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.
On the head.
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.