29 November 2005

Compromising Positions

Rachel and Ally got me on to this rather heavy train of thought.

Rachel wrote an excellent article for the Sunday Times on being attacked by a rapist. Ally's situation is more complicated and for that perhaps harder - but it was still rape.

How can a date rape be harder to come to terms with than a horrifying, sudden and assuredly unprovoked attack that leaves obvious physical damage?

Society has no clear and unified opinion on what is considered unbearable provocation. 34% of us, apparently, believe that women who dress 'provocatively' (deliberate inverted commas) are, consciously or subconsciously setting out to provoke not just sexual attraction, but sexual action; that if our mouths say No but our clothes, by the observer's standards, say Yes, then the wardrobe should be given more credence than the voice.

Rachel, poor Rachel, was at home minding her own business when a man knocked on the door, pretended to be a neighbour and forced his way in, brutally attacking her.

Ally, however, was in a relatively trusting situation, one on one, when things got too heavy for her, but her 'partner' decided she didn't really mean no. That, or he decided some accidental action of hers perhaps hours earlier had already said yes, and so wasn't even listening any more. He was going to get his end away, end of story. Her obvious injuries are miniscule in comparison, but so is the outrage and defence that society awards her for that; so much so that she only chose to tell her story years later and on a blog rather than defending herself at the time or trusting in the understanding of persons nearer to her heart. She had no confidence, after the event, that she was (and would be accepted as) in the right, or clear of blame.

Some will think I am talking out of my earhole already so to set the record straight, I have been badly beaten in the past, several times. Not as badly as Rachel, but well enough to know the mental clarity of expecting to die, the physical disassociation, the strange awareness that after the first good punch nothing hurts - you know its happening but the mind is working too fast and furiously to take in the pain and really recognise it. I remember one good punch when the tirade stopped because I was pregnant - we skipped the full drama and he jumped straight to the tears and the 'look what you made me do - this isn't me - I'm not like this with anybody else - what are you turning me in to?' Yawn, yawn, yabber yabber, bull, bull. At the time it was enough to make me wonder if it really was somehow my fault, if I was that shrewish and antagonistic, but only after I had stood in front of a mirror, watching as my cheek swelled until the skin split. No pain, no feelings anywhere, except this strange and disassociated notion that if I covered the 'normal' side of my face, the rest made me look really quite like Diana Ross.

I still carry the scar. Going to hospital for a stitch or two would have been suicide.

Thank God for physical shock, its a wonderful thing.

I have also been, well, lets call it compromised, or obliged, if you will. I know the feeling of filth and invasion, the horror of thinking you will never be clean again, as if the semen has soaked into your very skin, and up into your brain - that you are permanently tainted in a manner that no amount of scrubbing or praying or fretting will ever reduce. You are stolen, even from yourself. Its worse, way worse, than being physically broken.

I guess I should call myself lucky that even when the same man was involved, the two didn't happen at the same time.

Rachel is asking what forgiveness means to us. I suspect however that Ally has found it easier to forgive her attacker than to forgive herself. If you see enough images proclaiming that men, or even some men, have no control, that women should take precautions against putting a man in the position where he can't control himself, then you start to question yourself. Before you can even start to forgive, you are beaten up inside with panic attacks over whether you made yourself out to be a whore, whether you did something stupid to trigger the sequence of events, whether you are stupid and foolish and gutter trash. Whether you 'asked for it.' They used to say it was only the good girls that got caught and I think to an extent that's still true, because people brought up to trust in the good nature of all people, in a universal sense of fair play; they are far more likely to find their faith rudely shattered, by whatever kind of abuse.

Nobody tolerates something that is horrifying to them unless there appears to be no other safe option. That means that at any stage in your personal development, you will have different ideas of what constitutes an unbearable alternative. The real option you are facing doesn't have to be death - it can also be isolation or any situation perceived as ongoing and fearful, particularly when your first attacker/misunderstander is being determinedly forceful rather than indiscriminately violent. Like having a tooth pulled, acquiescing to rape (and by that I mean accepting that your protests aren't working and feeling instead hopeless and helpless) is often a toss up between the short lived horror followed by a regaining of control, or an ongoing terror such as being stranded or even just ridiculed. Ridicule is such a powerful threat to teenagers.

