"That's not quite rape." That was a listener's response to a call-in which a distraught listener related her emotional trauma that she was still suffering through ten years following a brutal assault at the hands of her fiancee.
"What did you just say?" I asked, incredulously.
"That's not quite rape." Seconds ticked by as the rage slowly worked itself to a boil, starting deep inside, burned its way up the back of my neck and had my eyes stinging with unshed tears. The caller went on to explain his rationale but I heard none of it; his words blocked by the screams of pain and hurt from my own "not quite rape" experience.
I didn't talk about it then and I still don't. It has been thirteen years for me but I've never quite gotten over it. And never will.
Like this caller most people still think of rape as a random attack, happening in dark corners at night or in empty parking lots. Although this is a tragic reality for some women, the majority of rapes occur when there is some degree of trust..... Yet, less then 5% of date rapes are ever reported.
I reported mine but to no avail. The system that set in place to assist the victims of crime only raped me again. So I shut my mouth and went on about living a life that I no longer felt belonged to me.
Instead of getting counseling, I worked in the trenches: talking to young women about dangers of sexual assault; whether it is at the hands on someone you know or someone you don't; advocating for tougher laws and more stringent sentencing for those who commit sexual assault and holding the hands of those who are dealing with the aftermath, struggling to pick up the pieces of their lives and their shattered femininity.
It was my own form of therapy and I thought it was working. But as I listened to the call again, I realized I still have a long way to go in my own healing process. Not on the surface - my physical scars have long since faded; but the emotional scars that are hidden deep within and are still puckered and pink.
I used to think the details weren't important. After al I gave the details - in excruciating detail to a group of people that only turned them against me. But now I've come to realize that the details are crucial. Because the signs of control and rage that I saw only in hindsight might prevent someone else from suffering through the ongoing aftermath of rape.
My body was violated but so was the very essence of what makes me a woman.
And the reclamation of that essence has been my life's journey; manifesting itself through depression, eating disorders, low self-esteem and relationship issues that plagued me through my twenties. Now in my thirties, I still jump at shadows, unexpected movements and loud male voices.
Even in the most tender moments with my husband, a similar movement brings back hellish memories.
My self-esteem as a woman is still splintered but it is no longer shattered and I've started taking back what it rightfully mine.
I'm starting to feel myself.
And love myself.
Validate and believe: Rape victims need reassurance that the assault was not their fault and that their feelings are normal. Although you feel you might have reacted differently, remember that each person's reactions are uniquely theirs.
Create a safe place: Both emotionally and physically, it is important for the survivor to feel in control again.
Expression: The feelings of a survivor of sexual assault can be very strong. Expressing these powerful feelings in a safe environment is an important part of the healing process.
Offer options-not advice: Survivors often struggle with important and complex decisions. You can be most helpful by helping her identify all of the options available and supporting her in her decision making.
Most importantly, believe in the possibility of healing.
Continue to be blessed.
Nikki Woods is an accomplished radio and television personality, author, filmmaker, motivational speaker and business owner. You can visit her online at www.NikkiWoods.com.