My body still reminds me sometimes.
I remember the clicking of a door as it enclosed me in the dark
The harsh hands on my shoulders pushing down, holding
Down into the sickening silence of rustling and fumbling—
And quick fear coursing like fire through my veins,
Adrenaline screaming at me to flee even as the four walls around me and the body on mine
Kept me trapped
Past tense, or present—I can’t remember which?
Fight or flight
But sometimes the body can only freeze, disassociating adrenaline and thought
Leaving only the blank separation in sharp focus
And so I laid in the valley of the shadow of death
And waited it out.
What a stark word, sitting up there all on its own. A harsh word, an uncomfortable word that feels like it’s better whispered in the hush of a quiet room all on its own. Is it reverence or is it revulsion that causes us to pause?
I was raped over two decades ago as a young girl fresh off her very first date. He was handsome and he was funny and I’d spent a joyful week planning my outfit and my hair. I liked him.
The weeks and months following were a bleary mix of tears and anxiety. Sometimes we glamorize healing, but the truth is that healing is messy and hard and ugly. Visceral fear wound itself into my comings and goings, never giving me a moment to catch my breath. My eyes and nose were raw and red from weeping. The terror from that day bled into the rest of my life, and I feared it would consume me.
I wondered, “Am I alright? Am I ever going to be alright?”
But wondering leads to wandering and thank goodness God is always out looking for the lost. After years of care, I learned to trust the careful hands of the healer—the one who opens locked doors and soothes the soul. The God of all the tears and all the ugly things. Slow and steady, step by step, I learned the tender love of a merciful father who cradles his children when they’re wounded.
God is the God of love and mercy, but he’s also a God of justice. The God of right and wrong, good and bad, true and false—and rape is one of those things that cries out for the stark contrast of a villain and a victim. The shame that comes with being wronged leads to silence, and who can truly find their way to healing when no one says, “This is wrong”?
It was over two decades after my rape when I sat through a message at church about healthy sexuality. It followed the usual format of caution around premarital sex, homosexuality, and pornography. I’ve been a Christian for most of my life so I’d sat through dozens of sermons about sex, and they’ve all sounded much the same. But this one used 1 Thessalonians 4:3–6:
For this is God’s will, your sanctification: that you keep away from sexual immorality, that each of you knows how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not with lustful passions, like the Gentiles, who don’t know God. This means one must not transgress against and take advantage of a brother or sister in this manner, because the Lord is an avenger of all these offenses, as we also previously told and warned you.
And there it was. Rape. Sitting there, I slowly realized I’d never heard a sermon on sexuality even mention rape.
Rape lurks in the darkness, trying its best to fly below the radar, skirting between the pews and slipping behind the door, hoping that we’ll just turn the page and move along. I wondered if I’d never heard it mentioned because we all know it’s wrong already. We all know it’s illegal, so do we really need to say it?
The answer settled in deep. We need to say it. We need to hear it said from the pulpit. Rape should make the list of sexual sins we talk about on Sundays, along with everything else along the spectrum of consent. We need to hear voices telling us that it’s wrong. We need to see from God’s word that God takes violating another human being seriously.
Over two decades after my rape, I found myself sitting in my parked car scrolling through a Google search for the police department in my old hometown. My fingers shook as I fumbled through the number. I only let it ring once before I hung up. My breath came in fast as I felt the familiar fear rushing and tumbling through me—consuming me—and I forced myself to slow down.
Breathe in. Breathe out. Try again.
And, really, how much of healing is just in those six words?
I dialed again and let it ring. As the non-emergency operator answered, I explained that I wanted to report a rape that happened many years ago. Long past the statute of limitations—limiting statutes that only serve to limit justice. She kindly said that she would connect me with an officer.
After a few brief moments on hold, a woman’s soothing voice came through the phone inviting me to talk to her. I clutched the phone as the tears came hard and fast. I gulped out that I’d been raped in that area decades earlier, and I wanted to know if maybe I could tell someone. The story stumbled out on its own, starved for the ears of authority to hear it and know it and let it have its say.
And the sky didn’t fall. I watched as cars continued to drive down the street in front of me, looking for all the world as though it was a normal day. The radio still played softly in the background and the world kept up with its turning, just as it always does.
Her voice expertly soothed my sobs back down again, and my body responded to reminders to take a breath. Breathe in. Breathe out. Again.
She explained what I already knew, the statute of limitations expired a mere four years after it happened, but that I could still file a report. And then she said that it’s not all that unusual to receive a call reporting a decades-old rape.
Healing settled in a little deeper when I heard that other hearts starved for justice too, for simply a taste of right and true and good to settle the score. To settle the story. A little bit of justice came flowing through the phone, just listening to her voice telling me that it was wrong.
Cover image by Mariah Solomon.