Rape: what we don’t know about it
When you are abused, there is a monster within the abuser that gets transferred to you which grows until you become the monster
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I recently gave a TEDx talk on rape. It has the distinction of being the most dubious of crimes. It is unique in that our ignorance about this crime seriously outweighs our knowledge of it. No nation on earth can claim to know how many rapes there are in their country. It is estimated that the majority of rapes go unreported. Nations can’t even agree on what rape is. Is it penetration? Is it a non-penetrative sexual violation? Does it have to be committed in front of three eyewitnesses for it to be considered a crime? Can a husband rape a wife?
Rape is also unique in that there is shame ascribed to both the victim and the perpetrator. Go visit inmates in prison and ask them what they are in for, they’ll tell you murder or theft sooner than they would admit to rape. Especially bizarre, this is perhaps the only crime where the victim is blamed. Wherever there is patriarchy, it’s the woman’s fault. Even less talked about than rape is the rape of boys and men. And even more taboo.
In my comedy shows, I do special sets on rape to show how ridiculous these precepts are. I speak about rape because I have been through it, since I was 5, systematically, till I was 7. Who was he? A neighbour. What do I remember about him? That his name was Manoj and he had a moustache. And that he was young; no more than 25.
Did I know what was going on? No. But I was honoured that an adult would share that secret with me, for it was clearly a secret. And most definitely adult. And here’s the interesting part: It shaped me. In somatic therapy, we use the word “shape” to mean it changes us in certain ways, and over time we don’t even realize that we changed our perception of ourselves, the world, so drastically.
It changed me in various ways. First, I blamed myself (children usually do). It really wasn’t until five years ago, when a Pakistani friend of mine sat me down and really explained how it wasn’t my fault, that I exonerated myself from blame.
Second, pursuant to my shame, I started distancing myself from people, and started “punishing” myself. I figured I wasn’t fit for human habitation, that I was really a bad person inside. At first, I punished my body negatively; I would belt myself. Then, I concluded it wasn’t my body’s fault, I had to discipline my mind. So when my friends ran five rounds around the ground, I ran 10, which made me into the athlete I am today.
Third, and this one I didn’t realize until I was 23 and in a rock-climbing incident—I believed that the sole purpose of existence of every man and every woman was to hurt me. I didn’t even know I thought that. Try establishing any kind of relationship with that level of mistrust.
I felt like a walking time bomb—I didn’t know what would set me off, and I would oscillate between great love, and rage. One friend called me bipolar. And I suspect he was right. You know how they would ask you as a child what kind of an animal you would be? Given my history of child sexual abuse, I’d be a bear—a bipolar bear.
It was in San Francisco, US, that I came across somatic therapy—that speaks directly to the body in making you feel safe inside your skin again. One of my fellow practitioners went and interviewed prison inmates at the local penitentiary. And this is what she found: Guess what percentage of rapists have been raped themselves? 100%. I don’t know if that number applies to India, but I suspect it would come pretty close. People rape because they don’t have self-esteem, a dignity of their own. You can’t give what you don’t have. So if you look at it, rapists may be the first victims.
Why would rape victims rape? I believe if you are touched by abuse of any kind—physical, verbal, sexual—there is a monster within the abuser that gets transferred on to the victim. And it grows and grows, and if you don’t know it is growing within you, one day it becomes bigger than you, and you become the monster. And so the cycle passes from generation to generation.
In hearing about this debate in India about rape, I have been frustrated. I hear a lot of rage and no real solutions. I am sorry, but the tint on windows, or putting coats on women, or chowmein, has nothing to do with rape. I have heard nothing about rape prevention. After a woman is raped, the harm is done; society will immediately pay a price for it: Every man and woman who will love that woman will pay a price for it. I speak not just as a rape survivor, but as a potential rapist. I have been sexually abused both by men and women as a child. I could have been that next rapist.
Our children need to be protected, and respect for women needs to be demonstrated to them. By teaching them boundaries. As individuals, we do ourselves grievous harm when we force ourselves on someone—both the rapist and the rape victim suffer. There is a way out—through education about boundaries, and therapy that changes our body reality. For bodies have a mind of their own. You’ll never catch 95% of the rapists. Incarcerating or killing rapists isn’t the answer. Restoring men’s dignity, and teaching them to honour women, is.
Vasu Primlani is a professional comic and business speaker in the US and India.