It was Halloween, 1987.
My son was six years old and attending a private school on the Upper Westside in NYC. His teacher had arranged a little party for the class at lunchtime, and I’d offered to bring cupcakes. They were a mixture of chocolate and vanilla with bright orange butter frosting. I recall every detail because of what happened to me on the way there.
It was 11:30 in the morning. I traveled the C line straight up Central Park West to the Museum of Natural History stop at 81st Street; not exactly a neighborhood where one would feel “at risk.” As I stepped off the train, I noticed a man waiting at the end of the platform. He didn’t get on the train which I felt was strange because it was the only line that would stop there. No one else got off the train with me. We were alone on the platform.
I thought for a second. I was dressed for business. I carried a leather briefcase and wore your typical high heel, business-like pumps on my feet. I debated for a second whether I could run faster barefoot or if I should leave them on.
“Ridiculous,” I said to myself. “He’s a nicely dressed man.”
He was black, tall, maybe about 6’2″ and thin. His chino pants were pressed. He wore a clean grey jacket. He was in his thirties and his hair was neatly trimmed.
I knew he could outrun me, easily. Turning toward the South exit didn’t make sense. It was far away. Either he was a decent human being or turning my back toward him wasn’t a good idea. I took my briefcase off my shoulder and clutched the handle tightly in my hand. I figured I’d swing it if he approached me in a menacing way.
I decided that the North exit was my best option and that pretending that everything was okay was my best defense….. typical positive valence.
Relief…. I was safely in the revolving door, the kind that had black, horizontal bars that separated one unit from the next. The steps for the exit would be right beside me in the vestibule. I pushed on the door and it began to turn.
“I won’t hurt you,” he said. The door stopped abruptly. I was trapped. “I just want your money.”
His hand held the bar far above my head. I froze. He slid into my section of the door.
There was no room to swing my briefcase. When he asked where my money was I dutifully responded. He told me to give him my wallet, and I did. He rifled through it, standing so close I could feel his breath on my neck. He pocketed the money and tossed my wallet into a dark recess just North of the door.
“Go stand by your wallet,” he said in a commanding tone.
“I’ve seen his face. Is he going to push me on the tracks? Is he going to rape me?” I thought as he continued gripping the door.
“Move,” he yelled, “You’re blocking my way.”
All I could do was trust that he’d leave. I don’t know to this day how I did so, he was blocking the back of the door section, but I backed out and prayed he wouldn’t harm me. He bounded up the stairs, three at a time, and disappeared from sight.
Tears streamed down my cheeks as I stood there thanking God that I hadn’t been raped.
So this brings me to defining what is so harmful in rape……
You find yourself alone in a parking lot. Someone hits you from behind, pushes you against your car, tears your purse off your shoulder and runs off with it. You were the victim of a violent robbery…. right? How difficult would it be to heal from that event?
Now let’s suppose they hit you from behind, pushed you against your car, stripped away your undergarments and raped you. That adds a whole new dimension to your trauma, doesn’t it?
So the penetration of your reproductive organs is far more defiling than the theft of your property. And that horror separates violence from sexual violence.
Sexual assault by fraud does not take place through violence. But it is a violation of your reproductive organs none-the-less. And the devastation one feels when one learns they were sexually violated, even without violence, causes similar chaos in the victim’s psyche. Defilement exists, even if physical pain does not.
Every person has an individual tolerance for trauma.
Soldiers, especially those at high risk of capture, undergo specialized, intense training to withstand torture. SERE, Survival Evasion, Resistance and Escape training prepares high risk military personnel as well as others. One single horror that a soldier witnesses can trigger Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. (PTSD.) Enduring continual torment over long periods of time, such as by living in a state of captivity, produces layer after layer of PTSD. This condition is known as Complex PTSD.
Similarly, a person experiencing a violent rape can develop PTSD. The pain, as well as the sexual defilement, triggers extreme terror. Defilement over an extended period of time creates Complex PTSD.
The inner turmoil and struggle
Erin Pizzey, the social activist who created the first women’s shelters in North America, refers to abusers in relationships as “soul murderers.” Without raising a hand to the victim, they gouge at the person’s inner core and self esteem, battering their psyche with devaluation. The longer the condition festers, the more entrenched their adaptive behaviors become, and the more difficult to heal.
People ask me all the time, “So what’s the big deal in sexual assault by deception? Didn’t the person have a good time and get what they wanted?
What they got was ” smoke and mirrors” to cover up a terrible defilement that was taking place. And when they learn the truth, all those layers of pain, every instance in which the offender defiled them, hits them all at once. Imagine if your self determination over your reproductive organs was manipulated from you over and over again. What you’d thought was sexual intimacy was nothing but exploitation all that time, time and time again.
But people remain with their tormentors. Doesn’t that show that they weren’t harmed?
No. It simply means that the pain is so difficult to bear, that they bury it. Just like other forms of shock, our mind keeps us from feeling the agony that can be overwhelming. Sometimes, coming to grips with what took place can take years to unfold in the victim’s mind.
Denial of hurt and anguish can erode a person’s stability and effect them in many ways. Drug and alcohol abuse, overeating, shoplifting, fighting, hyper sensitivity, paranoia, angry outbursts, irritability, reclusiveness, financial excesses, and self harm are just a few of the behaviors that result from Complex PTSD. People who experience sexual assault by fraud or deception develop acute, painful changes in their psyche, similar to rape victims who experience PTSD as a result of a single event.
While victims of sexual assault by fraud or deception did not face violent trauma, they underwent the defilement of sexual assault and their road to healing can be a slow, difficult and painful one, particularly when the people who should emotionally support them fail to validate their pain and help them heal.
Violent rape is an aggravated form of sexual assault. But many non-violent means, including deception, exist to deprive you of the self-determination you deserve over your reproductive organs. Who you chose as a sexual partner is entirely up to you and someone who fabricates information to deceive you is treacherously and underhandedly blocking your right to choice. They are not seducing you. they are assaulting you.
© Copyright, Joyce M. Short- All rights reserved