Nonfiction from Laura R. Becherer
Why Your Rapist Will Always Win
(Warning: This essay contains descriptions of sexual assault)
Here’s what will happen after you’re raped:
Most people think the worst part of rape is the rape, the fast and few bleak minutes after you say no when you are held prisoner by “drunk girls are asking for it” and a pair of arms too strong to push away. It’s not. The worst part is everything that will happen after.
It will be the forty-five minutes of scrubbing viciously in the shower. It will be standing naked in your bathroom, probing your soreness and wondering if you even had sex, because your vaginismus makes it impossible for you to even have sex when you want to half the time; how could anyone have sex with you when you didn’t want to? It will be six years of feminist training screaming inside your head to override guilt and revulsion to convince you: “You were raped!” It will be huddling in your most comfortable clothes for hours watching Netflix until you call the boy you used to trust the most, ignoring your currently-fraught relationship because you have to talk about what happened and ask for validation. It will be not knowing whom to trust enough to burden with this horrible, dirty secret. It will be weathering a surprise call from your grandfather and having to pretend everything is okay long enough to make small talk.
It will be lying in a scratchy hospital gown for three hours while one of your only indignant and understanding friends sits nearby, while you feel exposed and cumbersome to the unsympathetic nurse, watching a silent television panel of doctors, trying to guess what they’re saying about the trivial topic of dieting. It will be the stripping of the sheets on your bed, sheets that were once comforting and now feel dirty to your exposed skin, resisting the urge to burn them, instead replacing them with the softest sheets in the cleanest shade of blue that Target had to offer. It will be finding your rapist’s sock on your floor and spending five minutes working up the nerve to touch it long enough to throw it away. It will be calling your mother.
It will be the five days of aching underneath your once-protective jeans, feeling a soreness that once—eons ago, now almost outside the realm of your memory—signified a night of rarely engaged-in pleasure. It will be clutching a black coffee in a cold and dark coffee shop, pretending to talk normally with that it’s-still-weird-between-us boy, while you wait for your doctor’s office to call back and explain the sudden and unexpected current flowing from between your legs. It will be waiting anxiously through your favorite class, pretending you care about the workshop when in reality you’re waiting to go home and take a pregnancy test. It will be wondering if the pooling blood soaking into your O.B. Super Plus tampon was once a life spark in your uterus, trying to reconcile relief that if you were pregnant, you wouldn’t have to decide whether or not to get an abortion, with an undercurrent of regret for what may have been a potential little you. It will be panic attacks in the shower.
It will be the violation of your space, somehow worse than the violation of your body: how your small apartment changes from cozy to confusing, into an uneasy refuge with a soiled tinge to its air. It will be lounging against your new blue polka dotted pillows, recalling how the left side of your expansive bed once hugged the bodies of ones you loved and now only holds the shape of the one who fucked you mercilessly for a quarter of an hour before lounging there, untouching, until the next afternoon. It will be a cold numbness that settles sickeningly in your abdomen and bleeds away any sexual drive or desire to be touched that once may have lingered under your skin. It will be a tenseness when friends touch you and a revulsion when they touch your bed or joke about your body or your sexuality. It will be freezing and screaming when a man in a bar grabs your scarf to get your attention.
It will be the anger. The uncontainable rage that you will feel, all the time, every day, that will feel like an explosion of thunder in the hollow under your throat that will make your palms tingle with electric energy that longs to strike something—preferably your rapist—and smash it beyond repair or recognition. It will be listening to M.I.A.’s “Paper Planes” and imaging every gunshot going straight into your rapist’s ugly face. It will be every rape joke that once passed unheard by your eardrums that now catches and cloys to you, inducing a burning wrath unmatched by anything you thought possible outside the world of fiction, threatening to consume you and the entire galaxy in the wake of your fury. It will be your desire to castrate and behead all those who smugly suggest that women who don’t want to be raped should follow stricter protocol.
It will be your knowledge that you did “the right thing” by asking a supposed friend to walk you home that night, a friend who instead used his 6’2 frame to hold down your 5’3 slightness and tear through the resistance of your unresponsive yoni. It will be that burden of knowledge, an inside look into the world that blames women for their own subjection when you know better. It will be the shedding of guilt and responsibility and the act of speaking out against a world that won’t believe you when you say that rape is a rapist’s fault alone.
It will be unresolved nights of too much whiskey and suicidal confessions. It will be losing most of your friends because they want to stay friends with your rapist, and they wonder why you can’t just “get over it” or “deal with it” in silence, to avoid making everyone else uncomfortable. It will be embarrassment and hiding and shame. It will be regret, and it will be uncertainty. It will be arguments over $1,300 hospital bills that victim relief funding won’t cover because the hospital talked you out of a forensic exam. It will be missed classes and forgotten meetings and spiraling into academic and personal failure. It will be a depression that cloaks you and drags you under and leaves you staring at the wall in your darkened bedroom, too tired to even take off your jeans so you can sleep. It will be waking up exhausted from rape nightmares that leave you unsettled and too terrified to fall back asleep. It will be gritted teeth and tensed muscles and tapping feet and shredding a tissue in your hands because you need to destroy something, but nothing is big enough to destroy to bring a sense of justice and you can’t destroy him, the only person you’ve ever hated.
