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