I have just had my 645378000th email from a woman who has been living with partner rape and who is experiencing depression, anxiety and panic attacks. It is insane how often I hear about these symptoms – or perhaps it isn’t, as we shall see. I’ll call my correspondent Sarah. Sarah has been married for some decades; her husband constantly watches porn and demands anal sex from her, which she finds repellent – in fact Sarah feels that way about sex in general. Her husband does not mind that Sarah doesn’t share his tastes, he is prepared to force them on her. Sarah doesn’t know if it’s rape, but Sarah feels violated. Sarah would like to leave, but is concerned about her vows, which she -at least – takes seriously. Common, common story, though many women feel like it is only them going through it.
As I pondered a respectful and affirming response to Sarah’s email, a fiery rage leapt up in me. Of COURSE Sarah is experiencing depression, anxiety and panic attack. She is being repeatedly traumatized in her home, by a crime – RAPE – which produces these symptoms in many women. Of COURSE Sarah feels violated; she HAS been. It is not SEX that Sarah doesn’t like; it’s the “sex” that is being forced on her – let’s put a fine point on it – Sarah finds sex with the man who rapes her disgusting. But she doesn’t know if it’s rape, and feels that she owes more to her vows than she does her own repeatedly denied humanity and safety.
I am not tired of my correspondents. No, indeed, I consider it a privilege for a woman to confide in me. What I AM bloody sick unto death of, are conditions under which women are confused about these deeds, their sense of violation, their feelings of revulsion, and the terrifying symptoms they’re experiencing. About rape in general, feelings/symptoms like these are properly understood. There is recognition that a crime has been committed, and this validates the survivor. But the sister who is partner-raped, is still confused, perplexed, thinks she might be crazy, and contemplates continuing to live with rape. (I’m not going to print the swears I uttered after typing this paragraph).
Why? Well, I do think a huge part of the reason is the lack of public naming, the social confusion of partner rape with “sex” and the validation partner-rape victims cannot find, even when they become unwell as a result.
I’m sick of the layers of ignorance, denial, lack of responsibility, enshrined notions of male privilege and entitlement, and cherished crap ideals about women’s obligations, that sustain this state of affairs.
Society, wake the…hell up! NAME partner rape. Tell people what it looks like, in all it’s guises. Get it out there. Acknowledge that it is a crime that no woman should ever have to go on enduring. Give my sisters – YOUR sisters – their deserved humanity; a humanity that should not be compromised by ideals that continue to endanger and enslave and damage them – sometimes for decades. Stop misnaming their symptoms – validate that these are a normal response to an abnormal situation. And name the damn CAUSE – RAPE – by somebody whom she has every right to expect better from, whose children she may have borne, and whom she may still love. Let her know it is okay – no, imperative – that she puts her safety first.
Why is that so hard to get?!!!!??
We blame women because they stay, as if they should automatically recognize what is happening to them, and the dangers. But it isn’t just women who must recognize these things – social silence and denial that partner rape is real rape and that women have sexual rights in a relationship, fuel their entrapment. And oh, lest we forget, denial of these same things is what sees women attacked and blamed for NOT staying: A man has needs, you know, dear. You have a duty. Don’t be selfish. You made vows before man and god. See a psychiatrist about your frigidity. See a doctor about those nerves. Aren’t you lucky it wasn’t a stranger. Get marriage counselling (so that you can be held responsible for the fact that you find sex with your rapist disgusting). What about the kids. Blah blah effing BLAH. What about HER? I told Sarah that it might just be time for SARAH to come first for a change. I do hope she is not as sadly bewildered by that concept as other women to whom I have made the same suggestion.
I must take this opportunity to acknowledge the others – writers, activists, professionals, and survivors – who are doing their best to have information about partner rape put out there. We need to keep going, Comrades. For the sake of the Sarahs. They are worth it; their humanity demands it.