Gena Raymond tells her story of rape and how she found the courage to go on from Elizabeth Smart’s story.
I was raped when I was fourteen years old. I didn’t call it rape until I was 31 years old. Until then, there was always a part of me that blamed myself.
Although my family was not very religious (we’d only go to church on holidays), I became very Catholic very quickly when I entered a Catholic secondary school. The values and structure really appealed to me as a type A personality coming from a Bohemian, unorthodox, anything-but-nuclear family. It wasn’t unusual for me to visit the chapel before school to make a confession or spend my lunchtime praying the rosary there in solitude. On Sunday evenings, I would often walk to church on my own and I found great comfort and solace in religion. I even went so far as to become an altar girl and I seriously considered becoming a nun.
And then, on my fourteenth birthday, I met a boy. I experienced so many complex emotions at the intersection of teenage hormones and religious doctrine. I felt so conflicted that I eventually gave up my role as an altar girl. It did not help that my boyfriend was constantly pushing my boundaries. Boundaries I didn’t know I had. I always felt like I had to justify why I didn’t want to go further. I didn’t realize “No.” was a complete sentence.
After several months of dating, I found myself in his bedroom “fooling around” one day after school. When he tried to remove my underwear, I panicked, grabbed his hand, and told him no. I was adamant about saving “myself” for marriage and he knew that. It had been a topic of conversation many times. He recoiled and acted very hurt at the thought that I didn’t trust him. “I know you. I would never do anything you didn’t want me to.” he reassured me.
I went home feeling guilty for not trusting him. I scolded myself for thinking that he would ever hurt or disrespect me.
A few weeks later, we found ourselves in the same situation, home alone, in his room, making out. As things intensified, he removed my clothing one by one, and I let him. When he reached for my pink and white flowered Hanes, discomfort flashed inside me, but I shushed it. I didn’t want to hurt his feelings again and I wanted to trust him.
Before I could get a grasp on what was happening, he was lying naked on top of me. A sear of pain turned my confusion to numbness. I knew what had just happened and I wasn’t confused anymore. Even though someone that had proposed to love me had just betrayed my most intimate trust in the most devastating way, all I could think about was the fact that I was no longer a virgin.
I went home and stooped in the bathtub while the water swirled down the drain in front of me. I tried to process what had just occurred. That’s when I saw my sister’s razorblade on the soapdish. I carved shallow horizontal lines onto my pale, skinny wrist over my green veins while I contemplated going deeper. I didn’t want to be alive.
I locked myself in my room and stayed there for many years. People noticed a change in me, but they didn’t notice that I was gone. I was only a shadow of a girl that I didn’t know anymore.
I stayed with him for several more months in an abusive relationship. I tried to break free, but I didn’t know how, didn’t know I could. I couldn’t find my voice. I didn’t reach out for help, and no one reached out to get me.
It ended when he decided to trade me in and let me go. The color slowly returned to my soul. I remember being in the backseat of the Grapemobile one day with my stepfather driving me to school. I looked up at the sun and then closed my eyes and let it warm my skin. I remember feeling happy for no reason, then sad upon realizing I had forgotten what that felt like. But I remembered often soon enough.
When I turned 18, I met a boy who ended up being my boyfriend for many years. I told him early on that I didn’t want to have sex until I was married. He never asked me why and I never told him. I don’t think I even knew anymore. He never pushed me or pressured me. He never made me feel like I wasn’t enough. He never asked me why it took me over a year to feel comfortable enough to want to have sex with him. This deeply healed me.
When I was 31 years old, I went to see a counselor. He told me that I was raped when I was fourteen years old. I told him I didn’t see it that way, that I saw rape as something violent.
“What would you say if one of your students told you that story, Gena?” he asked me. “What would you say if she told you that her boyfriend promised not to do anything she didn’t want and then proceeded to take off her underwear and have sex with her while she was saying no? Isn’t that violent? Would you blame her?”
Suddenly, everything changed.
I freed myself from the guilt of losing my virginity as a fourteen-year-old Catholic school girl. I freed myself from the shame of staying with him and doing whatever he wanted me to do.
I didn’t fail myself. I had been failed.
I had been failed by a system that taught me that the abstract concept of virginity was more important than ME. That enrages me to this day.
I had been failed by a family that was too caught up in their own lives to see that I was trapped in an abusive relationship with a sick individual and love me enough to get me out by any means necessary.
A few months after this life-altering revelation, I read an article about Elizabeth Smart. She talked about all the people who questioned why she didn’t run away from her captor for all of those months. She stated that after being raped by him, she didn’t feel like she was worthy of being loved by her family anymore because she was no longer a virgin. Her abstinence-only sex mis-education program had taught her that if she lost her virginity she would be as good as a “used up piece of bubble gum.” And who wants to chew on that?
I wept because Elizabeth Smart stayed with her kidnapper and rapist to preserve something that didn’t exist while her soul withered away. I wept because we were taught that being a fresh piece of ass was more important than just being. I wept because we were brainwashed and we were innocent enough to believe it.
I am by no means comparing my experiences to the hell Elizabeth Smart endured, but for the first time in my life, I felt like somebody understood me.
So where does a fourteen-year-old girl get the idea that she doesn’t have the right to defend her own body and her own truth? And where does a fourteen-year-old boy get those ideas about her too? Maybe he got them from his seventeen year old neighbor who was “having sex” with him when he was twelve while her friend had sex with his twin brother in the other room. Maybe he got those ideas when they discussed trading them like baseball cards right as they were standing before them. Maybe he had those ideas about himself too.
The answers to these questions are so deeply rooted in our society that I’m almost sure I will not live to see them answered, but I’ll be damned if I don’t live to see them challenged.