For those who have wondered what it’s like to run into your rapist, unintentionally, years after assault, my latest in Luz Collective is for you.
I’m glad English speakers took the word schadenfreude from the Germans. Adopting it was an emotionally intelligent move. The affective vocabulary English speakers rely on is slim and I look forward to the day that we develop a language abundant enough to articulate our internal hellscapes with precision.
Until then, we’re left fumbling, unable to name so many crappy states, including one that’s been on my mind since watching a TikTok video by anti-rape activist Wagatwe Wanjuki.
As Wanjuki lip syncs, “Actual goals, AF!” her TikTok performance unfolds to the tune and lyrics of Eva Gutowski’s Literally My Life. Clad in athleisure, Wanjuki flashes a grin and a thumb’s up sign. Glitter splashes across the screen and she imitates a victory dance while this message hovers overhead: “Me finding out my rapist graduated law school and became a lawyer.”
Wanjuki’s video spoofs the inverted schadenfreude to which rape culture subjects sexual assault victims. I’ve experienced variations of this state. It’s an absurd horror, well-suited for satirical or parodic interpretations given that rape victims living in the United States navigate a two-faced society. This duality comes into focus when the supposed illegality of sexual assault is juxtaposed against criminal justice data.
According to the nation’s penal code, rape ranks among the worst of crimes, a felony whose perpetrators deserve to be locked in cages. Criminal justice statistics, however, tell a much different story. According to RAINN, “perpetrators of sexual violence are less likely to go to jail or prison than other criminals.” In fact, “out of 1000 sexual assaults, 995 perpetrators will walk free.” These numbers underscore that rape is more accurately described as a theoretical crime. The volume of perpetrators walking among us shows that the ability to commit sexual assault free of repercussions is anything but rare. Instead, rape is a commonly exercised privilege.
Those of us who are the victims of rapists experience the ramifications of sexual assault across our lifespans. One of the ugliest and most painful dimensions of rape’s aftermath is exactly what Wanjuki so brilliantly communicated through TikTok. Rape culture requires the majority of sexual assault victims to co-exist in a society where our rapists do more than move freely. In a rape culture, our attackers thrive.
December 9, 2020. Read it at Luz Collective