Posts Tagged ‘sexual assault’

What Is Rape Part II : Violence

In light of the recent gang rape of a young woman on an Indian bus and her subsequent poor and negligent treatment by society I recently re-posted “What Is Rape To A Woman”. I was also asked if I could provide some sort of idea what my own recovery from violent sexual assault has been like. I hesitated to do this initially.
It is now some thirteen years since the attack on me when I had just turned twenty years of age and time has moved me on to a point where I am not the same person – I no longer get irritated when people mention the word “Recovery” – any Survivor will tell you that you never “recover”, you just learn to live for another day.

Here goes……………………………………..

Today

I am many things. I am a wife. I am a mother of four children, two with special needs who we adopted and two of our own. I am a sister. I am a daughter. I am a physiologist. I am a humanist. I am a feminist. I am profoundly deaf. I am partly sighted.

I am also a Survivor – of rape.

Before My Death

I had a very happy childhood. My parents are farmers, owning an estate of a number of farms. I had a wonderful childhood able to run and roam the countryside, and lucky enough to have parents who did not believe in teaching their children what to think, but how to think.and think freely for themselves. After school at eighteen i joined the military. I wanted to see something of the world while continuing my education so a military medical career was a logical choice. In just two years i completed my first degree, a course that would have taken three in the civilian world. Even after two years service I got to see aspects of life I would never have otherwise been exposed to. Just after qualifying i was posted to a military hospital in Germany on an exchange programme with other NATO countries (ten years ago NATO was not the tool of American imperialism it is today).

My Death

One night while i was on call at the hospital I was posted at. At about three am a male civilian worker, a janitor, broke into my room and attacked me with the clear intent of rape. I fought back.

I was found minutes after he fled with his own few injuries. My own injuries were extremely extensive as he had been armed with a knife, hammer and a sense of entitlement to a woman. The trauma department medical team were summoned and worked on me on the floor of that room until i was just stable enough to be moved to the operating rooms where i spent the next sixteen hours in what was to be the first of some twenty six major surgeries and twenty seven lesser ones over the two years that followed. When found I had already almost bled out and before I was even moved to surgery it was estimated they had replaced my entire blood volume.

To summarise my injuries but skipping the details:-

  • Fractured skull
  • Brain damage.
  • Fracture jaw.
  • Multiple fracture to facial bones.
  • The first two resulting in the complete loss of my hearing and damage to my visual cortex.
  • Punctured lung.
  • Six broken ribs
  • Broken right wrist.
  • Seven broken fingers.
  • Multiple lacerations to my back, my upper and lower abdomen, my chest and breasts..
  • Right breast almost severed.
  • Shattered pelvis resulting in a complete rebuilding, plating and bolting.
  • Ruptured Uterus, torn uterine arteries resulting in hysterectomy.

My stay in ICU totalled  five months, six weeks of that was in a coma, my total time in hospital was twenty four months. It took me eighteen months to learn how to talk again, and eighteen months to learn how to walk once more. I entered hospital as a patient two days after my twentieth birth and came out two days before my twenty second.

People think that it is the actual attack that is the worst aspect of rape, it is not, it is just the start of a long journey that starts in violence, continues through degradation, makes several stops at humiliation, through betrayal and finally, assuming the wheels stay on, brings you to a place you can once again live. People think that once you are in hospital you are safe from harm, that you will be “OK now”, they are wrong. Hospital is pain, it is more trauma and when your injuries are extensive it is so unrelenting that it hospital becomes a form of torture, a fact that is only now being recognised by the medical profession. People think that powerful opiates will relieve all  pains, they do not, even when pumped constantly and directly into your spinal cord (intrathecal).

