PAULA MEHMEL — Shoot The Rapids: There Is No ‘Type’ Of Rape Victim

I was 23 when I was raped in 1987.

I was also serving as a hospital chaplain as part of my clinical pastoral education for seminary. I remember — as the police responded and as the hospital staff tended to my bruised and battered body — how everyone kept saying, “And she’s a chaplain,” as if there was a “type” to be raped — and someone training to be a pastor was not in that “type.”

The circumstances of my rape were complicated. It was a stranger who I met at a beach, to whom I had spent the entire afternoon talking, who ironically was giving me a “short ride” to the downtown bus stop because I had missed my bus and didn’t want to get back after dark to the dangerous inner-city Portland neighborhood where I was living.

He was never caught, but I remember thinking that if he was, I was going to show up at the trial wearing a clerical collar, even though I rarely wear one. I wanted to say that “this is what a rape victim looks like.”

There isn’t a type. It can be anyone.

I began speaking publicly about my rape a few years later for that same reason —  not because I wanted to be “the face of rape” but rather to show that there is none. And I wanted to get past victim blaming.

Everyone who has ever been a victim, I suspect, at some point wonders what they think they did “wrong,” a mistake they made, an ingrained part of victim shaming. But the person responsible is always the one who raped. Never the victim.

In the aftermath of the recent Stanford decision, and as the conversation about rape culture grows louder, I have decided to speak out once again in solidarity, telling anyone who will listen that sex and rape are polar opposites, regardless of the context in which the rape occurs.

Being a survivor doesn’t need to define a person but even 29 years after the fact, I am fully aware that its impact never fully fades. I have chosen not to remain silent about my rape, and in so doing have learned to embody what it means to move from victim to victor following an assault, refusing to let it define me and instead, allowing me to define it.

I would not be ashamed if someone had broken into my house or my car, so I refuse to have any shame because someone did the same to my body. And whether that person had a weapon or the only weapon was their body makes no difference. Whether they are a stranger — or an acquaintance — makes no difference. And whatever they do or whatever their race or whatever their income makes no difference. I want the world to know that there is no “type” of victim.

But there is only one “type” of perpetrator. A rapist.

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