Sunday, October 2, 2011

I have a court case against the rapist in the Peace Corps country I served in. I always thought that as long as I wanted to keep going forward with my case, the Peace Corps would support me with legal support and cover my travel.

The Peace Corps just informed me that if my case does not go forward in my favor in the next step, the Peace Corps will no longer pay for my private lawyer. Their response was framed such as "In the United States, [the change from public prosecution to private prosecution (if the state does not take my case)] that would be equivalent to your case changing from a criminal case to a civil case." REALLY, PEACE CORPS??

Now, this issue has yet to come to pass, but the date a decision is made is approaching, and this (in my mind) threat by the Peace Corps to not support me-- hurts me, yet again.

And so it was, with this issue on the forefront of my mind, that I had a nightmare with the rapist in it last night. Then I woke up, and without recalling the nightmare at first, had intrusive memories of the two days I spent in the in-country Peace Corps medical office, crying all day. And the two nights the PCMO, B, booked me into a hotel room by myself, in the state I was in. How could she even think that was okay to do, even besides the booking me into a hotel room by myself being against current Peace Corps guidelines for responding to rape, which state, "Do not leave the Peace Corps Volunteer victim alone."

How can this be happening? All I wanted was to work in development work. All I wanted was to help people.

What happened instead was that I lost my faith in an organization I once extolled (as most Americans do), I lost my wish to work in developing communities (for the time being, at least), and I was failed by the organization I extolled and put my faith in in the first place.

At least I hope I am still helping people, by doing what I am doing to try to change the way the Peace Corps is currently.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Talking to Peace Corps Employees: Through my survivor's eyes

Every time I talk to a Peace Corps employee, I end up getting pissed. I end up getting pissed because first of all, you messed up big-time, Peace Corps. Second of all, the Peace Corps employee to whom I am talking cares more about the reputation of the organization for whom they work than they care about me. AND I'M THE PERSON HERE!!!

I am sick of Peace Corps trying to explain away the second trauma they did indeed cause me. I am sick of Peace Corps employees essentially not caring about me. Caring about me in a phone conversation would look something like this:

Me: The PCMO I called invalidated my experience as a victim of rape by the words she said to me when I called her.

Peace Corps Employee: I cannot even imagine what that felt like to have someone say that to you. I am so sorry for what you experienced. We absolutely one hundred percent want to change what we are doing, and we would like for you to give us feedback so that we can one hundred percent improve the way we treat survivors of sexual assault in the future.

That would be so AMAZING if a Peace Corps employee said that to me. I am not a lawyer, but I don't even think that that statement has liability written in it (not sure though).

My point is that Peace Corps employees could be SO MUCH more compassionate in the way that they talk to PCV/RPCV's who reveal they are survivors of sexual assault. And it would be AMAZING if they did.

It wouldn't take away the second trauma that the PCMO caused me, and it wouldn't change how I overall feel about the Peace Corps. However, it would allow me to finish a conversation with a Peace Corps employee without being PISSED.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

I had another nightmare about the PCMO who first responded to me, and essentially validated what the rapist did, by saying, "Maybe he didn't mean it." I hate having nightmares about her. They remind me of how much she hurt me by saying what she said.

I am trying to get some documents together for my court case against the rapist in the Peace Corps country I served in. The in-country lawyer the Peace Corps hired for me is hard for me to get a hold of, and doesn't answer email. In short, he is not helping, and I have to get these documents together, and then give them to my lawyer. It's a nightmare.

The lawyer tells me that in the Peace Corps country I served in, "the State prosecution," or the equivalent of it in that country, does not think there is enough evidence to prosecute the rapist in my case. THINK about how completely crazy that is.... It's like saying,

Oh, I don't believe the rape victim who reported a crime (statistics are such that it is highly probable that rape victims are not falsely accusing attackers).... Instead, I believe the rapist, and I will just decide not to prosecute....

It makes me so so so mad, that first of all, that happens in this particular Peace Corps country, second of all, the Peace Corps apparently used to do a better job of prosecuting attackers of PCV victims when that was the charge of the Office of the Inspector General in the Peace Corps, and finally, the lawyer the Peace Corps hired for me is not doing his job, which is to communicate regularly with me and to help me get my documents together. See this article from the Washington Post.

There is a whole lot more to it, of course, but I try to write enough to give an idea of the depth of which the Peace Corps screwed up.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Lately, I have finally been able to feel good in my skin again. It is so great.

For the longest time after I was raped, I felt like I was floating above my body. And floating in a painful, separated way, not a happy-in-the-clouds way. Like I didn't care what was happening, like I hurt so much I wanted to physically hurt myself, because it would hurt less than the emotional pain I was experiencing. It would make the pain physical, instead of emotional, and maybe that would be easier somehow. I never hurt myself, though. Sometimes, I would tell my mom, "I feel like SHIT." What I meant was, "Please distract me, I feel so low, I want to stop myself from hurting myself."

