I knew I could get through a rape, but no one survives a murder. ~ Christine List

Via on Nov 8, 2012

Bringing the Dark into the Light: A Tale of Sexual Assault and Healing.

Recently I participated in a brief exchange on Facebook on the topic of sexual assault. The person who initiated the discussion was upset by the comments following an article at Jezebel.com written by a woman who had been sexually assaulted on the street. Apparently the nature of the offending comments were of the “I would’ve kicked him in the balls!” variety.

My friend’s premise in her Facebook update was that this kind of attitude is harmful to the victims of rape and sexual assault, and only serves to perpetuate the problem.

She stated, “Okay, actually, I get it; they are trying to comfort themselves with the idea that they are invulnerable. The problem with this is, they are implicitly blaming the person telling the story for basically not being competent enough to defend themselves. This reinforces rape culture, because it reinforces the perception the onus is on people (mostly women) to not get raped.”

I completely agree, and like my friend on Facebook, I understand the “It couldn’t happen to me because I would have killed the son-of-a-bitch“ response. But I also know it is a totally unrealistic delusion, and it is one that can be extremely harmful to a victim of sexual assault or abuse. Like my friend, I believe it reinforces this kind of crime and perpetuates the cycle. Unfortunately, I learned this through my own experiences.

When I was a 19-year-old college student, I spent a semester of my junior year in Avignon, France. My best friend and I bought Eurail passes and spent some time roaming through various countries, including spending a week in Rome.

Rome was not a safe playground for a naïve but adventurous young American girl.

In a restaurant one night, feeling vulnerable and recovering from a narrow escape from a dangerous situation the night before, my friend and I were joined for dinner and wine by several young Roman men from the table next to us.

One of the men seated himself next to me, and I shared with him the sketchy happenings of the previous night. In broken English, he confirmed Rome was indeed a dangerous city, but he reassured me there was no need for me to be afraid of him, as he was “polizia.”

After eating, drinking and conversing for a short while, he invited me to go for a ride on the back of his motorbike to “see the city.” Unwittingly, I accepted, and told my friend I would return shortly. I climbed on the back of his motorbike, and he drove us straight up into a huge park on one of Rome’s famous hills, and parked the bike under a big, old tree.

There in the cold, wintery darkness, with not a soul in sight, with the lights of the city twinkling far beneath us, this man, this so-called “police officer” whom I had known for no more than two hours, grabbed me and began to smash his mouth against mine in a grotesque distortion of a kiss. He groped me and forcefully rammed his body up against mine. With my heart in my throat, and the realization of the gravity of the situation settling in, I pushed him away and politely, but in no uncertain terms, demanded he return me to the restaurant at once.

Photo: Jimee, Jackie, Tom, and Asha

He flared into an angry outburst of words and gestures, and the more I rejected his advances, the more enraged he became. He began to yell at me in words I didn’t understand and gesture at me savagely, pacing around in circles under that foreign tree. He threatened to leave me there in the darkness of that giant, cold, ancient park, miles from my friend, in a city where I knew no one and didn’t speak the language.

Then, suddenly and mercifully, he stopped his vicious outburst and seemed to have a change of mood. He directed me to get back on the bike. I gratefully did so, and begged him politely to take me back to the restaurant.

But he did not take me back to the restaurant. Instead, after experiencing a few moments of sweet relief believing we were heading back to safety, with dawning terror I realized he was entering the on-ramp to a freeway. He then took us miles away from the city, away from the light to a giant concrete apartment building surrounded by dark nothingness. I followed him through that darkness into his apartment where he raped me. I didn’t fight back physically.

At some point on the back of that motorbike, with the unfamiliar, ancient, polluted Roman air molecules blowing hard against my face and the light disappearing rapidly behind me, I steeled myself and made a decision. I decided I would do whatever it takes to get through the rest of the experience, as safely as possible, so I could survive and get back to my friend and my life.

I didn’t know him.

I was afraid of him.

I had no idea what he might do if I further protested, and I wanted to live.

So I shut myself down.

Because I chose not to struggle, he became less aggressive with me, and began to act as if this were a romantic encounter I had chosen. Much to his displeasure, I laid there lifeless, closed my eyes and didn’t say a word. Let me just say, I endured the next few hours until the light began to come again. I had no words for him then, and no words to say to anyone about it for a long, long time, including myself.

