Nothing could have prepared me for the day my trust was betrayed and my body violated. And nothing prepared you, my brother, for what happened to me afterwards. For months you watched helplessly as I walked in darkness. Now I have begun moving into the light again. In many ways God has healed me. But occasionally I catch you looking at me in puzzlement, startled by a burst of bitterness or insecurity. Please be patient with me. Listen to my story. Perhaps you will still love me.
The pain is easy to understand. I lost so much that day - innocence, fearlessness, faith in someone I trusted. I lost hope. For months sweaty hands and heavy breath haunted my sleepless nights. By daylight men filled the streets, the lecture theatre, the church - each one, forgive me, my brother - even you, a potential rapist.
The shame is harder for you to grasp, and you have told me again and again that it is not my fault. But daily I face a barrage of voices you cannot hear. 'You must have done something to cause this. Surely you saw it coming. Slut! Naive fool! You asked for it.' I see it in the faces of everyone I meet - contempt or pity. It is hard to know which is more difficult to bear.
Through it all I wanted so much to glorify God. I prayed and read my Bible with intense zeal, but nothing seemed to work. I hated the man who attacked me, yet paradoxically I was not angry - it was as if my own failure gave him the right of abuse. The accusing voices never let up. 'You are not forgiving or joyful. Coward! Where is your peace?' This guilt overwhelmed all the others. When it came to the test I had failed my God. How I hated myself!
Letters, telephone calls and e-mails reminded me daily that I was loved. But somehow the message could not break through. I saw only the generosity and godliness of my friends and family, not my own worth. I scared you when I mentioned the buses and how easy it would be to escape the burden of guilt. Oddly it was not the thought of loved ones but the call of duty, 'the bus driver would be traumatised,' that kept my feet on the pavement.
My parents refused to let me sink, lining me up with doctor, counsellor, hospital and lots of prayer. At first I complied simply because I lacked the strength to refuse. What did it matter anyway?
But out of that despair the Lord lifted me. Slowly the clouds drew back and I saw the sun of righteousness rising with healing in its wings - just as he promised. In the light of that sun I now stand, and I know that it was the Lord who brought me out from under the yoke, because no one else could have done it.
How I rejoiced the day I first noticed the daffodils, the first time I laughed without bitterness, my first conversation with a man not crippled by fear. In so many ways I have been restored - but I still bear scars. The veneer of hardness and self-sufficiency is easy enough to see through, but do not despise me for it. At present it is necessary for self-protection and self-control. Trust will come slowly; right now it is inhibited by fear of betrayal. I still feel myself unworthy of respect - which explains the curious mixture of childish boasting and self-denigration.
I've dared attempt friendships with men again, but they are difficult. I resent the power that forces me to face my own vulnerability. I am hypersensitive to criticism and their approval seems to matter intensely. Perhaps I hope to placate them so they will not hurt me. Yet at the same time I vehemently assert my independence of men; I dare not risk being helpless in their hands.
I say 'they', but my brother, dear as you are to me, you are still a man and will therefore face the brunt of my pain and shame. Please do not give up on me. I need you, more than I wish to admit. But I cannot be honest and open unless I have the hope that you will be here tomorrow.
Do you dare walk as my companion for the duration of the journey? Can you offer me respect - listening carefully, maintaining physical distance, withholding judgement? Will you treat my emotions with dignity, not labelling them 'overreaction' or 'instability' - as I already view them with a contempt you could never match?
The injury of sexual assault is a heavy burden, and I will carry it a long distance before the last remnants are shed. Will you bear it with me?