My mother would tell me to do art. I made collages. I drew with craypaz and then glued words cut from magazines around the picture. It helped so much. In general, I couldn't focus on anything for very long after the trauma happened. I couldn't focus on reading. I couldn't read a page in a book. It frightened me. But I could focus on art.

I started to do Zumba a few months after the assault happened. Zumba is half-dance, half-aerobics, and it involves a lot of foot motion, a lot of energetic arm motion, and some sexy movements. It made me feel like I was in my body again. It felt so good to be back.

Another survivor I knew told me, "The trauma lives under my skin. It's all up and down my arms, and it perches on my shoulders." The trauma lives under my skin, too. Zumba helped me feel like I was in my body again. But I didn't feel really good in my skin. I felt like I was in my skin, but generally, I was feeling the trauma in my skin. Lately, I have begun to feel good in my skin again. It is wonderful. I haven't felt that in so so long. I have just been in wonder at how amazing it is simply to feel good in your own skin.

Today's a good day.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

I have two things to write about today.

First, I had a nightmare again. I have Post traumatic stress disorder, PTSD. It is very difficult to live with, but thankfully, my symptoms are much less than what they used to be, and I think I am getting closer to some day no longer being diagnosed with PTSD. Nightmares are something I used to live with nightly, and in the recent months, have been very occasional, which I think is very good. I have noticed that I get streaks of nightmares and they then will go away for a while again. Well, I had a bad dream yesterday, and a nightmare today. I'll keep monitoring my anxiety and how I'm feeling, and try to sort out stressors that I have in my life, in order to hopefully avoid having more nightmares. But for now, I'm just going to write about my nightmare.

I don't remember the plot of the nightmare, other than that the Peace Corps Medical Officer (PCMO) whom I first called the morning after surviving rape, was in the nightmare. Just her appearance in my nightmare is traumatic to me. Traumatic because she is inextricably linked to trauma for me, and because her actions caused a second trauma for me, after the excruciating trauma which is rape.

I was so upset the morning I called her. My mind knew I had been violated, but at the same time, it refused to call what happened to me rape. My thought process was, "If what just happened to me wasn't rape, everything will be okay, and I will deal with it, but if what just happened to me was rape, everything will not be okay, and I won't be able to deal with it." Just assigning the word "rape" to my experience made everything a million times worse than it was. I thought, "Rape happens to other people. It does not happen to me." I thought, "I can get through the pain of this experience. But I cannot get through rape." It was with that mindset that I called the PCMO, a person, who, it turns out, had already violated me in overstepping the doctor-patient boundaries, but whom I trusted very deeply and considered a good friend.

I said something along the lines of, "I had sex last night, and then he finished. The second time, I told him to stop, and he wouldn't, and... he hurt me." The PCMO, whom I will call B from this point forward, did not respond in a manner that was validating to me as a survivor of rape, at a time when I needed validation more than anything in the world. Invalidation coming from a person I trusted so deeply was excruciatingly painful, and embarked me on a tumultuous second trauma, which I now have to heal from in addition to the trauma of rape. NOT something minor, and not something that any survivor should have to survive; the ignorance of a medical professional about how to compassionately respond to rape.

B asked me a series of questions. Then she said, in reference to the man, whom I had been dating and whom I had told her about previously, "Maybe it got to his head. Maybe he didn't mean it. He sounded like a nice guy." I sobbed on the other end of the phone. He didn't mean to hurt me like this. He was still a "nice guy." He wasn't a man who would do something like rape a woman. He was nice. Yeah. And--- because he didn't mean to hurt me, then I would be okay, I would pick myself up and move through this excruciating pain, whatever it was called. Just don't call it rape.

I cannot even begin to explain here how that conversation haunted me for months. I cannot even begin to explain how I had to effectually extract myself from a friendship which was unhealthy, inappropriate, and to take myself away from another situation in which I, as the patient and PCV, was vulnerable, and which was definitely a factor in the second trauma. B was a person I loved. B was kind to me. B also hurt me so so much, second only to the rapist, in telling me that he really didn't mean to hurt me in my most vulnerable moment, when I most needed validation of my feelings.

I will probably write more on this topic later. Having a nightmare with B in it is always unnerving. Unnerving because I no longer think about B every waking moment, and because when I do think about her, it is unpleasant, traumatic, and angering. Angering because B still works for the Peace Corps. B still works with PCV survivors. And I would not wish a second trauma because of what B said upon any PCV survivor. No one deserves to be raped, and no one deserves a second trauma. Secondary trauma is completely preventable if the medical person is PROPERLY TRAINED to respond to the trauma of sexual assault.