As dawn was breaking, we climbed back on his bike, and he returned me to the restaurant which was near the hotel where my friend was anxiously awaiting my return. Naturally, she was upset with me for abandoning her the night before. Again, I had no words or reasonable explanation for what had happened, other than the feeling: all of it was my own fault.

I was embarrassed and terribly ashamed. But mostly, I was just confused and shutdown. I couldn’t tell her the truth. The anger and sadness would not emerge until later. And even then, it would be many years before the words would come.

Jesus on the cross
Photo: stock.exchng

Seventeen years later, at the age of 35, I made my first confession, or as it is now known in the Roman Catholic Church, my “sacrament of reconciliation.” This involved an extensive “examination of conscience,” or as was the case for me, a harrowing trip through my past, examining the ways in which I had caused harm to myself or others.

It was the first time in my life I had reflected on my experience in Rome with any kind of deep acknowledgement of the serious impact it had on me. Suddenly, it was glaringly obvious. Most distressing, ultimately, was the realization I had never forgiven myself for “allowing” it to happen, and I was still deeply hurt by it. Because I had never honestly acknowledged I was raped, I did not feel like a victim. I felt like a willing participant; perhaps, even a “slut” or an impure woman.

Wouldn’t I have fought back harder physically if I truly were a victim?

Wouldn’t I have screamed or kicked him and run away?

Was this a sin?

Should I confess it?

I looked at the stations of the cross and saw the depictions of Christ’s agony as his body was crucified. I saw the resignation on his face as he carried the cross on his back toward his impending death. I saw his acceptance of his suffering at the hands of those who would crucify him.

Was Christ a victim? A willing participant? Why was his face depicted in such an undisturbed manner, and why was he helping to carry the cross? This was a dark time, and the passion story resonated with me.

Dear Reader,

I know the truth now. It has been 10 years since my last and final confession in the Roman Catholic Church. However, I will confess to you here my “sin,” or that which separated me from my healing and wholeness.

The sin I committed was punishing myself for this violation by being silent and ashamed; by holding on to even a glimmer of belief I somehow deserved what happened to me; for innocently climbing on the back of a motorbike, with a man I didn’t know, and not fighting back harder.

Somewhere inside myself I believed I deserved what happened because I didn’t do something violent enough to him to stop him from raping me, even though I begged him to stop, even though I pushed him away, and even though I asked him repeatedly to return me to the restaurant.

Looking back, with the wisdom of time and maturity, I know getting on the back of a motorbike with a stranger in a foreign land was a foolish and risky thing to do. But it was not justification for what came to pass.

Now, as I am able to reflect back on my young, innocent self, I can see I did the best I could. The decisions I made were reasonable for me, and were made out of self-preservation. I wanted to come through it alive. I knew I could get through a rape, but no one survives a murder. I had no way of knowing what this man would do to me.

I made my choice.

There are several reasons I have chosen to tell this story now, including being inspired by the Facebook post I previously mentioned. By allowing myself to be ashamed and silent about it for so many years—and still, at the age of 46—to have any shred of guilt I didn’t fight him violently, makes me feel like a participant in the culture that allows these crimes to flourish— “the culture of rape.”

I have far too much life experience now to believe it is simple. If, by being open and honest here, just one person is given some insight, spared some shame or has the opportunity to speak on her own behalf, and not let someone who doesn’t understand speak for her, then I am grateful for that.

I am also finally ready to tell this story now because I am shocked and alarmed by the utter lack of clarity and insight on the part of some politicians recently on the subject of rape. I needn’t run down the list of outrageous remarks made in recent weeks; just Google the phrases legitimate rape or what God intended if you’ve been living in a cave on a remote island.

Rape is never legitimate, nor is it ever what “God” intended.

It is an act of violence, pure and simple, and it never comes with easy options for escape.

This post is my absolution.

 

Christine List is a blogger at misslisted.com, a Seattle mother of three adolescents, a sister, daughter, girlfriend, yoga teacher, meditator, mediator, clinic manager, nature appreciator, star-gazer, observer, contemplator, witness, seeker, finder, laugher, crier, lover of people and blurter-outer of all sorts of nonsense.

