Sunday, September 2, 2012
She’s Still Not Wearing Underwear
I am a Peace Corps Volunteer, rape survivor but I am many things. I have been serving for nearly a year now. I have been in my new site since February. It has been 5 months since the man who raped me received a conviction of 28 years; October 18th 2012 will be the anniversary of the most horrible day of my life. The day I was taken to an abandoned trash dump near a prison and raped, and then left there, not really knowing where to go or what to do.
I blogged before this: When I joined the Peace Corps I planned to tell my friends and family back home about my experiences about the things that I was doing but how would I share this, how could I?
The truth is I have come a long way since October but I am not sure if one ever really heals because recovery is not a linear process. It is not a broken bone, which with time heals. Yes I am healing but with that comes an unfair reality, it is in songs that you hear that serve as reminders, the nightmares even though they decrease with time, and the pain in your stomachic that creeps up on you, and the nights you spend crying on the bathroom floor with the lights off, and the showering that reminds you of the shower you took that day, trying to wash it away, but no matter how hard you try no amount of soap and hot water can return your body to normal.
But in my heart I know that this is a story that needs to be shared because it is the story of so many Peace Corps Volunteers. Some of us return to county and some of us take the battle back home with us. So I write this blog, not only to talk about my projects and life in Peru but for the truth. I can’t talk about my service without talking about all of it. I cannot pretend that I had a fairy tale service and I cannot pretend this did not happen. I want to be able to share my life to make use out of the things that happen. But to find my voice again and share the things that I struggle with and to show that even within the darkest of days I know someday soon I will feel more alive, and more joyful than I ever could.
A woman could be vigilant about her safety and it could still happen. We can follow rules and do things to decrease our risks but criminals don’t follow rules and the only way to stop it from happening is to stop telling women what not to do, and where not to go. The only way to stop it is to stop giving rapist so much control on how we live our lives and create a place where it is safe for a woman to come forward, and that we treat rape like the serious crime that it is. And people understand that rape is not ok. For 28 years my rapist will be in prison but I will still be a survivor and this will impact me for the rest of my long joyful and glorious life. But I will be free.
Below is a letter that I wrote to both prospective and current PCVs. And the answer to the question you are all wondering. I am Not wearing underwear.
Healing in Peru: A message of hope and a call to end of silence
¨ I remember receiving my invitation right after the 20-20 story came out about sexual assault response in the Peace Corps. I had talked to a few RPCVs and they assured me that I would be safe and I was. I felt safe in site even though I lived in a large site. Than one day it all changed. I am a current PCV and now a rape survivor. I was assaulted in a motto taxi on my way home to lunch after my morning session planning and got into a motto taxi like always but had no way of knowing what would happen next. I had no way of knowing that I had gotten into a taxi with a psychopath who two months earlier was released from prison for raping another young woman and was released after five years. I had no way of knowing that my life was about to change forever. I had no way of knowing that when I reported being raped that the police would sell my name and the intimate details of my assault to the media and that days following my assault my counterparts and fellow PCVs would find out I had been raped before I had a chance to tell my own family before I had a chance to tell it how I would have liked it to be told.
I will always have to deal with the fact that I am now a rape survivor but it took me a long time to be okay with the idea that others would know from the beginning. I was angry that the way the sequence of events was portrayed on papers and television, I was seen as a helpless gringa with a disability and one of the papers went as far to say that I was mentally retarded (because of their lack of knowledge about my disability). I was furious because I never felt like a victim I was furious because it was my story. I was generally furious. I felt seriously underestimated and knew from the second I was able to escape that he was not going to win and that I was going to fight. With the help of Peace Corps I did. Not only did we receive a conviction of 28 years without benefits but with the help of other survivors I have learned to tell my story on my own terms, whether that be sharing it with you in this blog or my fellow PCVs in Peru.