I was in a coma for some six weeks after the attack so was not able to help with the investigation of the attack. When i was out of the coma I could not hear, talk or even write. Communication was limited to me pointing at a picture board the nurses held up in order to express myself. After my first interview with the  military police investigators I immediately realised that it was I who was the subject of their investigation,not my attacker. They had little interest in catching my attacker because they thought he had been a soldier in their military and that actually identifying him and putting him on trial would be a major embarrassment to them. Their investigation was already based on the assumed fact that I had invited a man to my room and that at some point our liaison had turned violent. This despite the fact that the door to my room had been kicked in, despite the fact that the room itself was totally wrecked and blood soaked, despite the fact that I made no secret of being a lesbian and having zero sexual or romantic interest in the male of the species. It took me a week with a cognitive specialist my parents brought in for me to tell my story and even then the police did not believe me and tried very hard to persuade me to change my memory of events to suit their design. I refused, fortunately being mute and largely deaf helped make non-cooperation easy. There is a reason so few women ever report being raped to the authorities, it is because across all countries, across all cultures it is the victim who comes under suspicion. Social scrutiny, scrutiny by the media even scrutiny and often condemnation by local religious authorities. Most societies and religions are inherently misogynistic so the men in it seek to mitigate the awfulness of what another male has done to a woman by looking for excuses as to why the women might be at fault, either in part or in whole. Despite the sheer scale of my injuries the American Military Police took the approach that “I might have sent confusing signals to my attacker” even in the face of evidence of my room being broken into, despite the fact that he had obviously come equipped with knife and hammer. This attitude remained until the German Federal Police showed that my attacker was in fact a civilian Turkish immigrant cleaner. For a while the US military continued to stick to their idea of what had happened. Their sexist view was eventually changed when new evidence emerged, sadly it was the kidnap, rape and torturing to death of a German girl that was the price of American enlightenment.

Some weeks after the attack on myself a German girl was kidnapped in another part of Germany. Her body was eventually found. She had been raped and then tortured to death. DNA recovered from her showed that her attacker was my attacker. The German Federal Police no longer had to tolerate obstruction from the American military and the lax investigation by the american military police. The German authorities were fantastic, they got me out of that hospital and into one where the military police could not keep harassing me to change my story, in fact the German Investigating Judge expressly forbid they had any further contact with me. Within five days they had identified the man, a Turkish immigrant worker, but unfortunately he had fled back to Turkey and vanished, though the Germans continue to make every effort to return him to Germany.

Side Note**: Several years after my attack I met the parents of the murdered girl, Sabina. I cannot imagine losing one’s child, but to lose them in the way they did had left them devastated with memories of her last days that no one should have to ever face. My wife and I met them when we had all travelled to Berlin to meet with the Federal Prosecutor some years after my attack. The German Government were applying yet again to the Turkish Government to have the man extradited back to Germany to stand trial. Nina, my wife, was pregnant with our first pregnancy at that time, just entering her second trimester. We already had adopted two children, so this was to be our third child.  When my wife gave birth to our first baby girl we named her “Mariaske Sabina “ after their daughter and asked that they be her god parents. Every June 15th they join us for the day as we celebrate Mariaske Sabina’s birthday.

Surviving Death & Becoming A Survivor

(This is a very sanitised account of recovery)
I was exceedingly fortunate in having a close family who fought for me every step of the way, they even learnt sign language (NGT) before I did so that they would be ready to help me. In all my time in hospital there was never a day when one of them or another was not there. I was blessed to have friends who went to enormous lengths to keep in touch, write, and visit. Without all their big hearted efforts i would never have recovered at all, how any rape survivor manages without a supporting network around her I do not know.

Coma & Brain Injury

Brain injuries are extremely difficult to recover from. Coming out of a coma is not like the scenes you see in movies where the character, perfectly made up, hair brushed and fresh looking flutters their eyes and says hello to those waiting beside the bed. It can take days to surface as the doctors reverse the drugs. Time has no meaning to you none at all. Dreams are all nightmares filled with pain you are experiencing even through the opiates. You cannot see as you wake, the muscles in your eyes simply will not respond. I could not form any words, the connections between my cognitive self and my vocal cords were gone, in addition to my jaw being wired up. I could not move much below my waist, and to try was simply to send shards of agony lancing up from deep inside my pelvis and bowels into my chest. My arms and hands were pinned and wrapped in dressings. Just moving my torso produced burning pains across my back and chest. Worst of all was that my sense of balanced had been destroyed, every single movement of my head produced wave after wave of nausea. This was just waking up.

