In lieu of a “oh hey look at that I’m back from vacation” post, I’m just going to launch right into something I’ve been thinking about for a long time, and was mulling over on the airplane. A word of warning: I woke up to catch my flight almost twelve hours ago (it’s early afternoon here) and only recently had the first real meal I’ve eaten in days*, so bear with me here.

Anyway.

 

This is something I’ve run across so often that I’ve basically stopped registering it. Someone learns that I was raped in a college dorm’s overflow housing – not some deserted alley or parking garage or out-of-the-way nightclub, as so many assume it somehow must have been in order to be Real Rape – and they blurt it out as though it’s an option I must have never thought of on my own.

Why didn’t you scream? Why didn’t you scream? Why didn’t you scream? Why didn’t you scream? Why didn’t you scream? Why didn’t you scream? Why didn’t you scream? Why didn’t you scream? Why didn’t you scream? Why didn’t you scream? Why didn’t you scream? Why didn’t you scream? Why didn’t you scream? Why didn’t you scream? Why didn’t you scream?

 

Well, here’s their answer, and it’s every bit as simple and obvious as they seem to believe that screaming for help would have been:

I didn’t.

Because it wouldn’t have helped.

 

How do I know?

I learned lessons like that pretty early on in my life. I was going on thirteen when I realized that people, on some basic level, do not want to help. Years later, in my AP Psychology class, I learned the name for this: The Bystander Effect, also called Genovese Syndrome.** Prior to that, however, I learned it in a much more personal and memorable setting.

See, I was in seventh grade and in the Delta Crown Room of a big, busy airport when a family member grabbed me by the neck, lifted me off my feet, and shook me. I was crying. He was screaming threats and shaking me.

Every single person in that room looked away, and kept looking away long after his rage had subsided and he’d dropped me back to the floor. It would have been apparent to anyone around that this was not simply the case of a father or uncle disciplining an uncontrollable child: I was a placid and shy kid, too timid to even speak above a whisper when waiters asked for my order at restaurants, a waif of a girl wearing pink Hello Kitty sandals and carrying a miniature-sized duffel bag. And I was twelve years old, for fuck’s sake, not some rowdy toddler. This man was six feet tall, middle aged and intimidating, and it was clear that he was not playing around. I was crying. I had been crying for quite some time. If any, this should have been a moment for some sort of intervention.

No one stepped up. And that’s when I realized that nobody ever would.

 

Or how about a much more recent and painfully relevant example?

A few days after I had reported My Rapist to the police, as the implications of doing so slowly started to sink in, I experienced what I can only describe as a small breakdown. I can’t say for sure, because I’ve never really had one for sure, but I’m not sure what else to classify it as. Despite the PTSD, even, I am not a person who loses control easily, if ever.

It was lucky that my roommate wasn’t in the room that night (though, who knows – maybe if she had been, I would have kept my cool, for better or for worse), because once it hit me that I had just in one fell swoop cut myself off from the one remaining avenue through which I could pursue some sort of closure, I sort of lost it for a little bit. The Other Girl stopped by during that time period, and I’m ashamed to say that I was dysfunctional to the point that I probably offended her, or made her think that I was angry with her (I could barely hand her the object – a key – she’d come to retrieve), which was exactly the last thing on earth I wanted her to do. Within a minute after she’d left, I found myself kneeling on the floor, screaming. It did not last more than ten seconds, but it was enough.

 

This was not whimpering. This was not frustrated yells. This is the sort of noise I’ve only made a few times before in my life, and in all honesty it surprised me to even hear it. It was not something I had thought myself capable of anymore. It was frightened and alien and high-pitched and desperate and nothing that could have been misconstrued as anything else.

The walls in my dorm are painfully, painfully thin. Several times per week I have to knock on the ceiling because our upstairs neighbors’ music keeps my roommate and I awake at night. I can hear the debate club practicing in the basement even with my door closed. I can’t help but overhear (much to my displeasure) nearly every Skype session, sexual escapade, and heated argument that occurs within a three-room radius.

 

And do you know how many people knocked on the door to ask if everything was alright in there? How many people felt the need to text or call or in some other way investigate the reason why a young woman would be shrieking and crying behind a closed door at night?

