“They are all innocent until proven guilty. But not me. I am a liar until I am proven honest.”
― Louise O’Neill, Asking For It
I have written and spoken several times about my life and domestic violence. Under the umbrella of domestic violence are several forms such as: physical abuse; emotional abuse; controlling or domineering; intimidation; stalking; passive/covert abuse; economic deprivation; endangerment; criminal coercion; kidnapping; unlawful imprisonment; trespassing; harassment and sexual abuse. I knew that several years after leaving him that something about our sex life continued to haunt me. I didn’t know what it was called but I always knew what it felt like….SOUL MURDER.
In the conservative deep south, I was brought up like many children to “save yourself for your husband.” This was not a tall order for me as sports was my number one priority. I would meet him at the age of 17 which was 19 years his junior. Naivety led me right into the cold awaiting arms of a predator disguised as “Prince Charming.” He used the one promise that he knew I couldn’t refuse to set the hook and reel me in “I will help you find your birth family.” Rolling off his silver tongue of manipulation would be the promises of a future with a man who would “treat me like his queen.” But like most things that seem too good to be true his promises would turn out to be lies.
I guess what made this so confusing was that I NEVER saw my dad treat my mom with disrespect. I was questioning the whole time, “This is what I saved myself for?” He was my first and the guy that finally trusted in such an intimate fashion only to have that trust betrayed in a way that is still too difficult to handle emotionally. I secretly wondered why I was never told about this side of marriage. The truth despite his “brainwashing” justifications for his actions was that no this was not normal and healthy marriages do NOT consist of this type of dominating behavior.
Many years later while looking for answers regarding the strange, threatening and coercive nature especially with the passages of the Bible about how a “woman is to submit to her husband,” I came across the term Marital Rape and I knew instantly that this was what had happened. The term marital rape describes “any unwanted sexual acts by a spouse or ex-spouse that is committed without the other person’s consent. Such illegal sexual activity are done using force, threat of force, intimidation, or when a person is unable to consent. The sexual acts include intercourse, anal or oral sex, forced sexual behavior with other individuals, and other sexual activities that are considered by the victim as degrading, humiliating, painful, and unwanted. It is also known as spousal rape” (https://definitions.uslegal.com/m/marital-rape/, 2018).
I personally have not been able to make sense of such an intimate form of betrayal. This type of violence destroys you from the inside out. Remembering how scared I was as a young child when the first time I was introduced to sexual abuse the rules of these types of scenarios were still very clear. The easiest and least painful way to get through the moment was to give in to their demands. If you try to fight them the abuse gets worse. If you don’t “perform” for them the abuse gets worse. And as I was told many times, “What are YOU going to tell them Dana? You’re the “head case” with the mental history, not me.” The puppet master continued to pull the strings to make sure that his needs and only his needs were met.
Even as I write this the nausea bubbling like a pot on a stove builds its way to the back of my throat as I think about and remember the vile ways that I was treated as property rather than as a human being. I was not a wife but rather a legal whore. Being told what I was going to do for him and then berated with humiliating and very damaging body image comments afterwards just seems to further rake into your soul with the devil’s claw. Consensual loving sex is not…
- Forced sex. This should be obvious. But some men have the mistaken idea that marriage changes the rules. It doesn’t. If a husband holds his wife down, pushes her, or imposes sex by hurting her, it’s rape. Making love doesn’t include making someone cry.
- Sex when the wife feels threatened. If a husband forces sex through verbal threats of harm to the woman or to people or things she cares about or if he comes to her in a barely contained rage, she can’t consent. She can only comply rather than risk being harmed either physically or emotionally.
- Sex by manipulation. If a husband calls his wife names, accuses her of not being a good wife, or blackmails her emotionally by suggesting she’s so bad in bed that he will go elsewhere, he’s manipulating her. Some men even threaten to leave and take the kids with him if their wives don’t comply with demands for sex. When a wife falls for these tactics, it isn’t consent. It’s rape.
- Sex when the wife can’t give consent. Loving sex is genuinely consensual. If a woman is drugged, asleep, intoxicated or unconscious, she obviously can’t give consent. Even if she says “yes” in such circumstances, the “consent” isn’t valid or truthful. She’s in no shape to consider the consequences or to participate as a willing partner.
- Sex by taking a woman hostage. Some men keep themselves in a position of superiority by controlling all the money, by making contact with friends and family difficult to impossible, or by making sure there is no way for her to get transportation out of the house. The woman becomes a hostage in her own home. Like many hostages, she gives up and gives in to whatever he wants — including sex.
- Sex when the woman feels she has no choice. Giving in isn’t the same as giving consent. When a woman feels that it’s just easier to give in to sex than to respect her own needs, she is being raped (https://psychcentral.com/lib/marital-rape/, 2016).
THE PSYCHOLOGICAL EFFECTS OF SUCH BEHAVIORS INCLUDE:
- Short-term psychological effects include PTSD, anxiety, shock, intense fear, depression and suicidal ideation.
- Long-term psychological effects include disordered sleeping, disordered eating, depression, intimacy problems, negative self-images, and sexual dysfunction (https://vawnet.org/material/marital-rape-new-research-and-directions, 2018).
COMMON WAYS THAT ABUSERS AVOID RESPONSIBILITY FOR SEXUAL ASSAULT
- Denial: Acting as if nothing out of the ordinary happened, boldly stating that it didn’t happen, calling you crazy for saying that it did, saying he doesn’t remember.
- Rationalization: “You must have wanted it” “You could have stopped me,” “A husband is entitled to it”; Rationalization is also blaming you: ” If you gave me more sex I wouldn’t have to force you”
- Minimization: I didn’t really hurt you” “You’re making a fuss about nothing” “I just wanted to make love to you.”
- Claiming Loss of Control: “I was too turned on to stop”, “You make me so angry” (https://pandys.org/articles/partnerrapeoverview.html, 2009).
To say that I’ve lacked a fulfilling intimate sex life would be the understatement of my life. The level of fear that I experience even with the most supportive relationship cannot accurately be described with words. Whether it be child alters, teen alters or adult alters who step in to try and make this very part of my life possible, it always becomes a disaster. Oh and the mood gets squashed when you think, “Finally, I can do this!” But, yet, you find yourself running from the bedroom straight to the bathroom to vomit.
What I can say about this type of abuse over many years is this….
He not only raped my body, he also raped my mind and murdered my soul. I was very fortunate to meet someone like Mel who is one of the most caring, understanding and compassionate people I know. Our relationship has always been based on love and not sex. I married someone who loves me for the shattered and leftover parts of someone who use to be a fully functioning human being. It took me loving and bowing down to a monster to be able to recognize an angel. She and I walk hand-in-hand often with tears in both of our eyes trying to find a way through all the destruction. She didn’t ask to be married to a spouse with so many complex problems both physically and mentally. She does it because she loves me. Would I go through it all again just to have her? I go through it every day. The abuse has never stopped.
“Here, from her ashes you lay. A broken girl so lost in despondency that you know that even if she does find her way out of this labyrinth in hell, that she will never see, feel, taste, or touch life the same again.”
― Amanda Steele, The Cliff