Never in my wildest nightmare could I have imagined that my precious daughter at the age of twelve would be the victim of a violent rape. I am a teacher; my husband a paramedic. We have always protected our children and have been active, attentive parents. When we decided to take our family on a wonderful Caribbean cruise, all we could think about was how much fun we would have together and were comforted by the assurances of the cruise ship company that our children would be well cared for while having the time of their lives. Not for an instant did we have any anxiety about taking our kids on a cruise. If I could relive just one event in my life, I would take a few moments and I would warn our kids about never, ever going anywhere with a crew member. Perhaps this one simple act could have kept our child safe.
As parents, we teach our children at a very early age all the dangers of the "boogie man". We tell them never to talk to strangers and to never, ever get into a car with a stranger. We pound it into their little heads, and we are left with a false sense of security that they really will be safe. It never occurred to me as we stepped on board that beautiful cruise ship that our kids could be in any danger. But they were. Instead of warning our children about the infamous "boogie man", we must warn our children that their favorite teacher, coach, priest, or rabbi, might not be such a good person. However difficult this conversation is, it's a conversation that every parent must have with their children. Do it now!
Jamie was targeted by a crewman. He lured her to an off-limits area of the ship on the pretext of showing her where the dolphins play. She had no reason to fear him. After all, he was a member of the crew. He was to be trusted. He was only there to help us have a wonderful trip. Isn't this what we had been told? Unfortunately, this is what we naively believed. The harsh reality is that this crewman took our beautiful daughter into a secure room then brutally raped her. He then threatened to kill her and her younger brother and sister if she dared to tell anyone what he had done. He even had a map with our cabin circled on it, and he knew her siblings' names and the history of our family. Jamie had every reason to believe that he would, indeed, kill her if she told anyone. And so, Jamie carefully guarded her horrible secret for three, long years but at a terrible price to herself. Before the rape, she had been an incredibly self-assured, confident, happy little girl. She was independent and had wonderful self-esteem. Following her assault, she suffered nightmares, phobias, and in general was extremely unhappy. She cried at the drop of a hat and flew into rages. Had we observed these symptoms in anyone else's child, we would have suspected some sort of trauma but when it's your child and you know she has a good life in a good family, you just don't "get" it. Quite by chance, Jamie's rape was revealed to me by one of her friends. When confronted, Jamie gave me a long, sad look before finally admitting that she had, indeed, been raped three years prior.
Once the terrible secret was finally revealed, the flashbacks, uncontrollable sobbing, nightmares, and every other symptom of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder threatened to consume her. She was a fifteen-year old girl who spiraled into crisis. I wasn't sure she would ever see her eighteenth birthday. But then, miracles really do happen. Somehow she was able to climb out of the depths of her misery and began to heal.
Jamie is truly one of the lucky ones. She survived a viscous rape and she also survived the very difficult healing process. Her recovery is due in large part to a wonderful therapist and to the unconditional love of her family and a few, loyal friends. Jamie now refers to the rape as an isolated, terrible event in her life. She stubbornly refuses to allow this savage act to possess her or to define the person she has become. She looks forward to her future, and we are so grateful that she will have a future.
There are several suggestions I would offer to friends and families who are trying to help the rape victim survive her trauma. First and foremost, you must talk about and validate the trauma suffered by the victim. You must talk about it and you must make the victim understand that in no way was it her fault. There are no excuses for rape. It is vitally important for the victim to understand that you support her unconditionally and that you believe her completely. Oftentimes rape victims feel that they are somehow to blame for what happened to them. This simply is not true. Complete support and openness is vital to the recovery process.
Find the right therapist or counselor
In my opinion, it is also essential to find the right therapist or counselor. The trained therapist is equipped to help the rape victim find the proper tools necessary for recovery. The key here, however, is finding the correct therapist. If after a session or two, the victim doesn't feel comfortable, then quickly find another one. The rape victim must be able to relate effectively with the therapist, build trust, and heal.
Hold the rapist accountable
Finally, if there is a way to hold the rapist accountable, by all means do so. Press charges. Make him accountable for his actions. In our situation, Jamie was not able to press charges against her attacker but we did file suit against the cruise ship company. Taking legal action empowered Jamie into understanding that someone needed to be held accountable for the violent act against her. The cruise ship company would like you to believe that this was just an unfortunate, isolated attack. This is simply not true. They are very skillful in hiding this dirty secret from the public. All the more reason to hold them accountable for the actions of their employees. We settled out of court (they certainly would not want our case to go to trial) which again sent the message to Jamie that she could have at least some justice.
Rape/sexual assault is a crime. The victim is never to blame. Not Ever! Help is available if you are willing to reach out and grab on. The healing process is a long one but the good news is you can survive the effects of rape. Jamie is living proof.