PUNISHMENT IS NOT JUSTICE DEFYING DEFINITIONS AFTER SEXUAL VIOLENCE

 Alma Haser

Alma Haser

Fourteen years after writing the first draft of my memoir, I was standing in front of audiences, published book in hand, reading about the period of my life in which I was, as most readers understand it, the victim of a predatory man, namely my junior high English teacher. My book, Excavation, had not been an easy one to write (what book is?), but had been made even more difficult by the confusion I felt during its writing. As I began the first draft in my mid-twenties, I struggled with how my story might be read. Would readers be able to understand the conflicted feelings I had for the person who abused me? Would I be able to reflect the nuances of this dangerous relationship? How could I escape from the binary of victim/perpetrator, which could not completely capture my experience? Perhaps the most frightening thought was: How will other women view me? And underneath that: Will my personhood, my humanity, be heard and respected in light of this experience?

The first time I read the chapter “Why I Didn’t Tell,” I was pointedly asked to read it. It was not a chapter I ever would have chosen read to aloud to strangers. It was also the chapter that was the hardest to write, and the chapter readers—privately and publicly—most often point out as a moment of deep resonance. My interpretation of this resonance, guided by reader comments, is that what is deeply understood is the internal conflict that sexual abuse at the hands of someone you know creates. If I tell you that I understand this experience to be one of harm, how can I also tell you that it was also, at times, an experience other than harm? How will I be read or understood then?

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