This is an extension to a comment I made to Tracy’s diary,  which just will not leave my head or let me sleep, and I don’t want to hijack hers.

It makes me think of Rizzo in the move ‘Grease.’

For lurkers who don’t know, this was a high school girl character who became pregnant, and sings a song that like this diary, crystallizes one of the most horrific American cultural values, ostensibly of the 1950s era, but in reality still quite prevalent.
Rizzo was not raped, but her song is about how the worst thing she could do would be to inform the boy she slept with of her pregnancy because it would ruin his life, the life of an innocent victim.

Throughout this diary that is the theme that keeps recurring. Even though Tracy was the victim of a violent crime, it was culturally unacceptable for her to speak of it, to embarrass the rapist, to possibly cause him harm. Even the rapists’ wife, instead of being shocked and horrified, to say the least, to hear such a thing said of her husband, her reaction is to be angry at Tracy.

Tracy has violated a rule, crossed a line that women are not supposed to cross. It also made me think of another diary in recent days, about a victim of child sexual abuse who is considered to be responsible for her father’s death because she also violates this rule, this important cultural norm.

Tracy will have been considered responsible for her rapist becoming depressed, unable to run his business, and thus impacting negatively on his wife and children, if any, who did not commit a crime. Innocent victims, by anyone’s standard, but by community standards, they are not victims of the rapist, but of Tracy!

And then I thought of the popular actress, who revealed her own child abuse, and that she violated cultural norms only after a subsequent victim of her abuser, a child of fourteen, took her own life.

We cannot know, and I would rather not imagine, the guilt this actress will have until the day she dies for not having broken the rule sooner.

In recent days, there has been a lot of discussion about the societal perception of rape. While lip service is paid, it is simply not considered the horrendous crime of violence that it is.

Unless the victim is killed, in which case we see all the TV heads, male and female, decrying with great ardor the brutality of the attack, the danger the perpetrator constitutes to society, and all the outrage that we should be hearing when the victim is alive and talking.

Sorry to bring it up, but the Natalee Holloway case takes us down an even stranger road. For the 3 people in rural Mongolia who may not know more than they ever wanted to about this incident, Natalee mysteriously vanished on a graduation trip to a Caribbean island, and the last people to see her alive include a young man who claims to have had intimate contact with her, before leaving her alone on the beach. The young man and two companions were jailed during an extensive investigation (as is permitted under the laws governing the island) but nothing comparable to American “charges” have been filed, because, there is no evidence that any crime has been committed,

However the media coverage, and the public opinion among the sector of the US public who follow the case, is almost a mirror image of the traditional blame the victim attitude toward rape.

It is presumed, even taken for granted that the young man raped Natalee, her mother repeatedly states this as a fact. The young man admits intimacy took place, therefore says Natalee’s mother, he has admitted to rape because Natalee was a virgin, a born again Christian and an honor student, and the fact that the young man has not been prosecuted for this crime is proof that the island is corrupt. While one cannot help but sympathize with the emotional hell experienced by a mother whose daughter vanishes without a trace, the credibility accorded these statements, and the readiness and zeal with which they are echoed not only by other relatives and friends of the vanished teen, but the TV show talking heads and hosts and panelists is both remarkable and alarming.

Both from the media and the public, there is also a distinct note of property crime outrage. How dare this foreign scum rape our pretty American blonde!

On message boards devoted to the case, and there are several, people who suggest that whatever happened to Natalee subsequent to her time with the young man, it is possible that she might have engaged in consensual intimacy with him are immediately torn to shreds. Natalee was a virgin! a born again Christian! Who baby sat for special needs children! An honor student! A virgin!

As if anyone who caused her to vanish would be committing a lesser crime if she were not a virgin, nor a Christian.

For the record, I have no idea what happened to Natalee, or whether the young man is telling the truth or not. However the story illustrates a complete schizophrenic reversal of the usual trash the victim, defend the rapist behavior seen in cases where there is a live, talking victim, as well as all the forensic evidence any prosecutor could want.

