|Art by Sherry Dooley|
The Montgomery County, MD therapist demanded to know why I was so upset about my rape 7 months after it happened. I couldn't say anything but sob. I didn't even know a human could endure that level of pain without dying.
How could I stay with a man that raped me every day? I consider the therapist an allegory of my intuition. I knew society and professionals would not be on my side. I know how much society hates the R word and how much more they hate rape victims.
Some of it makes twisted sense. If you get your wallet stolen three times, obviously you’re not taking care of your valuables. You should have learned the first time that your wallet could be stolen. So why can’t you prevent your own rape? You know it’s coming. But the truth is more twisted. We can’t just stop getting raped. And I think that scares people who hate us. It’s not really hate, it’s fear.
After nearly a year of being terrorized I tried to leave. I made plans and let him know. I was not going to be terrorized any longer. But that’s not really the entire truth. I had no job, no family, no car, my best friend had just died—and she was the only person who would never have left me—and, I knew there was no help. This mysterious help people talk about is no more real than Big Foot. But the real reason I left wasn’t because I hated the rape so much. I had lost all confidence and will to live at that point, it meant nothing that I was used and beaten like an object. But when he started beating my animals, that’s when I made the decision to leave. What he did after I left could turn into a Lifetime Movie.
Paul's anger was always out of control. He was always seething with rage and when he didn’t get his way he’d start sharpening his knives or he’d clean his gun. You never think you could get stuck with a man like this. Even if you have high self esteem, they find a way to knock you down until you don’t even recognize yourself anymore.
Despite the rage, repeated rapes, animal abuse, I didn’t consider suicide until years later when I was left impoverished with such bad anxiety my bosses would sense it and fire me or I'd be forced to quit. Like I keep saying, people kinda think rapists are jerks but they really really hate rape victims. It’s a fool proof plan. No one wants to see a rapist in their son, friend, co-worker, or neighbor.
You can’t imagine how expensive it is to be poor. I’ve literally paid 1000% more for the same thing as other people. To this day, my only options are suicide, jail or house arrest. And out of the three I think suicide is by far the most humane option. I know prison ain’t fun but the house arrest I’m under due to poverty and lack of basic human freedoms feels like the same torture as living with a rapist in some aspects. Funny that. With a rapist I was more respected as a woman than without.
None of this happened overnight. In fact it took about 4 years to get to the point where I was 100% decided on suicide. People say there is hope and things get better but they don’t. The agony of rape and poverty continue to make your life hell. Each day is a new hell that you could not imagine was possible. You can’t get stronger. Strong is bullshit anyways. Men rape us and we are supposed to carry on like good strong women who don’t complain.
The day I left, Paul went to court to file domestic violence protection orders against me, citing that I had threatened him with a gun. I owned no weapons, though he owned an arsenal of several dozen guns, rifles, and knives. On the order he stated he was getting ready for work, but the truth is he knew I was leaving that day so he called off work at some point. He kept threatening my animals but I had no choice but to leave to contest a ticket. If I didn’t, I would lose my license and the ability to run away. But he wouldn’t stop touching my cats after I told him not to, so I threatened to tell the police everything. That night the sheriffs delivered the court order. I was in so much shock (wish I knew this in fact was not shocking but rather male violence protocol) I stopped eating for almost three years.
Most people might wonder why I didn’t do more to protect myself but my only goal was to save my animals. What most don’t realize is that you have a choice, save yourself or your loved ones. You don’t get the luxury of doing both. That’s not how it works.
During this time the city of Gaithersburg animal control division manipulated the system to get me banned from the city. My neighbors upstairs posted my foreclosure notice in all of the buildings in my neighborhood, complained about my dog, and left lot’s of cruel notes at my door. There was no point in fighting them, your instinct kicks in and you know the truth so much clearer than ever.
