What can I do to cope with rape?
November 9, 2009 4:01 PM   Subscribe

I was raped in a foreign country. Going home is not an option. What can I do to cope?

I don't even know where to start. This is going to be disjointed, but I don't care. If anything is too graphic, then mods, please edit it.

A day and a half ago, I was raped. He was an acquaintance (friend's uncle), definitely not a friend. It was at the friend's house, friends were sleeping, and so was I, in the living room. Until the uncle came back in and put a knife to my throat so I wouldn't scream for help. Thankfully he never ended up seriously hurting me with the knife.

I'm a very analytical person, so unfortunately I'm running this whole thing through that filter. I'm trying to make sense of a senseless situation.

I'm a single expat in a Muslim country (living with a host family, I'm in my mid-20s), so I have limited resources. I was able to get the morning after pill, and took 2 Norlevo within 13 hours of the incident, and I plan on getting tested for STDs in a few weeks (is that how long I have to wait?). However, counseling services, support groups, etc. (especially in English) are hard to find. I only have one real English speaking friend here.

I decided not to press charges. My host family and I spoke to a lawyer, and I was very discouraged. They said that because a) he wasn't a complete stranger and b) he never cut/stabbed/scratched me, I have no evidence. They said that here, in this country, it will be a months-long process (which will destroy the lives of both myself, and the host family), and it's almost certain that at the end, he will walk, without charges. The police won't believe me, they said. Also, here in this country, it is CERTAIN to hit the TV and tabloids ("local man raped foreign girl... or did he?") and I would NOT be able to deal with that.

Since I decided not to go to the police, a few people here have "taken things into their own hands"... specifically spending a little over 2 hours "teaching the bastard a lesson". I did not ask for this (and frankly, feel both horrible and glad about it). However, I am probably the only person who could speak up and save his life. I'm told this is how things work in this country, but part of my heart is crying out for mercy for him. I don't feel that it would be justice. But maybe I don't know how I feel.

I'm not sure what my question is, honestly, aside from "what next?" To any rape survivors out there, what online resources did you find most useful? What music did you find the most healing? What words did you find most effective to tell all those damn HAPPY people to go away, when all you really wanted to say was "F*** OFF!". How did you take care of yourself? I'm definitely triggered by a bunch of things, including trying to use a knife in the kitchen.. but i don't know whether that's because i really AM triggered by these things, or i subconsciously feel like I'm somehow "supposed to" be...

How did you figure out what to feel... I don't even know what I'm SUPPOSED to feel right now. Emotionally, I think I'm fine, and then 20 minutes later I break down in hysterics. In general, I think I'm a very strong person: I survived 15 years of abuse from my father, a near-kidnapping in Africa, and though I have pretty bad schizo affective disorder, I'm very high functioning. I know how to deal with crap in my life, and I know I'll eventually get through this ok. I will be moving to a different Muslim country in a few months, but going "home" to North America is not an option. I don't have the money, and I don't want to be anywhere near my father.

So yeah, I guess I just want to know "What next?" I'm a protestant christian, so any Christ-centered resources would also help. Thank you.

Throwaway email: joisurvivor@gmail.com
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (42 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Ia there an organization that placed you in the country/with the host family? Would it be possible to speak with them, if only for support? God, this is a horrible situation. Is there family at home you can talk to? It seems like you really need to talk to someone, a counselor, a friend, a trusted family member. I'm really sorry you're going through this.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 4:19 PM on November 9, 2009

I'm so sorry you're going through this right now. For what it may be worth, you're not 'supposed' to feel anything in particular. I've done rape crisis counseling training, and one of the first things that becomes apparent is even a situation less fraught with all your additional complications of being so far from home in a foreign country, there are a thousand and one different ways to feel after being raped and none of them are 'right' or 'wrong.' It's also fine if how you feel now is changing from day to day or even minute to minute, and what triggers you today changes next week. You've got a lot to process and there's no particular pace you have to go, or set steps you have to go through. You've done the immediate stuff -- morning after pill, deciding whether you want to press charges right away, telling your hosts, etc. -- and good for you for doing those things.

If there's any way to go looking for English-language resources for you, I'd recommend doing that strongly. Can you have someone post what country you're in, and maybe we could help you look? Is your internet situation such that you could try the online real-time counselling at RAINN? Although they're set up for counselling in the US they may have resources for you, and just having someone to talk to may be useful for you.

I would say the other immediate part of 'what next' is making sure you're safe from this person. If you're not going to press charges, and people have hurt him on your behalf even though you didn't ask for it, is he able/likely to come after you again? I would strongly suggest looking for somewhere else to stay - ensuring your safety is the critical thing right now. Your organization ought to be able to help with this - unfortunately, this is likely not the first time this has happened.
posted by Stacey at 4:25 PM on November 9, 2009

First, I'm so sorry to hear this has happened to you.

I'm definitely triggered by a bunch of things, including trying to use a knife in the kitchen.. but i don't know whether that's because i really AM triggered by these things, or i subconsciously feel like I'm somehow "supposed to" be...

This is a good question. I'm also very analytical, and I've wondered this myself after a couple of different traumatic experiences. At the time, I wonder whether I'm just dramatizing things, or whether my responses to certain sights and/or situations are "real." Maybe it's just that you're particularly self-aware, so as you're responding emotionally to certain stimuli, you're also able to compartmentalize and watch yourself doing so? I don't know—maybe someone who knows more about post-traumatic stress can comment on why this might occur...
posted by limeonaire at 4:31 PM on November 9, 2009

I have no advice for you, but I just had to say thank you. You are so strong, and so courageous, for speaking out. It sounds like you're already doing everything right. So many women in your situation remain silent and afraid, and ashamed. It speaks volumes of your character that you are not simply dying inside and letting your attacker steal your dignity.