After waking the real nightmare began. You have to learn so much all over again, be it holding a fork, talking or remembering your own name. My brain had to learn how to use a sense of balance all over again after the destruction of the balance centre on one side by a hammer blow. In order to function again after injury your brain has to rewire itself and that takes a staggering amount of energy and resources. One hour spent with a speech therapist might seem a small effort for a normal person to make, but when your brain is rebuilding itself it takes four, five, even six times the amount of energy so as a result you can suddenly hit an energy brick wall and your ability to continue to function just collapses. Your brain is literally not firing properly, drug side effects strip many chemicals and elements you need out of your body and disrupt normal hormonal function. You do, in every sense, lose yourself, your very sense of self, of what it is to be you.

Plastic Surgery

During my time in hospital I was either recovering from a reconstructive surgery or preparing for the next. The first repairs done on my shattered pelvis had to be taken apart when it was realised that the way they had been made the first would not allow me to ever walk again so all of that had to be re-done. I have four metal plates, two bolts of the type normally found in trucks and some two dozen screws holding me together there. My jaw and face were put back together by a wonderful US Army plastic surgeon. She also did much to do the cosmetic repairs to my vulva and vagina which had been repeatedly slashed with a box knife. My right breast had been almost completely severed by a knife blow that had been aimed at my heart but had hit my sternal bone and skidded off along my ribs and under the breast. It was saved by some careful surgery. To my joy my breasts have gone on to nurture each of our four children.

Nutrition

My sister realised early on that the nutrition I was getting in hospital was appalling so my family talked with my cousin, and our family doctor Tyjardia. She did much research and in doing so completely changed her own approach to medical care. The result was that I was fed not by hospital provided food but by food designed to be easy for me to eat yet containing all the minerals and trace elements I needed. Oddly hospitals and doctors are incredibly ignorant about nutrition and even if they were better informed because they would not be able to feed you the one thing you really need but be forced by medical dogma to use pharmaceutically approved foods, they have become dispensers not practitioners of healthing in so many ways.

Doctors & Idiot Doctors

At first doctors told me I would never walk again and that I should start to learn to live in a wheelchair. I refused. They went on to obstruct me in trying to walk again by refusing access to physiotherapy, so I crawled out of bed one day and dragged myself to a wheelchair and wheeled myself to physio and demanded assistance. When I returned to my ward a doctor told me I was not to do that again so I told him that I had managed to stand and take two steps (granted I had then plunged very painfully to the floor gaining the first of a great many small physio injuries), then I kicked him in the knee. I was still in the military at that time so he put me on a charge, but he made the mistake of still standing in range of the one foot I could kick with, so I kicked him again. The next day the nurses left a wheelchair next to my bed and again I spent over an hour getting myself to to physio. After a few days of this I started to notice various nursing, lab and portering staff “just going my way” and so pushed me there – when some of the doctors found out they were not happy. In my time in the three military hospitals I was in I was put on a charge sixteen times after being abusive to doctors, throwing things at doctors and generally being a total bitch. None of those charges ever went anywhere, and I never targeted the good doctors, just the idiots.

After eighteen months of unbelievable pain and a great many falls that left me intimately acquainted with a great many floors I was walking unaided. Two months later I had the morphine stopped. The strange thing about opiates is how you do not become addicted to them when you have chronic pain, just dependent on them for some quality of life. When you decide it is time to stop you can – which raises some interesting questions regarding so-called addiction. For all the difficulties I had with medical staff to their credit they always managed my pain to the best of their ability and that of the drugs and when I wanted to stop them they supported me in deciding the time was right.
During my hospital stay I had to see several psychiatrists, one of those occasions being a blatant attempt by the military police to have me labelled mentally unstable, it failed. There are many occasions after rape where a woman realises just how misogynistic society is, even in the west. It is so deeply ingrained into society that a lot of the time we do not see it for what it is until we are raped. It also highlighted to me just how far up their own arse the medical profession was, but that is a whole other discussion. The first shrink I was sent to was male, he had no idea how to communicate with a woman, let alone one with wrecked hearing, and no idea how he was going to communicate with me given that I was unable to talk at that time. Our interview lasted less than fifteen minutes during which he had not understood one single thing. Despite this he wrote a report on me running to six sides, all of it just subjective opinion, yet on the basis of his report people in authority were deciding things about me, some of which influenced the military police in how they conducted their investigation.

