Monday 4 August 2014

I'm Sharing This Here.

Trigger Warning up ahead.

There’s no easy way to say this, so I’m just going to come out and say it.

I was raped this summer. 

I was raped by a stranger with mask and a gun.

It was violent, terrifying, and at one point, I didn’t think I’d be alive to share this with people today.  

There’s no need for a lot of details, but basically one night in June in Kumasi, myself, Mark, and all of our housemates (about 12 of us in total) were settling in for the night after an awesome day of hanging out, swimming, and enjoying supper together.  At roughly 10 PM, three armed cowards forced their way into our home, and for (what I think was) 30-40 minutes, terrorized me and my friends while they took whatever electronics and money they could find.  

Most of my friends and family in the house were being held downstairs by two of the robbers on the main floor at gunpoint, kneeling on the ground while the two men rifled through the office.  Upstairs, I was paraded from bedroom to bedroom with a gun at my back, while the third robber filled the backpack he’d found with whatever he felt worth taking. As far as he knew, I was the only person upstairs.  I knew otherwise - two people had successfully locked their bedroom doors and were quiet as mice, and three of my other friends, I knew, were hiding somewhere.  It wasn’t until after the three men had left that I learned my three friends had been hiding under the bed on which I was raped.  EDIT: Some people have asked me about this last particular detail, so I'd like to clarify. There was a gun to my head. The man had a gun in his hand.  A gun. With bullets. I know my friends wanted to do nothing more than crawl out from other the bed and stop what was happening, but they were powerless.  Doing so could have risked my life and/or their lives.  Furthermore, there were still two men with guns downstairs with all of our friends and family.  Who knows how things could have escalated.  I am glad my friends made the decision to stay hidden.  We are all alive because of it.

I will never know this person’s reasons for what he did.  It was perhaps opportunistic - as far as he knew, he and I were the only people on the second floor, and he had a gun. Or maybe this is his thing that he does in every house he robs.  Some have suggested that it’s because I’m white, though I honestly think it had mostly to do with the fact that I’m a woman, and he had a gun.  I don’t really know, and it really doesn’t matter.  All I know is that this pathetic human being used his position of power to do what he could only do forcibly.  And he did some serious wrong.

Why didn’t I fight? I really wish I could have. I consider myself a fighter, but I’m not stupid either.  Even the strongest of people will cave when there is a loaded gun pressed against their heads.  I wish I could have stopped it;  I replay things every day in my head to search for a different action, for a faster decision, but it all comes to the same conclusion: there was literally nothing I could have done differently if I didn’t want to die that night, or worse, cause someone else to get hurt in the process. 

It only took him less than two minutes, but this scumbag has caused me months, if not years of psychological, mental, and emotional damage.  What was less than two minutes for him has resulted in an ongoing battle with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and depression for me (which I am getting help for).  It resulted in a month of nausea, anxiety, and fatigue as I went for a number of blood tests and consumed 10 pills a day as a preventative measure against a number of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) - thankfully, the hospital staff in Ghana was nothing but thorough, professional, and compassionate through all of the aftermath, and I am so grateful for everyone who worked with me there. This event has cost me many sleepless nights and days where all I can think about is whether or not my HIV test will come back positive, and whether or not Mark and I will be able to start a family any time soon. (my first test came back negative, in case you were wondering! I have two more to know for sure.) My attacker still hasn’t been caught, but I have been incredibly impressed with the non-stop efforts of the Kumasi police, who have caught one of the armed men, and a handful of people associated with the robbery.  There is still hope!

So why am I sharing this here? Why not just keep this to myself and my close friends and family?

I’m sharing this here because I don’t believe that there is any shame attached to this, just like there isn’t any shame attached to anyone who has been raped.  The only place shame, blame, and guilt should exist in any case of rape is with the attacker, and no one else.  As such, there’s no shame in sharing this.  