My story was never a secret I think in many ways it has made my healing process easier. I think what the papers and media did here was wrong and survivor stories should be told on their terms. But throughout my healing process I have met other women who told me their stories some for the first time. I imagine the pain that I am in now, and then I try to imagine how it would feel if I were living in silence. The only response I can come up with is god that must hurt but I do understand why others chose not to tell.
But now I also believe that the first step to healing is telling, its putting the shame you feel with ONLY person who is at fault for what has been done, your attacker. For too long survivors keep their pain their stories to themselves but one way to put a stop to sexual violence whether it be as a PCV before your Peace Corps service. Is to tell so that people can learn to understand the impact violence has in our lives. But I don’t think we should tell just our fellow survivors, we need to tell our sisters, our brothers, our friends. This truly is an epidemic and something has to be done and all of us have to be a part of it. So this is why I have shared my story with you, because maybe it was never just my story from the beginning, its all of ours. Telling it has helped me heal and has helped me to be free and I only wish that for all survivors. There is no hand over my mouth anymore to keep me from screaming and to keep silent I have found my voice again. It is a voice that is stronger and more powerful than my rapist.
When I reported what happened I was worried about the response I would get from Peace Corps. Even though I was raped I had no desire to leave Peru. I had grown to love it. I want you to know that if it does happen to you I am sorry. I really am. You should know that the response I received from PC was above anything that I could have imagined. Every PCV deserves that same response. They helped me navigate a foreign legal system, successfully convict the man who raped me, and continue to provide me the with the emotional response that I need to continue my service.
Fear of being sexually assaulted is a big deal for a lot of PCVs but it does not mean it will happen to you. It does not mean that you will not get the support you need if you are. It is not the end. If there is one thing I want you to know is that there is life in the Peace Corps after rape. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help and to advocate for yourself and tell people what you need from them. You should always have high expectations for the support you receive from PC whether or not you are a victim of crime.
I also decided to share this because I wanted to show other Peace Corps post what they could do for their courageous PCVs and how critical their response is to the healing of a PCV. Posts have the ability and the power to turn a nightmare into something greater. But PCVs cannot do it alone. If you are receiving a negative response this is where self-advocacy comes into play. My response is an example of what it should look like. Your post should be incredibly supportive, help you navigate the legal process, and you should be receiving mental health services, whether you are a PCV or RPCV. If you are not receiving this than contact Kellie Greene the victims advocate in DC. She understands and she will help and support you. So please reach out, don’t be afraid, and don’t be afraid of being sent home from service if you need mental health services. Even if you choose not to tell your friends or family get help, please get help. You deserve it. You can and it does get better! The pain does not last forever; you will have good days again. I can promise you that.
Peace Corps is full of highs and lows and your mental health needs to be your priority. You will find that your fellow PCVs and PC staff will be your first line of defense and you will share many of the same frustrations, some of which include projects moving at a much slower pace than you would like, communication in a second language, and holding yourself to impossibly high standards. I have learned that to be a happy and successful PCV even to be taking care of yourself, and reaching out. If that means you need to call a friend, the PCMO, or Kellie Greene than do it. Even if you just need someone to talk to or someone to be on the other end of the phone with you while you are falling to pieces, its okay. It is one of the strongest things we can do.
Sometimes you will have days and weeks where nothing goes as planned and the most productive thing that happened was maybe your host mom finally understands the words that are coming out of your mouth and or you have solid poo after months of explosive diarrhea. I am learning that I will never be able to do the double r in Spanish and I will not have the PC experience I expected, but I have learned to appreciate the smaller things in life that make it more livable.
Rape is not something you should accept as part of the deal. No one deserves it, what you do deserve is a service uninterrupted by violence. I never expected to be raped but nor did I expect such unwavering support, nor did I expect to fall in love with an entire country, meet so many courageous and powerful women. Yes, being a PVC has changed my life in some horrible ways but it has also has been healing. I have seen the power of my own strength. If you are thinking about joining you will not get what you expect none of us do, somehow we learn to make due. But I will say I have never regretted my decision to join and to stay. Peace Corps Peru will always be family and will always hold a special place in my heart.”