Choosing Children: An Adoption Story

Rape Victim is not who I am.

with 10 comments

It has been one week and two days since CAS told me that as a result of a rape over 16 years ago that I should pursue counselling for 6-months to a year before Chris and I will become eligible for adoption. We are appealing to let the counselling go forward concurrently with the remaining process. We have not yet received a response.

I’m angry. Increasingly angry. Frustrated. Mad. Disappointed.

I believe in counselling, I believe in psychiatry and psychology, I believe that psychiatric medications can be extremely helpful at the right time and for the right people. I have received counselling with respect to my rape, I have received counselling for other reasons as well, I found counselling helpful during those times in my life when I felt I needed it. I am open to resuming counselling again if, at anytime, I feel that I need it.

What I am angry about is that CAS is reducing who I am and my capacity to be a parent to a single incident that happened over 16 years ago. This problem is bigger than me, my interest in adopting a child and my personal feelings. There is a very real problem with how victims of rape are viewed in our society.

The rape victim exists as a label, as fragile ticking time-bomb, stripped of personality, agency and voice. In short, the rape victim is not a person, she* is a victim.

Alice Seabold writes in her semi-autobiographical novel “Lucky” that her capacity to be believed as a victim was augmented by her youth, her middle-class status, her whiteness and that she was a virgin. This is the prevailing image of the rape victim that we choose to see as a society: young, white, affluent, innocent. This is a construct all women (and men) should be wary of. It serves to perpetuate the idea of woman as frail, at risk and in need of external protection. In short, less capable and less deserving of self-agency than man. In fact, any social idealization of a rape victim identity serves to delegitimize the experiences of many, and focus evaluation and criticism on the victim identity rather than the perpetrators.

The rates of sexual violence are still shockingly high, even in Canada the rate sits at 1 in 4 women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime, over half before the age of 16. Sixty per cent of these women will be assaulted more than once in their lifetime. Rape remains the most under reported crime where 93% of sexual assault survivors do not report to the police**.

With the virginal purity image it is little wonder that so many women do not report. We still, very much, live in a “blame the victim” society when it comes to rape. From GOP candidate Ken Buck’s assertions that prior sexual consent waives a woman’s claim to being raped over a year later, to 15-year old Tina Anderson whose pastor forced her to apologize to her church congregation after she was raped (and made pregnant) by an older congregation member, to the “don’t dress like a slut” comment by a Toronto police officer that prompted the “slut walk” earlier this year, not to mention the thousands of cases that a simple Google search will turn up of women and girls (as young as 7 years old) who have been blamed for a sexual assault against them because of what they were wearing or because they became intoxicated.

What all of this victim-blaming means is that we construct a culture that looks for a near-impossible standard in a rape victim and when she fails to meet that standard we say there is something “wrong” with her, we tell her that it was her fault, her actions, her choices. On the surface level what we tell rape victims is that the way they dressed, what they said, the drink they had, the trust they placed in a boyfriend or male brought the rape on themselves.

What we tell rape victims on a deeper level is that they have failed at being women. We link a rape victim’s identity and personhood to her inability to protect her sexual self. At first this seems like a throw back to the middle ages, but then consider the rationale for rape camps in Bangladesh in 1947, in Bosnia and Cambodia in the 1990s and the sexual assault of prisoners during the second Gulf War. We see rape as the foundational violation of personhood. In Bangladesh opposing sides would tattoo women who had been raped with the crimes perpetrated on them so that they would be seen as sub-human by their own communities, shunned or killed off. It worked.

Once we accept that rape is a foundational violation perpetrated largely against women who through their own lack of judgement brought it on themselves it becomes impossible to see these women as functioning people. Rape then strips the personhood from the woman. While the act of rape strips the personhood from the woman we further victimize the rape victim by evaluating a rape victims behaviour after a rape as either good or bad. Where good rape victims (who are young, white, middle class, virgins) may have a chance at prosecution and bad rape victims will have their post-rape behaviour evaluated for further reasons to victim blame. These expectations of post-rape behaviour will further limit the chances that any rape victim can truly be seen as a functioning person.

The good rape victim is shattered, fully and completely without self-agency, rocked to their core by the violence done to them, ashamed and scared, changed, for life, desperately in need of trauma counselling, perhaps life-long counselling and anti-anxiety medications. Only in the crime of rape do we reward the destruction of the victim over the ability of the victim to survive. Rape victims who are not shattered enough run too much of a risk of being penalized by the system as having “done something” to have brought it on themselves.

