I Was Raped; How Can I Forgive Myself?

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Reader’s Question

I am a 22-year-old undergraduate. I have been raped twice by people I loved. Since then, I have found no reason to love anyone again. I tried getting into two other relationships but they did not work out.

I hate myself so badly for all that is happening to me, and I can’t seem to forgive myself. What do I do? I cannot concentrate in class and can’t do my assignments. I just can’t focus on anything. I need some help.

Psychologist’s Reply

Please allow me to offer my sympathy for you enduring not just one, but multiple traumas. It is especially awful because they were perpetrated by people you loved. Thus, in addition to the physical pain and emotional anguish, I’m sure you also feel betrayed. These experiences are extremely disturbing, so it does not surprise me that you are having difficulty concentrating on your coursework, and finding relationships that are comfortable for you.

Rape is among the most horrible of crimes for several reasons. First, it is an intimate violation and often takes away the victim’s feelings of control. People who have been raped frequently have a very difficult time trusting people. Second, rape is a very misunderstood crime. There are so many incorrect ideas about rapes, that sociologist Martha Burt decided to label them as “rape myths” in her chapter in the book, Confrontig Rape And Sexual Assault . Rape myths are defined as “prejudicial, stereotyped, or false beliefs about rape, rape victims and rapists.” There are a lot of rape myths but the most well-known of them is believing that the victim somehow caused the rape (by being young, attractive, dressed a certain way, drinking alcohol, being in a certain location, not being clear about saying no, or any number of other irrelevant variables). The sole purpose of these myths is to allow people to justify sexual violence by blaming the victim.

In reality however, the fault lies solely with the perpetrator and has very little to do with the victim because rape is a crime of power, not sex. Rape is about violence, not intimacy. Rapists have raped people of every age, gender, level of attractiveness, dressed in all manners of clothing, at all times of day and night, in all stages of sobriety or intoxication, in different locations and despite whether the victim says no or fights back. In other words, rapists rape whomever they can whenever they can simply because they can. It has nothing to do with the victim and there is nothing the victim can do differently that would make any difference.

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It is important to understand that the rapes were not your fault. You did not cause them and you did nothing wrong. Because of the nature of rape, it is sometimes challenging to work through this difficult time on your own. Consequently, I strongly encourage you to seek counseling. You mentioned being in school, so maybe your educational institution has counseling services available. If not, perhaps there is a group for people who have experienced rape or other severe traumas. Your local rape crisis center or a women’s rights organization should be able to guide you toward resources in your community. If nothing else, a network of supportive friends who will nurture you and keep you safe would be helpful.

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