Stay strong. Continue to speak out. I'm just some anonymous guy on the Internet, but for what it's worth, you have my sympathy. And my admiration. God bless you.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 4:32 PM on November 9, 2009 [22 favorites]

I have a friend who has found Daily Strength to be a very helpful source of support from people who share a common challenge. Here is the link to their rape support froup. Each support group has a different (but sometimes overlapping) membership so the quality can vary widely depending on the emotional maturity of the members. So, take a look at it, read some of the postings and see if you think it might be helpful.
posted by metahawk at 4:34 PM on November 9, 2009

Perhaps you could go speak to a lawyer by yourself? What you heard sounds plausible - but it's also true that your interests and those of your host family do not necessarily coincide here.
posted by kickingtheground at 4:46 PM on November 9, 2009 [5 favorites]

It might be a good idea to contact an embassy or consulate of your native country. They might know of some resources to help you. They're diplomatic over there, too, so they should be sensitive to your host family's situation -- but just in case, I'd start your conversation with them cautiously and anonymously, if possible, and trust them more as they show themselves trustworthy.
posted by amtho at 4:54 PM on November 9, 2009 [3 favorites]

I just wanted to say I'm so sorry to hear about what happened and say that you sound like you are doing what you need to do to take care of yourself.

Also, why is going home is not an option? The best place to heal from any kind of traumatic experience is surrounded by friends and loved ones-- so in terms of that, going home or somewhere you have lots of friends and lots of social support is good.

In terms of recovery, the best stuff to do tends to be what feels right to you-- if you want to talk about it, talk about it, if you don't want to talk about it, don't talk about it. But anything that increases your connections to others is likely to help and anything that decreases them is likely to be harmful in the long run (though, of course, solitude is also helpful-- just not isolation).
posted by Maias at 5:09 PM on November 9, 2009

You definitely want to go to your embassy, you need state protection or advice from this kind of situation. Also, about the "teaching the bastard a lesson" issue: you really, really don't want to get further involved in any extra-legal eye-for-an-eye feuding over this.
posted by Kirklander at 5:10 PM on November 9, 2009 [12 favorites]

I'm so, so sorry.

Nthing the advice to go to your home country's embassy so that there are authorities involved -- people outside the host family, the friend's uncle's circle, and the lawyer your host family took you to. I'm imagining all kinds of potential escalations, and it would be better if you're protected by -- or at least known to -- some entity outside that group.

Also ... can you get help from a friend in getting back home? If this happened to a friend when I was in my 20s, I'd have put together my own cash and what my parents could lend me, and I would have bought her a ticket home and kept her in my apartment if she didn't want to see her father. If I were you, I'd want counseling services and a support group, and I'd think you'd find those most easily back home.
posted by palliser at 5:19 PM on November 9, 2009

I am very sorry. If you want this, I would suggest contacting your embassy or host organization and explaining that, for your safety, you would very much like to get out of the country now.

You do not need to go home to your dad, but you can still return to your own country to be with friends. It sounds like the environment you are in does not give you any support in this matter.

I would also recommend documenting what happened, with photos, notes, and evidence collected by a reliable party - a doctor - whether you choose at this time to prosecute or not. It will be valuable if you change your mind later.
posted by zippy at 5:27 PM on November 9, 2009

I'm terribly sorry - that's awful. It is a senseless situation. I'm analytical too, so I know what you mean about finding your feelings. Some of the advice above is great, the best of it is that you're not *supposed* to feel one thing or another. Whatever you're feeling is valid, and it may not make any logical sense, but that's fine. You should seek therapy, either now or when you're in a place where you can. Contacting the embassy, especially if you're near one, is one of the first things you should do.

But don't listen to racist clap-trap like this:

I think it might be a good idea to get out of the country now. It would help to know what country you're in, but in too many Muslim countries these sorts of incidents perpetuate a cylce of violence; I would worry that the Uncle's family sees you as having besmirched his honour and comes after you. You know the culture better than I do, but it's a risk I would worry about.

I'm not sure you can get the support you need where you are, given Muslim attitudes to women and rape in general.

First of all, rape tends to be quite uncommon in most Muslim countries, particularly when one is in an "honored" position such as a guest in someone's home. Rape of someone who is clearly from another culture - particularly a Western one - is even more unusual. This has something do with why you may have a hard time finding resources there than in, for example, America.

Sadly, most of the world has a problem dealing well with rape - you're probably not in a situation all that different from one you'd be in if this occurred in large parts of South or Central America or Macedonia or Armenia or India or any number of places. It's unlikely the police won't believe you and they wouldn't find the guy guilty. This is still largely true even in America.

That said, the system of honor in place in many lesser-developed countries does offer some remedies for these things. Granted, as someone who was raised in America or Canada (I assume from your writing), these may not be very satisfactory. One remedy was already taken - someone beat the crap out of him. This isn't proper Christian or Muslim behavior, but it is something that developed over time in a place without access to working courts and formal justice systems. (And I might add to latent racists, it's the way this was handled until very recently in the USA.) I can't tell you how to feel about it, other than to say that this rapist knew full well that it was a likelihood, so don't feel too bad for him.

As far as the attitude toward rape in Muslim countries, the fact is that - while the victim often has the unfair onus of proving such accusations to people who are likely quite skeptical, this does not appear to be such for you, as it seems some people recognize the truth. In Montenegro, he'd already be dead, strung up by his balls.