None.

I was not expecting any. I don’t know how I would have reacted had anyone responded, except to be deeply embarrassed. But that isn’t the point. The point is what that means for those times when it isn’t, in fact, someone having an internal crisis alone in her room. Those times where it was something that might lead to yet another person being asked “but why didn’t you just scream?”…when it was something they might have stopped by taking that time to knock, or call?

 

If you ask me, it isn’t that people don’t want to help in an abstract sense. Everyone likes to imagine themselves as a hero, and I’m sure the “damsel in distress” ideal still appeals to way more people than I’d like to think about. But the fact remains that, when they’re presented with a situation that potentially would require them to intervene, most people will do just about anything to convince themselves that it’s nothing at all. And you know what? I’ve been guilty of the exact same thing.

For example, what are most people going to think if they hear a girl screaming in a dorm on a Friday night? Probably that she’s drunk and being obnoxious, or in a tickle fight with someone, or watching a scary movie, or some combination thereof. I know that, up until I was raped in a similar setting, I probably would have assumed the same. Nowadays, my mind tends to jump to the worst conclusion first – but for most people, and in most circumstances, the easiest option is to rationalize and ignore. It’s not a desire to be unhelpful, it’s a desire to not have it be your problem.

 

And that is why I didn’t scream when he raped me.

And that is why, if I had to go back in time and do it again, I probably would still make the same decision.

 

It goes back to my post On Saying No. To paraphrase my own writing: it is fucking asinine to expect a rape victim to Always Assume That Screaming And Fighting Is The Best Option against their better judgment. Because this is playing for keeps. Take My Rapist, for example. There was a couch between me and the door (a door that only opened about a foot and a half wide anyway), two sizable pocketknives on his desk, and a low or nonexistent probability that anyone who heard me scream would actually respond. He had over fifty pounds’ advantage over me and was an ex-high-school-wrestler with martial arts experience.

And here’s someone telling me that I was wrong not to scream for help anyway. Not to risk him doing something drastic to shut me up, to hide what he was doing from the help that probably would never have come. To be fair, with how I’ve been feeling lately, sometimes I quite honestly wish I had anyway. I wish I could answer “but why didn’t you just scream?” with “I did”, even if that meant anything from a more violent rape to a trip to the ER to even him killing me. I doubt he would have. But when I feel worst about things, I almost feel like it would have been better than sitting here echoing to myself what I’ve heard so many times.

 

Why didn’t you scream? Why didn’t you scream? Why didn’t you scream? Why didn’t you scream? Why didn’t you scream? Why didn’t you scream? Why didn’t you scream? Why didn’t you scream? Why didn’t you scream? Why didn’t you scream? Why didn’t you scream? Why didn’t you scream? Why didn’t you scream? Why didn’t you scream? Why didn’t you scream?

 

Needless to say, this is yet another Wrong Reaction. But hopefully, it at least answers that question so some other victim or victims might not have to be asked it in the future.

 

“Why didn’t you just scream?”

Because I fucking knew better.

Because this isn’t a Disney movie, and there isn’t always someone ready to leap through the window in a dashing hat/vest combo and dispel the Bad Guys with a few clever catchphrases. And there is no guarantee that anyone who did find me like that – mostly naked, shaking, pale, with a belt tied around my knees or neck – wouldn’t have turned bright red, shut the door on it with a muttered apology, and walked away. That they wouldn’t have chosen to believe the full-tuition, awkward, nerdy, quiet kid over Some Slut Who Was Probably Just Trying To Ruin His Life.

 

I. Fucking. Knew. Better.

And I’m astounded that the people who would ask are so painfully optimistic as to think otherwise.

 

 

 

 

 

 

*a fun side effect of anxiety disorders: especially when traveling/around family/etc, I sometimes lose the ability to eat normally for fear of getting sick. Not to worry, though – I more than make up for it with my usual college Eleven PM SpaghettiOs and Heath Bars Or Whatever Else The Student Store Has.

**http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bystander_effect. There are a lot of much better scholarly articles out there, but I figured Wikipedia might have a decent overview.

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