Every night (pretty much) before I go to sleep, I watch an episode of Law & Order: SVU. I watch it to unwind from the day, like some people might have a drink or play video games. I watch it to settle down. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. I've watched all of the episodes in the 16 seasons, some more than five or seven times. I even watch an episode to fall asleep to. Rolling over and getting comfortable to the sounds of - usually - some man sexually assaulting a woman.
How can I fall to sleep to these sounds?
Well, I'm inured to them by now, having heard the episodes so many times. They are not real to me. If I heard the same sounds coming from my next door neighbors apartment, I would call the police or I would go over and see what is going on. But it's not "real" like that. It's make believe.
Or is it?
I am a survivor of sexual assault and rape. I was molested for years by my ex-husband. I didn't know about it until the very end of our relationship. When I was beginning to awaken from my "straight" stupor and thus was awakening to other abuses that were being perpetrated upon me at the time. He did it while I slept and one day, I woke up and caught him. Red handed.
I lost friends over this discovery. People didn't believe that I hadn't woken up all the times before that he had done the same things to me. But psychiatrist after social worker after psychologist have assured me that it is very possible - if not typical - to sleep through such abuse. If the body/mind does not want to know something, it will do anything to not know it.
Recently Rose Hope of njpoet.com began her blog with a poignant retelling of being raped. It was inspiring. And she is very brave to talk about it. She hopes to end rape culture --- a culture in which it is de rigueur for women to be assaulted and raped - so much so that it doesn't make the papers or the news or the twitter trends or the Facebook timeline.
Every 107 seconds a person is raped in the United States. That's a little over a minute and a half. That is unacceptable.
I am not "over" my assaults. I am not "cool with it." I am not "at peace" with them. I am still very angry and very troubled by them.
SVU is make-believe on the one hand, but it also perpetuates the perception of women as victims. Which they are, often, but maybe they'd be less so if there were fewer tv shows portraying them as such. As it turns out, I watch SVU because it is about sexual assaults. And the majority of the time, the bad guy gets put away or killed. That makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside. Because I did not even try for this kind of closure with my assailant. And I'm trying to exorcise my regret that I didn't.
We do live in a rape culture. SVU is part of the problem. But the bigger problem is real people downplaying assaults on women and men because they can't deal with the harsh reality that, yes, people actually perpetrate these crimes on others. For the most part we've stopped the jokes about taking women against their will - at least in public spaces. But in private spaces, these jokes abound. We allow prison-rape culture to flourish -- we fan the flames of it as though it is part of the "natural order" of things. IT. IS. NOT. As angry as I am at my assailant, I would not want him to experience the terror, humiliation, pain and confusion I have experienced. I would not want him to be raped.
We need more women to come out and testify to their histories, candidly, in safe spaces and in spaces that are less safe (when they can). We need to speak up and voice our protest to this rape culture.
It certainly isn't easy. But it needs to happen.