Rape is the one violent crime I know that leaves a victim broken, and blamed. Who would dare say to a murder victim’s body, If there’s only one guy who did it, and you didn’t manage to get away, maybe you wanted it? See how ridiculous and heartless it sounds? But with rape victims most people don’t think twice. It depends on the gender of the victim, don’t you think? I’ve never heard anyone say to a male rape victim, Maybe you were being provocative or Maybe your shorts were too short or Was your shirt too revealing? or If there’s only one guy who did it, and you didn’t manage to get away, maybe you wanted it.
“It sucks being a woman,” author Alice Sebold says at one point. “You always get smashed!”
Alice Sebold was raped during her freshman year at Syracuse University. She begins her book with this scene, her description unflinching, clear-eyed, straight to the point:
He began to knead his fist against the opening of my vagina. Inserted his fingers into it, three or four at a time. Something tore. I began to bleed there. I was wet now.
It made him excited. He was intrigued. As he worked his whole fist up into my vagina and pumped it, I went into my brain. Waiting there were poems for me, poems I’d learned in class: Olga Cabrai had a poem I haven’t found since, “Lillian’s Chair,” and a poem called “Dog Hospital,” by Peter Wild. I tried, as a sort of prickly numbness took over my lower half, to recite the poems in my head. I moved my lips.
It was awful and filthy, and it was hard to read. It was definitely harder to write, and I admire Alice Sebold for her bravery.
Despite all the violence and the tears, this one scene stuck with me:
“I’m not going to attack you, Dad,” I said. “I want you to tell me why you don’t understand, and I’ll try to explain it to you.”
“I don’t know why you didn’t try to get away,” he said.
“But how could he have raped you unless you let him?”
“That would be like saying I wanted it to happen.”
“But he didn’t have the knife in the tunnel.”
“Dad,” I said, “think about this. Wouldn’t it be physically impossible to rape and beat me while holding a knife the whole time?”
He thought for a second and then seemed to agree.
“So most women who are raped,” I said, “even if there was a weapon, when the rape is going on, the weapon is not there in her face. He overpowered me, Dad. He beat me up. I couldn’t want something like that, it’s impossible.”
When I look back on myself in that room I don’t understand how I could have been so patient. All I can think is that his ignorance was inconceivable to me.
It was inconceivable to me as well.
I hope every man gets to read this book.