Memories

** Trigger warning **

One of my friends sent me a link this morning to this article: Why Don’t Cops Believe Rape Victims?

It talks about a phenomenon that’s really well known if you’ve received training in rape counselling, but perhaps is much less understood in the wider world: women who have been raped can very rarely recall their attacks in neat, linear narratives, and frequently they have intense sensory memories that interfere with any ‘story arc’ that we might expect to hear. The above article, and many others beside, can tell you far more about the biological basis for those things than I can. But even if you understand the research, I think it’s still tough to grasp what that non-linear narrative means.

So I thought I’d tell you about mine. I remember pretty well how the situation developed – I remember chatting at the front desk, being invited to the back office. After that, I mostly have short flashes of memory, like those sepia flashbacks that action movies are so fond of using. I remember him coming towards me for the first time, grabbing my neck. I can picture his chest above my head and the precise colour of the mahogony desk in that room. I can describe what the booking system on the computer looked like. Those are the sorts of visual memories I have.

Then there are the sensory ones. I can feel being pushed to my knees, the pain when he reached the back of my throat and, later, his hot breath dampening my scalp. I can hear being called a “sick bitch”, the sound of his trousers against the cheap carpet, the hum of the air-conditioning unit, quiet sobs. I can’t really recall any smells – I suppose there weren’t many, in that office.

But those are the sorts of memories I have. They’re disparate, not in any natural order. And it’s why, when a person has ever asked me to tell them “exactly what happened”, I have refused. Because what could I tell them that would satisfy them?

I don’t know if that’s helped understand what it’s like. But it’s the best representation of what my memories are – a jumbled and incomplete mess. And frankly, I don’t really want to sort through them. I suppose that might seem confusing – why wouldn’t you want to really know what happened to you? But one of the reasons I have steered clear of any counselling that might seek to ‘restore’ my memories is that I’m scared. Those things that I remember are unpleasant enough – I don’t feel the need to add to them. And whilst I can hardly claim to speak for every survivor of rape, I think that’s a fairly common thought.

Anyway, I thought this might be helpful 🙂

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  1. #1 by kerrichronicles on June 20, 2013 - 2:10 pm

    I grew up in a house where I raped over a period of 13 years. I remember specific details about the first time, like the pajamas I was wearing, the color, the conversations going on in the next room, the look on his face and my sense of fear. I was the age of two. But I can also relate to what you are saying having been raped over a period of so many years. I don’t remember all the specific details after the first rape. I don’t care too but I remember all the times I was raped, some things stand out and some things are buried. I am okay with the buried and daily work through those things that stand out. All the best to you, my friend.

  2. #2 by Vicky on June 20, 2013 - 5:46 pm

    Likewise. Certain things I can remember, others I have blocked out. More memories have come back during and since the trial but I know there are a lot of things that I can’t remember. And likewise, I am okay with that. I don’t want to add to the memories. What I have is enough, I don’t need to know any more.
    From a psychological point of view, this happens because of the way the brain encodes memories when you are experiencing a trauma – it’s not just rape victims that experience this, but those that have survived a plane crash/car crash earthquake or witnessed an extremely distressing event (ie someone being murdered). It’s the brain’s way of protecting you – yes, certain things you remember and they’re traumatic enough, but imagine how much worse it would be if you could recall every single detail.
    Just sucks that most people (especially the police & the justice system) aren’t aware of this -yet.

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