The second thing I want to write about today is that the Peace Corps finally responded to my FOIA request that I submitted in March 2011, after surviving rape. I wanted to know about policies that were in place. This FOIA request was auspiciously responded to by the Peace Corps right after Two Former PCV's sue the Peace Corps under FOIA. Hmm. I wonder if that was a coincidence.

Anyway, I will talk more about what I received in my FOIA request at a later date. Signing off for now.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

This evening, I stepped out of my comfort zone without knowing ahead of time I was going to. A male friend invited me over to have dinner at his house. I invited a female friend of mine to come, too. When I arrived at his house, he said she'd texted him that she wasn't coming. So-- it was to be me and him, alone. Which I had unsuccessfully tried to avoid by inviting my female friend.

I stepped into his house, and out of my comfort zone. And, the great thing is-- it ended up being fine. I never would have said yes if I knew it would be just me and him. Rape changed everything for me. I can't be alone with a man without being anxious. Stepping into a male librarian's office with the door shut, meeting men I want to network with career-wise, a male student tapping me on the shoulder to get my attention, my roommate having a man sleep over in my apartment in her room, having dinner with a friend. All of these things make me anxious, some much more than others. None of these things used to make me anxious.

It makes me really mad sometimes. Like-- damn it, I never used to get upset about any of these things. Damn it, I don't want to get upset about these things. Damn it, people who are not survivors do not usually feel this way. But that is the impatient me.

The patient me says, wait, I was violated in the most extreme way possible by a man. It makes complete and total sense that I feel these things. I work really hard to keep myself out of uncomfortable situations, away from ignorant comments, and to express myself to people. I work really hard to befriend people who are kind and trustworthy and to allow myself to relax around these people.

So-- overall, I think I am okay with how this evening ended up. I wouldn't have chosen to go to his place alone, but I also could have chosen to leave when I realized it would be me and him, alone. I trusted him enough to step into his house in that moment. Looking back, I trusted the rapist. But I think I am reevaluating how to trust, and I'm still learning the nuances of when to rescind my trust and when to extend my trust.

It's a bittersweet feeling. Bitter because my trust was betrayed and I was hurt so badly and sweet because I am becoming more healthy by learning a better way of forming relationships than that which I practiced in the past.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

I have been confronted with ignorance. Last night I was at a gathering of future PCV's. They are supposedly my friends, and they are in the Master's International program, which I am finishing. 

We were playing a drinking game that involved playing rounds of "Never have I" or 5 fingers. Anyway, the comments got sexual in nature. I was doing okay. Sometimes I get really uncomfortable around sexual comments. Anyway, one girl (yes, a girl) said, "I have never.... had sex while being blacked out drunk." Laughter and more comments followed. One guy made a comment about waking up with jizz in your vagina. 

I walked out of the room and into the bathroom, saying loudly, "Not funny, guys. REALLY not funny." I sobbed against the hard plaster wall in the bathroom. I finished my sobbing and washed my face. I left to go home at that point. Another girl walked me home, and told me, "I'm sorry. They really didn't mean anything by it." 

REALLY?? Making jokes about rape is not acceptable, not funny, and not intelligent. The thing is--- I don't think that they realized (at least, not until I walked out) that "having sex while blacked out drunk" is not having sex at all. It is someone raping someone who is blacked out drunk. That would be completely terrifying. I was awake while I survived rape, and it was terrifying. Or it was terrifying afterwards. It was searing pain in the moment, and I think my mind shut down in the moment, so I wasn't terrified in the moment. But I was certainly terrified afterwards.

Making jokes about rape, and laughing at jokes about rape, helps perpetuate rape in our society. I mean, if a man seriously doesn't think that "having sex" with someone else who is blacked out drunk or asleep is not rape, what is to stop that man from raping that person? 

Our society teaches women, "Don't get raped." And we need to stop it. We need to instead teach men, "Don't rape." There is a difference between rape prevention and rape risk reduction (since rape risk elimination DOES NOT EXIST). I didn't know this myself before I survived rape. But I did know that unconsensual "sex" or "sex" while you are sleeping, is rape.

Rape prevention includes educating men not to rape. This includes educating men on what rape is. Yes, "having sex" with a person who is blacked out drunk is rape. DON'T DO IT.

Rape risk reduction includes giving women and men strategies for how to stay the safest possible. This includes avoiding walking alone at night, not getting so drunk you black out with people who are not trustworthy, and taking self defense courses.

Needless to say, these people are not real friends, and they are not people I will continue to choose to be around. They crossed a boundary that I didn't even realize was there, but now I do. I will not be around or tolerate people who make or laugh at jokes about rape. And I encourage everyone, even if you are not a survivor, to make the same choice.