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A few days ago, I wrote a lengthy post on the subject of sexual assault and its roots. Another of our writers, the venerable BZOD, wrote me a very lucid and compelling response which I wanted to share with you all. In addition, I’ve included some bits and pieces from our rather lengthy conversation that followed.
I’ve never experienced sexual assault, but I was sexually harassed in late August by a creepy middle-aged man in my neighborhood. There was no physical contact, he made no motions to pursue me as I excused myself from the conversation, and did not know anything about me except my first name, but nevertheless I found myself paranoid after the encounter. For the next few weeks, every time I passed an older, overweight guy in sunglasses on the way to the bus, I found myself wondering whether it was him, and whether he was following me. Given how uncomfortable I felt after only 10 minutes of conversation and how unreasonably paranoid the whole interaction made me for a time, I cannot even fathom what it must be like for someone who was actually sexually assaulted, who actually DOES see their attacker again, or even regularly.
I think that this is one of the biggest problems: as a society, we downplay the emotional impact of rape. We think of it as a purely sexual act, in which someone may be bruised, pushed around, and is forced to have sex. But in truth, while the physical rape hurts, it’s not the part that does the most harm; after all, a fight between couples could easily yield more damage if we look purely at the physical level. What destroys people is the emotional aspect. Rape is, in many ways, the most thorough form of violence. It forces a person into the most submissive state possible, in which they are forced to do something to which our society attaches great meaning with someone with whom they do not want to do it. It can leave survivors with a fear that, as they were violated in such a thorough way once, it could always happen again. The barrier between reality and horror stories has been broken and all of a sudden anything is possible. There are no longer “unthinkable acts” but only acts that haven’t happened yet.