Sadly, speaking out is likely to do nothing but cause problems for your host family. The remedy I'd suggest is to go to the rapist, accompanied by the fellows who taught him a lesson. This should be done in a way that implies a threat. In doing so, you should accuse him directly, and demand a confession, an apology and some form of restitution. This would accomplish a lot: shaming him, giving him a chance to spare his life by agreeing to your demands, sparing your host family any rumors or hassles, and (perhaps) making you feel a little better by seeing his contrition. The restitution is blood money. I wouldn't want it, but it's important that he pay it (whether in cash or livestock or whatever.) I'd give it to charity myself, but that'd be up to you.

It probably seems crazy, but metaphorically, you're in Rome.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 5:43 PM on November 9, 2009 [11 favorites]

The remedy I'd suggest is to go to the rapist, accompanied by the fellows who taught him a lesson. This should be done in a way that implies a threat. In doing so, you should accuse him directly, and demand a confession, an apology and some form of restitution...The restitution is blood money. I wouldn't want it, but it's important that he pay it (whether in cash or livestock or whatever.) I'd give it to charity myself, but that'd be up to you.

How is this solution any less racist than pointing out that the culture of her host country might put her in increased danger for a second attack?

I think it sounds like a terrible idea for any number of reasons. You should worry about yourself first, the host family second. Do whatever makes you feel safe. Confronting your rapist, even if you've got a whole group of people on your side, might not be the best way to accomplish that.
posted by slow graffiti at 5:52 PM on November 9, 2009 [3 favorites]

I'm so sorry that you're going through this. RAINN offers online counseling 24/7. Whenever you have the first opportunity, definitely see a health practitioner, preferably one who speaks English and is equipped to run/send labs, who can tell you about risks.

You'll want to have tests for chlamydia, gonorrhoea, syphilis, and trichomoniasis which involve urine tests, swabs, or cultures. Have you had your Hep B course? Although they don't routinely run it, you can also get a Hep C course. The practitioner should also do a pap, pelvic exam, and cytology, but you will probably have to maintain vigilance for symptoms of HSV and HPV since they're viral. For HIV, you can get an RNA test after around ten days, but for the more common antibody test you need to wait at least 2 - 8 weeks, and you would get tested again after three months even if there's a negative result.

I don't know how accessible any of these may be, but if you're able to add information about where you are, we could probably help you find resources.

Although you'll want to speak to a physician about it, normal protocol for possible HIV exposure involves prophylaxis with a couple drugs within a time window of 48 (or as soon as 36) - 72 hours after exposure.
posted by palionex at 5:57 PM on November 9, 2009 [2 favorites]

Do not feel that you are responsible for what happens to this man. You need to be focusing on yourself right now, and the last thing you need is to feel guilty about what happens to him. Don't place that burden of his punishment on yourself -- you did not ask for it, and knowing about anything that may still happen to him does not imply that you approve of it. Your conflicting emotions are completely valid, so don't feel like you should have a clear plan about what to do so soon after everything.

I know you're hesitant to go home to North America, but I agree with other people that say this would probably be the best environment for you to heal. At the very least, contact your embassy. They may be aware of resources that can help you.

Good luck. What a terrible situation, but you sound like an extremely strong, brave woman. You're in my prayers.
posted by lilac girl at 6:17 PM on November 9, 2009

First of all, how awful. I'm so sorry. You must be really shocked and scared.

I'm going to speak particularly to the analytical part. If you're currently engaging with this situation on a hyper-analytical level, I recommend rolling with that. Yeah, denial blah blah blah, not so good for you in the long term, but it's really, really seriously useful in the short term. If your subconscious is maintaining this kind of detachment for you at the moment, that means that you have more resources to bring to bear to the necessities of your situation. I'm glad to see that you have been able to attend to the most immediate realities of ensuring your physical health, for example.

The danger, of course, is deciding that the detachment means you're "over it" or that it "wasn't that bad." That's the mistake I made in dealing with my assaults. It doesn't, at all; it's like novocaine at the dentist. It keeps you numb so you can do what you have to do in the short term. But it's going to wear off, so start preparing for what you're going to do when that happens.

Take notes of what triggers you now; the knife thing, for example, is good to know about. When you have weird, strong feelings, journal them no matter how weirdly hyperanalytical it feels. The compassion you feel for your rapist for the violence he's received on your behalf? Write about it, and about your other mixed feelings. This isn't the therapy "scribbling on a page" writing, this is the "hm this is probably stuff that's going to be important later" writing.

Most importantly, when the detachment DOES start to wear off, resist the temptation to artificially prolong it. The comforting numbness of alcohol or self-destructive behavior might be right there like a warm cozy blanket, but sadly it doesn't help, it just causes more problems.

The music that helped me was very much a product of its time -- lots of Nirvana, Tori Amos, Nine Inch Nails, etc. I don't know how well much of it will transfer, but I'm available to talk about that and anything else you'd want to. I hope this information is helpful to you, and that the rest of the AskMeFi community gets you the answers you need.
posted by KathrynT at 6:18 PM on November 9, 2009 [3 favorites]

How is this solution any less racist than pointing out that the culture of her host country might put her in increased danger for a second attack?