~

Editor: Jennifer Spesia

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43 Responses to “I knew I could get through a rape, but no one survives a murder. ~ Christine List”

  1. Wow. Powerful and unfortunate story. Thank you for writing this, Christine. I am sure your words will help many others.

  2. misslisted says:

    Thank you Lynn, that's my hope. – Chris

  3. Madame Weebles says:

    This is so powerful and so beautifully expressed. You did nothing wrong in not fighting. Instinctively you know that to fight back would be to risk your life even further. You were so strong and brave then, and just as strong and brave in talking about it now. You did nothing that needs absolution, but I'm glad you wrote this anyway.

  4. Mary says:

    This piece is simple yet powerful. It cannot have been easy to write and must have been harder to publish, but it shares an experience that unfortunately too many women have endured. Perhaps in sharing, Chris has inspired other women to begin to release the weights they carry about their pasts.

  5. @joiedesara says:

    As the similar of a very similar crime, thank you for your words.

  6. Nicole says:

    Wow, Chris. This brought me to tears. I admire your strength and willingness to share. Thank you!

  7. Dianne says:

    As someone who has known you most of your life, let me tell you how proud I am of you.

  8. Dane says:

    Responding with violence, that would have been the easier path. You chose to live. Had you retaliated with any greater level of rejection, you would very likely have lost your life or even brought harm to your traveling partner, or even to your family and friends later. I'm so sorry it left you with shame and guilt. Your words will heal that process for other victims of similar tragedy. I'm so, so glad you chose to live. As I now enjoy you in my life, I don't know where or who I would be without you. Thank you for your brave actions then, and now as you share this journey with others in need.

  9. misslisted says:

    Thank you for feeling it Nicole…

  10. Maya says:

    This is really brave of you to write. I am really inspired by your realization that this is not your fault. Some women hold onto shame, guilt, anger, sadness, for their entire lives. As a fellow woman, I am proud of you for your strength and gentleness to yourself. Good luck with healing :)

  11. Christa says:

    Such a raw and emotional account of such a horrible experience Chris. You are very brave to speak up, Your writing is eloquent and your story is moving. Let the healing begin with you.

  12. iambethanne says:

    I thank you from the bottom of my heart for writing this. I myself was raped by a boyfriend I was trying to reconcile with about twenty years ago, when I was 22. For years I had convinced myself that I was healed and over it. Until August when all this rape talk hit the mainstream. I now realize that I never truly forgot even if I wasn't thinking about it, I didn't really heal and this event had affected my confidence and relationship choices. Your statement "The sin I committed was punishing myself for this violation by being silent and ashamed; by holding on to even a glimmer of belief I somehow deserved what happened to me" was true for me as well. It's amazing that I have long since forgiven the rapist, yet I haven't fully forgiven myself. So twenty years later, I am once again on a healing journey and truly ready to leave this event in the past. Thank you for helping me.

  13. misslisted says:

    Sounds like we have a lot in common in this way. I'm glad I was able to write about it, and in some way I thank those clueless, white, male politicians who made the remarks that set this post into motion for me. Their lack of awareness, shall we say, gave me the motivation to speak up on behalf of a person who has experienced rape and it's aftermath, and hopefully, in some small way, to raise the conciousness on the subject. Thank you for your response, and best to you in your healing…

  14. edieyoga says:

    I posted on the FB mainpage. Thank you.

  15. Madge says:

    The issue isn't fighting back or not, everyone has the right to do what they feel in the moment they need to do to survive, the deeper issue is boundaries which isn't addressed here. To have a near miss of sexual misconduct and share that experience with a total stranger (and a man)the very next night whom one has no real reason to trust (saying "polizia" is not enough) is a serious boundary violation against oneself. Describing getting on the back of the bike to see the city as, "innocently" (with a stranger in the night in a foreign country and being separated from a friend?) is the second boundary issue. It's a rule of thumb never ever to do that. I am sorry for the horror you went through nobody should have to know that pain and suffering and I hope you have true peace and healing. Asking these tough questions is not in any way assessing blame because there is none it was tragic. We as women have to look at all factors to do with responsibility for our self preservation thorough honest inquiry into our own boundary issues and safety issues. We must create healthy boundaries in a world filled with unhealthy tendencies. When we do, we minimize the risk to ourselves. It would be important to look at this not as blame but as way to true freedom.
    I'm also saddened by the headline of this submission. I find on Elephant too often a trend towards a sensational way to present serious issues.

