Why didn’t I report it? Because I didn’t believe that terrible things that usually happen in rough neighborhoods could happen to me. How could I complain when I wasn’t attacked by a stranger in a dark alley, but by someone I knew? How could I complain when I couldn’t comprehend how something suddenly turned from innocent to awful? I didn’t report it because I was brought up to be a good person, to put others’ feelings before my own needs. To report it would mean deeply upsetting the people responsible for me, hurting the people who love me.
I didn’t report it because to complain would be to remember, while I was fighting to forget. To complain would mean having to confront the attacker, again. With the horror and the shame and the doubts about my own responsibility for what happened; with the doubts about whether what happened was really bad. I didn’t complain because I was busy surviving, and then I was busy healing. And even after I became able to cope with the trauma – with the aid of long-term psychotherapy – I still just want to forget.
But that doesn’t always work. Because time has a different meaning when it comes to trauma. By their nature, memories are intrusive. They overwhelm the present. They scuttle everyday life. They defy logic. Pop up at the wrong time, in the wrong order and not by choice.
When I called the rape victim hotline as a teenager, a while after the incident occurred, I didn’t want to complain then either. I wanted to die. The amazing woman who stayed on the phone with me for a long time asked, “Die how?” I told her I wanted to cut my veins with a knife. “Why?” she asked. I said: In order to forget. To stop the fear, cut off the nightmares, the feelings of guilt.
When it was getting late and she realized I hadn’t yet told my parents what had happened, she asked me to come over to her home. I don’t remember how she convinced me to leave my room, with the knife. I don’t remember how I got there, except that it was walking distance. What I do remember is that I sat there in her kitchen as she fed her two young sons.
She showed them how to eat a tomato – including the dry part with little leaves attached, because it was also part of the tomato. The “apple of the tomato,” she called it. “You don’t throw that part out.” The apple of the tomato was the positive part of that day, and the only part that stayed with me as a clear memory – possibly because it was the start of the recovery process.
The hotline volunteer welcomed me into a place that was both safe and intimate – her own home, something that wouldn’t happen today when there are new ways to create a space that is safe and intimate – and this was crucial: The immediate personal connection, and the fact that she didn’t cast doubt on me. The awareness that, regrettably, I was part of a wider phenomenon and not a unique case, and the sense of connection with others who’d had a similar experience, aided my ongoing attempts to cope with a complex situation. And today I can say I was able to keep my sanity because I knew there was one place where I would always be believed, even 30 years later.
For years, the treatment for trauma had great importance on the personal level but was suppressed on the public level. But like swimming underwater and holding your breath, at some point the body has to come up for air before it drowns. Maybe that’s why it seems like the world has gone crazy. The distance between men and women seems to be increasing, and it seems that most men will never understand how important security is to women – and most women will never understand how important reputation is to men.
Because such a profound change is also a kind of trauma: Ugly, overwhelming, hurtful, not packaged in a clear narrative, immune to any statute of limitations, indifferent to legal proceedings and, most of all, perceived differently from different points of view.
Trauma tears worlds apart. Patience is needed. Amid all this noise, there are voices from which we can all learn how to be rebuilt, as individuals, as a society.
Even today when I know I did nothing wrong, I feel very embarrassed by this public exposure. But I feel I must sacrifice my comfort. Because like other men and women who have endured traumatic experiences, I will always have a certain sense of regret – for the experiences I didn’t have and the dreams I failed to realize because of all the energy that had to be devoted to coping emotionally rather than concentrating on creative activity. But this is the truth: You can’t run a marathon while trying to hide a fracture.
I didn’t report it then because I couldn’t put this pain into words. Today, thanks to the courage of enlightened women and men who are fighting for social change, I do. And I have the ability to say that I want to make every effort so that the boys and girls of the next generation will grow up with the confidence to make the most of their abilities. Without threat, without fear, and without traumas they will have to devote much of their time recovering from. For them to grow up with the ability to accept all of human complexity, like the apple of the tomato that you don’t throw out.
Whether or not you believe someone who comes forward with a complaint after 30 years, it is the responsibility of each and every one of us to make this dream a reality.
Mili Avital an actor, director and writer who lives in New York, and works in Israel and the United States.
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