The Brutal Inhumanity of Rape
[Excerpt Below] 12.18.14 Published by The Washington Post
It should never be too late to tell your story of rape. 14 years later, this is mine.
By Abigail Hauslohner
As this newspaper’s Cairo bureau chief, I live and work with the risk of sexual violence all around me. I’ve covered war and political turmoil in the Middle East for the past seven years, spending five of those in Cairo, where sexual harassment is an almost daily experience. When I was groped amid a crowd of protesters battling police outside Cairo’s al-Azhar mosque on the fourth day of the uprising in 2011, I turned around and punched the guy in the face.
My friends tell me I’m “tough.” But it wasn’t until I completed an intensive course of therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder in October that I was able to finally confront pain I’ve been carrying with me for 14 years. I had gone to see a PTSD therapist to seek relief from what I’ve witnessed and experienced as a Middle East and war correspondent, to deal with the fear that had taken over my dreams and had begun to affect my work. I wanted to be able to react calmly to loud noises — instead of sensing an explosion every time a door slammed or a car backfired.
But we also ended up spending a lot of time dealing with an earlier experience that had nothing to do with the Middle East and yet almost outranked my war experiences: one night in 2001, when, as a 17-year-old, I visited a friend at his college and he raped me.
Until stories broke about rape accusations against Bill Cosby and an alleged gang rape at the University of Virginia, I had generally avoided reading about rape. I avoided reporting on it, too — as much as that pains me to admit. When I tried to write about Egypt’s sexual assault problem two years ago, I had great reporting and great timing — it was Valentine’s Day, also a day of anti-rape activism. I knew it was an important story and I wanted to put it out there, but I couldn’t do it.
My experience in therapy helped unburden me of the shame that I have carried since I was a teenager and prompted me to speak out now. I’ve found inspiration in the willingness of rape survivors to talk about their assaults, years or decades after the fact. I decided it was time for me to do the same. It should never be too late.
Nearly 14 years ago, I went to visit my friend — I’ll call him “X” — at his college campus. I saw X as a goofy but caring, older-brother type; we’d overlapped in high school and had a platonic and confiding sort of friendship. I never found him attractive.
When X went to college, he joined a fraternity and promised to take me to a real college party. My parents, who were fairly strict and usually would not have let me spend a weekend visiting a boy on a college campus, let me go because X was a friend. I packed my coolest top — a bright pink, sleeveless turtleneck sweater — a pair of Guess jeans and a new necklace that I loved.
The party was hosted by X’s fraternity. I remember walking into a relatively empty house and settling in nervously on a couch. Most of the people in the room were guys, and I was eager to seem cool. X asked if I wanted a drink; I said sure. He brought me a big plastic cup full of red punch.
The rest of that night I remember in flashes of images and sound. I can’t remember anything between sitting on the couch and drinking from that cup, and then being propped up in the back seat of a car that wasn’t X’s, with someone else driving someplace. I think I lost consciousness somewhere between the couch and the car.
[See full story]