    • misslisted says:

      Agreed that there were serious boundary issues at play here. With my limited experience going in, I was a set-up. My "rule of thumb" at that point was to be trusting and adventurous. I was raised in a way that sheltered me and I was a teenager, which put me at a disadvantage in the "judgment and risk-taking" centers of my brain.I do believe that I address boundary issues indirectly. It is a cautionary tale. You are judging my "innocence" from your own perspective. I WAS innocent and naive then. At 46 years old I believe I would make a different choice. I encourage healthy boundary setting in my own children by being open and real and sharing my own stories with them…but they are still teenagers. The title may be a bit of a grabber, but it's the truth, and if it gets a reader's attention, I am just fine with that. I have received hundreds of comments in my personal blog that suggest that people have been helped by this story. It is not a gentle title, but it was not a gentle situation. – Chris

  16. Dawn says:

    I’m so moved by your words, your bravery, your survival instinct & the realisation that it was NOT your fault. Thank you!
    I will share this with my beautiful adolescent daughters.
    I believe your story WILL make a difference!

  17. Sol says:

    This is a very strong experience and I am glad you made through it and are now healed from the experience. I agree that you did the best you could do to survive.

    But we cannot forget that victims of any kind of violence should call the Police (the real one). This man was and is a rappist. Even you jumping innocently in the back of his bike this does not give him the right of have sex with you. This kind of man cannot live on the streets doing to other women what he did to you.

    • misslisted says:

      Thank you. While I agree that victims should generally report any kind of violence to the police, I have real questions about how that would've played out for me back then. It was almost 30 years ago, I was in Italy, didn't speak the language, it's such a different culture…I wonder if I would've stood a chance by telling the police. Perhaps it would've made things very difficult for me in the wake of an already difficult process. I've read some terrible accounts written by women who were raped and then had to go through a second violation by dealing with the "authorities".

  18. Joe Sparks says:

    Wow, very powerful! Every male human should read this article.I am so sorry, you had to go through such a horrendous event that no person should ever have to endure! It was never your idea for one moment to be treated like this. I am so happy you survived, becauses it speaks volumes of your resilience, courage, intelligence, and love of yourself under this terrifying experience! You paid a huge price for not fighting back, but I believe that was the right decision. Now, you can heal from this completely,by using the same intelligence, courage that kept you alive, by surrounding yourself with people who care about you, no matter what happened to you. I hope you can feel safe enough to show those horrible feelings to your loved ones. It is wrong that our society wants you to be quiet or forget or stay a victim. This event will not have the same effect on you as you continue to reclaim your power and live the life you richly deserve. Thank you so much for sharing.

    • misslisted says:

      Thank you for the kind, encouraging remarks. Before I posted it, I shared it with my parents who didn't know, and that, combined with writing it, sharing it with my two sons and daughter were very helpful. Also helpful is reading comments and remarks from others…I feel that something has been cleared from me…

  19. Yes says:

    Thank you for sharing this. I don't feel like I can elaborate any more right now through tears and trembling hands, but you gave me voice with your words. Thank you.

  20. Sandy says:

    Thank you for your courage in sharing this, for shining a light in the dark places and reclaiming your truth. It helps us all heal. <3

  21. becky says:

    my heart broke for you while reading this. i too went to Rome as a young american girl and found myself alone at various times in a foreign environment trusting men whom i had no reason to trust. it turned out they could be trusted but those situations could have EASILY gone in another direction.

    having traveled in countries where i knew no one nor the language, i can imagine your fear and it is admirable that you did what it took to survive, given the overwhelming fear you must have felt.

