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Jeannie Vanasco: A conversation about trying to forgive her rapist

Yes, I am still so ashamed. I feel like I could never tell people the full story of how much I wanted him to like me, even after he treated me like trash.

Wait, are you working on any type of book or essay? Because it sounds like such an important story.

Oh no, but I wonder how much of my personal life I want to write publicly. Do you think writing the book was helpful to you?

Absolutely. If I hadn’t followed up on the book, I wouldn’t have turned to Mark. I got a degree by turning to him and hearing him say what he had done wrong. That was helpful – writing down my thoughts and feelings and writing what I found to be inconsistent with what I thought I should be thinking. And then the reception of the book, to be heard from people like you and other women and men who have experienced sexual assault and open up to me. It was a very rewarding experience.

Do other victims of sexual assault or rape often come for advice?

People do and I hesitate just because the situations are so different. This makes sexual assault very complicated in terms of punishment. There are so many nuances. It̵

7;s hard to give advice. I wish the justice system was better. I wish there were therapeutic treatments for offenders. That would have made it easier for me to bring charges against Mark or the man who raped me in my twenties if there had been humane prisons where the perpetrators had received therapy. Then I would think he should be punished because the punishment would be productive.

Sometimes asking for advice feels like walking up to someone who has been held up or mugged and asking them how to stop future robberies.

It is really irritating to say the words “I was raped” out loud. I think I don’t want to see myself as a victim. Throughout the book, I’ve found that the word makes you feel more comfortable.

Survivors, we diminish what happens to us and we think about how it doesn’t fit into traditional or classic notions of rape. As I start to recapture it, I realize – oh no, that was a very private part of my body that it hurt. This is why legal language can be so important. I think a lot of people don’t think it’s bad for not using their penis. For them, the penis is the be-all and end-all and they don’t think about the hurt that it is to us.

For a long time I definitely had trouble using the word. I did not want to insult a woman who was “traditionally raped”. When I talk to my friends about it, they think it’s ridiculous. What Mark did felt so much worse than when I was raped in my 20s by someone using his penis because we were friends with Mark for so long. It felt more insidious because while he was doing it he was whispering, trying to comfort and calm me down.

If I knew the word better, I could deal with him tougher because I apologized early on and tried to make him feel more comfortable. Can you use the word now or are you still having problems?

I’m still having problems but I just did it at dinner. You said you hesitate to give advice, but do you think it would help to better understand what rape is?

Yes absolutely. I think looking at the language is helpful, and I wish high school talked about rape. We never talked about it.

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