Skip to content

Rape Is Not A Death Sentence

January 4, 2016

Screen Shot 2016-01-04 at 8.51.17 AMThis is only kind of about Bill Cosby. There are plenty of intelligent people saying many intelligent things about how and why he got away with raping so many women for so many years even though so many people knew about it. I have nothing to add to the technicalities of it, or the societal embarrassment that it took dozens of women saying “he did it” to weigh as much as one man saying “no I didn’t.”

No, this is really about how painful it can be, as a rape survivor, to hear these stories. For me, it’s not the reminders that it happened to me. It’s not the descriptions, some of which are so similar that I can actually smell my own assault.

Nope. It’s about the well-intentioned statements, meant to show solidarity with survivors, that amount to “he ruined her life.”

I remember the first time I heard it. Someone I told, shortly after I was raped, talked about wanting to find the guy and punish him, because he ruined my life. I was 17. I had been stalked and raped at gunpoint in my own bed by someone who broke in while I was sleeping. I was terrified, and I knew it. I was unable to sleep, and I knew it. I couldn’t feel clean, and I knew it.

But that was the first time it ever occurred to me that my life was ruined.

“He what?” I asked. “That man ruined your life, and he should be punished.”

Even as a 17 year-old, I was taken aback. I mean, ruined? No. That didn’t seem possible.

Looking back now, nearly 30 years later, the nature of that statement hurts more and more. I am able to intellectualy brush it off, but I have 3 children, and I don’t, for even a moment, want them to hear that if a rapist rapes them, it is on them to carry the burden of “ruined” forever.

If someone, heaven forbid, gives them a black eye in bar brawl, are they ruined? No, that’s absurd.  If someone robs them at gunpoint, are they ruined? No, patently ridiculous. If someone steals their car, do we mourn that driving has been ruined forever? No.

Only with rape do we suggest that the victim carry the title of “ruined” with them for the rest of their lives.

I will never forget watching Oprah congratulate a woman who had fought of an armed would-be rapist by saying, “I’d rather be dead.” Dead. Dead is better than raped? While I think I can safely say that Oprah didn’t really mean that, the fact that it was said in such an easy and off-handed way shows how carelessly we say these things. But if you’re one of the 1 in 6 women, or 1 in 33 men who has been raped, it can be hard to shake off a statement that someone would rather be dead than be you.

I get it, it’s intended as a shorthand way to say, “what that person did to you was unimaginably horrible.” And it is. However, we, as a society, have to find a way to express the enormity of this violent crime for what it is, without letting it taint the men and women who survive it.

It is also, of course, not lost on me that the difference is that rape is a crime in which our own bodies are used against us in an act of violence to render us powerless. But that same reality can serve to remind us that rape is a crime of power and violence, not sex.

Rape is not sex. If I had my way, we’d stop conflating sex and rape. We’d stop using the phrase “sex crime” because sex is not a crime, and rape is not sex.

Sex is a consensual act between adults. Without consent, it is rape. There is no overlap here. The fact that it might look like sex is horrible. The fact that our bodies absorb trauma and can be retriggered by smells, sounds and touch is tragic. It is absolutely true that the trauma of rape is often stored, like the most pernicious PTSD, in our bodies to be ignited in the times when we least wish for it.

But we are not ruined.

As a society, we have to understand the depth of the trauma, and help survivors heal, by reminding them that they are not ruined.  They are not broken, destroyed, crazy, weak or worthless.

They are survivors, just like everyone else who has survived a violent crime. Or an accident that hurt them badly. Or a disease that threatened to ruin their life. But didn’t.

Because when you’re trying to regain your sense of control and power in the world, the last thing you need to hear is “your life is ruined.”  While it’s true that they may never be “the same” again, life does not have to be ruined. And neither does sex.

There is enough fear and shame in rape already. It is hard enough to come forward when you face a sea of doubt. Why would anyone come forward if they know they will now also have to wear their rape like a scarlet letter? Into a world that looks at them as damaged goods? Less than?  Defective?

Every well-intentioned instance of “they ruined your life” needs to be replaced with “this was not your fault. This does not reflect on you. You will get through this.”

The only people who should spend their lives with rape attached to them are rapists.

