Not Just a Survivor
Trigger warning: Sexual Violence
I am a survivor of abuse and rape. I don’t ignore that reality, and I’ll never forget it. I take medicine for PTSD daily and am a client of the campus counseling center where I can get free therapy. But it’s also not my whole story. I am also a wife, a PhD student, a friend, and a daughter-in-law; but most importantly, I am a child of a loving God.
I was raped nearly three years ago by a fellow grad student whom I met at the bus stop not 100 meters from where I study and go to class. When he invited me back to his apartment, I didn’t know how to say “no.” In the past, saying “no” had merely earned me more abuse. But once we got to his apartment and he forced himself on me, I said “no” many times, anyway. I said “no” until I knew the inevitable was going to happen regardless of what I said. I retreated to the safe place behind the brick wall in my mind where I’d hidden a thousand times before. He asked me if I was a virgin, and I said yes. He told me that I actually wanted it—that he’d been with many women, and he knew how to make me happy.
Instead, he knew just how to give me a panic attack. When he saw me wheezing and gasping, he looked disgusted and kicked me out of his apartment. Somehow, I wanted him to keep me, to hold me, even though he had just raped me. Right then, he was all I had.
saw him many times after that, walking to the bus stop that I was now afraid to use, on the campus I was afraid to step foot on but did daily anyway. At my masters program graduation, when I received the award for graduating first in my class, I knew he was there, watching me, even as my face was magnified a thousand times on the big screen.
My husband knows. A dozen times or more, I’ve cried in his arms and told him how I wish I could go back in time and make the sensible choice not to go to the apartment. My husband is kind, gentle, and understanding. With him, I’ve been able to explore intimacy freely and wonderfully. For those trauma survivors reading this and wondering if they can ever experience intimacy in a loving way, I can tell you that there is hope that you can.
But my husband is not my savior. He is not the one who is redeeming my sexuality and my life from the grave. God is doing that for me. God’s story as narrated in the Scriptures holds grave concern for women who experienced sexual violence—including King David’s daughter, Tamar, for instance, and women of Lamentations. And I think Jesus, the One whom I believe bore the sin and suffering of the whole world on his shoulders, understands the pain I’ve felt. Jesus was stripped, and his tormentors held up his nakedness as an object of mockery and humiliation. On the cross, he was exposed and ripped as much as I.
When I’ve prayed about my rape, I’ve sensed the rage of God. I grew up as a good, liberal Protestant, uncomfortable with the notions of God’s wrath. But in prayer, I’ve found that the rage of God is for me, not against me. God rages against that which destroyed my life. When I didn’t have the sense of self-worth to be angry for myself, God was angry for me. I experienced God’s wrath as a consuming fire that could overcome—and has already overcome—the graves of despair and self-hatred and shame and fear that surrounded me.
I am a survivor. But that’s not the lion’s share of my identity. I am redeemed—a word with its etymological roots relating to freedom from slavery. I am set free to love and be whoever God calls me to be.