In peer-to-peer sexual assault counselling we’re taught that while each rape victim’s experience is unique that there are generally two types of reaction that women develop following a rape. The first, and socially accepted reaction, is for a rape victim to turn in on herself, to de-sexualize and distance herself from her own sexuality and possibly any form of sexuality. Victims may start wearing baggy figure-hiding clothing, stop wearing make-up, stop going out with friends at night, reduce friends, not accept dates so on and so forth. Some feminist authors have equated this good rape victim behaviour of shunning the sexual-self as a cultural admission that rape is a crime to punish a women’s sexuality.

The second reaction, and much less socially acceptable, is for women to become promiscuous. To increase sexual interactions often in an attempt to regain control of their sense of self-sexuality. This is the bad rape victim. A rape victim who continues to have sex, much less promiscuous sex, is very unlikely to be able to pursue prosecution in court, and on a social level has obviously not learned her lesson about what happens to women who have a sexual side.

The risks in the court and the evaluation of the goodness or badness of the victim are not the only problem with evaluating a rape victims post-rape actions. In counselling neither reaction is wrong, but both layout a stark view of a rape victim’s sexuality. That from this point forward her sexual choices will always be viewed through the lens of “rape victim” not personal choice.

The most powerful thing I learned in my own counselling was the importance of taking back my personal choice. For rape victims they run the risk of becoming victimized time and time again, in each and every social relationship they have. Women who have been raped talk about changed relationships with parents, partners and friends as their identity of “rape victim” threatens to supersede lifetime personal identity. For many rape victims the process of psychologically overcoming the physical rape is less stressful than the process of re-establishing normal relationships with family and friends who now have trouble relating to the victim as a person, rather than as a victim.

Much like in death parents, family and friends cite being unsure what to say and how to relate to the rape victim. The distance that emerges in these relationships often exacerbates the self-blame many rape victims already place upon themselves.

I’ve always found this last to be an extremely interesting point, since I believe (although I am not studied in the psychology of victims beyond rape) that there are few other crimes where people treat the victimization of a person similarly to a death of that same person. I think this serves to explain why we often celebrate the dead rape victim who fought back and died in the process and barely speak of the compliant rape victim who survives the assault.

The end result of all these social constructs around the rape victim is that a rape victim who is not young, white, affluent and virginal becomes a woman who made poor choices, who is punished through rape, and as a result becomes a different person who lacks control over her future sexual choices (possibly choices at large) and has likely damaged her primary social support relationships.

Is it small wonder then that CAS wants me to get counselling?

This is where I get angry. I spent a good portion of my university years peer-to-peer counselling women who had been assaulted to believe that it was not their fault, that they remained in control of their lives and their choices. I have spoken publicly about my rape believing that sharing my own experiences and my own choices can help give a different perspective on the rape victim. Most importantly I have chosen not to be the rape victim.

I made the choice not to be the rape victim early on. My rape happened in high school, shortly before the school year began. It was a date rape. I was voluntarily alone with him, kissed him, and I was punished for it by being raped. In a strange turn of events, high school being high school, a friend of mine at the time chose to spread a rumour that I had not been raped, that the resulting pregnancy was my boyfriends (yes, I was the bad girl kissing another guy after all). I quickly discovered that it was easier to be the promiscuous girl than the rape victim. Counselling was private, school ended, the conviction was easy and didn’t even require my testimony (DNA and all).

What I realized later in my own peer-to-peer counselling is that if 1 in 4 women have been sexually assaulted the chances of me being the lone rape victim in the room were slim to none. Yet, when I looked around my classroom, my work, my neighbourhood I could not tell by looking at the women who the rape victims were, and it didn’t matter. The women around me were intelligent, fun, sexy, bold, quiet, beautiful women who are so much more than whatever happened to them at one point in their life.

I resent the idea that a rape victim is a broken person. A victim who is forever shattered by the crime done to her, that a rape victim will never truly overcome or move beyond the experience but merely survive it. That the rape victim is not a person self-aware and self-confident, but a ticking time bomb who may, at any point, be triggered by her experience.

