Life & Love After Rape.

Via Alyssa Royse
on Mar 20, 2013
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Twenty-three years ago—when I was 17 and had just graduated from high-school—someone broke into my house while I was sleeping, came into my bed, climbed on top of me, held a gun to my head and raped me.

My father was asleep down the hall and my two cats were doing whatever it is that cats do in the middle of the night.

The man who was raping me told me that if I yelled, or made any attempt to look at him, he would kill my father and my two cats. And then me. I did not yell, and did not move for half an hour after he left, as I was instructed. The only thing I saw of my attacker were his hands in surgical gloves. He left no fingerprints. He left no DNA at all. Even at the time, I was grateful that he used a condom.

I was also grateful to be alive. Even at the time, I saw that as a choice that I made.

In the 23 years since that happened, I have written and spoken extensively about the aftermath of rape. It is part of what made me who I am. I can’t say that I think about my rape on a regular basis, it has just become part of the primordial goo that curses through my veins and makes me who I am.

Every now and then my rape comes up in conversation. I can tell, by the look on their faces, that other people think I talk about it too casually. I don’t mean to. But I don’t really give it that much weight. After all, I didn’t do it. I didn’t earn it. I didn’t ask for it. I didn’t cause it. In some ways, it really and truly had nothing to do with me. It certainly doesn’t define me.

Now, how I chose to survive it? That’s mine. And it’s something I claim, proudly.

The simple truth, however, is that most of the time, I honestly forget that I was raped.

My family and I were having breakfast the other day and the morning news was on. There was a teaser for an upcoming show in which someone was referring to rape as a devastating and crippling crime that ruins the lives of countless women. I snapped at the TV and said, “Not all of us, my life wasn’t ruined!”

My daughter looked at me, in shock, and said, “what do you mean, mommy? Were you raped?”

It never occurred to me that she didn’t know. I just forgot.

Now, before I get accused of being flippant, let me be clear. My rape, just like the other over 200,000 rapes that take place each year in the U.S., was horrible. I was a teenager, I had a gun at my head, and I was in a place that I felt safe. I don’t think that I slept through the night for more than a year afterwards. (I still can’t sleep very well if I am home alone, and, as a 40 year-old, often have slumber parties to avoid it.)

In the immediate aftermath, I floundered around and tried, in desperate ways, to reclaim my own fledgling sexuality by engaging in behavior that, upon retrospect, looks an awful lot like raping myself—a promiscuity with the kind of men that make my skin crawl when I see them now, preying on equally insecure young girls.

It was a rough few years. For sure. But thanks to incredible friends and family—and my own bizarre and innate ability to rationally get to the bottom-line of a situation—I just kept on with my life. I chose to travel Europe alone—and each day that nothing bad happened, I got stronger. I worked as a rape crisis counselor in hospitals—and each time I met with a survivor and congratulated her for surviving, I gave myself the same praise and strength.

Eventually, I was living, loving, going to college, having sex, and building a future just like everyone else. My own violent past just became an imprint on me.

It is from this perspective that I think about, and react to, the discussion of rape, rapists and rape survivors in our modern media. I listen to stories and interviews and am often aghast at the senseless and shallow way that this incredibly violent crime is treated.

Perhaps the worst of it, for me, was an episode of Oprah.

Photo: nayrb7
Photo: nayrb7

Oprah was interviewing a woman who had fought off an armed attacker who was attempting to rape her. (Fighting off an armed attacker, for the record, is incredibly foolish and dangerous.) The woman was speaking about the struggle and how she prevented herself from being raped. Oprah’s response—on national television—was to congratulate her and say, “I would rather be dead.” Or maybe it was, “I would rather have died.” Regardless of what her exact words were, her message was clear: rape was worse than death.

I was stunned. It would be better to be dead than to be raped? Really? I know that it was a knee-jerk reaction on Oprah’s part, and that probably isn’t really what she meant. But, you hear things like that thrown around all the time, and while they may not mean much to someone who hasn’t been raped, they are brutal to someone who has—one in six women has. And really, I am pretty glad to be alive. I think there are a lot of other people whose lives are better because I’m in it. All in all, if I had the choice of being raped at gunpoint by a stranger or being dead, I’d still choose the rape and life. Just as I did 23 years ago.