Which brings me back to Tracy’s diary that will not leave my head. The consequences of women who talk.

There are a thousand reasons to report a rape, it seems absurd to even discuss the question, from a purely common sense point of view.

But rape victims, like the rest of us, more intensely than the rest of us can imagine, in fact, do not live in a reality based on common sense.

A woman who reports a rape assumes a host of risks, from the moment she opens her mouth. First, the humiliation and insults added to injury that we have heard detailed in the stories of all these brave women who have shared with us their deepest hurts. From law enforcement to medical personnel, even family members, friends, co-workers, neighbors.

A woman who reports a rape risks her marriage or relationship, her job, her friendships, even the friendships of her children.

Along with the horror, we have heard stories of good and noble and brave men, who have cared for and nurtured and helped to heal the woman they love. But not all men have the strength, the courage, the patience, sufficient self-love to put self aside, the ability, we should be frank, to love someone else enough to defend their lady’s honor by returning it to her, in spades.

Especially in cases that attract media attention, or in smaller communities, are simply in the mouth of the town, employers may have a host of excuses for suggesting that the victim “take some time off,” or simply dismissing her “for an unrelated reason.” Bad for business, a distraction in the workplace, security concerns. They’ve got a million of them, but their alleged reasoning doesn’t matter. The victim is out of a job, regardless.

We have also heard stories of women who stood by their sisters, helped save their emotional lives, in fact. Real friends, the kind you are lucky to count on the fingers of one hand.

But not all “friends” can be accorded such an honored place. Some may feel uncomfortable, maybe because of their own secret horrors, that they did not report, and do not want to be reminded of. It is sad to say, but some women also share the popular societal attitudes, and feel that the victim must have some sort of culpability, or they may doubt her veracity. Maybe they have some connection to the rapist, and just simply know he could never do anything like that because he babysits special needs children and is an honor student and a virgin. Others may have pressure from family, spouses, or both, to distance themselves from such a “sordid” situation. Even members of her own family may “feel differently” about her. They too may suffer from the stigma by association.

Stigma. There is no other word for it. There is a stigma attached to rape victims. It is terribly, horribly, unjustly wrong. It is based, however unconsciously by its perpetrators, on the idea of women as property. Damaged goods. Ruined.

Women who talk, as our brave Tracy did, risk being stared at, whispered about, ostracized. Incredibly, it is their reputation that is damaged by a situation like Tracy’s, where the woman speaks up for the terrified little girl (and in my opinion, raped high schoolers are little girls) who could not.

It is too late to seek the privilege of submitting to the humilation of submitting one’s undergarments for laboratory analysis, too late to undergo the unspeakable indignity of having one’s most intimate anatomy examined and documented, so that the rapist’s lawyer can suggest that any wounds were caused by feminine hygiene products.

Too late to sit on a hard wooden chair, on display for the townsfolk, out in force for the big sensational trial, and relive, recount for them all, all the details of the most profound horror a woman can experience, too late for the snide, sneering, insinuations that are objected and sustained, and heard and remembered by the jury.

But it was not too late for Tracy to tell the truth. It was not too late for her to tell the truth to the rapist’s friend, to his cousin the sheriff, to anyone who asked. For the sake of the little girl who could not, and just in case there might be other little girls, or even other grown up women, to whom a word to the wise might help them decide to keep well away from the rapist in the town, Tracy told the truth.

Among the many reasons that women should tell the truth are for the benefit and safety of their sisters who might become the rapist’s next victim. This is such a compelling reason that you see I have used the word “should,” which I probably should not.

That reason is so compelling, so obvious, that it is tempting to blame women who do not tell.

What it should tempt us to do, however, is contemplate the fact that there is no rape victim on earth who is unaware of this, who does not have as many nightmares about the unthinkable things that could happen to other women, or little girls, if she does not tell.

That should give us just an inkling of how compelling are society’s efforts to keep her quiet, the overwhelming and terrible power of stigma.

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