When my first marriage became increasingly violent, I assisted in hiding that fact - play-pretending to the world that everything was alright, unable to take the shame at the outset and unable to wrap my head round the concept that this behaviour was anything more than an aberration - that the real man was the reasonable one that had courted me. Later, when it became a matter of life and death rather than 'mere' total humiliation, my dearest other would beat me senseless over some perceived slight. The guilt would step up a notch if I had felt safe in company, had had a drink so that I felt enough false bravado to contradict him, but generally it was to do with me smiling or looking at another man. Or getting his dinner wrong. He would physically and verbally bruise me, draw blood somewhere or other, and then within half an hour become fixated that having sex would mean it was all alright again. I don't even want to begin to count the number of times I chose to be raped rather than have my injuries doubled or tripled by his renewed anger, I chose to grit my teeth and hate the process in exchange for getting him to relax, getting a chance to creep to the bathroom and cry silently or investigate how much damage accompanied the pains I was feeling; getting out from under the threat of more violence.

See that's the bite. I always had a choice. I could have chosen to die instead, I could have chosen to wait until he was sated and scream for help, run to the police, hope that marital rape would be taken seriously enough to protect me from his predictable reaction. Some will say that means I asked for it.

In the end, however, we clothe ourselves with our own opinion. We 'wear' shame. We also wear rationalisations, validations, excuses; some of us wear the existential concept of isolation to an extreme that we hold faith that our personal experience is the only one of consequence. People in that state are in danger of being dangerous.

I do really believe that there is a moment of judgement (even if self judgement) when we die/have died. I say moment, but as existence outside of time is timeless, it is also an infinity.

I believe that we stand naked before God, and that means naked of our little defences or burdens, stripped of society's standards and emotional baggage and any sort of back up for our decisions.

Then we get to see/feel/understand what we did. In one split second (or eternity) we get to experience the pains, disappointments etc (and joys and revelations too) that we put upon others.

Each and every single one of them - the whole life story from the other perspective, and in panoramic view.

The lot.

On the head.

At once.

This is how I forgive people. I or their 'victims' may still be wearing the damage they did. I may be jumpy or hyperalert to some triggers, or still secretly convinced, somewhere deep down inside, that I am a useless, antagonistic slapper who deserved it, although my rational mind denies it. All that and yet I can still forgive them.

I know I forgive them, because I could not put them through what they put me through. If there was a button to push, to make them experience the pain without me even having to get my hands dirty, I couldn't push it. I wouldn't wish that on anybody. If I had the chance to exact personal and equal retribution, I would walk away.

Just the concept that God, in standing before them without love or hate or partiality, just in allowing them the sight of him, will cause them to realise every pain they caused me, all at once - but more, every pain they ever caused another living soul - that makes me cry for them. It is a fate too horrible to contemplate and compared to that I am in no way a victim - they are. There, but for the grace of God.

You can't hate someone once you have cried for them, trust me. Sure, you can still fear them, avoid them, all that, but forgiveness is the conscious act of clearing a debt, of refusing to extract repayment, even a token payment of discomfort or understanding a little of how you felt. Forgiveness is giving up the concept of revenge.


Host of Spirits said...

This is going to be a hard one to reply to and I was going to ignore it and pretend I hadn't seen it. It brings back too many bad memories.

My heart goes out to Ally, Rachel, Chezz and all the other women that have found themselves to one degree or another in the same position.

Chezz points out that she had a choice - we all did/do. That she could have gone to the police. Well, I am here to tell you that even if you had gone to the police it would have done you no good. I can recall many occassions turning up at the police station after having escaped only to be greeted with apathy and told to 'get a solicitor'. I did and I have a pile of court orders over two feet high to prove it. When he broke those court orders it was greeted with the same apathy from the police and earned me even more rapings and beatings.

So, don't ever feel that you should have gone to the police. Not only would it not have helped but you may have ended up in an even worse position and earned even more beatings for it as I did.

So, why did I continually go to the police? It was in the faintest hope that one day they would take me seriously and they would take action before the man finally killed me. No They never did but hopefully one day they will for someone else.

Oh, and if there's any woman in the same position out there who needs help and can't escape - my door is always open. If the only way to escape your abuser is to run and you have no where to run to - well you just call me up girl !!

Rachel said...

Brilliant post. I am going to wrote more on this and link to you,if that is ok,

will have to be tomorrow as I am teaching a dance class tonight but this resonates with me

'Sure, you can still fear them, avoid them, all that, but forgiveness is the conscious act of clearing a debt, of refusing to extract repayment, even a token payment of discomfort or understanding a little of how you felt. Forgiveness is giving up the concept of revenge. '

Ally said...

I think that you are right about forgiveness meaning that one gives up the concept of revenge. I think that I couldn't speak out if I *hadn't* forgiven, as otherwise it would feel that I was speaking to exact some kind of revenge.

I've been through the domestic violence mill, too - no lasting bruises, but years of being scared, years of being told that it was my fault that he was so angry. The tears, the tantrums. The sex to avoid the tantrums. The being so disempowered that I thought I deserved it. The having no money and nowhere to go. Having no choice, as you say.

