What if I was only the first victim? What if I wasn’t even the first victim?

What if I wasn’t silent?

I know that going through “what if” scenarios is a fruitless waste of thought, but sometimes in the middle of the night I convince myself there are lessons to be learned from recognizing where I and those around me could’ve done better.

If my rapist raped another after he raped me but before I broke my silence, I would feel guilty all the time. My loved ones would assume the decent response would be to assure me that I shouldn’t blame myself and remind me that as soon as I snapped out of my rapist’s brainwashed reality I came forward. But this wouldn’t bring me comfort, because I would think about all the red flags that went unnoticed. I would think about all the chances there were for me to realize sooner so that the next victim would never have been hurt.

I would think about the friends who knew both about my eating disorder and the “affair” with my rapist. I would wish that we weren’t just kids and we had had the wisdom to recognize the connection between these two developments and that the right person would have had the right question that would open our eyes to the truth of my abuse and I could’ve come forward back then.

I would think about society, and the obsession with yet the taboo of sex. If only someone had asked more about what happened between me and my rapist, even if it was just an inquiry for gritty details, and they had pointed out how very strange it was that I was in pain every time and the most active participation I had in it was to endure. If only someone had pushed for more details. If only I had stopped listening to him sooner and told more people and thus had more chances for those kinds of questions and that conclusion.

I would recognize how my silence enabled my abuser to continue perpetrating his abuse on others. I would recognize all the complicated factors and unassignable blame that contributed to that silence, but I would still think it was important to say if only I had broken it sooner while I acknowledge why I didn’t.

I would learn that knowledge is power. I would learn never to hide anything so never to do anything I felt I must hide. I would learn to ask questions whenever I don’t understand because I would learn how powerful it is to understand. I would develop an obsession with knowing all I can know about what happened to me, all he has done, what kind of person he is and what people like him do and how to spot them sooner. I would nitpick at my own shortcomings in an attempt to uphold a vow I’d make to not someday become the first on a long list of people who he tried to destroy — to not be that one who they ignored. I would take an inventory on all these what ifs and note that what they have in common is blindness and I would do all I could to open eyes, mine, everyone’s, especially those who can help me open even more.

I would forgive myself for my silence only if I swore to never be silent again. I would have to feel that now, if anyone else gets hurt, there would be nothing I didn’t do to try to stop it, so there would be no more sleepless nights filled with “what if I had tried this.” At least then I could resign to a life of “if only they had listened.”

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