So, when Oprah, the defacto leader of our collective conscience, is this confused about the role that rape should play in our lives, I think we’ve got some thinking to do about rape.

There are several things that we, as a society, must do in order to help rape survivors live long, healthy, happy and sexy lives.

They are the same things that any individual needs to do in order to start the healing process, so let’s do them together.

1. Separate Rape From Sex

Sex is a consensual act between adults. Rape is a violent crime. There is no sex in rape.

This is the single most important thing that we need to understand. Rape is about power and violence, not sex. Unfortunately, sexual organs are the necessary weapon in this crime, and this triggers all manner of body shame, sexual taboo and fear, all of which make talking about and understanding rape even more difficult.

Because the sexual organs were the weapon used in the violent attack, the act of having sex in the future—even with a compassionate partner—can trigger memories stored deep in the body and mind.

Denise Clay, a Licensed Master Social Worker who provides psychotherapy and counseling services to individuals and couples in Manhattan and Brooklyn, offers the following insight. “Awareness about what is happening is key to tolerating the feelings. Also, it is quite important to have open dialogue with your partner and to create boundaries. Reclaiming your sexuality after a rape is a constant balancing act of gently moving yourself forward while also allowing yourself to process your emotions as they arise.”

It is vital that we change our dialog about the nature of rape both as a society and as individuals. We must remove the shame and taboo in order for people to be able to clearly discuss their boundaries and desires.

2. Put The Blame Where It Belongs

Far too often people discuss the circumstances of rape as if they matter, as if they caused it. This allows us to blame the victim—and imbue ourselves with a false sense of security, as long as the circumstance is not one we would put ourselves in.

There’s only one person responsible for rape, and that is the rapist.

Although it’s easy for us to say that we blame the rapist, our language often says something different. According to Dr. Elizabeth Lombardi, a clinical psychologist, physical therapist and author, we often use victim-blaming language, even when we don’t mean to. “Any comment that could be interpreted as ‘it was your fault’ can be devastating to the victim. ‘You shouldn’t have been out that late’ or ‘I hope you never go to a fraternity party by yourself again’ are inadvertently telling the person they are at fault for the rape. A rape is the fault of the rapist.”

3. Talk Openly and Honestly About Sex and Boundaries

By understanding that sex is a consensual act between adults, and that each of us are empowered to set our own boundaries, we will help people to speak out when they feel their boundaries are being, or have been, violated.

This is increasingly important when you realize that as many as 73 percent of rapes are committed by people who are known to the victim. We all need to remember that our bodies are our own, and no one has the right to touch us in a way we do not want to be touched. This does not put the responsibility to not be raped on us, but it does make far clearer that the rapist violating those boundaries is the one who is responsible.

Moving Past Rape

Despite our best intentions and deepest wishes, rape still happens. Moving past it can be a long and arduous process, but it does happen. The farther away I got from my own rape, the more I began to wonder why we never hear stories about people who have gone on to live lives full of both love and sex. I put out a call for stories about rape survivors who feel that they have completely moved past it and live full and happy lives.

I was amazed—and moved to tears—by the large number of responses that I got. Again, I don’t want to belittle the intensity of this trauma, or make overcoming rape seem as simple as getting a manicure, but I think it is time to look at the positive future, rather than just at that terrifying past.

One of the women who responded to me, Caroline Blair, said something that sounded so familiar, and is something that I hope everyone can say eventually, “There were so many times I felt like my grief would never end, that there would never be a day that I didn’t think about being raped. I can now safely say that a month or more could pass where it doesn’t cross my mind. It absolutely is part of who I am, but it is only a small part of how I define myself.”20100505si_grief_330

The question quickly becomes, “how do I move past this?”

Healing from rape can be, in many ways, very similar to the grieving process of any major illness, death or loss. And it can’t be rushed. As Dr. Lombardo explains, “When dealing with a rape, it is vital to go through a grieving process—to grieve the loss of innocence, of the sense of safety that you once had, of the life you had before or the life you expected to have were it not for the rape. And yet, sadly, many women do not give themselves permission or see the importance of this.”

