Becky's Story, Part II: Why I Forgive The Men Who Raped Me
Last night, I shared a pretty thorough account of my sexual assault at Baylor.
This is the second part: my personal resolution of faith and forgiveness regarding what happened to me. NYJD is not a religious organization, but we welcome submissions and musings from everyone, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, identity, sexual orientation religion, background, education level, etc. We even encourage you to talk freely about how those identities have played a role in your healing. For me, personally, as a Christian and someone who has always been interested in theology/world religions, I had a lot of questions of faith after being raped--but also found a lot of comfort in tenants of my faith.
First, I need to say if you’ve been raped or sexually abused, know that you are not alone. I understand and sympathize with your feelings of isolation: you feel like no one would understand, no one would care, no one would believe you. Or that if they found out, they’d pity you and not see you the same way. In some ways your fears are justified. I experienced all those things. Every time I hear about another survivor, though, that’s not what I see. I don’t look at you with pity (and most other people won’t either), I see you as someone who is strong enough to keep going—as someone who is brave enough to get out of bed every morning and live your life even though you feel like so much has been unfairly taken from you. I promise that you’re in good company; you are supported and loved so much more than you realize, and importantly, you’re worthy of being believed.
I also want you to know that you’re capable of resilience. Your life is not ruined because of what happened to you, and your assault is not the sum of your identity. You are capable of strength, of holding your head high, and of continuing to fight. You are capable of loving those around you, of recognizing how you’ve been hurt, and of being a rock for those who’ve been hurt similarly because you have a perspective that a lot of other people don’t.
I want you to know that your worth as a human being isn’t defined by what others have done to you or by how others label you. I sympathize with how frustrating it is to hear from people who you confide in about your rape that “everything is going to be okay,” because you know they really don’t know that for sure. What happened to you was not okay, and it’s okay if you’re not okay. Everyone heals on his/her own terms. I want you to know that being raped isn’t the end of your story; it just makes your story more complicated—but I promise you can adapt and push forward.
To the men who raped me:
On the off-chance that one of you reads this, I want to take the opportunity to say—in case you had any doubt in your mind—I didn’t deserve what you did to me. It was inexcusable, inhumane, and undeniably evil.
What you did to me fits the definition of rape by the legal standards in all fifty states. You are rapists. You robbed me of my sense of security and safety. I walked through extensive public shaming for daring speak of what you did to me. The shame was never mine to carry. You’re the ones who should carry this shame with you. You made a decision to brutally violate and rape an unconscious woman you found at a party. That wasn’t an “oversight” or an “accident” on your part. You made the most selfish and evil decision you could’ve possibly made upon finding an unconscious woman. You weren’t entitled to my body.
You are the reason I have a hard time truly trusting anyone. You’re the reason I have an added layer of complexity in every relationship I get involved in. You’re the reason I have entire days after a trigger in which I can’t get out of bed or leave my house. You are the reason I jolt in the middle of the night when I hear even the slightest noise—and even when I don’t.
Before I met you I didn’t know how it felt to feel less than human, like an actual piece of meat, or your lifeless, completely unresponsive sex toy. Before I met you I didn’t understand that having PTSD feels like literally walking through hell; there’s a part of me that doesn’t even fear hell anymore because of you. Before we met, I didn’t understand what it felt like to be trapped in my own body or perpetually tormented by the trauma you caused me. I never thought to level of trauma and fear and depression you inflicted on me was possible. I do hope you feel ashamed of what you’ve done, that you wake up one day and are overwhelmed with conviction of what you’ve done, and I hope you repent. Most importantly, though, I pray you don’t ever do what you did to me to anyone else.
I pray for you every day. Really, I do. Faithlessly at times, but still.
And even though I live every day with the immeasurable pain of what you did to me—a pain I’m sure you do not live with—I forgive you.
I forgive you because even through your inhumane actions, I choose to appreciate your humanity. I want to elaborate on this a bit.
I didn’t know the men who raped me, and admittedly I think that makes all this a lot easier. The only thing I really knew about them was what they did to me. But prior to finding out what they’d done to me, I at least had some faith in their humanity—enough that when I did find what they did to me, I felt a tinge of betrayal even though I didn’t even know them.
