‘I looked pretty that night’

Handcuffs [Illustrative] (photo credit: INIMAGE)
Handcuffs [Illustrative]
(photo credit: INIMAGE)
Yedida’s smile faded when our friendly conversation turned to a discussion about her rape. Her eyes darken, hurt by memories of the past.
The 64-year-old, who did not give her last name, recalls that night very clearly.
“My story isn’t dramatic. There was not blood splattered everywhere, nor did it include fighting or screaming – but rape is rape,” she says. “I am proud that I am coming out with my story.”
She was 20 years old when it happened; a student living with her sister and her brother-in-law in the Ohio countryside.
Originally from the New York City housing projects, university life and the freedom it offered appealed to her. Not having a car, she would go to and from college with her brother-in-law.
The night of the rape, Yedida was at a college bar frequented by people connected to the university.
“I looked pretty that night,” she recounts.
“I was wearing a black velour dress, not too short or too revealing.”
She had a beer, and was feeling a bit tipsy.
“I was interested in the arts, and ‘B’ was there. He was an artist. Our eyes met across the room, and I felt there was chemistry between us. I was naïve and trusted everyone.
“We talked for a while, and he told me where he lived, which happened to be quite close to my sister’s house.
I asked him for a ride home. I enjoyed riding his motorcycle on the country roads,” she continues. “B told me that he wanted to stop at his house. We walked in the house, and I waited for him to do what he said he had to do before taking me home. The alcohol made me feel weak. He somehow got me on the couch, and told me to be quiet because there were people sleeping in the house. I was confused.
“It became obvious that he wanted more than to talk about his attraction to me. I was scared, and my fear increased when he told me that he had a knife and I had to agree. That was the main word I remember that night, because when someone says they have a knife that means you have to obey.”
She does not recall if he pushed her down or not, but “I just lay there. It was as if I had left my body, as if Yedida was no longer there, I was just a shell.
He forced himself on me, and hurt me a lot,” she says. “Then he told me that someone would take me home, said goodbye and left. I felt like a dishrag, dirty, defiled, used.”
She found a paper and pen and wrote a message to those residing in the house. In the note, “I apologized for being there, and said that B left me there and would the first person who wakes up give me a ride home.
There were no cellphones at the time, and although I was only 10 minutes from my sister’s house, I didn’t know how to get home.”
She told her brother-in-law, and although she didn’t believe it was rape, he assured her it was. It took years before she understood that she had been violated.
What she remembers the most about that night was “the word knife, the pain, the feeling of guilt, and his face – the look in his eyes was scary, like a hungry animal.”
She believed that if she had not been passive he would have killed her.
“Guilt stopped me from looking for him afterwards,” she reveals.
Yedida’s story is not unusual.
Beth Martin-Koren, director of the Hasharon Rape Crisis Center in Ra’anana, cites statistics which show that one in three women in Western countries has been or will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime. One out of five women will be or have been raped; one out of five women is or will be a victim of incest; and one out of six men will be sexually abused, in most cases up to the age of 12.
Sexual assault is defined as “illegal sexual contact that usually involves force upon a person without consent or is inflicted upon a person who is incapable of giving consent because of age, physical or mental incapacity, or who places the assailant [such as a family friend] in a position of trust or authority.” The term sexual assault refers to sexual contact or behavior that occurs without explicit consent of the victim.
“Sexual assault is a social problem that comes from the fact that there is inequality between men and women; that women are portrayed as sexual objects,” explains Martin-Koren. “We see it everywhere.”
The nine crisis centers in Israel receive a total of 40,000 calls per year. Based on the calls that came to the centers in 2014, in 88 percent of the cases the victim knew the person who assaulted her. To further classify these cases, 90% of the calls are from women, and 66% of the calls are from women who were assaulted before the age of 18, but they did not call for support or information until many years had passed.
Among the calls, 36% were about cases of attempted rape or gang rape, and 26% involved cases of incest.
The center has two goals: to provide non-judgmental support, advocacy and information to victims and their families; and to reduce and prevent sexual abuse by raising awareness about the repercussions of sexual assault.
“Sexual assault,” notes Martin-Koren, “is a crime of control. It is not a crime of sex; however, sex is the weapon.”
