Please welcome author and blogger Beth Caplin to the blog today as she shares her brave story about speaking up.
The lyrics to “Brave” by Sara Bareilles hit me hard and personally:
Your history of silence won’t do you any good/Did you think it would?/Let your words be anything but empty/Why don’t you tell them the truth?
That’s exactly what I’m ready to do.
Tell the truth.
But first, here’s the back story:
THE BACK STORY
When I was seventeen, the summer before my senior year of high school, I met an outgoing, attractive, and charismatic twenty-one-year-old man about to enter his senior year of college. It was the kind of relationship where I dove in headfirst, as only a headstrong teenager can.
Fast forward two years, when I am nineteen and visiting him at his college over spring break. We’d been having the “Should we or shouldn’t we?” talk about sex for some time, but ultimately it was decided that we couldn’t go all the way, as that would be a violation of both our religious beliefs. But somehow, for him, that conviction did not rule out everything we could do before that final step. When I refused to even go that far, he raped me (I’ll spare you the details).
[share ]I didn’t know it was rape at the time[/share]. For years afterward, I became easily preyed upon by the words “You know you want it,” “I thought you loved me,” “You owe me this,” and similar sentiments. It didn’t take long for force to become unnecessary: I was damaged goods, and this relationship was as good as I could hope to get.
Fast forward another seven years to present day, when I am married to the love of my life: a man who treats me better than I ever thought I deserved. It truly stunned me that he respected my concerns about boundaries, when that should be a normal expectation of any healthy relationship. In many ways, his kindness continues to surprise me.
Clearly, this is not okay. Only now, seven years later, am I considering the ramifications of speaking up, because fear held me captive for so long. Problem is, the option of speaking up in a court of law has long passed due to the statute of limitations (not to mention a complete lack of physical evidence).
What choices am I left with? If I can’t have a lawyer speak on my behalf, I’ll have to use my own voice. And instead of a jury, my audience will have to be the people who know me personally. People who know us both.
– Also read about: Car And Pedestrian Accident.
And yet I hesitate. For many people, contacting their abusers or raising any kind of hell could have serious ramifications on their safety. Now that we are several states away, my physical safety is not a concern. Instead, there is my public image to think about. I think it’s extremely admirable to not care what others think, but as an aspiring writer with a growing audience, I cannot afford to completely embrace that mindset. I am building a reputation, and few words that are projected into the cyber world can ever be taken back.
TO TELL OR NOT TO TELL?
In my most lucid moments, I tell myself this is about justice. Who cares about the consequences, if telling people is the right thing to do? This concerns the safety of all the women in his life. But there is a part of me that desires vengeance, and it’s unclear how much of that desire is righteous or vindictive. I cannot deny that, as a human who has been deeply hurt, part of me desires to witness a public humiliation, a virtual flogging, if you will.
Sorting through these conflicting feelings also requires evaluating the person I want to be. In the novels that shaped me growing up, the heroines who faced adversity always took the high road. Even Jesus, the center of my religious faith, advocated turning the other cheek. I want to be remembered as someone noble, righteous, and compassionate. At what point does my pursuit of justice conflict with that sort of character?
Perhaps you or someone you know has been in a similar situation. I was fortunate to move away from the place where the abuse occurred, but some people have to see their assailants on a regular basis; perhaps because they share custody of children, work together, or are related. There are so many complicated factors that influence the way justice will be enacted, if it is to be enacted at all.
So long as one’s pursuit of justice does not involve harmful behaviors – stalking, further violence, harassment – perhaps there are no right or wrong answers. Ultimately, the question of self-care should be the most important. Ask yourself, and be willing to be honest: How will this affect me? What are the potential consequences? Am I willing to sacrifice a few relationships in the process? How critical is justice to my journey of healing, and am I willing to accept that not even justice will erase the damage that has already been done?
Regardless of whether justice is served, I won’t let that stop me from moving forward and reclaiming my life. At the same time, I am left wondering if speaking up about what happened to me is brave or foolish.
Beth Caplin is a Denver-based author and blogger. Her first novel, Someone You Already Know, follows two teenage girls on their journey to heal from rape culture. Find her on her website, sbethcaplin.com, or engage on Twitter @SbethCaplin
Two teenage girls, two experiences with sexual assault: one committed by a stranger, the other by a relationship partner. Neither girl quite believes the other when she shares her story: wasn’t she ‘asking for it’ by walking home alone so late at night? Why didn’t she just end the relationship if he really treated her that way?
Someone You Already Know is a raw, emotional book that explores the impact of rape culture on modern society. Told in alternating perspectives from two survivors, it unpacks the common myths of sexual assault, revealing important truths that every woman needs to know.