And then one day it got too much for me to tolerate, and despite all of those things, I left. I am still working on forgiveness for that, not quite there yet, it wasn't so long ago.

I do not practice any kind of religion, but I do believe in a 'moving moral force'. And similarly, I believe that at the end of our lives, we are shown the impact of our the choices we have made on other people. And we are given a chance to repair any damage we have done.

For me, part of the trick of forgiveness is to believe that given the chance, most people would want to right any wrongs they have done that have caused other people pain.

Perhaps I'm naive, but it helps :).

Taking up your comments section again, sorry!


Cheryl said...

I LOVE long, considered feedback.
I also (human nature) really appreciate the validation that comes with this sort of sharing.
Thank you, HOS, Rachel and Ally - lots.

birdychirp said...

what an utterly beautiful and profound post - I'm sorry that you have had these experiences but thank you for talking so eloquently to us.

Cheryl said...

Birdy - (((Hugs)))

Its bygones.

Still, thank you! :-)

anne said...

when I was at university, about 300 years ago, in the late seventies, Joyce Stevens figured large in helping us form coherent intellectual and real, living-it-out, core positions. Her most famous quote, 'Because...', immortalised on a postcard (how appropriate!) still hangs on my clinic wall - because NOTHING HAS CHANGED!

Thanks for the post. Are you OK, Cheryl?

Anonymous said...

Hi Chezz,

Most of the women I've come to know well enough have told me they had some sort of violence (sexual or other)directed against them at some point. Yes, sometimes people DO really walk into doors, but it's not that often. The only way I see of stopping it is publicity, but even that isn't the full answer or we wouldn't have terrorist atrocities. So no real answer to your dilemma from me (wish there was) but certainly sympathy and outrage. The problem with the court system is still that the emphasis is on the perpetrator being 'cured' and not the victim.
Thanks for the thoughtful blog. More people should read such personal stories, then maybe the system might change a bit.


Cheryl said...

Oh Anne yes, definitely - we are talking 15 years ago, plus.
Lots of healing and learning time.
And happily and supportively remarried for the past 14 years.
I can step back into it when I choose/need, but only to share.

Thank you ;-)

Cheryl said...


I am SO SORRY! Its funny, but faced with these wrong actions, a 'victim' is forced to absorb them as fact -get over them and move on. Its why I had to find a way to forgive. I have to live with my past (and I do, relatively comfortably now) but I forget what an impact these things can have on a soul that would never imagine.

I am pleased to hear I got the message across, but my purpose is, as you say, to stop this happening to others. Your sympathy is acknowledged and taken as a compliment, thank you, but is unnecessary.

Its all bygones (or, lets face it, I'd be in a loony bin by now!)


Rain said...

It’s hard to forgive because I fear that it is forgetting. I am a peacemaker by nature ( due to my parents fighting day and night) , so my anger is a shield as an adult. I wasn’t allowed to be angry as a child. Remembering to be righteously angry keeps me in my resolve not to let abusive people into my life. Not actively angry, not vengeful, but on guard. I think I have the personality to let it happen again, and I am so afraid that I have to hang onto my anger for safekeeping. I feel sorry for my ex. He no longer has the privilege of seeing his child. Sometimes I can feel his pain, his misery and regret. But if I show him any kindness, even a photo in the mail, he will take it as a sign of weakness and begin harassing me again. I guess each situation is different. Women need to make protecting themselves a high priority. We need to look out for each other too. Thanks for sharing your story Cheryl.

bart said...

thanks cheryl, for an excellent post... there's a lot in there, a deep and meaningful excursion into flawed psyches and disturbed relationships...
your concept of forgiveness is profound, i'd agree here indeed... forgiveness is about seeing others with different flaws than your own, however much it might hurt after the event because revenge is a (self-)destructive quality... forgiveness isn't about forgetting though, not only because you can't really but also to protect yourself again in the future...

keep well, and thanks again...

Cheryl said...

What a beautiful and brave comment, thank you. Hypervigilance is an indicator of PTSD but goes unnoticed in so many women. We are all capable of the worst, its down to choices, although seeing damaging behaviour first hand, I agree, makes it less like the end of the world, no longer impossible.

Hugs and welcome to blogging - I see your blog is very new? :-)

Bart - you've got it. Totally. What more can I say?

jane said...

My gosh Cheryl, you have to be the most forgiving person I've ever met. I don't mean that in any sense other than 100% sincere.
There are so many things I want to say, yet all the words are just stuck.
You've got the strength of an army & are such a beautiful, beautiful soul.
The older I get, the more common I realize abuse & rape are towards women.
Bless you for sharing this. Undoubtedly someone will recognize them in you.

Anonymous said...

