Yesterday evening, your story appeared on the news for the first time that I’ve known about since the days following your horrific experience. We don’t know each other, but your experience has stayed with me because I was your same age when I was horrendously raped by my first boyfriend. I am also a survivor of ten years of incest (early childhood sexual abuse), battery, multiple subsequent sexual assaults as an adult, and a very recent event of domestic violence that still feels raw two months later. What I’m trying to communicate here is that, though we’ve never met and are unlikely to ever know each other’s glance if we should cross paths by chance, I know what you feel right now. And though your perspective of the events and the impact it has had on your life have not been aired at all, let alone as frequently as attempts to invalidate or blame you have been, I hear you.
When your story first emerged, I was moved to uncontrollable rage against every person who has ever laid a hand on me without my consent. That anger boiled over into the first permanent record I have ever made, of what I’ve survived over the course of my relatively short life. I wrote and submitted an anthropology paper composed of two parts. The first half of the paper was dissecting the victim-blaming and denial embedded in every news story from within a matter of days of your experience — it was painfully obvious to me that the first paper to plant the seed of doubt in its readership about the validity of what you endured was from the very city where I was being molested and raped for approximately ten years while doctors, teachers, parents of neighbourhood children, police, and even social workers all turned the other way. The second half of that paper was dissecting the victim-blaming and denial embedded in every news story that either addressed women directly or that treated women as the central subjects, from just one daily news source over the course of two weeks. Within that two week period, a story was published about changing prostitution laws, and the Pickton case was referenced, but the implicit message of the story was that sex workers don’t have the same rights as anyone else. As a result, I felt it necessary to also make my first full disclosure as a former sex worker, because this was a critical aspect of the analysis I was offering. Multiple other stories in that two weeks contained the implicit message that once a woman’s rights are violated, she is treated as though she never had rights to begin with and will never get those rights back (begging the question of what the point of having rights is if taking them away effectively nullifies them before and after). I was arguing a case for the existence of rape culture in mass media, brain-washing women to live in terror while blaming them for the horrific things that happen to them, if those things are even acknowledged as real or valid at all (though they often aren’t).
When your story aired on the evening news last night, chills moved through me. I have not forgotten you or the way your story gradually transformed in mass media, from “drugged and raped” to “allegedly drugged and allegedly raped”. I have not stopped asking myself just how many police press releases have to occur, in which an officer explicitly states that there is nothing “alleged” or questionable about what happened to you, and that your experience is not on the table to be invalidated and criticized, as though there was some magical combination of factors that would mean that either you were secretly consenting the whole time or had just made up the entire story for attention and got what was coming to you. I have not forgotten you or the way your assault was treated by onlookers as though it was a live performance of pornography to be exploited for all the shame it could summon upon you. I have not forgotten that those videos and photos traumatized many young adults, who helped police become aware of their existence, which in turn brought them to your door. Let me say again that I have not doubted the validity of your experience for a moment since I learned that this happened to you, and nothing you did forced anyone else involved to violate your rights, take pictures, record videos, or repeatedly re-post this evidence on social media in a smear campaign against you.
You are not to blame for what happened to you. You did nothing to deserve being drugged, horrifically raped, and turned into the subject of mass speculation and criticism. Your voice deserves to be heard as widely as every writer, editor, or commentator who attempted to invalidate your experience or shame you for enduring it, and justice for you is now long overdue. Everything you are feeling is completely legitimate. It’s exactly what I felt when I had told my friends that my boyfriend had raped me after he had been drinking and smoking hash. He denied it when I confronted him within days, and one of them actually started dating him in a matter of weeks after I ended the relationship. It took me the greater part of ten years to forgive myself for every little thing I had done the night I was raped by that man, and to stop looking for reasons to blame myself for what he did. Over that same period of time, I struggled with whether or not I should believe his denial over my own very distinctive memories and post-traumatic triggers. But there is no reason it should have taken so long, apart from the people I surrounded myself with — people who valued me exactly as I valued myself: disposable.
It’s completely legitimate to feel angry, to feel grief-stricken, and to even feel like turning against everyone — including yourself and everyone who has stood by you as you’ve gone through this experience. These are all feelings anyone could only reasonably expect, given the average sum of feelings all women who have ever been raped have endured after these experiences throughout the entire history of the human race. But these are also feelings that come from someone who knows deep down, no matter what anyone else tries to tell her, that she is innately entitled to be treated with respect and dignity, for she is truly valuable in and of herself and is not merely an object to be toyed with and tossed away. I know that you know why what happened to you is wrong—not because of what some court of law or criminal code says—but because you wouldn’t feel this way if you didn’t know in your heart that you deserve love and respect.
Your experience has intersected with so many of my experiences. My heart spills towards you. I want to show you my support, my solidarity, and when you are ready to hear it, how I learned to heal myself, value myself, and begin to love myself again. I want to show you that though my life is far from perfect and utterly terrible things had happened long before and even continued to happen many times after that particular event just months before my 17th birthday, I am still here, and that is remarkable because you are too. Your family is still here for you. Your friends are still here for you. I’m here for you. I can tell you of at least one woman who nearly died enduring exactly what you have been subjected to, who you can count on as being here for you too.
You are so strong, you didn’t even know how strong you had to be just to get through what happened. I know you didn’t remember until police found the videos and the photos, but that isn’t a sign of weakness and it wasn’t just a “side effect” of either a drug or trauma. You are not merely a victim — you are a survivor and a warrior. You had the skill to survive already within you. You have a warrior’s heart. So few women could have endured what you went through and somehow still have the strength to stand up and fight for justice in a court of law. For all those who couldn’t take that stand, or who didn’t have the support to help them through it, and especially for those who didn’t survive, you have already made a huge difference. Your experience moved me to finally write about mine, and other survivors (including the one whose experience is nearly identical to yours in every way) have told me already what a difference my voice has made in their lives. We have begun to take ourselves back from our traumas by empowering each other.
From one survivor to another and with all my heart, thank you for continuing to fight for justice, to be heard, and to be treated with love and respect. You’ll always have my gratitude for your fight, my ear for your voice, and my love and respect for you, for what it’s worth.