is better, being raped all the time or being killed? » and he argued that being killed is worst than being raped from an animal kingdom point of view, and I looked at him and I said « You know, after I was raped, I wished I was dead ». And I wished it many many times since then, and it's been 11 years. So... we kind of kept on talking about this topic and as we did, yesterday a friend of mine just looked at me and said « I know someone who was also raped and I'm closely connected to this person, and they went to a rape crisis center and had a lot of conversations there and that drastically improved her wellbeing around this topic », and that was super helpful for me because I never thought about maybe researching that, and even though I've been trying to deal with this for a long time, there's still new information that can come your way... So yeah, definitely has to be spoken about, and you will find that many people will tell you their rape story, people around you, people that you think are close to you, but never told you, you know? And it happens even in relationships where you think everything is fine, that women are raped or men are raped, people are raped...

- Would you recommend to anyone who has been a victim of rape or sexual abuse to reach out to a support group?

- So I haven't actually been to a support group, I've done many different things to try to deal with this, sometimes even if you have a partner who is very supportive of you, sometimes even things that might seem like a bad idea can really help, like, for example, somehow taking you back into that space by some sort of sexual play, and changing the scenario into you being there and being quite scared to that person creating a supportive and safe environment for you. Because you were not helped at the time, but it doesn't mean that when you're gonna be having sex in the future that you're not gonna have a safe environment. So I feel like some of these things can also help, but yes, I would definitely recommend if that's the only way you can do it, to talk to other rape victims, and to understand that you are not alone in this and those people can really give you some great advice. If you research these specific groups and basically start talking to your friends as well and people you really trust, but sometimes it's just easier to talk anonymously to people that will definitely understand what you're talking about, rather than just someone who does care about you, but will be stunned by your experience and will not know how to give you any advice.

- They don't have the right tools...

- Yeah...

- On a daily basis, you mentioned anxiety. Is it like, you walk in the streets, there's a group of men... do you feel safe?

- I have a very confident stride about myself. It's almost... some sort of charade that I'm playing. But it has become my personality. So I think I come across very confident, and I have a confident walk, and I'm confident in what I look like, and it does happen that I know that when I step out of the door, today I'm definitely gonna be cat-called, on certain days and in certain scenarios. And yes, if I am walking home alone, and men approach me, even if it's just like « Can I have a lighter? » and I will most probably say yes, but I do try to not stay in that situation for too long, I just try to get home as soon as possible. And it doesn't always happen, right? But there are moments where my instinct is to not stop and to walk faster. Or to look back every fucking couple of minutes, or every couple of steps because I feel like someone is walking behind me, and I take one of my earphones out just to hear how far they are behind me and to keep that distance. So yes, definitely on a daily basis that can happen, but also as I mentioned before, certain triggers that you're not gonna be warned about, you know, like a joke that someone makes about something like that. Once I got super pissed off and it was at a small festival where one guy admitted to me that he was drinking with some woman and she got really drunk and she passed out and he fucked her. And as he told me this, I just started crying and I had to leave the premises and I was talking to a friend about this there, and I had been drinking, so I guess I was more emotional, obviously it was a festival setting and I was talking to her and I was screaming and I was like « How the fuck is this even possible that there are people like this on the planet like they feel no shame! ». And that woman, even though she was passed out, might have some serious serious questions to ask the morning after about what happened to her, because she will know that something is off, right? Like how dare he talk to me about this!
So... super triggered. He got actually thrown out of the festival the next day, not just because of this, but because of a couple of things, which I found was fair enough. But yeah, even locking this person in a cell is not enough, because the person that you do that to, will literally deal with this their whole life. And try to go back to where they were before, of feeling safe, of trust, of whatever it is, and of course, you want to trust people around you, even some strangers you want to trust. But you don't feel like you can anymore. So it's small things like this, and you don't really know where it's gonna creep up on you, but I feel like with some therapy and some healing, what you can achieve is ultimately when you are triggered, to understand more how you have been triggered, and how to, for me at least, how to go through these panic attacks in a way that I can still stay here and I can take care of myself during that time, and after that time. Or how to ask for help at the time when you need it. It comes with practice I think, and it sounds horrible when we're talking about things like a panic attack, but it truly is like that. The more time it happens, the more you can observe what you can do about it. It's the same as sleep paralysis, you can't move your body, but after it happened to you a few times, you're calmer, because you know what's happening. When it happens for the first couple of times, you are overwhelmed, you can't handle it, you know... and that's also fine.

I could go on about this for a long time. You're gonna have a very difficult time listening to this later! (laughing)

But yeah, I think not just these types of experiences, but any type of trauma, whether it comes from like a childhood trauma thing where you have been abused mentally, physically, emotionally, it doesn't really matter what type of abuse we're talking, or neglected, can really get you to these very very negative places of anxiety or panic attacks or any other type of issue that you need to deal with. So this is not actually just about rape, this is about how we as people function after any type of trauma and sometimes just some of these things that we need to go back to and try to understand how this happened, in childhood, usually, and we take it with us to adulthood, and we are just like children that have never been cared for and understood, but in an adult body. And we are expected to know how to deal with this, but how? You know, we're all just looking for these answers, so I guess being kind to all the people around you is a very important thing on a day-to-day basis. For example, let's say I pass in front of a homeless person and they ask me for something, and let's say my approach is « I don't have anything to give to this person », but I can still say a couple of kind words, you know, I can still say « How has your day been? » or « What's happening to you? » because I have no idea what this person might be going through, what type of trauma this person is going through. This is super cliché, but kindness about all things can help a lot.

- If you had to say just one sentence, what would you like people who have been abused to understand?

- Being triggered from past trauma, whatever trauma, is not a sign of weakness. It's really a sign of healing and processing. And it's something to really pay attention to, and be with it... easier said than done. But when you're triggered by something, some past trauma, try to embrace it, because this is gonna help you heal, a lot.

—— If you have been a victim of rape, you can reach to the Edinburgh rape crisis centre ( / 0131 557 6737) or an equivalent support group in your country.
—— If you need to talk to someone outside of their opening hours, you can call Samaritans ( / 116 123) or an equivalent helpline in your country.
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