Sometimes i am ashamed to be part of the male species..on behalf of men evertwhere..SORRY LADIES!

doris said...

Well, this post and the accompanying comments are a bit of a feast.

We all have our own perspectives of where we are coming from and how we handle things and what sort of abuse we will endure.

Having been abused (not sexually) as a child and coming from an abusive background I came into my adulthood with clear lines that no-one would ever cross those boundaries against me again. I could do that maybe because I had been a victim long enough and had made an internal decision that I would no longer. I also made a conscious decision to forgive (isn't that a basic tenet of Christianity?) because I read somewhere that I would not be able to move on otherwise.

It is possble that I was able to fully absolve one of the characters in my eyes and his behaviour has been impeccable and sorry ever since. (Actually, I don't want that level of matyrdom but hey ho.) It is possible I still have internal problems with those I didn't absolutely forgive although I gave myself lipservice that I had.

Forgiveness is too important - we can't move on properly carrying around that baggage and pain. We need to let go and leave it up to the workings of the world for that person to have to come to terms with what they have done.

The responsibility to stop this violence is on each and every one of us. On the perpertrators and on those at the receiving end. I know that it is rather more complicated than that, but I do think the onus is on everyone including the 'victim'.

But then really bad things happen - like rape. I've been caught in a disgustingly compromising position with a very old man when I was 16 but he didn't go all the way. I was very lucky and managed to extract myself diplomatically from the situation but if he had a weapon or some other threat I wonder if I would have been able to get away. In that situation it is very difficult to know how it could have been avoided except by being less naive. What was that you were saying Cheryl about good girls being trusting?

Rain I am really saddened by your message. About not being able to forgive and the anger you carry even though you are a pascifist. When I was younger I told myself over and over that I WOULD forgive but never forget. That is what I did. And then there came a time when I started forgetting some stuff and that's OK as it is not healthy to carry that cancer around with you. (But I still have some issues myself!)

I'm sorry if my message offends as I don't mean to be so simplistic. Very interesting subject.

Astryngia said...

Cassandra speaks and speaks and speaks! Hugs to you.

I heard last night that the parents of the boy found with an axe in his head had already 'forgiven' the perpetrators, acting out of their Christian faith. Forgiveness acknowledges the humanity of others in spite of their vile actions but more importantly it saves OUR soul.

So why do we, in general, find it so hard to do this one thing for ourselves and forgive another? Perhaps we can't forgive ourselves???

Rain said...

Thanks for the feedback. PTSD is an interesting thought, I will learn more about it. I actually began blogging in August as an assignment in a class, but it really grew on me.

I guess I associate letting go of the anger as being perhaps too friendly with that person and letting them back into my life, only to get hurt again.

Anonymous said...

Any adult, whether male or female, who repeatedly finds themselves in abusive, violent relationships, is one who is coming from an abusive and violent childhood. This may come as a shock to many people, but it happens to be true. Adults who passively tolerate acts of abuse or violence, whatever their manifestation, are people who were conditioned to endure abuse and violence as children, as though abuse and violence is normal human behaviour. It isn't, and it never will be.

I was once in what I thought was a "Loving" relationship and I too was raped by my boyfriend. For me, that relationship ended there and then. I instinctively knew there was no future between us, despite the fact that he tried to convince me otherwise. I didn't go away and hate him forever after, I simply left him with a feeling of revulsion and devastation. Eventually, I felt sorry for him, but I never went back to him, despite his incessant pleas. I was never raped again.


Cheryl said...

I was going to argue strongly against your first sentence, but I see you use the word 'repeatedly'.

One can be in the wrong place at the wrong time, conned by a date, find a 'boyfriend' to have a nasty streak etc, but yes to go from one abusive relationship to another means that the 'victim' is lacking in self respect, self value or skills to notice the early signs of being primed for abuse.

Most of us, unlike you, ar ein some way primed by the aggressor. In your case I have to say you were lucky he was only a rapist and not a manipulator or bully. I would like to see you say that to the child victims of abuse who are told that if they try to tell or escape, they will come home from school to find mummy's head blown off with a sawn off shotgun.

Who do you love enough to stay in the abuse, in the belief that they would pay the price if you fought back? What if you feared him enough to believe you were damned if you stayed and dead if you left? What if you had children?

No one who is truly victimised can see a way out. But thank you anyway for your comments.

Cheryl said...

Actually LM, I apologise.
I see you also qualify this to mean people who stay 'passively'.
I have never met anyone who was passive about being abused, but I guess it depends on what constitutes passivity or reactivity within the bounds of a situation.
The strength of ones panic, anger, revulsion etc cannot be measured by ones ability to act upon them.
Still, perhaps we are not at crossed purposes after all.