    I believe many women have experienced rape or something close to it. i know I have and what works in one situation might not be what is called for another.

    after a night of drinking once i ended up with a guy in my car whom i had met that night. after making out a little bit he wouldnt get out of my car. and he wouldnt let me get out. i finally realized i had to lie and said i would drive him to his car and follow him home so that we could spend the night together and he wouldnt have to take me home in the morning. it took about an hour to convince him and i almost pepper sprayed him when at the last second he finally fell for my survival lie. i saw him at a party the next night. knowing he would be there, i felt ashamed to go but then i realized i wasnt the one who had done something wrong. i found my strength and didnt let him scare me off. i talked to him and realized how lucky i was to have escaped. he didnt think he was at fault AT ALL.

    i recently lived in paris. on one of the first few nights i was there, i took a walk on the champs elysee. a guy came up and started walking with me and when he started hugging me, i felt powerless to escape. there were many people around and yet i felt invisible to them and scared. that encounter ended with me using a self defense move – pushing two fingers into the hollow at the base of his throat.

    i went to puerto rico a few years ago and against my instincts met a stranger for lunch. soon enough i found myself in his hotel room consenually having sex but wondering wtf i was doing and feeling afraid of my choice to trust him. no man worth my time would have wanted me to experience that anguish.

    shortly after that back in new york, i ditched a friend at a party to go have a one night stand. I was in a strangers’ apartment and was more than happy to leave when he couldnt get it up. he didnt take it lightly and slammed the door behind me, leaving me to find my way home late at night in a remote and sparsely populated nejghborhood.

    and then there was my “boyfriend” whom i dated my senior year of high school. in a car one night parked on a hill begind my childhood home, i kept saying no when he tried to have sex with me. he would stop pressuring me then start up again. i finally gave in, knowing that I didnt know how to escape.

    last night I accidentally locked myself out of the house where i was dog-sitting. i went to the nearby cafe where i had gone a few times. the bartender whom i had met twice helped me out but as soon as he started to drive me to my place and he kept touching my knee, i recognized fear in my body and found the strength to tell him that I was uncomfortable. this was a big step for me and I am grateful.

    I am grateful that you found the words to tell about your experience. it must have been scary and confusing and painful but it is beautiful to see you setting yourself free.

  22. Becky says:

    even though you are 46 now and this rape was a long time ago, what would it look like to do any actions you maybe wished you had done after the rape occured?

    did you wish you told your friend. is it possible to find her and tell her now?

    did you wish you reported it? it was 28 yrs ago but can you report it now?

    did you wish you went to the hospital. can you talk to someone at a hospital now?

    what if you were to visit Rome again and act as if it just happened – where would you go, whom would you speak to?
    can you do that?

    do you wish you prevented him from being free to harm other women? are there ways to work now to fight crime and help women?

    do you wish you had understood more about rape before you experienced it? are there ways to help younger women (whom I believe are really just versions of ourselves)

    he raped you and my guess is that he had done it before.

    shutting down in order to stay alive was a way of "fighting" what was happening and there was nothing wrong with your choice. there is no way to tell what would have happened had you chose something else.

    I wish you peace.

  23. misslisted says:

    Hi Becky,
    I do believe he did it to other women. I think he targeted me because I was a vulnerable foreigner, and I vaguely remember seeing a lot of photos of other women in his apartment. I don't have much room to respond to you here, but those are interesting questions to ponder. If you would like to explore these questions further you could post them on my blog which allows for more of a forum at misslisted.com. Thank you!

  24. [...] man who gets an invitation to meet (the Christian) God at the run-down shack where his daughter was killed after she was abducted as a little [...]

  25. Amber says:

    Ditto. And welcome to “the flip side”! It feels good to read a similar perspective from time to time!!

  26. [...] Frankly, I don’t care if it is one in five or one in three. It is still too many. Rape is an epidemic. [...]

  27. [...] I knew I could get through a rape, but no one survives a murder. ~ Christine List (elephantjournal.com) Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:Like329 bloggers like this. [...]

  28. [...] remember the boy I had been friends with in art class, who tried to rape me my freshman year in high school. He didn’t get very far, because he sorely underestimated my [...]

  29. Isabel says:

    Christine, this post is amazing. I found it because just today I published my first piece on Ele and this article is one of the suggested further reads. It turns out my piece starts with my own episode of sexual assault in Italy. I think you might enjoy it. Thanks for sharing your own experience. These words are very powerful and it's very important for us women to read and know such messages.

    My article is at: http://www.elephantjournal.com/2013/12/cat-myths-….

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