“The assaulter takes the most intimate part of his victim.”
Feelings of guilt and shame are common.
The victim is left questioning herself: Could I have stopped it? Could I have run or screamed or done something else? According to Martin-Koren, Yedida’s reaction to freeze at the time of the rape was normal. “We tend to have three responses to trauma: fight, flight and freeze. In 70% of the cases, there are no physical signs of a sexual assault because the victim freezes and is left speechless.”
Often the victims of sexual assault are blamed more than victims of any other crime. People will search for a reason as to why the rape happened. Was she dressed provocatively? Why was she at a certain location at night? Did she behave in a way to encourage the rape? Is she in some way responsible? But, as Martin-Koren reminds us, “Religious women who are modestly dressed get assaulted, too.”
The center works with youth in schools where they discuss mutual consent, alcohol, awareness of one’s inner voice, peer pressure, pornography, the dangers of social media and the recognition that if something does not feel right, than it probably isn’t.
“We encourage girls to change the gender roles,” details Martin-Koren. “Girls can gain control by taking the initiative and asking boys out, and that way they can draw the lines.”
A national 24-hour, year-round hotline run by over 100 volunteers who have gone through a six-month training course is available. Many women who are raped feel that their power has been taken away from them.
“We are there to listen to them, to legitimize what they are feeling, legitimize the fact that they froze, and that they are not guilty,” clarifies Martin-Koren.
“We don’t ask them questions, we help them gain their control back. We don’t tell them what they should do, but encourage them to do what they believe is best for themselves.”
The center director says their services are not limited to female victims. There is a national hotline for men, religious men and support groups for families of victims.
Their most recent service is an online chat – the first and only. Open three days a week, it is for those who are not comfortable vocalizing their pain.
“We receive many calls in which the caller can’t speak, and all we can hear at the other end is breathing,” she says.
In addition to offering workshops for police, educators, medical staff and in workplaces, they provide information about therapists who are trained to work with victims of sexual assault and legal advocacy.
The center explains and guides victims through the process of filing a legal complaint should they decide to.
The process often includes enduring graphic, intimate and insensitive questions from the police.
FEW WOMEN file complaints right after the assault because of feelings of shock, self-blame, shame in front of family and friends, and guilt. Many are afraid to press charges because the law makes it difficult to bring such cases to court, especially where there is a lack of evidence that an assault actually did occur.
In many cases when it is her word against his, the case does not even go to court. Eighty percent of the cases, therefore, are closed.
The maximum sentence in Israel for rape is 16 years.
If pregnancy occurs, the sentence can be 20 years, and if a threat is involved during the assault, the sentence can also be 20 years.
“In general,” maintains Tal Yaacobi-Cohen, the center’s legal advocate, “sentences are not usually that long, which is another reason why women decide not to go to the police. The process is long and the final punishment will not be much.”
“Sexual assault is an issue of responsibility rather than guilt,” adds Martin-Koren. “Women have been conditioned to consent to things that they do not feel comfortable about. The reality is that one should use her intuition – if something does not feel right, it usually is not.”
Instead of blaming the victim, “we need to teach men not to rape and not to sexually abuse.”
Repercussions include confusion and flashbacks triggered by something associated with the rape, and often make the victim feel as if she is being raped all over again. In Yedida’s case, it was the songs “Hey Jude” and “Ruby Tuesday.” Both were playing in the bar the night she was raped.
Women who were continuously assaulted in her childhood may suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, relationship problems, difficulty holding down a job, disassociation, eating disorders and issues of trust.
“When the person closest to you abuses you, how can you trust people?” asks Martin-Koren. “All these are normal responses to an abnormal situation.”
For Yedida, the physical pain disappeared two weeks after the rape. But 44 years later, she admits that the emotional healing after “being entered without permission,” will take her whole life.
“Even now if a man looks at me intensely, I think he is looking at me as a potential sex object.”
She suggests that in addition to taking a self-defense class, “Women should work on being able to say ‘no,’ because we can choose our borders. We have a right to flirt because it is a natural body function, but we have no sexual obligations.”
To contact the rape crisis center: (09) 774-7760 or
www.1202.org.il (in Hebrew); national line for women, 1202; national line for men, 1203.