But what hurt even more than their betrayal of my body was the betrayal I felt from all the people who didn’t believe me. People told me they couldn’t see those guys doing that, that what the perpetrators did to me couldn’t have been done unless it was provoked or warranted, that they don’t fit what they’d think of as a “rapist profile.” For the years since, I’ve laid awake in bed at night wondering why the world sees rape the way it does. Why are we so hesitant to believe rape victims? Why is it that it seems easier for us to believe a woman is lying about being raped than to believe that a man we’re familiar with would rape her?
I think a lot of rape victims aren’t believed because society struggles to put someone into the category of perpetrator when they don’t fit that person’s idea of a perpetrator. We’re conditioned to believe that rapists are monsters and characterize them as subhuman. That conditioning makes sense. Rape is a horrific act, and there is no diminishing how horrible it is. The problem with dehumanizing rapists is that when we do so, we only recognize people we’d think are monsters as rapists. Don’t pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about: you’ve seen grown men with certain types of mustaches and joked to your friends that they look like pedophiles; you’re extra careful not to be alone with “creepy men” and “lurkers” and the quiet or odd kids in your class. What I’ve learned as a survivor—and as an advocate who has spoken to hundreds of other survivors—is that very few, if any, perpetrators fit that profile. I think it’s also worth noting that a number of these rapists may not realize that they’re rapists because they do not recognize their actions as rape. You probably also think these individuals are rare, that you’ve never encountered one, and that no one you know or are close to would ever do that to someone else.
I have some bad news for you: if you’re at a reading level where you are able read this post, you’ve likely met several rapists and pedophiles in your lifetime—and you wouldn’t know it, because a lot of them look just like you. Sometimes rapists are the life of the party. Maybe they’re sweet, charming, and very agreeable in social situations. Maybe they hold the door for everyone and seem generally chivalrous. Maybe they’re the fun uncle or teacher or youth pastor that everyone loves. Maybe they’re someone you look up to. Plenty of them may never cheat on their girlfriends, may be in positions of leadership, and may be very talented. Plenty of them go to church every Sunday, mission trips over the summer, and post bible verses on social media. Plenty of them are people you would trust around yourself or your children. And almost always, they seem to have a bright future ahead of them.
More importantly here, the problem with dehumanizing rapists is that doing so fuels the sentiment that they are incapable of change. I see this often when people talk about how women should or shouldn’t act if they don’t want to get raped (I can’t believe those are words I still have to type) because “you can’t stop a rapist from raping” (at least that’s the gist of the comments sections I’ve read). I think we’re mistaken in that belief. For one thing, it disproportionately and unfairly allocates responsibility to potential victims. But more than that, it suggests a latent belief a lot of hold: that rapists are monsters who are impervious to correction or rehabilitation. If we see the human dignity in them, though—as hard as it may be—we may be able to take pragmatic steps to deter them.
I’m going to talk about my faith a bit here, because while this isn’t the case for many survivors, I personally found solace in my faith and feel I would be robbing anyone reading this post of my full point if I didn’t talk about this. But I’m also going to be super candid with this, so my apologies to those of you who are Christians and take offense to any of it.
As a Christian, I think an important tenet of why rape happens is the theological questions the problem raises. I’ve always believed in God, and at the time I was raped I would say I was truly “walking with the Lord.” I wondered if God was omniscient, omnipotent, all good, and all loving, why he didn’t protect me from being raped. If he knew, was there, loved me, and had the power to stop it, then why didn’t he? I could tell that my Christian friends and family I talked to were frustrated me for asking those questions. Many seemed impatient. Some scolded me for being selfish, which is a good point—why was I just seriously asking these questions now that it was affecting me? Why didn’t it bother me when other people were raped? Anyway, I searched for these answers on my own, and tried not to get too bitter in my faith. I read The Bible all the way through that year, along with a C.S. Lewis book called The Problem of Pain.