Carrick saysJanuary 11, 2015 at 5:33 am
Thank you for that poignant, moving post. Although I can’t relate to your experience firsthand, my best friend went through a very similar experience, even having to go through an abortion, and it took her years to open up about it. You say that as an author you can’t afford to completely embrace the mindset of not caring what others think, and I get that for an author just breaking out. But I also think the most daring authors are the best, and your willingness to write even as much as you did shows the kind of courage that could make you a voice that will attract the kind of fans that a writer really wants.
Beth Caplin saysJanuary 11, 2015 at 5:31 pm
Thank you, Carrick. That means a lot.
Heidi Jeanne Hess saysJanuary 11, 2015 at 5:52 pm
So crucial women tell their stories! Thank you for sharing yours!
Nicole Lyons saysJanuary 11, 2015 at 5:56 pm
Beth, your courage is inspiring and your honesty is admirable. “But there is a part of me that desires vengeance, and it’s unclear how much of that desire is righteous or vindictive.” You’re human, and everything that you are feeling is valid and real and natural. I don’t have the answers you seek, but I do want to tell you that I am very proud of you. I am sorry for the pain that you have endured, and I am happy for the love that you have now found. You hit it when you said that self care is what is important, and that’s when you have to look within. I wish you strength and light.
Michelle saysJanuary 11, 2015 at 6:30 pm
Thank you so much for sharing this. Reaching out and connecting with people who may have had similar experiences means the world. I wish you peace.
Helen White saysJanuary 11, 2015 at 7:36 pm
coming to terms with rape, of whatever type, is so very hard. I was in a ‘relationship’ at uni where I was abused and raped. It wasn’t until I told my story about my mental health last year and included this I think I really began to deal with it and recognise the triggers it had left. For me speaking up was easier because I no longer know where my attacker is or have any knowledge of most people in the circle I was in at the time. I can only imagine and emphasize how much harder it must be for you as a survivor to speak out to an audience that knows you both. I strongly support your decision to speak out, your true friends will support you and not see you as any different, except perhaps a stronger and braver person than they thought. If there are those that judge, then always bear in mind there are a whole community of us who don’t and won’t. That is their problem and not yours, and their small and narrow minds are put to shame by you. Your honesty and integrity of voice is amazing and I applaud you for this piece.
Michele Vaughan saysJanuary 11, 2015 at 8:25 pm
Speaking up is brave. And vital to ending rape culture, which thrives in shame and silence. Because of our willingness to break the silence, we will move to a place where speaking out is normal, and then sexual violence will no longer be a “regular” event, but instead an outlier on the curve of human behavior.
Danny Price saysJanuary 11, 2015 at 8:58 pm
Thank you so much for writing this. As a guy there are obviously a lot of aspects I have not thought about on this topic. I had not considered the idea that many women have to continue to see their abusers in their lives. It’s awful, and I do know that so often rape goes unpunished. I admire your willingness to share you story, it will allow others who have also been victimized to know they are not alone. I hope mostly, though, that sharing your story brings you healing and peace.
Stephanie saysJanuary 11, 2015 at 10:17 pm
Speaking out like this takes a lot of courage. I am sorry for what happened to you. I’m certain your story will give other women the courage to start their own healing process.
Melody Safken (Mel) saysJanuary 12, 2015 at 10:57 am
I admire your courage in sharing your experience and actually writing a book (gutsy) about a very touchy subject for many people.
Hope this book is a healing experience for every “SURVIVOR” who reads it,
and a path to compassion and understanding for everyone who graces its pages…
Birgitta Lindahl saysJanuary 26, 2015 at 4:36 am
I think it is important that as many true stories as possible are told. I also have experienced male violence against women. In my case it was attempted rape. Fortunately for me I managed to escape but it was a situation that I kept silent about because I knew that society would have given me the blame no matter what I had done or not done. There is usually no way for a woman to win in a society where the unwritten rules and attitudes are so overwhelming. And that is precisely what is the big problem. On the one hand women are raised up as Madonnas and desext, called good and honorable and on the other hand, women are held up as sex symbols for men’s pleasure. The question is where the woman’s own sexuality can be found in this sea of expectations and duties. Religion is created by men for men and sets a standard for how men think that a woman should be. Religious rules as the ones prohibiting sex before marriage are merely an insurance policy for the male that the children begotten In marriage is that man’s children. Men want to own a virgin Madonna but they also want whores. All this gives women a too heavy and too confusing burden to bear. Men’s excuse for not being able to keep his penis in his pants is that he is only a man. Honestly, far too much is taken out of woman and men get away with anything. It is time women put their fot down united. No women should fear a nother woman in these matters.