Well for one, because there's nothing racist about my solution. And second, it's a racist assumption in ascribing "a" culture to the entirety of the Muslim world - as you've done. There are as many cultural differences between Istanbul, Zanzibar, the Muslim suburbs of Detroit, Dubai, China's Uighur territory and Jakarta as there are cultural differences in the "Christian" world . . . but most people in the West talk about the "French" or the "Italians" or the "Russians" or "New Yorkers" - and not "Christian culture." It's a fault that people see things that happen in certain Muslim countries as "Muslim," without realizing that many of these things are centered in shared history, economic conditions and geography more than religion. That's why they also occur in places like Paraguay and Greece and that's why I mentioned a lot of places that weren't necessarily Muslim or Christian - yet share these methods of dealing with things, which - for all their faults - are time-tested and more universal than the justice systems of the Western world.

Obviously, as any victim of rape instinctively knows, the first thing to do is to ensure one's own safety. I trust that the original poster intuits this, and has enough sense not to go against what she feels safe and confident in doing. But I've stated it explicitly for those who need clarity.

I know people who wouldn't fly from America to France after 9/11 because they believed that terrorists "liked" France and that they stood a greater chance of being victims there. It was stupid, but there's little to argue when you're dealing with utter cluelessness. And contrary to what's popular to think in America, the world outside McDonald'sland is not really one of total anarchy and random violence. There are systems in place - though they may seem alien to many of us - to deal with these problems. They are often workable in their own way, oddly enough.

I wrote my initial post specific to the initial one, where the poster is writing from a place where most remedies available to rape victims in places like America are alien or unworkable. Rape is one of those things where no solution really works. I don't know of a single rape victim who would rather not have been raped. Whether it's life in prison for the rapist, seeing the rapist hung, chemically castrated, forced to live in seclusion or whatever, the end is quite obviously unsatisfactory when compared to the hypothetical alternative of never having been raped in the first place. My sympathy is with the victim here, and I'm realistic enough to offer a possible remedy that relates to her environment - however weak that remedy is - and support the good advice already offered (seeking the embassy's help, and therapy), rather than engage in racist one-size-fits-all depictions of Islam and "America, Fuck Yeah!"-styled advice that may be the worst in for her situation. (Like "speaking out," which sounds really great - anyone who's seen my posts about wartime knows I'm big into speaking out - but in the poster's situation it's likely to cause big, long-term problems for people I assume that she'd rather protect. Consequently, that's bad advice.)
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 6:35 PM on November 9, 2009 [8 favorites]

I'm so sorry.

A couple people have suggested contacting RAINN, and I was going to do the very same thing.

also, you say that you are there with a host family -- contact the organization that placed you with that family. this is unquestionably something that they would want to pursue -- if for no other reason than to not place anyone with that family ever again. But something tells me that they will take it much further than that, and help you make whatever arrangements you feel you need to make to heal (get you home if that's what you want, help you with legal arrangements if that's what you want, etc.).

Good luck.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:44 PM on November 9, 2009 [2 favorites]

First of all, don't worry about other people. Don't worry about the rapist or the host family or your family or anyone else. You don't need to be polite or make this comfortable for them.

Second allow yourself to feel whatever you feel, even if you think it might be odd or inappropriate. With one huge caveat: Don't blame yourself in any way. Later on, it will be good to let the shame and embarrassment and anger go, but right now it is too soon to be worrying about what you "should" be feeling.

I sounds like you are in a unpredictable and unsafe situation. Try very hard to find someway to remove yourself. I agree with EmpressCallipygos that contacting the agency is a good move as is contacting the embassy. I would also try to find a church or somewhere else where you can be alone, yet feel safe.

I'm so sorry this happened but I 'm hoping you will find the strength within to deal with it. Good Luck.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 8:02 PM on November 9, 2009

I'm really sorry this has happened. Go to the embassy, ask for advice. They can probably give you the most practical advice and may be able to recommend an english speaking therapist. They can also probably help you navigate this situation with your host family. Unfortunately, I am guessing they are right about prosecuting the rape (but the embassy should be able to either verify or refute this).

I would stay out of the street justice side of it and let your host family deal with it however their culture/community deals with rape, as long as it does not directly affect or involve you. This may sound awful, but feel absolutely no guilt for whatever happens to him. He is a member of his culture and community, he knew the consequences for viciously raping a woman under a friend's care in their home. If it bothers you, tell your host family you just don't want to know. Whatever happens to him is NOT something you did to him or are responsible for. He did this to himself when he made the decision to rape you. And remember it is very unlikely you are his first victim, you may just be the first to talk. I am not advocating street justice, I'm just saying that his welfare is not your responsibility and should in no way weigh on your conscious during this difficult time in your life.

I would also reach out to any western/expat frequented churches in your area. It obviously varies from country to country, but many expat communities have churches that are predominately attended by western ex pats and with western clergy. It might be comforting to talk to someone in the clergy who shares the same culture as you, and of course your same religious views.
posted by whoaali at 8:05 PM on November 9, 2009

I am so sorry that this happened to you. I think the suggestion to seek counseling through RAINN online is an excellent one. You mention living with a host family, which leads me to believe you are present in the country through some sort of organziation- religious, volunteer, educational, or otherwise. If this is the case, perhaps there is someone at this organization from whom you can seek help, or at least a referral to some sort of women's health center? Also, you don't need to go home, but it is possible for you to relocate to another city or town? Or could you make your upcoming move happen sooner? I feel that it would be best for your emotional well-being to move away from this family and away from the constant reminders.
posted by emd3737 at 8:40 PM on November 9, 2009

Wow. You are so courageous to be dealing with this...the fact that you opened up to your host family, spoke to a lawyer, etc, is awesome. So many people keep things inside. Just being able to open up and tell people about it is a huge step.

Other rape survivors can tell you what they felt and what they went through and that might guide you through the healing process, but please try to remember that your feelings are valid and anything you feel is okay. Nobody can tell you that your feelings are "correct" or not, because they're yours and yours alone.

