*Trigger warning: sexual violence*
Four years ago I was privileged to spend a semester studying abroad in Rome, Italy. What a beautiful, historically rich, and deliciously decadent city to be living in! However, my joyous adventure was cut short when three men vacationing from Barcelona raped me after we met a local bar. They weren’t brutally violent, but they ignored my attempts to stop their physical advances and each “took their turn” while I lay silently crying.
The next day I knew I needed help—I needed to go home. When I approached the only professor I had and described to him what had happened his response was, “That’s what happens to women when they go to bars.” I wasn’t allowed to go home and finished the semester abroad.
When I got back to the USA I reached out to my parents looking for help dealing with the emotional and physical consequences of the rape. My mother told me, “That just happens sometimes.” My father, with whom I have a shaky relationship at best, screamed and cried and later blamed our relationship problems on my rape, as if it were my fault and the reason for our continued disagreements. I only found solace and support from my young female friends who were compassionate about what had happened—never blaming me or telling me that’s simply the way the world worked.
Needless to say, my story is not unique to me. After seeking years of help from a counselor, I’ve started on a new path that has lead me to passionately pursue women’s rights and advocacy because if my professor and parents were right—rape is what normally happens to women—then I had to start indefatigably screaming that that ideology was incomprehensibly cruel and wrong!
Healing is hard and it’s an ongoing process, but after years of distance from the incident, I can finally, confidently say that being raped was not my fault. I can say finally say with confidence to all women who have been in a similar situation, it is not your fault. Rape is not what “happens” to women—at least it shouldn’t be and it doesn’t have to be if we change the world together.
Rape culture is the epidemic of trivializing, excusing, and even encouraging rape within society by blaming the victim and not persecuting perpetrators. Rape culture has sunk into every nook of my society and I, as do many rape survivors, feel it is now my duty to stand up and protect my sisters from a world that aims to dehumanize, criminalize, and shame them.
United, with the help of understanding and gentle men, we can change the world. Together we can make the world safe for women and girls. We must stop telling each other it’s the victim’s fault; we must demand higher accountability; we must demand protection in the laws of our nation; we must speak up and share our stories so that others realize they’re not alone and join the global conversation. As one unified voice against sexual assault we can move mountains—it’s our only option at this point.
About the author: Olivia Joy Kimble is a graduate from Macalester College (St. Paul, MN) with a degree in History and Applied Mathematics, with a concentration in early modern women in Christianity. She is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Nurse Midwifery. Olivia enjoys kayaking and coaching soccer; she is also the author of WomensEqualWrites.com.