Rope burns circled her wrists, her fingernails were bloody and torn and she had a deep purple bruise on one forearm that inappropriately made me think of hoagie sandwiches, such was its size and shape. But what was most haunting were her eyes. They were not bright with tears, nor flashing with anger, nor did they even show animal fear – they were just still. And dead. Those dead eyes would haunt me for months afterward.
I was a new “peer counselor,” an internship I did my junior year of college to fulfill the requirement for my Psychology degree, and even though I had been trained in dealing with suicide threats, eating disorders, depression and even rape, I was not prepared for what happened at that frat house that winter night. Having got the call after the police had untied her from the bed, I missed the most horrific part of her gang rape but once her statement was filed they handed her unceremoniously over to me. My job was merely to be there. Be there with her while they did the rape kit – surprisingly not as neat and orderly as one might think after hearing about them on T.V. Be there while she peed in a cup to check for evidence of roofies. Be there while she tried to call her mom in another state only to get no answer at one o’clock in the morning. Be there while they gave her antibiotics and then the morning after pill (pills actually, there were two of them). And then to just be there while she suffered for hours through the effects of the benignly misnamed pill.
I sat with her all night as she shook and sweated and threw up. We didn’t talk much. At last, desperate to say something, say anything to break the quiet that screamed in my head, I pointed at the oddly shaped bruise on her arm. I’d never seen a bruise that looked that awful. “How did that happen?”
Staring back at me with those dead eyes she answered shakily, “I don’t know.” And then burst into hysterical tears. As did I. Even though this was a couple of years before my own sexual assault, I cried too. There was no other response.
After she finally fell asleep in the wee hours of the morning, I became aware of a shadow in the doorway. I recognized the boy. He was from the frat house. Standing quickly, I pushed him out of the room. “Are you crazy?” was all I could think to say.
He looked drunk still. “I just… wanted to see if she was okay.”
The gall. I couldn’t process it. “You guys almost killed her.”
“It wasn’t supposed to go down like that. I didn’t think…”
“Leave,” I demanded, not willing to be party to whatever rationalizations his inebriated brain was going to manufacture. For a split second, his eyes flashed and I saw anger. I thought he might push past me to get to her. Or perhaps even hit me. “Now. Or I’ll call the police,” I added with confidence I didn’t have.
“F*** you,” he muttered at last, dismissing me with a wave. As he stumbled down the hallway he added over his shoulder, “Tell her to give me a call.”
The Glamorous Rape
I tell you this story to show you exactly how unglamorous rape is. Whether it is a tied-to-the-bed knock-her-unconscious atrocity like the one just detailed or merely a silent, stealthy minimally violent assault like mine, any type of sexual crime is vicious, cruel, painful and damaging.
I shouldn’t have to explain this to you.
And yet I feel compelled to because thanks to examples ranging from the mostly innocuous Edward “Do I kiss you or kill you?” Cullen in Twilight, to the twisted media coverage of the Chris Brown-Rihanna debacle to the galling rape-fantasty video game genre, the media is selling us an image of rape and domestic violence as being artistic, dramatic, the result of misguided love and – most terrifying – wanted.
The latest incarnation of this is Lady Gaga’s new art flick/music video for her single “Paparazzi.” (I have no desire to post it here but if you’re curious, YouTube has the full vid.) In this slickly designed and beautifully executed film short – the costumes! the scenery! the sets! the glorious backup dancers!! – Lady Gaga (playing herself, per her usual) is used and abused by her lover who eventually throws her over a balcony. The fall doesn’t kill her but rather maims her. So far, so much another tragic romance but Lady G then uses this opportunity to break out the bedazzled neck brace, gold encrusted crutches and – most fabulously – a Louis Vitton wheelchair with Chanel embellished wheels. Her fame skyrockets as the sympathetic public lauds her escape with their money. Interspersed between shots are quick flashes of women not as lucky as Lady Gaga – women with bullet holes in their foreheads or blood trickling out of their mouths, all obviously dead. In the end, not only does she turn the tables on her model man, but she kills him, an ending that I’m guessing is supposed to make us feel that justice has been served.
And yet I found the whole thing so repulsive I couldn’t even finish watching the video despite “Paparrazi” being my favorite song of hers and despite having seen her in concert and loved it. I had to read about the ending on a spoiler site. Sure some will say it is an overwrought satire or mere frothy fun meant to be empowering if anything but the images of dead women – only young, beautiful ones of course – used in such a manner strikes me as well, commercial. It has also been suggested that being a woman, Lady Gaga be given a pass. Of course this would be offensive if a man made it, the reasoning goes, but because a woman did it it shows that she’s facing one of female kind’s greatest fears and vulnerabilities. I say she’s capitalizing on them.
I’ve been accused in the past of being overly sensitive to these issues because of my own history but in a country where 1 in 4 women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime and where Jamie Leigh Jones has to sue for the right to sue the men who raped her so badly that she’s permanently scarred – shouldn’t we all be overly sensitive to these issues? Or at the very least, not treat rape like a party trick that one bounds back from in guilded couture?