The county DV unit provided me with a therapist, but she like so many others treated me worse than how my attacker was treated—all because I knew and lived with my attacker. The rape crisis attorney told me I was vengeful. Other attorney’s hung up on me. An attorney at the largest law firm in Maryland became angry when I asked if they represent rapists. They proclaimed that people lie about abuse. The judges ruled in his favor despite records of abuse and the detective sabotaged Paul’s confession. The courts couldn’t help. My old roommate worked for the court system so I was familiar with the ongoings of the judges and attorney’s who do all the things my ex did to me. The police weren’t any different from my ex either. One Montgomery County, MD officer said things and threatened things I can’t repeat here. And most of my friends cut and ran. Despite poverty being the number one reason for planning my suicide, having friends disappear was more painful. But they had to do what they had to do. The truth is that rape brings everyone around the victim down, it destroys their peace and sanctity and I think they knew it on some level. This is why I left my old life behind because it’s not there anymore, there is nothing to salvage.
But you never really leave male violence behind; it’s everywhere. When I finally moved into a safe neighborhood, I’d hear my male neighbors scream at their wives and dogs the way Paul did to me. And one neighbor tried to abuse my dog when he thought I wasn’t looking. He later threatened to kidnap my animals and made strange comments that no one walks away from him—even though I just did. He even said that he’d better never see my dog in the yard. I continue to live with fear in the back of my mind that he’ll make good on his promises. In a way those are the only promises men keep. Trying to stay safe from men like this cost me my life savings. Avoiding male violence is the single largest expense in my life, second to state sanctioned usury.
On my 6 year anniversary I nearly died from an unknown illness. But I know what it was—it was heart break. The agony was so unbearable, I couldn’t eat or drink for ten days. The pain nearly caused a heart attack and yet the hospital refused pain medication. When I returned home from the hospital the county cut off my food stamps. Most people don’t understand that you are not eligible for food stamps unless you work at least 20 hours a week. This means you have to stay in a job that pays you too little to eat. And if you don’t have a job you have to work for free for the county at about 2-3 times the worth of the food stamps and they do not cover transportation expenses making your limited options impossible. Not having pain medication, food stamps and being denied disability has made the choice to kill myself absolute.
But along the way I found some peace when by chance I discovered the most brilliant feminists. They cried with me every day. They didn’t even know who I was and they didn’t care. Many have offered me money and support but the truth is that I’m dead already. And I don’t want to take resources away from those who are living.
My experiences led me to become vocal about rape, rape apology and male sexual violence which includes porn and prostitution. Even though we’re led to believe that porn and prostitution aren’t violence, I think non rapists would feel a repulsion so strong at the idea of women being economically coerced into sexual servitude or risk homelessness that that would be a force they couldn’t ignore. But instead leftist and rightist men both agree that women’s bodies are battle grounds for their war. I get accusations of SWERF/TERF but I think being anti-exploitation is the right thing to do under any circumstance because there is no loophole for rape. I don’t care what excuses anyone presents.
My friends threatened me a lot and I lost a lot of friends. I also got a lot of rape threats as well. It was hurtful, I was confused, dismayed and felt an isolation I wouldn’t wish on anyone. But the outrage directed at me lead me to take it up ten levels. The strange thing is that when you become extremely vocal (is there any other kind?) people accuse you of being a victim of male violence. As if it’s a blight on me. As if my job was to smile the rape away and make men’s crime invisible to protect their image. Being a victim is supposed to invalidate me as a human being or as an intellectual capable of remaining rational. These are the ways in which women are punished for saying no.
Occasionally I get an email from a woman who never spoke about her rape and domestic violence. I don’t know how they lived in silence for so many decades. My goal was to never shut up, ever. Sometimes men choose the wrong damn victim, someone they think will remain silent. They think we’ll be targeted for more abuse if we speak out so it would compel us to remain invisible forever. And they are right, the post DV abuse is worse than any of the direct abuse I’ve experienced. But when women are encouraged and have access to feminism, it changes our pre-programed fear response. You become someone you never thought you would be capable of becoming: an unapologetic woman.
An excerpt from our upcoming anthology, The Abuse After the Abuse: How Men use Money to Destroy Women.