In terms of people "taking things into their own hands," remember that he attacked you, and anything that happens to him is the result of his actions alone. You are not responsible for what happens to him.

Please know that we all are keeping you in our thoughts and prayers.
posted by radioamy at 8:49 PM on November 9, 2009

Mod note: A couple comments removed. When we get to the "go fuck yourself" stage this really needs to not be something that happens in an askme thread. Take it elsewhere or drop it.
posted by cortex (staff) at 9:11 PM on November 9, 2009


I'm sending all sorts of good thoughts your way, and I hope you can feel them, all the way from California. I am also so sorry to hear about what happened to you. The only thing I feel I can contribute is on the issue of what to do about people who don't get it and say or do every clumsy, inappropriate, or icky thing in the book, particularly in an effort to 'help'.

It made me think of a friend/colleague of mine, recently diagnosed with cancer, who discovered that part of her burden became other people, who made unhelpful suggestions as best (ooh, eat more omega 3, worked for my cousin!), or were callous at worst, making comments that minimized her experience (hey, cheer up! It could be worse! My cousin has X!) because THEY couldn't deal with their fears or feelings about cancer.

What struck me about her situation was that the only solution that freed her from everyone became one of compassion and honesty, with good boundaries. Compassion that the person she was talking to had no idea about how to cope, and was behaving badly as a result. Honesty in a candid, "You know, ultimately, I'm going to be okay with whatever happens, but for now I need....time alone/space/to reflect by myself/to pray/to meditate/to sleep/to read/to enjoy this sunset/to feel my grief/to feel my confusion/etc. Thank you so much for your attention/suggestion. I know you want to help. I will talk to you later/be in touch/see you soon?"

I noticed that she just sort of repeated variations of this over and over. These were her boundaries. And then she searched and surrounded herself with friends who understood her experience with cancer. I wasn't one of them - but I like to imagine that with them she got the support and space to feel whatever she was feeling that she needed from that community. Me, she just sort of needs for chats about work and movies, so that's my role.

I hope you also find the community of support you need. RAINN sounds like a great start.
posted by anitanita at 9:31 PM on November 9, 2009

Not to steal your line, but this might be a bit disjointed because I'm not always good at giving guidance/advice, but I'll try because some of this I know.

First, I'm sorry that this has happened to you. Something similar happened to me; I was raped, too -- by a guy with a knife. It's scary, isn't it? But you know what? You're going to live through this, and you're going to get over it. Really. Rape is not the end of the world. It's something really super horrible that happened, yes, but it's not still happening -- the event itself is over. And it does not have to define you. The raping was all him. The healing is all you. Separate it. What he did was wrong, but what you're going to do is right. He was mean and bad. You're going to be kind to yourself and accomplish good things. He is no longer holding you down. That part is history. You get to make your own future. Focus on that.

This is the part that you get to control.

And you have to get some control right away, as you clearly already figured out. You are already making good decisions by telling people close to you. And you did the right thing by reaching out to a community chock full of bright (kinda nerdy) people who really do care about one another. You sound like a smart woman; this will serve you well.

Breathe. I highly recommend it because it feels good and it's very good for you. Do some nice, measured breathing (like you do when you do yoga) to calm yourself whenever you feel a little freaked out. It can be a real sanity-saver. Breathe in deeply through your nose, drawing all the air deep into your body, then release it through your lips, quietly, as if you're deflating. Take a few normal breaths, then do it again. Nice and slow. It's so good for you.

You say you're analytical? Good. That's a good way to be, and you should use that to your advantage. KathrynT gave you some excellent advice upthread, so be sure you read and reread that. I agree that you need to play to your own strengths and feel your way through this by employing a method that feels comfortable to you for now. If what you're doing is helping keep you sane, roll with it.

You have to focus on doing the right things -- "right" is defined by you -- now.

(I sometimes find it easier to see my way through the confusion by relying on how I would advise someone else; maybe this will work for you -- what would you tell a good friend to do if she had been assaulted and asked you to help her think it through? Think about it this way if it helps. If not, no biggie; everyone does things differently, and this is about you.)

You get to decide how to proceed. You have a right to seek legal help (or country justice, it sounds like) to punish this guy -- or not. It's up to you. You get to make that decision yourself; you know what you can handle. You get to decide whether you stay put or leave where you are; I'm guessing that if you really needed to get out of there, you could find a way to do that. If you feel that staying put would be better for you, you can decide to stay put. You know the kind of decisions you can live with. No one else can be you right now, so you need to dig deep, get to a place where you feel some strength, and step up and make good, sound decisions for yourself. Prove to yourself that you can be your own advocate. Be responsible and treat yourself well because you're worth it.

You were wronged by someone else, but who has the power now? You do. Use it to make yourself feel better about this because in the long run, that's what counts: coming out on the other side of this mess strong and healthy. Use this opportunity to learn how strong you can be. I took that advice from a friend, and I came out the other side feeling pretty strong, so I know this is good advice. This is not me giving you a pep talk; this is me telling you from experience that this is all possible and necessary. (I'm not one of those naturally strong, happy, positive people; trust me when I say that.)

You will not mess this up. You really won't. You will make good decisions that will serve you well. You seem to be a smart woman who knows herself. You love yourself because you're worthy of that love, so don't forget that. And on this side, you have a lot of people pulling for you, wishing you the best. We want to see you healthy and happy, just like you want for yourself.

