March 20, 2009
"Standing on the stage, I felt his hands on me. I felt the blade next to my neck, then next to my chest. I felt the scrape of the concrete wall on my bare back.
“But that was my body. The rest of me had slipped away, and was up in the rafters, suspended—out of place, out of time.
“From up above, I watched my body with a strange detachment. I didn’t feel fear, or panic, or any of the other emotions I would expect. I knew I was watching myself but, at the same time, I felt like I was watching someone else. Someone in a play.
“For her, I felt—I guess the word is concern. And pity.
“Down on the stage, the guy had pulled down my skirt and pantyhose and underwear. They puddled at my ankles. Then he started taking off his own clothes. He still had the scissors at my neck, so he was fumbling at his pants, trying to get them unzipped with one hand.
“When they finally were down, he pushed me against the wall and tried to have sex with me, standing there. When that didn’t work, he turned me around, my face to the wall.
“That didn’t work, either, so he pushed me down to my hands and knees. That worked. After a couple of minutes, he turned me over and pushed into me again. He moved fast, with a mechanical detachment. As he did, a gold cross hanging from his neck dangled in my face.”
The above account is by Joanna Connors, a reporter from the Cleveland Plain Dealer, who finally told her story to the public last year. In Telling the Story I Tried to Forget—Beyond Rape: A Survivor’s Journey, Connors gives a full account of her rape by a stagehand in a theater in 1984. She was supposed to interview some actors in a stage play, but when she arrived late, they were gone. But the stagehand lulled her into believing that the actors would return. She also narrates how she lived with the shame and guilt of what happened and why she finally decided to tell her story. (Read it here.)
(Artwork by Spider Kiss)
As I write this piece, the news of “Nicole” recanting her testimony about her rape by US serviceman Lance Cpl. Daniel Smith has just hit the online newspapers. All at once, women exploded and quickly began to vilify her. A friend immediately commented on her Facebook link to the story, calling Nicole a “loser” and a “p*** in every sense of the word.”
One fellow journalist was even more upset: “Tatratuhin ka talagang baboy ’pag pumayag kang tratuhing baboy. Sana ikaw lang ang mabastos, ’wag sana kaming madamay sa pagpayag mong bastusin ka.”
Female politicians, unsurprisingly, came to Nicole’s defense. They asked the public to try to understand what she did, and blamed the government for not giving her enough support in the case. Before Nicole’s about-face, the Arroyo administration was being urged to assert its custody over Smith and remand him to a local jail cell instead of being allowed to stay in the US Embassy, where, many believed, he was being treated well. The administration was criticized for its impotence in renegotiating the Visiting Forces Agreement with the US government, especially after a phone call from President Barack Obama.
I’m sure by the time this column comes out, most women will have yet to recover from this latest slap on our faces. I believed and supported Nicole, and with her recant, it will now make it even harder for other rape victims to come forward and make their cases heard.
But can we really blame her?
When Nicole’s case was first made public, there were many who doubted her story. Typically, there were men who thought that she was lying about being raped, and even if she was, they felt she was at fault because she flirted with Smith.
Surprisingly, other women I spoke with at the time also felt the same way. After it was revealed that Nicole had danced with Smith while in a rather seedy bar in Clark free port and had drank some liquor, a few women automatically branded her a “loose woman.” So she probably deserved what she got. Good girls don’t get raped, only flirts and loose women do.
But we hear of men getting raped, homosexuals being sexually violated, fathers raping their daughters (google “Fritzi the Austrian rapist”), children being molested and old women getting raped. Clearly, there is nothing sexual about the act. Whether a woman wears hot pants or a duster looking dowdy like a fishmonger’s wife, both are equally in danger of being sexually violated.
Psychologists tell us that rape is about power, not sex. It is about aggression against another person. It is about taking control over another human being.
Of all the crimes that can be committed, it is rape that most women dread. In a robbery or fire, you can replace the material possessions lost. With rape, how can you replace your soul?
Rape rips through the core of a woman. The essence of her being is taken away from her. An assault of this magnitude changes one’s life overnight. When it happens, one is flooded by a confusing rush of emotions—fear, hopelessness, anger, self-loathing and self-doubt. You cannot believe it has happened to you, and even if you do, you torment yourself with questions about what you might have done to attract such a despicable act. This is why many women still prefer to keep quiet about it. It is the unspeakable crime.
The victim tries to forget it, but she really never does.
In her account, Connors says: “I might have buried this story, but it was not dead. It was still alive, and it grew in that deep place I put it, like a vine from some mutant seed, all twisted and ugly. And as it grew, it strangled a lot of other stuff in me that should have been growing. It killed my trust, my confidence. It almost killed my sense of who I was.” She was always distressed over what might happen to her daughter and son. She wanted them to live life and be bold in their actions, but she had taught them to live in fear, constantly hovering over them.
Telling the gristly details of one’s rape takes a lot of guts, especially when one has to identify the rapist in a police lineup. When the case goes to court, the victim has to face the rapist and feel his eyes boring into her being. Questioned and probed repeatedly by lawyers who will try to raise doubts over what happened, make it even worse. The victim feels victimized all over again.
I am writing these words because I am trying to put myself in Nicole’s shoes. I am trying very hard to comprehend why she recanted her testimony. And while this may sound naïve and foolish to others, I still believe she was raped, because I cannot imagine anyone would torture herself and go through that kind of drama and public humiliation for a lie. If it was all about marrying an American serviceman and securing a US visa, she could have made her accusations earlier enough by hooking an unsuspecting American while tending her mother’s eatery down south.
I’d like to believe that Nicole had reached her rope’s end. She is desperate to move on and have a better life. She is trying to forget and bury the past so that she could go on and live for what most women dream of. A good job, a husband and kids, and the house with the white picket fence. She no longer feels it possible to do so here where she is constantly reminded of her pain and suffering, where it is hopeless.
This is exactly what a rape achieves. The victim feels powerless and unable to move. By fleeing to another country, Nicole is trying to regain control of her life, and recapture what she has lost. Her soul, her spirit, her sanity.
Nicole has been judged enough. We must let her go. Wherever she may be, I pray that she is able to find the peace in her heart that she desperately longs for.
(This piece appeared in BusinessMirror, March 20, 2009. My column, Something Like Life, is published every Friday.)