Monday, I had my first appointment with the gynecologist. That’s right. Gynecologist. At this point I’m sure words like fun, favorite thing to do, and riveting experience are popping in your head. Try not to be too jealous.
I was asked by multiple people beforehand and after if I was nervous or uncomfortable or scared. I mean, let’s be honest… questions about your sex life or lack thereof and menstrual cycles (Both which tend to not be favorite topics to discuss with strangers), stripping naked for said strangers (Well, I did leave my socks on), donning a paper gown than crinkles when you move and screams “I am naked and vulnerable.” (Think about it. If there’s a fire, not only will you be basically naked, but you’re only source of “clothing” is a massive fire hazard.) Then there’s the actual exam complete with lady parts prodding *COLD* and usually a speculum thrown in there, too. Not exactly the most comfortable experience.
But, as I went through the exam, all I could think about was the many brave women (and I say women because that is who I served while advocating) I had sat with during my time as a SARP advocate. Women who had been violated and abused. Women who had been raped and sexually assaulted. Some by strangers but even more by acquaintances, friends, and even family members.
People they were supposed to be able to trust, but instead became the reason they would have to learn how to trust all over again.
Loved ones who were supposed to protect them, but who ended up being the very ones they needed protection from.
And honestly, I couldn’t be afraid. I couldn’t even be uncomfortable. Not because I’m some brave woman of steel that can’t be rattled. Rather, because of the amazing courage I witnessed from them, and knowing this was nothing by comparison.
When a woman reports being raped, she will relive that victimization countless times before she will even have a chance at justice.
I answered questions about my sexuality and periods to two people, the intake nurse and the doctor. A victim will not only have to answer those questions to a nurse and an investigator, but also recount every detail about his or her assault to the nurse, usually the officer who responds to the call initially, the investigator, the commonwealth attorney, and an entire courtroom filled with strangers AND HER ATTACKER. That doesn’t even include if she tells any friends or family members. How invasive, terrifying, humiliating! And yet necessary.
I scheduled my exam when it was convenient for me. A victim will go soon after being assaulted and violated.
I did my exam and put my clothes back on. A victim must strip out of her clothes becoming vulnerable after just being victimized and then searched over with a black light to check for bodily fluids like saliva and semen on her body. Those clothes will be taken from her as evidence and she will likely not get them back.
I was quickly checked over to make sure everything looked and felt as it should. A victim will be checked much more invasively. The forensic nurse working the case (and Lynchburg General Hospital has the very best who are absolutely wonderful with victims) will take swabs in any area on the body she feels there may be evidence. If there are any injuries or bruises, pictures of those will be taken as well. The vagina is swabbed for evidence, and among other things a speculum is used (without lubricant so that evidence is not contaminated. OUCH). Also, pictures are taken of the vaginal area and inside the vagina.
Overall, it’s an extremely invasive and exhausting experience, but again, necessary for even a chance at justice.
I wish you could meet these brave women I sat across from. The truth is, you most likely already have. They work at your grocery stores, your restaurants, your businesses. They sit beside you in your college classes. They teach your kids. They’re amazing and strong and have overcome tremendous obstacles.
I’ve been told countless times that most sexual assault victims are probably lying. I’ve heard all kinds of excuses including that they report to get attention. That it didn’t really happen, or that it was really consensual and they are just feeling regret. And part of me (a large part) gets the urge to punch them in the face for their stupidity. But, I have to remember they haven’t sat where I’ve sat. They haven’t witnessed what I have. They’ve been raised in a culture that teaches rape culture and cowers from the uncomfortable truth.
But, I challenge you. Next time you hear someone say that; next time you say or think that, take a minute to think about the invasive, emotional, exhausting, and courageous road to the slightest hope of justice. And have the courage to take a step towards eradicating rape culture instead of contributing to it.
If you’re interested on the facts, here are some sites you can go to for more information on sexual assault.
If you’re interested in getting involved and have a heart for sexual assault victims (and live in the Lynchburg, VA area), then you too can volunteer as a victim advocate with the Sexual Assault Response Program.