15 Comments leave one →
  1. January 4, 2016 10:22 am

    1,000 times this. Did being raped have a lasting impact on my life? Definitely. But *ruined* me? The only person who gets to have that kind of power over me is me. I sure as hell wouldn’t give that power to someone as unworthy of my regard as my rapist. I suspect this idea harkens back to the not-so-distant past (and present, in many places), where a woman’s virginity or fidelity was more valuable that she herself, and an insult to either “ruined” her forever in the regard of men, particularly fathers or husbands who needed to know their women (read: personal property) were unsullied. To tell a survivor her life is “ruined” is an insult beyond belief, however well-intentioned it may be.

    Thank you for writing this! This needs to be said, and the world needs to hear it.

  2. January 5, 2016 8:56 am

    Thank you for this article. I had not quite thought about ‘being ruined’ this way before, nor the language we use that confuse sex and rape. Immediately, I am able to see how untangling these ideas from the acts of violence offer opportunity to heal and put down things ‘carried’.

  3. January 6, 2016 4:28 pm

    Reblogged this on gitore and commented:
    Well, this is not only kind of about anyone in particular.

    “Rape is not sex. If I had my way, we’d stop conflating sex and rape. We’d stop using the phrase “sex crime” because sex is not a crime, and rape is not sex.”

    Every well-intentioned instance of “they ruined your life” needs to be replaced with “this was not your fault. This does not reflect on you. You will get through this.”

    They should not be held accountable and blaming should stop, and they shouldn’t be the ones living with shame.
    They are survivors, just like those of any other thing!

  4. January 8, 2016 8:03 am

    Really interesting read, I had never thought about the way people respond to people in this situation. A friend of mine was raped recently and thankfully she is safe, and suffered no injuries other than the act its self.

    She did not want (obviously) to tell all her friends/relatives about the indecent, but being one of the people she did feel comfortable telling, I am glad I didn’t even think about her being ‘ruined’ and responded with positives about her character and that I would be there to support her anyway she needed. She is a strong person who will be able to carry on.

    But it is an interesting way to look at the way it is phrased. I wonder if the term ‘ruined’ have become ingrained with this type of crime due to previous views on sex before marriage? As in way back when it would be difficult to find a husband if a woman had had intercourse.

  5. January 13, 2016 9:14 am

    I never once thought that my rape was the ruin of my life. In many ways it actually made me, I learned things I wouldn’t have chosen to learn and I grew in ways I wouldn’t have chosen. But I am proud of who I am and what I have accomplished. Yes sometimes the feelings and memories can overwhelm me and it bothers me to know that nothing happened to my group of rapists but it didn’t ruin me and it never will. I would not rather be dead, thats asinine. Do we die instead of serving hard things? No we live and bear the scars to grow stronger.

  6. Dreamer9177 permalink
    January 13, 2016 12:30 pm

    I agree with you that you are not ruined. You cannot control the actions of a sick, sadistic individual who targets you at some point in your life. The fault is not with you, and you are right that it should never govern your life.

  7. January 20, 2016 8:10 pm

    agree..rape is not sex, it’s totally different thing

  8. February 2, 2016 8:12 pm

    Hi…i think thats not India rape has become a virus,we need to stop this immediately…whenever a girl forced by someone/some people for unwanted sex and nobody is there to help her..and after raping a girl when they kill her with a chopper…i dont think this kind of animal should have any wright to live in this world..we have passed a lot of laws from parliament to prevent it..but still its going on…

  9. Alyssa Royse permalink
    February 2, 2016 9:41 pm

    Hi Amarsona – you are so right. In the context of India, and other countries, rape is a death sentence, which is appalling. I this case, I was speaking about the US, which, in this regard, is very different. We all need to work to end the horrible crisis that is happening in India and other parts of the world. The only person who should be shamed and punished is the rapist.

  10. February 3, 2016 4:43 am

    You know what i think this type of crime happens just to dominate a days you can see in every field womens are coming infront and that may be a very big igo issue for some illiterate person…who thinks that womens are just for playing material…..and i think this type of thought turn these people into an animal..

  11. March 9, 2016 11:45 am

    Very interesting. My friend Scott thinks deaths sentence for Cosby should be on the table. I thing he deserves life.

  12. June 25, 2016 4:05 am

    Very interresting


  1. Rape Is Not A Death Sentence | Just Alyssa | DAMIAN GARCIA: PHD DRUG SMUGGLER
  2. News you can relate to | Can You Relate?

Wanna talk about it? Comment away, I'm paying attention.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: