The Language of Rape

*Trigger Warning*

There is language in this piece that might be triggering to some. Read cautiously.

I wrote this piece as a monologue, to be performed in a show that I’m running. The show is called “Speak,” and it is encouraging women to talk about their sexuality, their relationships, their experiences, in their native languages. Obviously, I am an English speaker, and so I decided to attack the English surrounding rape. It’s a bit of a soap box for me, both personally and from a linguistic standpoint. Though it was difficult, it was cathartic to write and I’m proud to be performing it.

The Language of Rape

I wasn’t quite fourteen when he killed me. He ran his hand up my thigh, breached the hem of my shorts and worked his fingers under my leotard – slowly, carefully, holding me in his lap. His hands were hot and sweaty against my skin…

They said he was a good man. A godly man. My parents trusted him. Our congregation loved him. Of course, it was all a show. That evening, I met the monster inside of him – the devil, the demon, the darkness, creeping out through his fingertips and burning my skin, so hot I was sure that his fingerprints must have left marks on me. Finally, after years of whispered desires, touches and caresses in the shadows, conditioning me to think that I was the one who was sick, he put his fingers inside of me. He… killed my past.

What? That’s not the word you were expecting? He took something from me. He changed me forever. The person I was before that evening would never exist again. But no, I suppose I can’t say that he killed me. So which word would you prefer?

Abused. Assaulted. Molested. Touched. Fondled. Played with. Penetrated.

Raped. Yes. Raped.

That’s the one I use now. That’s what happened. He raped me. But getting to that word took time, and even now when I say it, I see the confusion flash in people’s eyes as if they don’t quite understand. Rape? Do we call that rape? Tell me, what’s the linguistic value of that word?

You think the language of rape doesn’t matter? I think it makes all the difference in the world.

Years after the abuse stopped, I struggled with what to call it. I simply chose not to define it. If I never gave it a name – if I never spoke about it at all – maybe I could just pretend that it hadn’t happened. If I never spoke about it at all, maybe I could erase it.

And, it might have worked. Only I still knew what had happened. It seemed that not speaking about something really could only erase it as far as other people were concerned. But then…

I still hurt. I still had the memories. Just because I couldn’t define them didn’t mean that they weren’t there. But even when I finally decided I wanted to give them a name, I didn’t know what that name should be.

Legally, I was in limbo, left there by arbitrary language in the sexual violence law books. I was a year too old for it to be called the rape of a child. He used his fingers, and where I was from, that wasn’t rape either. Just because he didn’t put a penis in my vagina, I was suddenly violated less. Sexual assault? Aggravated? Well, he didn’t have a weapon.

In the linguistic hierarchy, I found myself at the bottom of the sexual violence list. It left me confused and frustrated, because from where I stood, what happened to me was significant. He had raped me. He had KILLED who I used to be. He had taken that part of my life from me and I would never, ever get back the person I was before.

But what the language told me, was that it wasn’t all that serious. It could have been worse.

Let’s talk about that phrase for a minute.

It could have been worse.

Well of course it could have.

There is no conceivable situation in the world that could not somehow be worse. But do you know what you really tell someone when you say to them that their situation “could have been worse?”

You tell them that their feelings of devastation aren’t valid. You hand them guilt. And they start to wonder if maybe they’re feeling something wrong.

At least, that was me.

I felt as if I had been raped. As if something was stolen from me. But it could have been worse, and so that word… rape… the word higher up in the linguistic hierarchy… it felt like a betrayal to use it.

Besides, when I say the word rape, what you probably picture is intercourse. And the last thing I want is to be accused of lying, just because he used his hands.

Now, lying. There’s a big one. “Are you sure?” Why didn’t you just say no?” “Was it really that bad?” “Tell me again, that doesn’t seem consistent.” “Are you really sure you were raped?” These things they ask us.

Of course I’m fucking sure. I was there. I survived it. And while I’m on that – I wasn’t raped… HE RAPED ME.

If I say “I was raped,” that makes me the subject. It makes raped the descriptive word, the one that defines me. If I say “I was raped,” it makes it a part of me, like I was happy, or I was purple, or I was a Russian language student. I accept that label, and it becomes something I can’t shake. It removes the actor. I was raped… so clearly, I could have done something about it. I was… I was…

I’ll tell you what I was.

I was innocent.

And HE. Raped. Me.

Subject, Verb, Object.

He did something to me, that had nothing to do with me. It wasn’t my fault. It was his choice, his action, his sin, his sickness.

At the time, I was his victim. Helpless. A child. And I couldn’t fight back –

because I didn’t have the words. No one ever really taught me to say no. That’s not to say I didn’t think it, or didn’t mean it. But I never spoke it, and what did we decide? Things left unsaid might as well not exist as far as other people are concerned.

But it did exist, my “no.” I just didn’t know how to say it.

You think that the language of rape doesn’t matter?

If I don’t talk about what happened, if I don’t call it what it was – how do I ever move past it? How do I ever find my voice again?

Maybe If I speak the words, I can find my reason to keep fighting against the son-of-a-bitch who took them from me. Against anyone who takes them from someone else.

And I do.

I found the language that empowered me.

He raped me. And I was a victim.

But you know – I came out on the other end of this hell. A little worse for the wear – but whole. Healthy. Maybe a little dented, but I’m not damaged and I’m certainly not broken.

I put my pieces back together. Duct tape and super glue, good as new, but with a few scars to show for it.

Don’t tell yourselves that words don’t matter. For me, for us, they help define who we are and what we survived. They can create or remove guilt, blame… shame. They can tear down, or they can shine light into darkness.

Language is a powerful thing, and the words we use change everything.

Me? I’m not a victim anymore. Now, I’m a survivor.

**********

Concrit is welcome and appreciated. The piece is personal, but the writing is important to me. I’ve never written a monologue before.

Thanks for reading!

*Bobs

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14 Comments

  1. GB's Mom said,

    April 2, 2011 at 4:43 am

    This was a powerful piece. I agree-” I was raped” has far different implications then “He raped me”. So glad you found your voice.

    • bobbijaye said,

      April 3, 2011 at 2:52 pm

      Thank you for commenting. As a student of language in Linguistics and Russian, I find that my word choices tend to be very careful. One tiny little change makes so much difference.

  2. April 2, 2011 at 5:11 am

    Here is what I see: I see a strong woman on a podium at the front of a large group. She is empowered, passionate about what she speaks of. I see her never waver, never shake, only standing strong at that podium. I see her freedom as she puts a name to her ordeal, and her face lights up, glows.

    This? was perfection. I’m not sure what a monologue is, but this was absolutely brilliant, especially for the subject matter. You touch emotions without getting too emotional, a feat in itself.

    • bobbijaye said,

      April 3, 2011 at 2:55 pm

      Oh Stephanie, you did make me smile 🙂 I wish I never wavered or shook. I’m working towards that, but it’s still a challenge to speak these words out loud. I did it yesterday to a group of strangers for the first time (I’d only rehearsed with our cast before) and it was tough – but certainly empowering. And finishing felt so good.

      Monologue just means that I’m getting up on a stage and performing this piece.

      Thank you so much for your kind words. I was a little afraid to post this. I see now it was the right decision.

  3. April 2, 2011 at 4:09 pm

    I loved this.

    LOVED.

    I hate how you went through this, and fury floods me.

    Why do I love this then?

    Because I remember the first time you told me, when you were still the victim. When you blamed yourself for being a child, and your inability to say no.

    And now, I’m so proud. Because you are a survivor and you won’t hide in shame anymore. Instead, just like with your OCD, you’re being vocal about it and making people think, even if it makes them and you uncomfortable.

    This I love.

    Your words are powerful.

    You’re going to rock this monologue.

    Hugs, my friend.

    • bobbijaye said,

      April 3, 2011 at 3:06 pm

      You were my first reader for this and helped me turn it into something strong.

      You were the first person I really told, and you helped me turn into someone stronger.

      Better than anyone else, you know how long it took to get to this point. I remember being the victim and this? It’s so much better.

      As always, you’re awesome and I love you.

  4. souldipper said,

    April 2, 2011 at 7:48 pm

    Your strong voice and welcome clarity will help open the silence of those who still suffer. Well done. I listen to many of these types of stories and this is punctuated with health. I sense you can now love and trust yourself.

    • bobbijaye said,

      April 3, 2011 at 3:16 pm

      Thank you. It is my hope to encourage more women to talk, to take back their voices. I spent such a long time hiding in silence and shame and self-blame and guilt… all of those things that I took on myself. Now that I’ve started talking, I find it’s almost hard to stop.

  5. Jessica Anne said,

    April 2, 2011 at 8:06 pm

    Wow. This is amazing. So powerful. You are so right, the way things are said mean so much. You did an outstanding job explaining that concept.

    The writing just gorgeous. The descriptions, your word choices, so well done. Incredible.

    • bobbijaye said,

      April 3, 2011 at 3:24 pm

      I was afraid of going too far out into the realms of linguistics when I started talking about sentence structure and subject/verb/object constructions. Proof that you just can’t take the linguist out of someone. It makes me happy to hear that it worked for you.

      Thank you so much for reading!

  6. Carina said,

    April 3, 2011 at 2:37 am

    Well, I don’t mean to be the one person who writes a criticism, but here I am doing it.

    I understand the kind of experience you went through. That makes it powerful. Very much so. You made me think of the language of rape in a whole new way. One that I had never thought about it in before. I think your performance (will be? was? is?) going to be a great one.

    There’s one line I don’t like: The line: “You think that the language of rape doesn’t matter?” after “But it did exist, my “no.” I just didn’t know how to say it.” You’d asked the question before and I felt it was strangely sandwiched between two very salient points.

    I’m not a playwright and I have no experience in monologue writing, but I think it will do well on the stage.

    • bobbijaye said,

      April 3, 2011 at 3:49 pm

      No – THANK YOU for writing me concrit. Most people won’t do it on such a personal piece.

      I felt like I needed a transition between talking about what happened then and where I was now, and so I repeated the tagline there.

      Would it be better for you if I had “still” in the sentence? I’m almost sure that when I did this piece yesterday, it crept in. “And you /still/ think the language of rape doesn’t matter?” I’m not sure. I just think I need some kind of transition there.

      Performing it is… a whole different experience. I’m much bolder in writing than I am in speaking, so getting up and throwing these words out of my mouth? It’s a challenge, but I’m so glad that I’m doing it.

      Thanks for reading and concritting me!
      (I tried to post at your blog today on your depression piece, but blogger won’t take my comment… grr…)

  7. cristina said,

    April 3, 2011 at 11:31 am

    I had started to read this piece yesterday, and I stopped. I was immediately struck by the power in your words and I wanted to read it when I had more time, less noise around me. I don’t have any concrit, my brain is too busy taking this in and processing it.. but I am left with a sense of strength from your words. So, so powerful.

    • bobbijaye said,

      April 3, 2011 at 4:00 pm

      Thank you for taking the time to read and think about this. I can’t imagine that it’s an easy read for anyone – I know that the audience yesterday had a hard time hearing it. It’s why I wondered if I should post it, if I should link it up. Your comment and all of them here make me feel good about that choice.


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