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I refused to let rape change me

From the July 5, 2004 issue of the Christian Science Sentinel


As A Kid growing up in northern California's San Francisco Bay area, I was shy, not sure of myself. Even at 20, I didn't have much of a sense of self-worth. I was dating an aspiring rock musician at the time, though, and enjoyed being in the music scene background.

Both my friend and I worked at a catalog showroom retail outlet. We left work at 9:00 in the evening and frequently would go straight from the store to his band's rehearsal. By around 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning, the rehearsal would have wound down. We often hadn't eaten since dinner, so my friend and I would drop by a Denny's restaurant on EI Camino Real to be silly for a while and get something to eat before he took me home.

In the middle of one of those early mornings at the restaurant, I went to the ladies' room. As I walked into the restroom, a man who had been hiding just inside grabbed me from behind. He held a knife to my throat.

After I got past being momentarily stunned, I said to him, "You don't need to do this. God loves you."

"No, that's not true," he said. "Nobody loves me."

He couldn't have been more than a few years older than I was. But he was obviously disturbed and had a knife. At that point, I reached out silently to God for help, and what came to me was that I needed to do whatever I was told to do. I resisted as much as I could, but there was not much I could do. So I went along with his demands, and he raped me.

At one point, a woman came into the restroom. The young man still had a knife on me, and we were in a stall. She asked me if I was OK. All I could say was, "Yes." After she left the restroom, he finally left, and I quickly got myself together and went out. My friend had been wondering what had happened to me. A police woman in plain clothes had been in the restaurant—she was the one who had come in to check on me.

They grabbed the guy as he was leaving the restaurant and arrested him on the spot. The police sent my friend home and took me to the station. I had to give them a statement and relive the incident right there in the police station. I was in a daze—the confusion that can follow a physical assault. But everyone at the police station was very kind to me, and I was grateful for their support.

I was able to call a Christian Science practitioner from the station, and I asked her to pray for me. When I talked recently with that practitioner about this experience, she recalled having assured me that my true nature was spiritual, and that it had never been touched by anything sensual or carnal.

I was taken to a nearby hospital and was asked to have an injection that would prevent me from possibly becoming pregnant. Here I was, just recently out of Christian Science Sunday School, where I'd learned to turn to God in any need, so I called the practitioner again and she said, "Do whatever will make you feel most comfortable." It seemed wise to agree to the medical treatment.

The mental daze continued to trouble me for a couple of days. I still felt in danger. But the prayer was helping me get free. What gradually dawned on me—and I can see it more clearly looking back—was the feeling that underneath me there was "a deep-settled calm." That's a phrase from something Mary Baker Eddy once wrote,The full passage from Mary Baker Eddy's Message to The Mother Church for 1902, p. 19 , is: "To the burdened and weary, Jesus saith: 'Come unto me.' O glorious hope! there remaineth a rest for the righteous, a rest in Christ, a peace in Love. The thought of it stills complaint; the heaving surf of life's troubled sea foams itself away, and underneath is a deep–settled calm." and that feeling more than anything else gave me something that I could hang on to. I no longer felt as if I were hanging over a cliff. While I wasn't completely myself, neither did I fall apart emotionally.

There were still fears to deal with. I had to resist the temptation to be afraid to be around other people. I continued working at my job, and because it was at a retail store, I also had to face daily the fear of going into a public restroom. I reached out constantly for that certainly that because God kept my identity intact, I was not vulnerable. It was probably a few months before I felt completely at peace. The close–in support of the practitioner's prayer was a great help.

Even though I was shy and self-effacing, I had always been one who liked my independence. But because I didn't have a good sense of self–worth before the rape incident, during those months following I faced the very core of the "Who am I?" question. Was I a material being and therefore vulnerable, or a spiritual being and invulnerable? In terms of finding answers, I was taking baby steps, not huge leaps.

Prior to the trial, the defendant's lawyer called me and demanded that I come to his office to be interviewed. I talked with an attorney, who told me I didn't have to do that, and what to expect in the courtroom—that I would have to testify in open court and face questioning by the defense attorney.

With time, I felt less and less guilty for what had happened. I knew I couldn't feel vulnerable if I was totally innocent. That coming to innocence was an important step to take before the trial.