I’m sharing this here because though I am not ashamed, it is incredibly difficult and awkward to share something so personal and traumatic in everyday conversation - even with people I am close with.  There’s no bigger downer in a conversation than sharing the fact that you’ve been raped.  It’s hard on people.  Heck, even my own doctor needed to step out of the examination room and collect herself when I told her what happened. If you’re my friend, family member, or colleague, and this is how you’re finding out, please know it’s not because I don’t trust you, or that I felt I must hide this from you.  

I’m sharing this here because though I am not ashamed, I relive the event each time I share it, and that is mentally and emotionally exhausting (some days it’s even physically taxing, if you can believe it).  I don’t mind talking about the consequences of my rape, or sharing with you how my recovery is going, but reliving the actual event itself is more difficult than you might know. Therefore, I’m going with a whole general-sharing method to limit my exhaustion. 

I’m sharing this here because I want you to know that now you know this, you can be normal around me. Seriously, don’t act differently towards me or skirt the issue.  I’m not damaged or delicate - I’m a tough girl, and I bounce back quite easily. If you want to ask me questions, then ask me questions.  I would be more than happy to engage in a dialogue with you and share my thoughts with you.  

I’m sharing this here because through sharing it, I have been horrified to learn that an alarmingly large number of people in my life, all women, have also been raped, and it was only until I shared my story with them that they shared theirs with me.  WHY IS THIS HAPPENING TO SO MANY PEOPLE? This raises a whole set of issues and concerns too great for this post, but I want to share my experience as a way to encourage other women and men who have been raped to speak out as well. This is a largely silent and invisible epidemic, and it can only stop if we all can feel empowered and courageous enough to stand up to it and speak out against it. I want to be one less silent voice in this.

I’m sharing this here because I really, truly believe that healing begins with reaching out and creating networks of support.  Sexual assault can (understandably) really confuse and mess people up and make them want to withdraw into themselves - hearing other experiences can create an atmosphere of vulnerability and openness, where people can feel safe sharing their own stories.  Not long after we returned to Canada, I read One Hour in Paris by Karyn Freedman, which is a harrowing personal account of rape and survival.  Though it was terribly difficult to read, Freedman’s book actually gave me the courage and inspiration to talk about my own experience and think about my own healing path.  If other rape survivors can benefit and find their own courage from hearing about my attack and recovery, then I consider it a service of love and encouragement on my part. I hope to write more posts about my recovery and the steps I have been taking to slay this dragon of trauma, so if you know someone who is also battling trauma and depression as a result of rape, and you think it would be helpful for that person to read this, please don’t hesitate to share this with him or her.  If I can help even one person, then I will be happy.

Finally, I’m sharing this here because this is a part of who I am now.  It will shape how I see things in the future, and how I act and feel about some things, but it doesn’t make me broken, or damaged.  I have merely suffered an (invisible) injury, which is well on its way to healing.   I am not anything different from who I was before, but this is nevertheless a part of me, and one that I must accept - to deny it would be to deny a part of myself.

So now you know. I am a survivor, unbeatable and unbreakable. This pathetic, despicable, waste-of-space of an individual has not defeated me or stolen my future joy.  I have an incredible will and an even stronger self-worth, and with the amazing support of my spectacular husband (That’s right! We got married! Details in later, less depressing blog posts!), and my loving family and friends, I will continue to enjoy a life full of happiness, opportunity, and love.  

Until next time, 

Jo Boots <—See? I’m married! I get a new last name!)

PS. Here is a photo of kittens to cheer you up.



  1. What an extraordinary post. I am so sorry you had this horrific experience. I am amazed you can write about it so thoughtfully and so soon. I am blogging about a (much less) traumatic event - took me a year to be able to do so... Your strength shines through! (My son spent 2 years in Ghana with EWB, so this was particularly chilling!) hang in there.

  2. Thank you :) It's been a tumultuous past four months emotionally, and I really appreciate the encouragement :)

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