Today one out of four people have been sexually abused and with the recent media highlighting the two coaches under investigation it’s a topic to be explored. Did you know that few people tell, that the perpetrator is almost always someone known? Men tell less often than women. The average age for ‘telling’ is usually when the victim is in their 30’s- way after the statute of limitations has expired? It’s very interesting how we think of sexual coercion or rape in the US. Few young people know that at one time the victim, unless she was a nun, was seen at fault. Neil matha I had forgotten how far we had come in the past few decades but I was going to be reminded on Thanksgiving Day.
“You are up so early.” Cristiana shoved the coffee cup into her face. A horde of tired hung over women faced the island with the entire dinner for thirty awaiting assembly. Cristiana led the charge handing out knives and tasks which we took on. I did the garlic knowing my Italian sensibility would make sure it was added to everything. Maria , born in Mexico did the chilies. Liza, French and Haitian made sure the butter when into everything and Cristiana our Romanian grabbed the birds and massaged the oils and herbs into their cavity. The rhythm grew livelier as Franklin, our only male helper poured liquor into the coffee cups.
I pierced the beat again when I brought up a crazy dream I had the night before. I had fallen asleep while Cristiana was spinning a tale. Something about an old woman..rape…a dirty drunkard…
“It wasn’t a dream silly,” Cristina said.
Somehow my brain could not wrap itself around the old woman and the images I thought of. She took her cue for the rest of us who’d been deprived of the tale.
“It was my grrrandmotherrr.” Her r’s rolled out of her lips and she softly laughed as she began the tale.
“ Most of you have what are the nice grandmothers. Yes, I had the fairy tale sort, you know the one, she bakes and makes you teats, cuddles you and tells you how much you are a part of her world…But I also had one who was verrry mean.”
She read the turkey like Helen Keller ever once looking up as her hands moved in and out of the flesh probing and placing the thin slices of garlic beneath the skin.
“This grandmother cared little for me. She was truly the mother of my mother and all of you know even three thousand miles has not separated me enough from her. To her I was the girl who could sweep her floor and run errands. By our standards she was wealthy. So it made it more terrible that she’d send me to buy her things at the store and then count every coin to see if I robbed her and took the change. Her house had dishes with candies or cookies in them that I was sure no one had touched in years but she’d count them every night to make sure I had not helped myself. She would remind me all the time I was my father’s daughter- at first I thought it was a compliment but learned quick what she really meant since she thought of him as less than the piece of dirt under her kitchen table.”
We were under her spell as she could always do weaving the fables of a land we had no knowledge of, where simplicity and folksiness was always woven with practicality and desperation. No one knew of evil grandmothers and fathom that such a thing could exist. But she made it real and our minds collectively saw the bad-tempered old woman feeding our Cristiana crumbs while she devoured treats and sweets and counted her coins.
“Now in our village there were always the few men who would spend their nights, and days drinking in the bar. Out of the bunch there was one who was truly the worst, he had not wife, his home was a shack and he smelled worse that the pig stalls I cleaned for her since she was above that sort of thing. On one night he ran out of money and went to her house to rob her. It was on the very night she had sent me back to her my parents after she told me I had not done a good enough job cleaning her kitchen stove. That was after she refused to feed me and slapped me a few times for the poor job she felt I did. So when I was safe in my own bed he went through her house, eating her candies and cookies and stealing her money. On the way out he decided it wasn’t enough of a payoff and he took down his pants and told her to perform. What do you call it in English.. Fellatizone…?”
It took a minute for us to understand.
“The woman was fat and old and I could not imagine her on her knees performing this act but she did.”
She told the story, a horrifying one, without a hint of emotion. It’s only when you know her world that one can fathom the reasons that such things are often devoid of any feeling. I call it a defense mechanism, a way that those living under the Cousteau Regime in Communist Romania learned to cope. Life was a day to day struggle and opportunity for exploitation was hanging on every corner. Getting one’s mind wrapped up in other people’s horrors was too debilitating. It was a life filled with no gray areas. If something bad happened it was because you deserved it or you were a fool. In this case the crabby old sot brought it all on herself.
“What about the police?” Stephanie asked.
“What police? You think they cared about such a thing. They saw her as a stupid old woman.”
“What about the man?” I asked.
“Well, there is no such thing as any kind of rape kit or detective work. My grandmother refused to tell the police anything because to do so would make her look like more of a fool. The police came to get me and I was sent back to her house to find her sitting at her table with the crumbs and half eaten sweets and empty purse on the table. Her only words to me were a sort of blame, had I cleaned better she would not have been alone and not disgraced in such a way. Nowhere in her selfish mind was the thought that had I been there I would have, no doubt been his target. Normally this would have never been investigated but losing the money made her furious. So she took me aside and told me everything that happened. It became my job to write it all up for the inspector. .”
She began to give me a blow by blow description. Yes, I am making…how you call it…a joke”
“A pun” Stephanie interjected.
“Now, the police believed that almost all crime was your to deal with since you, not the criminal was the fool. Your door was not locked tight enough, you advertised your wealth, which could be defined as having an extra chicken or you were stupid, what they called ‘a mental handicap.”
To our American ears it was all so strange. Here, in our social world we seldom take responsibility for anything. I see it every day in the college where I teach. If they are failing, it’s your fault. If you reprimand them it’s your fault. We sat and listened to the descriptions of the criminal justice system which were oddly flipped; the victim is to blame.
“What about her mental state?’ I asked her.
“Are you crazy? There is no such thing as depression or feeling bad. If you feel bad you have too much time on your hands! They will tell you to go back to work- only the lazy have time to think about their lives!”
“What about raping young women?”
“What about it? You made sure you never stood out, you never put yourself in any place or with anyone who might do such a thing.”
I couldn’t wait for the ending which everyone had already heard the night before.
“So did they arrest him?”
“Oh yes. But only after he raped at least four other women and one was the police chief’s mother! But they needed my grandmother to testify since she was one of the only ones who saw him very clearly. And you are not going to believe how they identified him…”
Somehow I couldn’t make myself ask. Everyone in the room started to laugh.
“They made all the old drunkards line up and ….”
Do we take for granted our world? Yes it’s flawed. But suddenly I saw through her eyes how rape or sexual coercion was viewed- as a part of life. And worse was the belief that the victim in some way was at fault. There is a psychological term for this …it’s called the just world hypothesis; somehow we want to think the world is a fair place and when unfair things happen the victim somehow encouraged it. More on sexual coercion later…