You asked about music, so I thought about what puts a smile on my face every time. You might find it a little goofy, but .... it puts a big smile on my face, so I'm passing it along. It's corny, but I love it. That music is just gorgeous and resonant. My other corny bit of advice is this: when you are near a mirror, look into it, into your eyes, and smile. Do it as often as you can. It feels phenomenal, it really does. Sometimes it might make you cry a little, but smile through that -- be your own advocate. Let your own smiling face cheer you up a little; recognize your strength. I know it sounds odd, but just give it a try. I swear it works.

Take care of yourself. You can MeMail me if you like. I won't judge you; it's not my style.
posted by heyho at 9:53 PM on November 9, 2009 [9 favorites]

I have never been raped. I am very sorry this happened. To me, you seem to be in a state of shock, in which it is very normal to process things rationally and distance oneself, though this self-protective state does not last forever. Although of course you should do whatever you please, I would leave and go and home now. There must be some way...

Considering the culture you are visiting is not racist, but prudent. When I was in Germany a few girls were gang banged by Muslims in a horrific way for holding hands with a Muslim boy. I know nothing about your situation or the country you are in, but I am scared for you. Different cultures make for very complicated, sometimes dangerous situations.

I believe you would be doing yourself and your host family a huge favor by going home immediately, despite what ever they say. From my understanding, a guest has sacred rights in a Muslim's home, and there are very strict guidelines for how woman are to behave. When these two laws come in conflict really bad things can happen.

Think about what's already going on and how this situation is being dealt with outside the law. Does this seem right and safe to you? This is a huge red flag. The fact that this situation happened at all (someone visiting the home of a relative and raping a visitor while the family was present) is insane. You simply cannot take your safety for granted at this point. I don't mean just from this uncle, but in general. Please, leave.
posted by xammerboy at 11:24 PM on November 9, 2009

The US State Department has a lot of information for Americans who are victims of crime abroad here.
posted by mdonley at 12:52 AM on November 10, 2009

I'm so sorry.

I wish I had something, anything to say. I only have one little thing: Not yet, but later, when you have recovered some, remember that helping others makes you feel good and eases the burden that has been placed on you.
posted by krilli at 1:45 AM on November 10, 2009

Not pressing charges is a bad idea. It doesn't give you closure and a sense of justice being done - also who's to say the perp won't do it again. At least if you do press charges he'd be apprehended and be brought before a court of law. Sharia law is pretty strict on these issues. I'd get in touch with your Consulate and have them intervene. You can't just sweep this under the rug and forget about it. Closure comes with justice.
posted by watercarrier at 3:59 AM on November 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

Please get in touch with your embassy as soon as possible. If you are in a country where your government does not have an embassy (for example, US in Iran) I would try either the Canadian or Swiss embassy. The embassy can get you medical care (including meeting with a crisis councilor), can help you navigate legal issues, and can even get you home if need be.
posted by anastasiav at 4:40 AM on November 10, 2009

You shouldn't feel bad about not pressing charges in this situation. The laws of some countries make prosecution virtually impossible. Sharia is religious, not state law except in very few places. Even if it were law, Sharia is extraordinarily misogynistic and could very well state that you must be punished for being raped. This isn't unusual at all. 50 years ago prosecuting rape in the United States was damn near impossible, and it's still not easy today.
posted by xammerboy at 4:41 AM on November 10, 2009

"Not pressing charges is a bad idea. It doesn't give you closure and a sense of justice being done"
As a police investigator I would like to say that pressing charges in no way guarantees experiencing a 'sense of justice'. Putting a victim through the system with a hard to prove case can be a second cruelty heaped upon them.
I think you should pursue counseling. The sooner the better. You sound like a very strong person and sometimes I suspect that trauma can be harder on strong people in the long run because they are so good at pushing the pain deep down and holding it there. There is a world of wonderful people who know so much about this, reach out to them. Me-mail me if I can help in anyway, if you want to write to someone online I will get you an email address for a rape counselor.
I am so sorry you are having to go through this, my thoughts are with you.
posted by InkaLomax at 5:18 AM on November 10, 2009

As a police investigator I would like to say that pressing charges in no way guarantees experiencing a 'sense of justice'.

For a woman who has lost control - momentarily through the actions of a perp, getting back a sense of groundedness, stability and control through the mechanisms of the judicial system and through finding courage where fear once stepped in - that is the door way to closure. You will never be a victim again if you gain power - by whatever means that may be and sometimes you need to get the entire system involved in this closure process. No matter how many years someone is a cop or an *investigator* - unless you've experienced power ripped from you and the feeling of helplessness as someone who has been violated - you really have no idea what the psychological dynamics are. At best you can offer conjecture based on hypothesis and hearsay.
posted by watercarrier at 5:34 AM on November 10, 2009

I'm sorry you went through this. But I woudl agree with the others, get out of that country now. You are not in a good situation--expat, female, crime committed, revenge from others. And please rethink about charges or at the very least let people know what it's like there for victims. Talk with the embassy, human right's groups, and lastly the news. A friend of ours family was stuck during the Mumbai takedown last holiday and the embassy didn't do much. However, a CNN contact is the person who was their lifeline and got them out of there. I suggest you do everything possible to leave and make others aware. Be safe!
posted by stormpooper at 6:40 AM on November 10, 2009

I am concerned for your continuing safety. I worry that on the other side of the men delivering rough justice to your attacker might be those who would take the utterly wrong view that a single woman shouldn't spend the night with a group of folks in a friend's living room, and that therefore the beating was unjustified.

I understand what other commenters are saying, about how other cultures have their own ways of punishing rape, but I worry that for a foreigner, these ways are relatively opaque, and unexpected twists and turns could take you off-guard.