When the trial started, I said to myself, "OK, God, You're going to have to put words in my mouth, because I don't know what to say or whether I have the courage to say it." During my testimony, I felt as though I were not the one speaking. When the defense lawyer suggested that I had been having sex with my boyfriend, and that I had made up the charge as a cover, I just said, "No, I was not." I was even able to say, "Look, I was just going to the ladies' room." Those words came from a different kind of strength than personal, from somewhere outside myself. The young man was convicted and sent to prison.

I knew this incident had had nothing to do with me, that it never could change or damage who I am.

In less than a year, I was able to stand up mentally and spiritually, and overcome the fear of going into public restrooms. That may sound like a long time, but it took me that long to get to the point of not feeling even a twinge of anxiety. But when this healing came, it was complete. I knew this incident had had nothing to do with me, that it never could change or damage who I am.

I was convinced that my assailant needed somebody to care about him. I remember wondering if he was going to get help after he got out of prison. In my prayer, I got a feeling of assurance that he would have the help he needed. This was part of the healing for me—not sympathizing with what he had done, but knowing that just as I was not scarred for life, neither was he without the care he needed.

As a kid, I had had healings of sickness through prayer, so I had no doubt that the mental and emotional challenge I faced in this experience would be completely done with. And it is. People talk about women who've been raped as having "trust issues"—anxieties about relationships with men. I don't have trust issues, or any baggage from the incident, because I refused to see myself as ever having been victimized.

One of the deep concerns, or pains, that people in my situation sometimes feel is that they've been robbed of their innocence, that their identity has been changed. The only way I can explain my freedom from seeing myself as a "rape victim" or "survivor" is based on the way in which Science and Health discusses the concepts of accidents and injury. The book explains that "accidents are unknown to God" (p. 424), and people who've read this book have had many proofs of the underlying truth of that statement when they've been healed of accident–related injuries, often within a very short time, once they've become clear that God is always present, and that what He creates always stays whole. I came to the point where I could say that despite physical appearances, God was with me the whole time. If God is present the whole time—is omnipresent, or always present everywhere—then what God creates and loves can't be injured.

When you stop believing that you've suffered an accident, or an ugly incident, then healing can happen. And just as the effects of accidents are healed through that step of spiritual understanding, the impression of having "gone through" something bad can be lifted off.

Throughout this whole experience, I relied on God, always. People are fallible, but God has never failed me. That period was a milestone toward my gaining a sense of groundedness—that I wasn't dependent on any person, on any source but God, for my worth. I learned that all the

God-given qualities that I possessed were what made me worth being with. They were my true identity.

It's not as if God somehow goes back and erases bad scenes in our lives. It's that we wake up to the fact that our life in Him has never changed.

It's not as if God somehow goes back and erases bad scenes in our lives. It's that we wake up to the fact that our life in Him has never changed. The things that are of value are what stay and grow in us. The bad things, which are not of God, don't have any permanence, any eternality. It's like mental baggage—you either decide to carry it with you and ruminate over it, or you see that it doesn't have value, is not from God, and therefore has no right to lodge in your thinking. You don't really have to unlearn two plus two equals five, once you're clear that the right answer is four. The error was never part of you, and all you can see is the truth of your spiritual existence.

When there's been a rape or some other kind of assault, I don't think it's helpful to try to block it out of thought. It just cages up the experience. What moves you forward is continually listening for God's messages of care. And I was cared for enough—by the practitioner's prayer, by the police and the hospital staff, by family, and by my own reaching out to God—that when someone later called me from a rape crisis center to ask if I needed help, I told them I didn't. I'm very glad that kind of counseling is available, and yet thankful that I didn't need it.

I've been thinking beyond this episode in my life, beyond a North American female's experience. Women in many cultures suffer a second time after they've been sexually attacked (as I did in court), because it's believed that the woman's virtue or the family's honor has been corrupted. I feel great compassion for those women. But I don't think sympathy for their plight is enough. There's a crying need for change in the way human beings think about identity, for spiritual clarity on this issue.

For me, part of the victory lies in not becoming fascinated over the past, and thereby fastened on it as part of one's identity. I can credit only God for letting me not get sucked into that fixed mental state. It was prayer that lifted me up, as if I had wings.

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