During Sexual Assault Prevention Month, I thought I would relay this story of a rape (some facts have been modified), so we never lose sight of the immense harm it does. I refer to it by the old term rape and not by the legal term sexual assault. I believe most people have more of a visceral reaction to the term “rape” – I may be wrong.
We read gruesome tales of rape every day in the news. The circumstances are usually brutal and sensational as to make us all cringe. However, sensationalism sells because there are voyeurs among us who thrive on violent fare. There is a larger subtext to that story, which is the cause for the burgeoning porn industry, but that is a topic for another day. Most stories of rape will never make headline news. Not because the brutality is any less. Not because it is done in a private place where consent is in question. Not that. Only because it has not been labeled as such. Not called rape out of fear of the perpetrators and the even greater suffering such a label could inflict, in a society that treats rape victims as social pariahs. And more recently, the story “Unfounded” uncovered the sad fact that most rapes go unheard of because the criminal justice system decides not to lay charges on the basis that there is not enough evidence.
But I don’t want to talk about statistics. I want to tell you the story of a rape that was relayed to me, where I was asked to intervene and help. The following is not an uncommon trajectory for a young girl who has been raped. Barring certain specifics, this is usually how the story ends.
I will call this young girl Angel because that is what she is. An angel to her mother Diane. A mother who was quite ill, when this story begins. Angel is a teenager now. She has had a hard time staying in school and has run away from several over the last four years. She has mood swings, complains of voices in her head and does not like to take her antipsychosis medication because it makes her sleepy and dull. When she does not take it, she violently assaults people close to her only to express remorse and plead with them to live for a hundred years. When Diane came to see me she was panting and in much emotional and physical distress. She came to request my help for Angel so she will be properly treated, cared for and protected from the big bad world. She gave me a dossier on Angel’s medical history. Behind the test reports and medication history was her detailed biography by a young psychiatrist who had examined her, but who had left to go to another jurisdiction to practice there. I did not feel comfortable reviewing such a personal account, but Diane insisted. I had a hunch and was stunned to see it borne out by the facts in this case.
Angel was a young child with a lot of promise. She was the apple of Diane’s eye and being raised by her in a working class neighborhood. She was precocious and bright. She came home from school every day to a caregiver, whom Diane could ill afford, but who waited till Diane got home from work after two jobs at 9 p.m. every night. She spent her evenings doing her homework, reading and often reciting poetry. One day, when she was 11 years old, she did not come home at the appointed time. After a couple of hours of waiting, the caregiver in a panic called Diane who rushed home. Still no sign of Angel. They combed the school together and found her lying in a crumpled heap on the school grounds, clearly shaking. Angel pleaded with her mom that she was okay and that she was not to tell the school because the person who had done this to her had threatened to kill Diane. Notwithstanding this entreaty, Diane took the matter to the principal, afraid to go directly to the police out of concern for Angel’s reputation. Fast forward, no charges were laid. There was no disciplinary action taken against the young man, who the school said was from a “good” family. What was the young girl of 11 years doing, wandering about in the school, anyway? Did Diane know that she could be reported to the authorities for child neglect, and have her child taken away from her?
Diane did not have the support or strength to pursue the matter. She decided to focus on her child. Angel did not return to that school and has since run away from four schools. She has never been the same. She now has failing grades, has emotionally regressed and is often violent. No rape kit was ever administered to find out the extent of the physical damage. The psychological harm caused is deep and irreversible.
Angel is the victim of a brutal assault. However, she is only being treated with medication for the psychological harm she has sustained and it is clearly not working. Now 4 years later – where does one begin? I dread to think of the millions more out there that need help, healing, and safety from repeated assaults?
Postscript – I spent hours with Diane working out a plan to help Angel. I made arrangements for professional help for Angel. However, Diane passed away from her illness and Angel is in the care of her sister who lives in another town.
-Latha Sukumar, Executive Director, Toronto, May 17, 2017