Please get to an embassy as soon as you can.
posted by palliser at 7:07 AM on November 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

First of all, rape tends to be quite uncommon in most Muslim countries, particularly when one is in an "honored" position such as a guest in someone's home. Rape of someone who is clearly from another culture - particularly a Western one - is even more unusual.

Dee, while I respect your contributions around here and have benefited greatly from reading about your past experiences, I feel its only fair to the OP to ask - is this based on some statistical fact that you have access too, which you can share with us? Or is it based more on personal experience in the country you come from, and perhaps anecdotal hear-say that you've been privy to given your background? Or some combination of the two, or something else all together?

I think its rather hard to speculate that rape is "quite uncommon in most Muslim countries," particularly given the nature of the crime in the religious context. Not to draw undue parallels, but its rather like saying child molestation is quite uncommon in the Catholic church. Statistically speaking, maybe it actually is. But we don't really have hard evidence of that, do we?


Anyway, OP, I just chimed in to say that if you are in a country that has an embassy for your particular nationality, I can't recommend highly enough that you go there. I live in a 3rd-world country and work in many others (some of them with very heavy Muslim influences, like the one I'm in now), and I can tell you from personal knowledge that at least for *my* embassies (USA), they have trained, qualified professional representatives of state who's job it is to deal with matters such as these. You are not trained nor qualified (I'm assuming, unless you're one of the people I'm actually talking about) - to handle the implications and ramifications of this situation. They are, and it will be their job to keep you safe as well.

And that's really priority #1. You can work on forgiveness (if you're big enough from that, which you seem to be - more than I could do I'm sure), work on healing, work on pursuing justice for this criminal who has taken something so precious from you, work on finding a way back to normal, but if you don't get completely out of any situation where this has a potential to happen AGAIN, well, you are back at square one, and it could be much worse than that - maybe next time the knife gets used. For the love of God and yourself and your friends and family (that's really the 2 greatest commandments, if you think about it), you need to get somewhere safe where you can work on everything else. Hopefully you have an embassy that can help you do this, and quickly.

If you're not sure how to find your embassy - just google "USA embassy in Tanzania" where "USA" is your particular country of origin, and "Tanzania" is whatever country you are in right now. Hopefully the one you want will be the first result (look for a ".gov" domain or other official government-indicating language).

I know you say going home to North America is not an option, but if there is an embassy in that country that can help you, then money shouldn't be the reason - don't think about that right now, I guarantee you they won't either. As for being away from your father, well - both Canada and the US are very large countries - I'm sure they can understand and work with your concerns.

And if you are in a Muslim country that does not have an embassy for your country of origin, I would consider traveling across border as soon as possible to the closest country that does. Even they will be able to help you. It is why your fellow citizens pay tax dollars.

Also, from one very lonesome protestant Christian expat to another, I am praying for you right now as you read these words, and will keep you in my prayers in the coming weeks. I have researched and will email you some contact information for counselors through a program with my church, which is part of the Presbyterian Church in America. I am happy to help you arrange the logistics of having one of them call you, if that will work for you.
posted by allkindsoftime at 9:01 AM on November 10, 2009 [4 favorites]

Here, I just want to say that I really believe that you need to prioritize getting to an embassy and your host family placement agency to get you out of your current country and back to your country of origin. This is the only way to garuntee your safety from another attack from the uncle or some sort of counter "street justice" from his associates. Don't worry about money, just get out of there - friends / family / crisis organizations / embassy will all help with the financials of getting to a safe place. Worry about money in a situation like this is like not going to the ER after you've been shot in the head because you don't have the cash. Seriously, get out of that area.

I will mail your throwaway later tonight.
posted by WeekendJen at 12:56 PM on November 10, 2009

I wrote: First of all, rape tends to be quite uncommon in most Muslim countries, particularly when one is in an "honored" position such as a guest in someone's home. Rape of someone who is clearly from another culture - particularly a Western one - is even more unusual.

allkindsoftime wrote: Dee, while I respect your contributions around here and have benefited greatly from reading about your past experiences, I feel its only fair to the OP to ask - is this based on some statistical fact that you have access too, which you can share with us? Or is it based more on personal experience in the country you come from, and perhaps anecdotal hear-say that you've been privy to given your background? Or some combination of the two, or something else all together?

I think its rather hard to speculate that rape is "quite uncommon in most Muslim countries," particularly given the nature of the crime in the religious context. Not to draw undue parallels, but its rather like saying child molestation is quite uncommon in the Catholic church. Statistically speaking, maybe it actually is. But we don't really have hard evidence of that, do we?

To be honest, I should qualify that a bit. It's become more acceptable, in the developed world, to talk about certain kinds of rape, such as spousal rape. I don't have statistics for that, but I can tell you pretty honestly that the idea that it's even possible to rape one's own wife isn't even on the radar in many lesser-developed countries. So it's entirely possible that this kind of rape is more common in Muslim countries - which tend to be lesser-developed - than in America, for instance, for the simple reason that it's not at all considered rape at all.

I don't relish having to distinguish between "kinds" of rape, because rape is rape. But rape, in the sense of forcing sex upon someone who has never consented to it before, and upon whom there is certainly no reasonable 'expectation' that consent is implied, is much rarer in Muslim countries than in the West. I've seen statistics for it from pretty neutral organizations, though I don't have them at hand. (I'll look for them, I've got them somewhere.)

