It’s not enough, but it’s enough.
Confession is good for the soul, but re-telling the tale does not change the ending. Confessing to strangers is a time-honored human need – ask any of Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury pilgrims – but know that the best they can do is listen.
It’s not going to get easier with any great speed, and as the police have decided not to press charges, justice is not going to be served the way that you had hoped. The way that I had hoped for you.
Since I published your original letter, I’ve had many people pressing me to name names, and get this thing out in the open. I could print the LAPD police report, but I don’t know that will resolve the issue, and I fear it would only create a far bigger set of problems for you. You do not need more problems.
You need to take this to higher ground.
To those who think my sources should be outed for the sake of public safety let me put your mind at ease by saying the survivor is getting help, and the perpetrator has left the scene. While not known for being smart, he has been smart enough to be scarce.
Sofie, I published your letters because we live in a culture where rape is epidemic, and at the same time, a forbidden topic of conversation. You matter. Your story matters. Those of us who have lived through it are often told by those close to us, who want us to heal, to just get over it. Put it behind you. Forget it.
That is not what you heard from me.
You don’t forget it. It changes your life. But it does not change the lives of those around you unless you take it to higher ground.
When I was a young woman, I worked for the Los Angeles Commission on Assaults Against Women (LACAAW) running a field canvas to raise funds for a rape and battering hotline. My crew were almost all young women from UCLA, with a few exceptions. Like any field canvass, we went door-to-door through neighborhoods all over LA, letting people know about the services offered and asking for donations. In all the time I worked there, I could count on one hand the number of women who had not been raped, and have fingers left over. The stats are sickening, and those are just the official reports. These women who worked with me were the strong survivors; they had been through a devastating trauma, and had chosen to use their energy to help turn the tide.
As any of our elected officials can tell you, when you choose to walk around knocking on people’s doors, you meet everyone. You meet anyone. Our rules were to keep the conversation to three minutes or less, always leave the info, and don’t go in the house. Oh, and get a check.
At one door, a very young woman with a baby on her hip and a swollen black eye listened to me speak, took the info card and tucked it into her shirt, looking at me like I’d just handed her a winning lottery ticket.
Another door, answered by a rather attractive but seemingly angry man in his bathrobe asked me “And how do you define rape ?” I told him it was in the dictionary and I was 100 feet up the street in less than 60 seconds.
An older woman with white hair would not allow me to stand on her doorstep, she insisted I come into the house. You know about me and rules … in I went.
This was a beautiful house, expensively appointed and well cared for, not a speck of dust or pile of papers anywhere. She wanted to show me her pictures.
Hanging on the wall were a series of pictures of her family – Her husband, a much older man, and her son who looked so different from either one of them he could have been a passing stranger. She told me that she was a widow, and that was fine with her. Her husband had married her out of pity, she said. Because she was pregnant. I offered as casually as I could that her son certainly looked very different than she did. She took the info card from my clipboard and held her fingers over the words “battering” and “hotline” leaving one visible word. Rape.
She showed me another picture, herself standing with her tall son in a cap and gown, holding a diploma, wearing a big smile. “That is his graduation from medical school. He is a doctor, and I’m very proud of him.” I told her I was very proud of her, to raise such a child must have been hard, and she had obviously succeeded. She started to cry, and said no one in her life had ever been proud of her, had ever said such a thing.
Then, she told me her story, told it the way a lady would, with euphemisms and long pauses, looking at the floor, looking at the wall behind me. At the end of it, she looked at me and said “I’m sure there’s a reason you are out here knocking on doors.”
I said yes, there was, I wanted to get this information out to everyone who might need it, but I was running late and I had to go and pick up my crew. She took all the info, said she would call to do the volunteer training for the hotline, and then wrote me the biggest check I’d seen since I started. As I left the house she thanked me. “If I had someone to talk to, things could have been different for me.” Yes, I thought. Me too.
When I picked up the last of my crew in my dented old Buick and drove out of the neighborhood, I asked them about their shifts – how many doors, how many checks, any challenges ? Who wants to check in first ? Someone always brought up a “maybe,” a contribution or volunteer offer that didn’t like to make eye contact, didn’t have time to talk. Probably a survivor.
Not everyone has the ability to tell their story. Some women wait decades, some take it to their graves with them.
I am proud of you Sofie. Proud that you were smart enough to go to the cops, proud that you are getting professional help, and proud that you wrote it. Honored to publish you. You will heal.
Yes, you will.
I would like to live in a world where rape is as rare and unthinkable as cannibalism. But we don’t live there. Yet.
You could think again of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s words, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”
Your parents and your siblings and your boyfriend – don’t get angry with them because they don’t know what to do. They love you. They are overwhelmed. Your ex-boss – believe me – he is roasting on a slow spit in hell, waiting for his wife, his family and his employer to find out. They might not find out for a while, but that leaves him roasting for now. Don’t push for a form of punishment that punishes you as well.
I will take counsel with women who are far wiser than I, and decide what to do with the police report – what would be best for you. I’ll write more when I have more information. It’s a big topic, rape.
I would be honored to sit with you on the higher ground.