Here’s what I learned for myself: what happened to me was terrible, and there’s no mitigating how terrible it was. It’s still terrible; I still think about it every day, even six years later. I believe God gives each person free will, and with that free will each person is capable of actions that range anywhere on a spectrum of evil to altruistic and loving. What happened to me that night wasn’t a matter of my actions or what God didn’t do for me as much as it is the decisions my rapists made with their own free will. With that said, I think God interferes with man’s free will sometimes, but more often than not he doesn’t. We live in a broken world, but I also think God’s heart breaks when ours do. I remember how struck I was when I reread the story of Lazarus in the book of John. If you’re not familiar with the story, Jesus was too late getting to Martha’s sick brother, and she kind of let him have it:
“Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:21). After seeing them in mourning He feels compassion: “Jesus wept.” (John 11:35).
As most of you probably know, Jesus resurrects Lazarus, and it’s a very powerful illustration of a tragedy where Jesus extends His compassion and redeems it for His glory. I think rape is a bit too different from death for it to be a perfect analogy, because in the instance of Lazarus, the tragedy is undone. There’s no undoing rape, and I know that. But I do think that God has unconditional, unfathomable amounts of compassion for rape survivors, and even if he didn’t stop the assault from happening, his heart is broken for the victims; and He in his compassion he can redeem what happened to them. I know He’s done a lot of that for me. I know that God never left me when I walked through it—he carried me through it all.
The above explanation doesn’t answer all my questions about why God didn’t stop the assault. And from time to time, I still really wonder about it. I think it’s healthy to have questions, and it’s also worth noting that I will probably never have the answer to them all. For now, that’s okay with me.
But in the church context I grew tired of hearing, “you’ll feel so much better if you just forgive and move on” and other ‘quick and easy fixes’ from other Christians. My first instinct is that its way easier said than done when you know you’ll never get justice or an apology of any sort, when your perpetrators feel no remorse for what they’ve done to you, and when you live with the traumatizing effects of it every single day and can’t seem to shake them off. More importantly is that trauma and profound suffering are not that simple: it is possible to forgive someone fully while still being sad that something terrible happened to you. I will admit that forgiveness was an important step in healing for me, though. I’ll never forget a professor who talked to me and prayed with me after class the semester I was raped. I’d told him how betrayed I felt by my own friends and even by the men who raped me, even though I didn’t know them, how I couldn’t wrap my head around how my life had taken this awful turn or why any of this was happening. It was then that he encouraged me to reread the passages in the gospels about Jesus’ crucifixion.
I specifically paid attention to the human reactions and expressions of Jesus near the end of his life. Jesus suffered an unimaginably slow and painful death. He was betrayed by his closest friends, and completely publicly humiliated as he died. There are seven recorded phrases Jesus uttered before his death, but the one that hits me the hardest is this one:
“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).
Wow. The man was betrayed, beaten, flogged, stripped, mocked, humiliated, each of his limbs were pierced, and he was left there to bleed out and die a slow, painful death. The people who did it to him showed no remorse. Even so, before he died he begged God to forgive them.
On one hand, the crucifixion of Jesus illustrated the humanity of Jesus in his suffering: while we as abuse survivors may feel isolated and alone in our suffering, our God took a human form and learned how to suffer. Because he was crucified, he understands.
And with that, I am reminded of the selfless, forgiving nature of Jesus. Every time I think of that verse, I remember that no human being—who is fearfully and wonderfully made, divinely constructed in the very image of our loving Creator—is too far gone. It applies to me too. I know many evangelicals will disagree with this, but I personally don’t believe all sins have the same weight and that rape is worse than most other sins. With that said, though, I am a sinner. I’m pretty sure I disappoint God every day, and I am guilty of failing to see other human beings the way God sees him or her. And I fully recognize that if Jesus hadn’t died for my sins—meaning if I got what I deserved—I would be in hell. Everyone would. But that’s where redemption comes in. Jesus didn’t just die to save me and the people I like. Jesus died for all, which means that (as hard as it may be to admit): Jesus died to save the men who raped me. Just like I am capable of being resilient and having a fulfilled life after what they did to me, they are capable of redemption.
By that token, no person is completely incapable of deterrence from a specific evil act, nor are they incapable of redemption after committing a specific evil act. There is no excusing or justifying what rapists have done, but that doesn’t mean there’s no hope for them to change. The men who raped me were made in the image of God, and because they were made in his image, they are capable of redemption.
All my love and then some,