Flesh Wounds

As time went on and I moved hospitals things did improve and once I was in a Dutch speaking military hospital attitudes shifted noticeably. I was tended to by female staff only, a simple but sensitive step. Before doing anything to me they would take the time to ask me first by writing the request down on a pad. This sounds like a small thing to you reading this now but when you have no control over what is happening to you it matters, when your own brain can barely control your own limbs or formulate your mouth to speak that little bit of self determination matters. Dressing changes on my wounds were hell incarnate. The ones on my back alone took an hour to just remove, changing the dressings over my vulva left me in tears and peeling away the dressing on my breast would leave me soaked in sweat. Once the dressing changes were complete I was left feeling like the last jelly on a plate, and just to round off the experience would come the realisation that tomorrow it would start again the next day. I refused to look at myself in a mirror for a very long time, it took the careful and tender coaxing of my lovely plastic surgeon for me to finally look at my own face again, that was eight months to the day after the attack. When the repairs on my pelvis reached the point where I could once again control my own bladder I wept with joy, for days after I would go to the wc and pee, stop, pee, stop, pee, stop just reveling in joy of having that bit of control once more – I doubt that you reading this could ever appreciate that pleasure !

Womb Loss

For me the real loss,and the one I grieved over for a very long time, was the loss of my womb. During the fight with my attacker he had at one point kicked me so hard that the blow lifted me a meter up a wall. My recollection of the attack is hazy at best but that part I do recall well, I felt the moment my uterus tore and in the instant knew I lost the chance of children of my own. When the medical team found me it was the torn uterine arteries that were going to kill me first, the head injuries would have as well of course, just more slowly. A very brave USAF trauma doctor opened me up there on the floor resecting my uterus enough to clamp off the arteries, he saved my life of course but killed a part of me. Later in surgery I had a partial hysterectomy and that was that. I had always wanted children.

 

Coming To My (Remaining) Senses

Sound

“Would you rather be deaf or mute?” is a question you hear sometimes. I have been both and I can tell you it is better to be deaf. Personally I think if a mute person kills anyone they should get an automatic pass on any conviction because you have no idea, no idea at all, just how stupid, insensitive, impatient, rude and insulting human beings are until you are mute. When mute you are treated like you have had all your brains shovelled out of your skull with an ice cream scoop. Prejudice and discrimination start from the very moment they realise you cannot talk, you are effectively dismissed from their presence and mind, you become a shadow in the world. The day I learnt to say my own name again………….it was the most wonderful high I experienced in my life up until then, with the return of my ability to say my own name I started to feel like I was regaining something of myself. In time some of my hearing did return on one side but its return also came with a warning from the audiologist, it would at some point almost certainly fail and fail beyond any point at which it could be rescued and that I should be prepared for that, as if you could. In the end it lasted three more years, just long enough to hear the first words of our first (adopted) daughter. We use sign language a lot in our household. Our oldest son is profoundly deaf since birth so for us sign is our first language. I also lip read, though this is a very imperfect thing, even the best lip reader will identify little more than thirty percent of the spoken words, much of the rest we fill in by reading face and body language. Sign language is a thing of beauty, wonderfully expressive in ways the spoken words cannot always achieve.

Vision

The attack also caused some damage to my visual cortex. This came to be much more of a problem after another injury just a few years ago which resulted in another intra-cranial bleed. I now have no low light vision (dusk), I have no sight in my lower right quadrant and some blind spots in my main field of vision. The decline in my sight does seem to have stabilised for now. I can function perfectly well in places that I know such as the city I live. I have an assistance dog who is trained to be my ears and my sight but when travelling I need an escort as well as my very faithful dog Sissi. With my remaining sight now in decline I have been taking lessons on how to manage with reduced sight in and around the home and out in the world. I am also learning how to read Braille in case my sight declines o the point where it is needed.

Surviving & Living

Of course leaving hospital was not the end, recovery is on going and eventually becomes management of those damaged and impaired areas of my body.. While in hospital I started another degree, this time in physiology. I knew the amount of damage to my body meant I was going to have to manage myself very carefully for the rest of my life so I resolved to learn all I could to maximise my chances. The value of the right nutrition had already been very emphatically shown to me. This study was also good exercise for my brain. Over a decade on I still have to manage my body carefully through diet, exercise, yoga and meditation.