I am at loose ends on what I want to do about this whole situation. Part of me wants to take my toys out of the sandbox and go home. Then I think that whatever CAS is putting me through the kids waiting for adoption have been through worse. I want to refuse the counselling asserting my sense of self, that I am currently not in need of counseling that I am more than what happened to me 16+ years ago and that if at any time I believe I need counselling I will take it. But, then I think this may ruin our chances of adoption. I want to scream at CAS for answers, I want to know why C.’s experiences of household violence don’t merit counselling but a 16-year-old rape case does, I want to tell them they are perpetuating a system of violence against women, and have them understand and care and change their practices.

I am angry because I feel like the system is victimizing me yet again, sugar-coating it in the pretense of offered help, but none-the-less reducing me to an incident that happened 16+ years ago and refusing to see me for the person I am. To them I am only the rape victim.

*I’m using a female gender pronoun here not because rape against men and boys is not common and wide-spread (1 in 7 boys under the age of 17 have been sexually assaulted), but because my knowledge, both from my personal life and my research during university is limited to women.

**Statistics Canada, The Daily. Ottawa: Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, November 18, 2003.


Written by BeagleSmuggler

September 1, 2011 at 8:25 pm

10 Responses

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  1. From one survivor to another, thank you for sharing this. I am so sorry to hear that they are re-victimizing you while you are looking to adopt a child. This is wholely unacceptable behavior for the government but alas it happens all too often. I wish that there was a way to make them see what they are doing and how they are not helping anyone and are actually hurting.

    Love and light,

    Lucky Star


    September 1, 2011 at 9:21 pm

  2. this is a really powerful post. thank you for sharing. i hope that you and your husband are able to negotiate this process in the way that is best for you both as well as for your future family.


    September 1, 2011 at 10:01 pm

  3. I am absolutely horrified by the way CAS is approaching this, and treating you. Thank you so much for writing about it, it should absolutely not be necessary but I know you are strong enough to do whatever needs to be done. much love and respect.


    September 2, 2011 at 1:34 am

  4. Dear Beaglesmuggler,

    I just want to say thank you so much for sharing this. I wish you lots of success with the adoption.

    Best wishes, Miep

    Miep van Nimwegen

    September 2, 2011 at 7:34 am

  5. Thank you to everyone who has commented publicly and privately. I have received a lot of comments, mostly thanks and “I feel the same” after writing this. I am thankful for the thanks because it shows me, yet again, that I am not alone in this, and neither is any other woman.


    September 2, 2011 at 1:44 pm

  6. Having worked the system for awhile I think you have every right to ask that they sit down with you and revisit this issue. You clearly have done the work you need to do at this point in your life, you are ope and willing to do therapy should that need arise but that it is not necessary at this time in order to parent. Sometimes workers get a little to over zealous and start saying things and playing God, that is what supervisors are for. Request another meeting, be calm, rational and present your arguments as you have here, they really don’t have a leg to stand on, they can’t demand this of you since most people would lie on the application anyway so they did not have to deal with nosey workers.


    September 2, 2011 at 6:33 pm

  7. I emailed you a very quick “WTF?” comment when this was published. Days after the first time I read this, I am still in disbelief. The WTF? has yet to subside.

    Like you, I have been raped. The assault and the recovery were as brutal as the other. Everyone has an opinion about how you should be after you are assaulted. However, we are individuals. And, as individuals, we each have our own way of dealing this sort of violation. There is no one-size-fits-all road map to recovery.

    [Smart ass me wants to be there the next time to question their understanding of what it means to recover from a sexual assault. Do they know that rape trauma syndrome is based on Freudian concepts? That it is so new and flawed that it is impossible to apply it to all women? And yes, this would be wearing my “I co-founded the first campus sexual assault centre” hat. Asshats that they are.]

    You are intelligent, functional and competent. You’ve sustained a loving relationship with your partner longer than many marriages last. Now we know you have weathered storms in your life that many women have not survived so successfully. It is possible that you freak them out a bit, that they do not know what to think of you because you don’t fit into their typical boxes of what prospective parents/ applicants should be.

    Mary-Margaret Jones

    September 6, 2011 at 8:04 pm

  8. It’s sad what people will do

    Breanna Boman

    October 22, 2011 at 2:41 am

  9. what goes around comes around in this life.

    Kaleigh Naomi Hubbard

    April 1, 2012 at 2:21 am

  10. Thank you so very much.


    July 6, 2012 at 3:36 am

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