The Star (St. Lucia) - - FRONT PAGE - By Al­lana Max­imin

Nor­mally I lis­ten to the prob­lems that we go through as a coun­try and with­hold my com­ments. How­ever, in the re­cent months I have been blind­sided with news of an­other rape, some­times two in one week. As a re­cov­er­ing vic­tim for the past nine years, I have of­ten felt the need to speak out on this hor­ri­ble crime. I do so now, for the first time, while still un­der­go­ing coun­selling. It is my hope that my com­ing out, so to speak, will cre­ate in this so­ci­ety a greater aware­ness of what it is to be a vic­tim of rape. I feel cer­tain that a third of this na­tion’s women will re­late. It is my wish that more of us will bring into the open what so many of us are go­ing through in self­de­struc­tive si­lence.

I feel the need to re­mind ev­ery­one that rape is a dev­as­tat­ing crime, with lifechang­ing ef­fects on women. Some are badly in­jured. Some be­come preg­nant. Some con­tract HIV. But the emo­tional trauma is usu­ally a lot worse than any phys­i­cal in­jury. And this I say from per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence. Women who are raped suf­fer re­cur­ring night­mares, panic at­tacks, anx­i­ety, de­pres­sion, waves of self-doubt, an over­whelm­ing sense of dis­trust.

The lives of women who have suf­fered this tragic crime are for­ever changed. Some say they can never be the same; that it’s like dy­ing. Re­cently, a men­tor of mine spoke to me on this is­sue and made me re­al­ize we ac­tu­ally die when we are raped. The per­son I was be­fore my in­ci­dents is for­ever gone. Or so I felt.

I was no longer kind­hearted. I stopped be­ing re­spect­ful to oth­ers. I was with­out an ounce of self-worth. The per­son I was died and was re­placed by some­one I never knew be­fore my ex­pe­ri­ence. I be­lieved that if my in­no­cence could’ve been taken so eas­ily, then it was never worth much. I spent years of my life up­set at my fam­ily for not know­ing, but afraid to tell any­one, since the only per­son I told blamed me for what had hap­pened to me. I don’t blame him for blam­ing me. We live in a cul­ture that has con­vinced us we have choices in life and that we’re re­spon­si­ble for what hap­pens to us. If you get beaten, you’re said to have pro­voked it. If you’re raped, then you in­vited it. From a very young age, you’re taught that you’re re­spon­si­ble for the things that hap­pen in your life, pos­i­tive and neg­a­tive. So when a rape sit­u­a­tion oc­curs, the first ques­tion in a vic­tim’s mind is: What did I do wrong?

I ques­tioned my­self for many years, try­ing to find an­swers to ex­cuse this man for what he had done. Maybe I in­sti­gated it; maybe I wasn’t sup­posed to be where I was; maybe I led him on.

It’s not only the vic­tim who blames her­self. So­ci­ety is quick to blame her as well. Even a four-year-old girl would be held re­spon­si­ble for se­duc­ing her adult per­pe­tra­tor. Now what are we say­ing? We’re say­ing we don’t know how to take re­spon­si­bil­ity as a so­ci­ety. There­fore, we con­tinue to blame the vic­tim.

As rape sur­vivors, we of­ten think: Why did I get in the car with him? Why did I go to that party? Why did I get drunk? Why did I dress so provoca­tively? Truth is, we can sec­ond-guess all day long but the bot­tom line is that we would not have been raped had our rapist cho­sen to re­spect us—not com­mit a crime against a de­cent hu­man be­ing.

Be­ing raped can make a per­son para­noid and com­pul­sive, a bat­tle I have strug­gled with for years. I strug­gled with liv­ing alone. Ev­ery sound I heard out­side or in­side, how­ever small, would send me into a panic and keep me up all night hud­dled in a cor­ner on my bed with a knife in my hand. You can­not understand the sever­ity of the sit­u­a­tion un­less you’ve been a vic­tim. It is just one of the many is­sues we face. Be­ing a vic­tim of rape kept me search­ing for some­thing to fill the void in me. I would imag­ine that by do­ing some­thing in par­tic­u­lar the void would be filled. But when I still felt empty and con­tin­ued to search, I found my­self be­com­ing un­sta­ble in jobs, my re­la­tion­ships and so on. I felt like ev­ery­one was try­ing to hurt me; to abuse me one way or an­other. This led to some very un­com­pro­mis­ing sit­u­a­tions, bad re­la­tion­ships and so on.