Denise Clay also emphasizes the importance of fully grieving the loss, and adds that time alone cannot heal all wounds. “There is no exact recipe for how to heal—but, it’s important to give yourself permission to take as long as you need. It is equally important to play an active role in your own healing process. Perhaps most important after experiencing a trauma of any sort is to seek outside support. Sometimes, our instinct can be to isolate, self medicate, or act out—but the fact is, there is lots of support and help available for survivors. The combination of individual therapy and group therapy is one that I strongly recommend.”

Just as important as the process of healing is recognizing some of the common behaviors that can actually slow the process of healing from rape. As Denise Clay explains, “There is no denying that many self destructive behaviors such as substance abuse, sexual promiscuity, stealing, and eating disorders can be linked to trauma. When someone is sexually violated it disrupts their whole system and the person is forced to come up with coping strategies. Although intended to protect us from experiencing painful memories, these coping strategies, unfortunately, can be quite harmful and damaging to our overall well being. If we can shift our perception toward these self destructive behaviors and come to think of them more as common responses to trauma, we create more room to grow and heal—rather than continuing the cycle of pathology and shame.”

This resonated profoundly for me, as I look back at the string of questionable sexual encounters that followed in the first few years after I was raped. At the time I told myself, as so many people do, that I was asserting my own sexuality. But I wasn’t, I was running. Retrospectively it seems so obviously flawed. I mean, if you’re hurt because someone stabbed you with a knife, you wouldn’t repeatedly stab yourself with a knife in order to feel better.

Although there are larger discussions that need to be had, Elizabeth Lombardo brings it back to a few simple things that we can all do when someone we know is raped.

“Offer unconditional love that helps to build the person’s sense of worth. Encourage them to talk about it if they want and offer to get them help if they need it. Keep an eye out for red flags, such as suicidal comments, severe depression (e.g., crying, not doing things they used to enjoy, staying in bed all the time) and get help if you see these signs.”

While I’m not about to suggest that you can just “love” someone back to health, I can tell you that without my friends and family, and the freedom I feel to speak about it now, I would not have healed. And that is a sentiment that I heard from everyone who responded to my call for stories.

Caroline Blair credits her family for supporting her recovery, “They encouraged me to take the time I needed, asked me the right questions to provoke thoughts, recognized when I was ready to take the next step in healing, and gently encouraged me to consider therapy.”

That sentiment was echoed by LaRita Jacobs, “My family was there for me and I was immediately hooked up with a trained rape counselor. My husband (Kurt) was gentle and never, ever treated me as anything but the victim of this crime. I felt violated, but he ever treated me as unclean or anything like that. Kurt went to counseling sessions with me at times.”

How are Caroline and La Rita now?

Well, it was a long process, but some of the things they shared with me are very powerful. When I asked LaRita about the process of becoming fully sexual again, she actually credited the extreme violence of her rape with helping her.
“That took awhile. I wanted to be held and cuddled as if a child, but if Kurt got aroused I would panic. Our counselor was comfortable talking about sex with us and she helped us relearn making love as different from anything related to the violence of rape. It was probably ‘easier’ for me and Kurt because I was seriously injured when I tried to fight back. I had deep wounds in my head resulting in nearly three dozen stitches. That was ‘proof’ and a constant reminder of the violence that rape really is. It was months before I could handle any sexual contact and probably a year before I could regard sex with enjoyment. A loving sexual partner that wants mutual enjoyment makes all the difference. Kurt always took things at my pace.”

Caroline was in a different place, but her wisdom is still quite powerful. “At the time I was raped, I hadn’t really had a sex life. It wasn’t easy, but a few years after being raped, I realized that rape had nothing to do with sex and everything to do with power and control. This helped me move from bad consensual experiences to positive, meaningful experiences. I’m now able to connect with someone on an intimate, emotional level without replaying the rape in my head.”

Where am I?

At 40, I think I’m approaching my prime. I feel stronger and sexier than I ever have. And yes, I have a fabulous sex life. Most of the time, I forget that I was raped. When I do remember, I seem to automatically focus on the fact that I chose to survive it and thrive. I honestly think that choice set me on a new course, a good one.

I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. Really. But I wouldn’t give it back either. It’s part of what made me who I am.

All in all, I think Elizabeth Lombardo put it best, “You cannot change the past. But you can change your present and future. I have worked with countless women move on after rape to lead happy lives. It is possible and you are worth it!”

