Luck and Silence
He who learns must suffer. And even in our sleep pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God.Aeschylus
You have some incredibly interesting conversations with people when they learn you study rape and genocide. The majority of people generally shudder and look at you with pain and say “Oh I don’t know how you do that…wow”. I’ve become so immersed in the research and my own experiences, I think, I have become hardened to the horror that the word evokes in many people. I’m still not sure yet if this is a beneficial thing or not. Regardless, I have had some difficult and painful conversations with women over the years I’ve studied this. I’m still surprised and saddened when yet another friend of mine describes events in her life that mimic my own or are worse, many times much, much worse. That it is rare for me to speak to a woman I know well and NOT have her divulge a personal account of coercive sex, date rape or violent rape deeply saddens me. The feeling that so many women that you know have felt how you’ve felt, know THAT pain is not comforting, instead it is disappointing.
Recently a co-worker, a male co-worker, asked me, somewhat jokingly, if I had become a man hater. I’m not. I could never be. I don’t believe I can hate an entire gender based on the actions of some individuals. I know good men, I have amazing male friends who have been there for me. I could never hate them. I have noticed, however, that I am more guarded with men that I don’t know. I have noticed that I have to actively resist becoming distrustful of men because I am constantly reading rape accounts. This was one of the reasons I hesitated taking on this dissertation topic. I have been lucky though that I have some very open, supportive guy friends to talk these feelings out with because I don’t want to hate men, I don’t want to hate anyone, really.
Unfortunately, the resistance against hate and distrust that I try to maintain is often tested. Most recently by a memoir that was recommended to me. Amanda Sebold, who wrote The Lovely Bones, also wrote Lucky, a memoir about her rape that occurred during her freshman year of college. The story is well-written, Sebold leaves no detail out of the attack. It is graphic, but necessarily so. What is most frustrating and wrenching about Sebold’s experience is the difficulties she experiences in bringing her attacker to justice. This is WHY I study rape law, because so often the cases, the trials, the laws, the process of bringing a rapist to justice is traumatic for the victim. As if she hasn’t suffered enough, she is often re-traumatized by this process, so even if you win….do you really win? Justice is done, but at what toll to the victim?
This is the beginning of Sebold’s memoir….it is not easy to read:
In the tunnel where I was raped, a tunnel that was once an underground entry to an amphitheater, a place where actors burst forth ,from underneath the seats of a crowd, a girl had been murdered and dismembered. I was told this story by the police. In comparison, I was told, I was lucky.
For a moment, as he dragged me across the ground, I clung feebly to the bottom of that iron fence, before a rough pull yanked me clean. People think a woman stops fighting when she is physically exhausted, but I was about to begin my real fight, a fight of words and lies and the brain.
I struggle to maintain rational faith sometimes through this process. That rape is so pervasive still pains me. There are days I struggle to grasp the amount of violence women experience. Sometimes I just do not know what words to use.
Find a place inside where there’s joy, and the joy will burn out the pain.