I be­came what I con­sider pro­mis­cu­ous. No re­la­tion­ship was ever good enough. I was con­stantly on the look-out for a bet­ter one. I en­gaged in sex­ual ac­tiv­ity in an at­tempt to feel wanted. I know it may sound silly and pa­thetic, but only if you’ve never walked in the shoes of a rape vic­tim. Sex was any­thing but en­joy­able; it was some­thing I did to sat­isfy who­ever I was with. I used to won­der why other peo­ple ex­ag­ger­ated their sex­ual ac­tiv­i­ties.

As I said ear­lier my per­son­al­ity shifted from re­spect­ful to mean and an­gry. I would throw tantrums and rant over the slight­est things. I par­tied ex­ces­sively and would do pre­cisely what my par­ents said I should not. I was con­stantly re­belling against ev­ery­one while try­ing to be good enough for ev­ery­one. Con­fused? Join the club. When I wasn’t an­gry or drunk or with some no-good guy, I’d be in my room cry­ing and wish­ing some­one would understand what I was go­ing through. I felt so alone and aban­doned.

Hav­ing been raped once at age 15, imag­ine my con­di­tion af­ter it hap­pened a sec­ond time. I com­pletely blamed my­self on the ba­sis that you blame the dog that bites you first. But the next time a dog bites you, you blame your­self. It did not mat­ter that the dog that first bit me was not the same dog that bit me the sec­ond time. I was con­vinced I de­served what had twice hap­pened to me. I felt I was do­ing some­thing to turn seem­ingly good men into mon­sters with­out con­science. For years, I lived with hurt, try­ing to keep a brave face, see­ing my abusers walk­ing the streets—and smil­ing at me—se­cretly hat­ing them and wish­ing they were dead. Fi­nally help would come when it was least ex­pected.

I reluc­tantly agreed to ac­com­pany some­one to CITAC Pen­te­costal Church and af­ter a while I had some ses­sions with Pas­tor Ken­dall. At first it was dif­fi­cult to open up to a man about what his gen­der had done to me. The last thing I wanted was a preacher man. He spoke to me as a friend and a men­tor and even­tu­ally I opened up. With the pas­tor’s help I grad­u­ally learned to for­give those who had hurt me so badly. When I en­coun­tered them in the street I no longer ex­pe­ri­enced fear. Slowly but surely I started to move on with my life. It took guts; it took a lot of work; de­ter­mined ef­fort. But I was able to see them in pub­lic and no longer fear them.

Years later, I am still piec­ing to­gether my life, try­ing to fig­ure out who I am. I have had some sat­is­fy­ing ac­com­plish­ments but what those sick men took from me can never be re­gained. I now spend a lot of my free time ad­vis­ing other young women, help­ing them fol­low their dreams.

My mes­sage to any­one out there who has been raped or oth­er­wise sex­u­ally abused is to talk to some­one; there are ways to deal with what you are go­ing through. Whether or not you have the strength to for­give your abuser, still you must move on with your life and not per­mit your­self to get stuck in the hor­ri­ble past. You need to be strong for your own sake and for the sake of those who truly care about you.

Im­por­tant: re­port your rape as soon as pos­si­ble. There are ser­vices avail­able to vic­tims, how­ever lim­ited. Reach out to a coun­sel­lor, some­one trained to work with sex­ual as­sault vic­tims. Work at con­vinc­ing your­self of the truth that in your own way you are beau­ti­ful, you are a per­son of worth. The process may be dif­fi­cult, you may need the sup­port of peo­ple you trust. But rest as­sured, you’ll get there if you try hard enough. And re­mem­ber, you are not alone.

Al­lana Max­imin: “Hav­ing been raped at age 15, years later, I am still piec­ing to­gether my life, try­ing to fig­ure out who I am.”

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