I also learnt the power of love. Love of parents, siblings and family, love of friends, love of strangers wanting to help in any small way they could. Something I learnt in hospital is that lonely people die. I also learnt that communication is everything, so if your ability to communicate is impaired you have to pour all your effort into develop new ways. Sign language, draw, paint, write act, anything but keep communicating or even in the most crowded room you will become the loneliest of all creatures.
Rape and sexual assault are never, ever “deserved” under any circumstances. When you read or see something about an attack on a person never just swallow what the media tell you, engage your own brain and think for yourself. Look at who is saying what and question their motives, the more influential a person is who is saying something question them most of all.

As I have already alluded to, a few years ago following an accident I had another head injury and during my hospital stay it was found I still had one functioning ovary, complete with eggs. We had those eggs harvested. At Nina’s insistence she became a surrogate mother for my child. Nina give birth to my son Joost Karl on Jan 1st 2010. Just let me write those words once more……“My Son” because it is still so special to me to be able to say this. In a family no one child should be more special than another, each are special in their own right but Joost is special. Special because we thought I would never have a child genetically mine, special because my wife gave her womb, her entire body to bring him into the world, special because a dear friend was happy to donate sperm, special for all the medical staff who seeing how much this meant gave their time to help it happen and special for all my family who supported us every step of the way so that I could hold my son to my breast in our bedroom on the night he was born and cry for the death of the person I used to be before a so-called man decided he would impose himself upon me.

Rape reaches deep into the lives it touches in profound ways, if we are lucky we survive it but many do not as they are crushed by their rapist, by police, by the legal system, by the media, by society, and religions.

I have been exceedingly lucky.

Author: Judith van der Roos.

– – –

Rape Revisited

Judith

Judith

Eleven years ago I was sexually assaulted and left for dead. In the bloody aftermath of the attack the experts were not able to state categorically whether I had been raped or not. Mercifully the extent of damage to my skull and brain which had resulted in my deafness also limited my recall of the attack and so I was unable to contribute any useful memory. Given the nature of the injuries to my lower abdomen and pelvis it was thought unlikely that any rape would have taken place because the amount of blood loss via my vagina. The feeling was that it would have been enough to discourage even the most dedicated sadist. So for a decade I lived in the belief that while I had been attacked most brutally I had not been violated by rape.

In March 2008 I sustained another head injury and another intracranial bleed resulting in the need for further surgery to my brain, this time to preserve my eyesight. Within days of waking from surgery I began to realise that while some of my shorter term memories had vanished some of my longer term ones seem to have been released.

For some months I tried to deny these memories to myself. I tried to think of them as false memories, products of imagination or confused versions of reality, in short I tried to turn those memories into something other than what they probably were.  I realise now that this was a mistake, doing this contributed to the depression and acute anxiety states since.

I knew I was slipping into a form of depression, this is common enough after major brain surgery and so I put it down to that. I also appreciated that I was living in fear of my reduced senses because my eye sight repeatedly failed me, but I pushed on with life, stuffing my fears and anxieties deep down inside me.

This worked for a while, until I encountered a very aggressive muslim man in a supermarket in town who took exception to the presence of my guide dog in the store. The event scared me senseless, it scared me back into our home, too frightened to venture out alone again for many months. One night soon after my wife sat me down and told me to tell her, but she had already worked out what I had been to afraid to tell her. I told her how I now recalled seeing my attackers face above me felt his weight on my broken pelvis, the agony of that over riding the pain of the actual rape, the rancid, rank stink of him close to me.

It was time to get some help.

I am very lucky, very privileged, to have a supportive extended family with deep resources, they found me a wonderful therapist who specialised in Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing (EMDR). For a little over a year she has walked me back through the last eleven years, facing up to all the negatives and building on all the positives. The first thing we dealt with was the validity of the memories I had been having since the last surgery. Real or not they were having a very real impact on me so now, for the first time I am going to say this publicly and then keep moving forward with my life;

“Hello, my name is Judith and eleven years ago I was raped, not sexually assaulted but raped”

Author: Judith