Normal Calm: A Novel

When I first began writing a story whose protagonist was the victim of date rape, my intention was to clarify that any social stigmas attached to such a woman are unjust and outlandish. In my naivety, I thought that these stigmas only existed in conservative cultures where marriage within the community was encouraged and pre-marital sex shunned. I knew of the Arab views on raped women, and likewise, I had read about the views of such Indian women, but I was simply unaware that such stigmas existed in places like the USA or Australia. Recent events in these countries, however, have proven that victim blaming is, sadly, an international problem.

Over the past few years, college campuses throughout the US have exposed university staff as laying part (if not all) of the blame for rape on the victims. When have bravely come forth as rape survivors, they have often been met with remarks which question their consent to sex, their degree of inebriation and even their motives for coming forth.1 Similarly, when a woman filed a lawsuit against the Pennsylvania state prison  inmate in which she worked and where she was raped, one of the prison’s attorneys actually stated that the woman’s behavior had, at least in part, contributed to her rape.2 All such statements shift a woman’s position in the case from the victim to an accomplice.

Recent events in Australia have also exposed it as an apathetic home to its rape survivors. A survey of over 17,500 people showed that 20% laid some degree of responsibility of rape on the woman if she was intoxicated, and about 17% believed that a woman who said ‘no’ actually meant ‘yes.’3

With attitudes like that coming from people in two of the worlds most educated nations4, who has the stomach to hear what more conservative countries are saying?! Can we, with good conscience, single out Arab or Asian cultures and repudiate them for their claims that raped women are tainted or no longer desirable? Can more prosperous nations honestly maintain a holier-than-thou demeanor when other countries claim that a woman’s manner of dress or saunter marks her as easy prey for the predators?

This problem of victim blaming knows no boundaries. It is so widespread that one wonders whether it can ever be contained. With lawyers and security representatives as part of the problem, to whom do we turn to end this? If we assume a defeatist attitude and write off the current societies as un-changing, perhaps we could still save the younger, still impressionable minds. Perhaps there is a way to teach our sons and daughters that no matter what a woman wears, no matter what her level of mental awareness, she is still deserving of respect and that it is unjustified to hold her responsible for a criminal act committed upon her. This should be the basis of what we are taught since pre-school, but obviously humanity has failed our daughters.

There may be some skeptics out there who picture me as a mini-skirt wearing bar hopper. Well, let me just clarify that image for you: I am an Arab American woman who has never once had a drink of alcohol. And when I go out, I wear long, loose clothes and the only parts of my body that are visible are my face and hands. But despite that…despite the fact I don’t condone drinking nor dressing provocatively, I strongly believe that there is NOTHING a woman can do to invite rape. Whether she is drunk out of her mind, or walking buck naked throughout the streets, she has the right NOT to be touched. And if someone violates that right, then he is the criminal and all blame and responsibility fall on his shoulders.

With the heart of victim-blaming deeply embedded in so many societies, surely there will be no quick solutions, but that does not mean that we should postpone searching for them. One solution may be to impose sensitivity training for all persons who may encounter a rape victim.  Teachers, college personnel, police…anyone who may ever have to deal with a rape case should learn which questions, facial expressions, and implications are inappropriate so that they may avoid victim blaming. They should be made aware that the recovery process for rape survivors varies and it is possible that some victims may, at some point, blame themselves. Sensitivity training should teach that in those circumstances, the proper reply is not to concur with the survivor’s statements but rather to help her see that no one ever asks to be violated, and no one deserves it. Perhaps our youth need a unit in their health education class which clarifies the term ‘sexual consent.’ Perhaps we need to teach them that, indeed, ‘no’ can mean a variety of things: It can mean ‘Stop!,’ ‘Leave me alone!,’ ‘Don’t do that!,’ ‘I’m not comfortable,’ and ‘Get out!’ But one thing that it NEVER means is ‘yes.’ Perhaps that is one place to start on the journey to stop criminalizing rape victims.

 

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The author has provided an excerpt from Chapter Ten of her book below:

 

“What’s wrong?  You seem preoccupied.  Listen, Amina, I know that party planning can be really tiresome and time consuming.  If it’s paying too much of a toll on you, we can just have an intimate family dinner.  I’d actually really like that.”

“Oh, no, no,” Amina protested, trying to smile and force her face to look at ease.  Deciding that any further procrastination would be pointless and just intensify her anxiety, Amina took the box from her purse, opened it to make sure the ring was still secure inside and placed it on the table.  “Sherif, I have something to tell you, and I want you to hold onto this until I’m finished.”

He opened the box; discovering Amina’s engagement ring inside, his face went pale.  “What’s going on?  Are you….are you leaving me?”

“No, no. I mean, not really.  I just want you to hold on to it until you hear what I have to say.  If when I’m done you still want me to have it, I promise I won’t ever take it off again.  Okay, here goes…”

Then Amina began.  She reminded him of the group of friends she had at school that had been like a family to her.  She explained how close she was to Sahar and Layal, and how she’d considered Tariq and Rami her brothers.  Then she told him about the night of the rape, leaving out no details.  A few tears rolled down her face as she spoke, but her voice never faltered.  She looked down at her hands the whole time. 

When she was finished, she wiped the tears from her face, wishing Sherif would cross the table and take her in his arms.  She wanted to hear him say, “I’m so sorry.  I wish that had never happened to you.”  She just sat in silence, waiting for his reaction.  A few minutes later he finally spoke, making her wish he never had.

“When did you say this happened?”

“The spring before we met.”

“And it only happened one time?”

The accusation infuriated her, giving her the courage to look Sherif straight in the eyes.  “Excuse me?!  You make it sound like I just told you I had casual sex with a guy I met….and I can’t tell you how offended I am.  I was raped.”

He was quiet for a while, until Amina gently asked him what he was thinking.

“Well, for one thing, why didn’t you tell me about this earlier?”

“Sherif, it’s not the kind of thing I go around announcing to everyone.  I told you when I felt you should know.”  All of his questions, his mannerisms, his overall reaction could mean only one thing: Amina’s mother was right.

“Tell me,” Amina snapped, figuring Sherif had already made up his mind anyway.  “Why is it so important that you be the first one to enter me?”

Sherif was shocked by her brashness.

“Oh, please.  That’s what this is all about, right?  Your bride has to be a virgin, even if you’ve slept with hundreds of girls before.  Right?  I mean, if I were divorced, or widowed, you wouldn’t have given me a second glance.”

“No, Amina, that’s not right.  In those cases there would have been a legitimate reason for you not to be a virgin, but this…”

Amina cut him off with a tone that startled even herself, “But rape isn’t a legitimate reason?!”

“It’s not that Amina, it’s just that….”

“That what?”  she urged.

Her insistence and tone made him answer without thinking, “That I have no way of knowing how many other men you’ve been with,” and even before the words had completely been spoken, Sherif wished he could take them back.

“I’m not going to sit here and defend myself to you when I’ve done nothing wrong.  You have your ring…if I hear from you in the next couple of days…fine.  Otherwise, I’m sorry we’ve wasted so much of each other’s time.”

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Hend Hegazi is a full time mother of four and freelance writer whose debut novel, “Normal Calm,” was released in January 2014 by FB Publishing.

 

Sources:

  1. Why It Really Matters When College Officials Say Terrible Things About Rape
  2. Pennsylvania woman blamed for her own rape in state response to lawsuit
  3. One in five say drunk women partly to blame for rape, survey finds
  4. Top 10 Most Educated Nations

 

(Photo Source: Hend Hegazi)

 

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