But mostly it will be this:
It will be the night after Christmas break at home when you at last get dressed up and go out like you used to. You’ll wear a colorful shirt a little too thin for the weather outside. You’ll curl your hair and wear lip liner. You’ll put on your favorite perfume—Guerlain: your dad bought it for you when he was in France—and high heels and go out to dinner with a comfortable, nonthreatening, Safe Guy friend. The predictable, naive, innocent friend who has never made a sexually suggestive remark and would never even think to utter a rape joke or make a move on you. You’ll have dinner and a beer and linger at the bar for a while. The food won’t be good and the pub will be crowded with annoying and loud jocks, but you’ll still feel a mood change in being out again. You will feel a little more like yourself.
After dinner you will propose going to your favorite bar, the one you used to frequent a few times a week. You will walk over there and run into your closest woman confidante in this circle of friends. You only see her when you’re out, so it’s been awhile. You’ll have a few more drinks from a pitcher and become lively and animated. You’ll flirt and joke and toss your hair and smoke too many cigarettes over too-excited conversations about mundane topics.
But then your friend will say that she’s going to another bar for a while. She’ll invite you along, but you’ll decline because lately you only feel comfortable in very specific spaces. So you’ll stay where you are, and you’ll borrow Safe Guy’s phone to text drunken thoughts and secrets back and forth with your friend while she’s at the other bar. You’ll still joke and laugh and flirt with your present company. You’ll feel more like yourself than ever—you’ll feel included and wanted and pretty and freaking normal again.
Then you’ll look up, straight into the corner booth, and you’ll see Him. Rapist. He’ll be right there, and you’ll wonder how he got past you without every sense in your body catching his presence and alerting your brain with a flight-or-flight response. You’ll wonder why the air isn’t suddenly cold, why people aren’t fleeing in terror or turning to face the enemy to pummel him into the cracked and dusty wooden floor. Your first response will be to tense, to scrunch into your seat and try to hide. Your face will turn to stone, your fingers to ice, and your heart will beat like it can’t get the blood through your veins fast enough. You will text your friend: “HE is here. Kill me now.”
What will seem like one and a half seconds later, the door will crash open and she’ll storm inside. “Where is he?” she’ll demand. “Where is he? I’m going to fucking kill him, I swear to God. I’ll cut off his dick, sauté it, give it to him as a last meal, and then I’m going to execute that bastard. How dare he show his face in front of you? Look at him. How dare he stand there and laugh and flirt like he’s not the most disgusting person on this planet?”
Safe Guy will look shocked.
Your friend will stand in front of you, creating a protective and sheltered corner for you to snuggle into. Her continuous anger will envelop you in warm comfort, like covering up with a warm blanket fresh from the dryer or listening to a bedtime story from your mother. She’ll screen you so you don’t have to see him; she’ll be a crackling barrier of safety that not even Rapist would be able to break through. And you’ll laugh like she wants you to because she wants to cheer you, and it will work. And you’ll also want to cry, because you’re so relieved that at least someone can channel and express the anger that most people find vile and unwarranted. And you’ll love her so much in that moment, and be so happy that she’s there.
But you’ll also feel him. Even hidden, even protected, you’ll still feel the him-ness of him staining the air around you. Your space will, once again, be compromised because he’s in it. You’ll still hear his laughter and snatches of his voice (and this is the worst; it always reminds you of the words he whispered while he raped you. Fuck, Laura, fuck yeah, shit, it feels so good).
Safe Guy to your left will ponder a woman friend who is fond of Rapist and wonder aloud what you and he should do to protect her (answer: nothing. You’re tired of people insisting you crusade to save the entire female population from Your Rapist). Your friend will continue her ire. And now you’re right back to where you were—you were becoming yourself, but now you’re thrown right back to the beginning. Dirty socks and dirty sheets and dirty fucking and showers that can’t wash any of the dirt away. Aching vagina, sore labia that makes you never want to fuck again.
Once again, your fun and your friends and your night and your conversation were invaded by him. The air is too close, and his aura seeps into everything and you can’t hide. You’re a hunted animal, a child who hides in the closet from monsters but is found anyway, a refugee who is dragged back to the hellhole she ran from in the first place. Your space is dirty again. Dirty with the fucking that wasn’t even fucking, it was robbery, a murder, a bloody, fucking filthy violation. He’s won the game of rape culture and male privilege, and he’s proven again, like everyone always proves, that you don’t own you, that men own you, that society owns you—he’s won it for him and every straight cis-dude out there. Like always, always, always. It will always be that way. Your rapist will always fucking win.
Laura R. Becherer is a creative writing student pursuing her MFA at the University of Glasgow. She holds a master’s degree in creative writing and a bachelor’s degree in English Literature and German. Laura’s collaborative work in promoting an inclusive language policy at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire has been published in the literary magazine Feminist Teacher, and she recently presented a gothic feminist retelling of “Snow White” at a gothic horror literary exhibition. Laura writes primarily feminist fiction that focuses on fairy tales and mythology. She lives in Glasgow, Scotland.
Excellent essay! We need more voices like yours. Kudos!