When I was an undergrad at the University of Iowa, “A Woman Was Raped Here” was spray-painted on the sidewalks throughout campus. I don’t believe that it was university approved, rather something the local women’s advocacy center might have done. The one I remember vividly was on the bridge over the Iowa River that divides the campus. There were more on pathways near the residence halls, on sidewalks around campus and in surrounding neighborhoods outside of campus. This wasn’t a sidewalk chalk kind of effort. Real paint. Permanent paint. Advocacy graffiti if you will.
The message I took away from the words stenciled in paint was to be aware around campus, especially at night. To take extra safety measures, to be cautious, walk home with a friend when it’s late and have pepper spray handy. It was definitely the idea of a rapist being someone who exclusively lurks in the shadows.
I was never worried for even a moment that someone I dated could be a rapist or abuse me sexually. In my mind, rapists were the monsters hiding behind a bush or in dark alleyways. They certainly weren’t someone that gave me butterflies or said sweet things to me. There’s nothing logical about the man you love raping or sexually abusing you.
In that past, I’ve explained the fact that abuse starts out slowly and that abusive relationships aren’t abusive all of the time. The initial kindness, attention and love create a pathway to abuse by leaving the victim off-kilter and confused. Making heads or tails of someone who professes love and shows gentleness one minute and is cruel and full of rage in another is impossibly difficult. This dynamic creates a pathway for all forms of abuse, sexual abuse included.
I don’t know where to take this conversation other than to say that I want you to trust your instincts. Always. Even when there is evidence of kindness in the past or present from your partner, any sexual act that is uncomfortable, unkind or unwanted negates that kindness.
As hard as this is to take in, regardless of what he says, your abuser knows what he is doing. He knows that he is hurting you. He knows he is degrading you. He knows that what he is doing is wrong. He knows. And he makes a choice to do it anyway. It is not your fault.
Here are some facts from the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence:
• 1 in 5 women will be raped in her lifetime.
• Nearly 1 in 2 women and 1 in 5 men experienced sexual violence victimization other than rape at some point in their lives.
• Intimate partner sexual assault and rape are used to intimidate, control, and demean victims of domestic violence.
• 14%-25% of women are sexually assaulted by intimate partners during their relationship.
• Between 40 and 45 percent of women in abusive relationships will also be sexually assaulted during the course of the relationship.
• Over half of women raped by an intimate partner were sexually assaulted multiple times by the same partner.
I will write more extensively on this topic as time goes on. In the meantime, I’d like to end with this quote for anyone who has suffered sexual abuse or assault from their abuser. I believe it is empowering to hear the voices of others who have been where you stand or are advocates thereof.
“Delayed and partial reports of sexual assaults are normal, common and should be expected, particularly in cases of non-stranger sexual assault,” said Kristen Houser, a spokeswoman for the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. “Victims are often in a state of disbelief and trying to make sense of how a person they know and trust could betray and hurt them in such a personal way.”