Alyssa Royse is a hot mama in her 40s raising a teenage daughter and two young step-daughters. She’s a veteran entrepreneur, journalist and PR hack who is now working entirely to promote healthy sexual freedom for all humans—because sexual agency is a human right, and also an important part of health and wellness. A popular speaker and guest writer, she can be found most often on her eponymous blog,, on her new start-up venture, and as the co-host of the weekly radio show Sexxx Talk Radio on The Progressive Radio Network. (Downloads available on both and iTunes.) When she’s not thinking and writing about sex, she’s generally playing with her big, queer, bi-racial family, traveling, reading or at the CrossFit gym sweating. Yes, she would probably love to come speak at your conference, or write something for you, contact info is on her blog. No, she does not want to date you, her dance card is blissfully full.

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Ed: Lynn Hasselberger


About Alyssa Royse

Alyssa Royse is a hot mama in her 40s raising a teenage daughter and two young step-daughters. She’s a veteran entrepreneur, journalist and PR hack who is now working entirely to promote healthy sexual freedom for all humans—because sexual agency is a human right, and also an important part of health and wellness. A popular speaker and guest writer, she can be found most often on her eponymous blog, and as the co-host of the weekly radio show Sexxx Talk Radio on The Progressive Radio Network. (Downloads available on both and iTunes.) When she’s not thinking and writing about sex, she’s generally playing with her big, queer, bi-racial family, traveling, reading or at the CrossFit gym sweating. Yes, she would probably love to come speak at your conference, or write something for you, contact info is on her blog.


13 Responses to “Life & Love After Rape.”

  1. Powerful piece, Alyssa. Thank you for writing it.

  2. Carolyn Riker says:

    This is such an amazing piece and brave. It's proactive and not repeating the abuse. It's a statement and I thank you for that.

  3. D from Atlanta says:

    Women aren’t the only people who can be raped. Happened to me when I was 11. No one believed me when I told them what happened. Took me decades to come to terms with this and move beyond it. It is a part of me but I do not define myself by the incident.

    The best thing is to get help as soon as possible and start the healing.

  4. Alyssa says:

    Yes, D, I wish more people understood that men and boys are also victims of rape. It matters greatly, and I thank you for speaking up!

  5. Olga says:

    Love this piece!! One good thing that can come from this recent media tragedy is all the survivors and allies speaking loud about this common issue!! It’s been a couple years for me and there were days I never thought I would sleep again. Here I am working my way back!!!

  6. kerbie says:

    I really appreciate your article Alyssa. It's got me thinking… You talk about rape being about power and control rather than sex. But what about date rape and men manipulating the boundaries to meet their own sexual urges. Do you place these types of incidents in a different category?

  7. clearheart31 says:

    What a breath of air this article is, I am moved deeply. I have just recently began addressing the sexual trauma I experienced while serving in the Army… 12 years ago. As a child at the time (19), raised by addicts, I was nieve and vulnerable. Add to this the patriarchal, dysfunctional, abhorrent rape culture aspect of the US Armed forces, and it was a recipe for disaster, which has almost claimed my life. In some ways, it has.

    How is stating it was “easier” to deal with a rape that was physically violent very much different from Oprah’s stating it would be better to die than to be raped?

    While I am beginning to understand I can own my own power to heal, and I really, really appreciate the author’s strength, courage, and demonstration of moving beyond rape (a lot!), I also was left wondering, similar to kerbie… how would the author view circumstances of rape involving gross manipulation of “power,” emotional “control,” and intimidation, such as that in the military. A recent Rolling Stone article lays it out realistically (“The Rape of Petty Officer Blumer,” Feb 14, 2013 issue)

    Healing is healing, regardless of the circumstances. But its the circumstances that, for some, fog up the process of moving through the stuck trauma… I didn’t have scars. There were no guns, no overt threats to my family or even to me, though I didn’t report the incident until after the pertetrator left the country, on to his next duty station. My wounds are invisible. Does that make healing “harder,” without “proof?” I do know that ultimately, only I can answer the call to heal.

    Thank you so much for this peice. It’s a gem of light, reminding me that healing actually is possible, and I’d love to hear more stories of victims becoming survivors, then moving into thriving, not in spite of being raped, but possibly, because of how they’ve transformed the experience. Pain becomes strength when we’ve done the deep work. (So they say 🙂

    How prescious this life is… how how fragile it seems sometimes.

