Being a rape survivor

20 January, 2012 § 11 Comments

Hi everyone. I’m Ben Lehman. I’m a rape survivor. I was raped by my maternal grandparents and some of their accomplices multiple times between the ages of 4 and 10, in a systematic and calculated way. Resulting from this, I have PTSD and chronic mono-polar depression.

I want to talk about rape in this space, and the really fucked up way that our culture deals with it, so it behooves me to talk about my own experiences as a rape survivor. There are two reasons that it so behooves me: one good, and one bad.

The good one is that I want to talk about theories and structure of rape as a personal crime, a social institution, and a cultural concept, and thus in the interests of honesty I should be clear about my own experiences so that we can analyze and discuss how my own experiences have led to my ideas about rape, as well as biased my views about rape.

This is important, and I want to come back to this over the course this discussion, which I’m hoping will be ongoing. I’d really love to have an audience willing to go “ok, Ben, but you’re biased because of your experience in such-and-such a way” because, lord knows, I’m not going to see all my own bias.

The bad reason is that, because I am not the ideal rape survivor, I need to use my own experiences to justify my privilege to talk about rape at all. We have a cultural tendency to question, doubt, and undermine rape survivors who don’t fit our ideal (young but sexually mature, female, pretty, virginal, “broken” by the experience, depressed by not acting out violently, white, attacked with force by a stranger). I meet some of these, but not others, and thus I’m pretty consistently belittled and dismissed in discussions about rape. This has happened to me so consistently, and so many times, that I now feel like I have to prophylactically but my “talking about rape credentials” forward before I can even begin to discuss it.

To be clear, this is bullshit. Rape is a human problem, and a widespread one. Everyone, from every society and in every class of our society, has skin in the game about rape. Even if you are not a victim or a perpetrator, chances are very high that you know someone who is one or both. Even if, by some miracle of statistics, you don’t know anyone immediately affected by rape, you are no less deserving to talk about it, because you have likely been threatened with rape. The threat of rape is used widely throughout our society as a means of enforcing gender, racial, and social norms, and I find it hard to imagine someone living today who has not experienced threats of rape to “keep them in line” somehow.

I want to use this space, in the future, to talk about this. But first I want to make sure it’s okay to talk about. First let me show you my credentials, and yours. This is a place where everyone gets the right to talk about rape, the right to be right or wrong about it.


§ 11 Responses to Being a rape survivor

  • Hans Andersen says:

    Have the past few years’ revelations and publicity re: sexual abuses committed by Catholic clergy done anything to change the accepted parameters of “ideal rape survivor” to something a little more inclusive?

    • benlehman says:

      Good question! I don’t really know. Not in my personal experience but my personal experience in the last few years is pretty narrow.

  • Tyler Tinsley says:

    Thanks for talking about this. I dated a survivor for a few years, rape effects everyone.

  • Thank you for your bravery in talking about this, Ben. As with everything you write, I look forward to what you have to say.

  • Ben, thank you. This is a clear-eyed and courageous thing you’re doing, and I’d be honored to participate in this discussion in a spirit of trust and mutual support. I hope to live up to that trust.

    I am not a rape survivor, but two of the women I’ve had a serious relationship with were. Both of them fit the “ideal” profile in some ways that you don’t, but both of them deviate from it in significant areas. I’m not sure how much detail I want to share in this space, since it’s not my story but theirs, not my trauma but theirs, and I’m not in a position to ask their consent. I’ll play it by ear, and if parts of their biography are relevant to a particular discussion, I’ll consider sharing discreetly.

    I also have a close male friend who was raped, but I know very little about it. His experiences were very, very scarring and he’s never opened up with details except to other survivors.

    And those are just the cases I know about. Plus several women who were the victims of *attempted* rape or sexual assault, by men they knew or were even close friends with. And who did not come forward to police or even publicly to their community, just discreetly told a few friends and set about to quietly ostracize the perpetrator from their lives.

    Rape affects everyone, indeed.

    Strength and love.

  • A Person says:

    You’ve hit on one of the last subjects people never write about – the threat of rape to enforce “norms.” Reading your essay led me to think about the diverse forms of legitimized sexual violence in American society. They say rape is about power, but sometimes it’s about *political* power.

    “Wrong on the internet” is not a fitting name because you’re not wrong.

  • I recommend checking out Ben’s opening post RE the name, if anyone hasn’t already:

  • Joe Mcdaldno says:

    Hey, Ben,

    I’m reading these posts. I don’t have anything to contribute to the discussion yet, but I wanted to say: thanks for talking, thanks for talking so even-handedly and sincerely, and thanks for creating a space where people have permission to be wrong and learn.

  • […] rape,” “forcible rape” and “honest rape” that de-legitimizes non-ideal rape victims, I feel the need to add this: my discussion of this absolutely, irrevocably and completely includes […]

  • Dan says:

    No one is a “rape survivor”. You are a rape victim.

    “Rape survivor” is pernicious politicized language.

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