Anecdotally, if I were dressed and behaving appropriate to cultural expectations, I'd rather walk down the street at night in an Islamic country than a Western one. As a woman, it's almost always safer. (That said, some of the cultural expectations are much less pleasant than those in the developed world, depending on the country. I wouldn't want to walk around uncovered in Iran, or unescorted in Saudi Arabia. There might likely be repercussions, but rape would be quite low on the list of possibilities.) But in secular Yugoslavia, incidents of rape were frequently half in Muslim areas than what they were in non-Muslim areas. For a lot of complicated reasons, rape is well, I don't know how to put this exactly, but a weirder and more powerful taboo in the Muslim world. I could explain plenty of underlying reasons, but this probably isn't the place. In general, most violent crime is less common in Muslim countries. This, of course, does not make them paradises by any means.

But this is all academic; it doesn't really matter if rape is more common here or there. I was originally only trying to explain why resources for rape victims might be hard to come by in such a country.

Another equally valid reason is that in poorer countries, therapy and assistance in dealing with being a victim are things that simply cannot be afforded by people on any practical level - the expense, time involved, social repercussions (etc) are tough to justify when you're scraping by. It's unfortunate - and believe me, I know of this quite personally and I have seen the lingering damage from the failure to receive assistance in dealing with life's horrors in myself and many others - but there are places where women have a baby at noon and they're back in the fields by 2pm, because that's what it takes to survive.

Geography puts the original poster in a tough position, but I hope her situation is such that she finds the help she (and all victims) should receive.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 2:14 PM on November 10, 2009

This is a complicated situation. I would say this:

1) Do you feel there is a risk of retribution for the beating, to you or the host family? Then leave.
2) Do you feel you may be raped again? Then leave.
3) Do you think they're going to kill the uncle if you stay? Then leave.

Otherwise -- and this sounds rough -- this really is a matter to consider closed. It has been dealt with according to the standards of the community you are in.

By leave, I mean run for your life, i.e. get out first and figure out how to pay for it later. Be very mindful and friendly and especially appreciative to all those who have backed you in your claims. Remember, they didn't have proof either. They believed you, they backed you. If it's over, it's over. Otherwise GET OUT.
posted by effugas at 8:43 PM on November 10, 2009

Thanks for the response and insight Dee - and my apologies for the OP for derailing a bit - I just felt it merited clarification.
posted by allkindsoftime at 10:10 PM on November 10, 2009

Assuming that you stay, I would consider a weekend trip (or longer), since that is not so uncommon and it might help to get away for a while. If I felt bitterness toward the host family or culture, I would take steps to address that and validate connections with good people in the time before I left.

I am so sorry that this has happened.
posted by ramenopres at 11:28 PM on November 10, 2009

follow-up from the OP
It's taken me quite a bit of emotional energy to type a reply, so sorry for the delay.
First off, THANK YOU! I knew Mefi was a supportive bunch, but you guys have seriously blown me away. I'm overwhelmed by the number of replies, and by the care shown here. I have also received a number of emails to my email account, many of which were quite candid. Many of you addressed the same issues here, so I'm just going to kind of bunch them all in together, and not respond personally to each one:

I did not come here through an agency, it was a direct contact with my host family, and so I do not have a 3rd party to go to for help. But it's ok, I think I have things figured out. I contacted my embassy, and explained the situation. But they simply sent me a list of doctors in my country, and basically said "sorry something bad happened to you". Pft, thanks. :/ Nice to know my government cares about me...

I have had a few friends back home do some searching on the internet, for women's groups, or therapists here where I live, and not much has turned up. And so I have decided to go back "home". I will not be returning to where my family lives, but elsewhere. (nowhere really feels like home. even in the places i've lived the longest, I don't have many friends. My social circle is really just a bunch of nomads who spend most of their time working/volunteering in the developing world). I have a best friend who has been extremely supportive, and has found me a Christian home to stay in back stateside, and has looked into some therapy options for me. I'm still figuring out how exactly I'm going to pay for the plane ticket with money I don't have, but my priority is just getting home. I know I'll eventually come back overseas, but right now, I just need a couple months to focus on ME, and on healing. I also have a job offer (and housing) back in this same country (but not the same city) once I'm emotionally ready for it, as well as another possible offer elsewhere overseas, which is reassuring to know. Not that I'll be going back to work right away, but it's there when I'm ready.

Emotionally, I'm just letting myself feel *however* right now. It was good to hear from so many of you that it's ok to be like this. That it's ok to have any emotions, or any feelings (as long as they are healthy and not suicidal or anything). And I have started to check into the online resources that were suggested here. It's definitely a good start.

I reconsidered going to a lawyer on my own, but I am still certain I made the right choice. Pursuing legal action would mean I'm stuck here, and still won't be able to get the help (therapy etc) I need. And again, it's virtually guaranteed not to be fruitful. But thank you to everyone who urged me to reconsider; it allowed me to be confidant in my decision.

The country I live in is one where Islam permeates every aspect of life, and has definitely influenced my situation, but there is no Sharia law here, and so I'm not fearful of an honor killing or anything like that. It doesn't mean I feel completely safe - I don't - but I'm not terribly worried.

You know, when I'm on the other side of this, I'm going to try to put back into the system what it gave to me. By that I mean, I'm definitely going to reach out to abuse victims, and support them in any way I can. And if I'm every at the point where I'm financially stable, man, I'm going to do whatever I can to make sure local women never have to feel like they have to go through this alone. It's true, it's one of those kinds of situations that you can only ever really understand from the inside out.

So again, a HUGE thank you to everyone here. Your responses literally brought me to tears. And to those of you who emailed me privately, I will be responding to each of you separately. You are all the most wonderful group of people ever!
posted by jessamyn at 9:13 AM on November 14, 2009 [4 favorites]

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