Author’s Note: I took this selfie the night I was raped. I have included it here, as it is significant. It shows the point at which my life changed—there wasn’t a lot of smiling going on for a long time after that.
An Open Letter to the Women & Men who have Experienced Rape.
I’m not going to ask you how you’re doing because I already know. Times are bad right now, and you’re reaching new levels of low.
But it’s okay. I’m here for you.
I have a practical mind and an open heart, so I’ve put together this guide to help you in your hour of need. I’m no doctor, but I what I write comes from my heart and experience.
From a young age I remember being bombarded by messages—from the media, friends, and family—about how to keep safe. Not being raped was my responsibility. So, I followed all of this advice; I never took risks going home and stayed with my friends. I fiercely protected my drinks and never accepted drinks from a stranger that I didn’t see being poured. I dressed with style and class, took registered taxis and gripped my keys in my hands whenever faced with walking down a dark street at night.
But guess what? It didn’t work.
When I was raped, I blamed myself. I felt ashamed and responsible for not taking better care of myself. On reflection, I blame the media for a lot of this reaction.
I am here to tell you that this isn’t your fault.
Maybe you were drugged like me, or perhaps someone you trusted did this to you. I can almost guarantee that you were not dragged off a dark alley, as that is rare. But if you were, then this is for you too.
Have you been to the police? Or a hospital? I’m not going to force you, as that’s your decision, and maybe you don’t have the strength right now, but please consider this. Maybe your rapist has done this a dozen times before and will continue to do so to other people. They could already have police history, and your statement might make all the difference. It might not go to trial, but you will know for a fact that if you knew your rapist the police will interview him—and he may think twice before doing this again.
You can’t change what happened to you, but you can send a message out to him via law enforcement, and he will know that his record is no longer squeaky clean. There are warning flags there.
Okay, lecture over. I’m only saying it because I care about you.
Let’s get to the point, since this is a Survivors’ Guide after all. Once again, I am not a medical or mental health professional. This is from my heart. You may not agree with it all, but please listen to what I have to say; it might help you.
Step 1: You’re awake!
You’re safe and in your own bed. Maybe you are going to stay there all day and cry, but that’s okay. You know why? Because you’re alive. You’re surviving, even if you don’t feel like you are. Huge respect to you, my friend, because you have made it through another day and night.
Step 2: You got up today!
Big high five to you, because I know that took all the energy you have right now. So you know what, if you don’t want to shower today or change your clothes, then that’s okay. It’s all totally cool because you’re surviving.
Step 3: You are finding coping mechanisms.
Now these may not all be healthy, but you’re trying your best. You don’t need me to point out to you that alcohol and drugs are only going to make things worse. That overeating or starving yourself or exercising to the point of collapse is damaging. You have been to hell and back, friend, so I hereby give you permission to ignore anyone who tries preaching to you on this one. You will stop these vices when you are mentally able, but for now, it’s okay, because you have once again survived another day.
Step 4: You have dark thoughts.
Now this is where you will, I’m afraid to say, have to lean on someone. PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and depression can cost you your life if you don’t deal with them. I want you to continue to repeat step one each day—and in order for you to do this, you need help. As my friend Snoop Dogg once said, “there’s six million ways to die, choose one.” I thought about this a lot through this phase, and the people around me were the only thing that calmed these thoughts of suicide.
Step 5: Talk!
I shall use another musical reference here and quote the Blues Brothers, because “everybody needs somebody.” Think carefully about the best listener you have in your life and confide in them. They may not be the closest person to you, but right now you need someone who is patient, calm and non-judgmental (especially if you are experiencing numbers three or four above).
Step 6: Learn to love yourself again.
So you have been through the hardest part. You have reached lows you never thought possible, but now it’s time for me to nudge you a little. I have seen your anger and your pain. I have felt your tears falling thick and fast after you drank your bodyweight in alcohol. Those lines of coke that get you out of the door in the morning need to stop, because you deserve a life much richer than this. Your rapist took a lot from you; don’t let him take your future. I’m here with you, and I’m holding your hand even if you can’t feel it. You’re surviving—and now you need to start living again.
I’m not going to lie; survival takes a lot of hard work and commitment. It’s a long path full of uphills, twists and turns. There may be days when you don’t think you are coping at all, and in those times, just remind yourself of step one, and follow through on step five.
Take it slowly my friend, and you will get there—I promise.
With love and support,
Your friend and fellow survivor, Clair
If you need help, there are resources:
Author: Clair Draper
Images: Author’s Own
Editors: Toby Israel; Sara Kärpänen