  8. justme says:

    I come here from the mano-sphere, and a link on one of your other articles..

    This is perhaps the most rational, non-misandric essay on rape I have ever read.

    "Oprah’s response—on national television—was to congratulate her and say, “I would rather be dead.” Or maybe it was, “I would rather have died.” Regardless of what her exact words were, her message was clear: rape was worse than death.

    I was stunned. It would be better to be dead than to be raped? Really?"

    Thank you for that. You have restored my hope in future gender relations with this truth.

    Rape is cruel and horrible experience to have to live through. But by claiming it as "worth than death" and enforcing an irrational rape culture, whereby every man becomes Schrodinger's rapist, does little more than take the resources, aid and attention away from the real crimes of rape.

  9. justmeagain says:

    I would like to answer this if I may..

    Rape is not about power, it is about powerlessness. It's an attempt to gain power where previously there was none. Rapists are incapable of dealing with the pressures, rejections and other stresses of life. Men who have no control.

    As for Date rape and Manipulation.. I am no fan of PUA's but they are only successful because women allow them to be. Gaming men use social engineering (the very basics of it) to manipulate a woman into attraction. But at the end of the day, attraction still remains firmly in the woman control.

    There will be less men manipulating women, if women began to weed out and reject men who use gaming tactics. In other words, it requires women to grow beyond such men, and learn to look past them towards decent men.

    Date rape is a vague term.. if you mean roofies.. that should be considered just rape. If you mean getting you drunk until you are unable to adequately resist, then you are wrong to get drunk around a man who is trying to get you drunk.

  10. justme says:

    If you count the prison system.. Men are raped more often then women.

    Then you have to ask yourself… if it can be so psychology damaging for women to endure. Imagine a man being raped by another man and all the internal issues that would rise..

  11. Brigadon says:

    "Rape is about power and violence, not sex."

    Why does everyone always say this? I have personally interviewed convicted rapists. They have almost universally agreed that it was a 'crime of opportunity' (I am not talking about serial rapists, that's a different boat) They saw a girl, they saw easy sex, they got their rocks off. Saying Rape is about violence, especially when 94% of all rape convictions are NOT 'violent rape' convictions, is like saying robbery is about controlling the victim instead of it being about getting money.

    Who exactly has published this psychological study that says rape is about violence and power? What are their qualifications? What are their political agendas?

    Don't get me wrong, this is one of the 'fairer' articles on the subject, but as usual, it is laced with buzz phrases and inadequately researched 'facts'. 1 in 6 women has been raped? Is that in the US or the world? I remember a few feminazis pulling that figure out of their butts two decades ago, but it has since been disproven numerous times. In the congo it's closer to 100%, but in the US and in the UK that is actually closer to 1 in 70, or 1 in 126,000 in the case of 'violent' rape.

    Fact checking please.

  12. only me says:

    i hope i can get through this like you, i dont want to be like this anymore…is there a minute i wont think about it , is there a day i wont be reminded of something to do with that day.will i ever have sex again. will i ever say the words of what happened to me?

  13. This is absolutely brilliant. Our experience of rape sounds almost identical – I was 14, in my own bed with my family in the house, threats were the same (mine was a knife at my throat rather than a gun at my head), the promiscuity that followed, the outrage at unthinking comments about preferring to be dead that raped…. and same positive attitude as you. 'It is time to look at the positive future, rather than just at that terrifying past' – totally resonates with me. I am also 40 and have finally quit drinking as I only realise now that I started self-medicating when I was 15 in a way to deal with the confusion and lack of ability to put my feelings into words – I never allowed myself to grieve – I didn't know how. And what started as a coping mechanism soon spiralled out of control and it's taken me all this time to figure out how to really embrace myself and my past and my future fully. I LOVE LOVE LOVE this article and the hope and resilience it shows. I love the way that you respect and honour the horror of rape without needing to forever wear the 'victim' label. I proudly call myself a rape survivor and I refuse to bow to the stigma of sexual abuse being something to be ashamed of. Loud, proud and rocking my 40s. If I still drank, I'd propose a toast to you (!) but instead I just send you sincere thanks for being such an uplifting voice in this murky world of misconceptions around the topic of rape. Rock on, hot mama!