Joanne Palmer's Life in the 'Boat column appears Wednesdays in the Steamboat Today. Email her at email@example.com
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The sound of footsteps still haunts me. It’s been more than 25 years since I was a victim of attempted rape. Throughout the years, I’ve often thought about that rainy morning in Central Park, but after U.S. Rep. Todd Akin, R-Mo., made his surprisingly uninformed remarks that implied a woman can’t get pregnant from a “legitimate rape,” I was stunned. His comments made me furious and made the sound of footsteps pound again in my heart and head.
One Monday morning, I woke up in my noisy, rent-controlled apartment in Manhattan and decided to go for a run before work. The rain beat against me as I jogged past the Dakota apartment building where John Lennon was shot. I entered Central Park at 72nd Street. The scariest-looking man I’d ever seen watched me enter. All I remember about him now are his eyes. They were frightening. Angry. Coiled like springs ready to explode. I knew he was on drugs. I knew I was in deep trouble. I knew I should have turned around and run back toward the street. But I ignored my gut and decided to speed up and run past him.
That’s when I heard the footsteps.
He ran after me, grabbed my arm, spun me around, broke the string on my sweatpants and pushed me toward the bushes.
With my one free hand I tried to hold up my sweatpants. My other arm was in his grip. He pushed me over the curb and onto the dirt.
I kept screaming. No cars drove by, and in a city with millions of people, there was no one around to help me. I kept screaming.
He punched me in the face.
I kept screaming.
I screamed and screamed until, for some reason, he let go of my arm. I ran farther into the park until I found someone to help me. The police came, took a report and drove me back to my apartment. I called a girlfriend and took a cab to the hospital. The E.R. physician put five stitches in my face. Everyone from the police to the hospital staff said remarkably similar things:
You’re so lucky.
You’re so lucky he didn’t have a knife.
You’re so lucky he didn’t have a gun.
You’re so lucky he didn’t have a club.
Lucky is winning the lotto, not being attacked in Central Park. I did not feel lucky at all. I felt violated. I felt angry. I felt terrified.
As scary as the incident was, the month that followed was worse. Up until that morning jog, I was fiercely independent. I had backpacked through Europe alone, lived and worked in New York City alone and routinely went places by myself. After that morning, friends had to come get me and walk me to work. I trusted no one. If someone sat next to me on the city bus, I jumped up. If someone brushed against me on the street, I ran. I was terrified to walk down the street for fear of running into the man again. And to this day, if I hear footsteps behind me, I panic.
According to a government study released last year, nearly 1 in 5 women surveyed said they had been raped or had experienced an attempted rape. One in five.
Those are the facts, Rep. Akin. The hard, indisputable facts.
As Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan once said, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.”
There is nothing, absolutely nothing, legitimate about rape. And women cannot “shut down” sperm in a forcible rape. If that was even remotely true, why would we need contraception? Opinions like Akin’s potentially are a tremendous setback for women unless we stand up and stand together. Otherwise, more rapes will go unreported, more juries will think women “asked for it,” more women will get pregnant and have to make the impossible decision of whether to terminate the pregnancy and more women, like me, will be haunted by footsteps.
Women live with sexual violence. Period. It’s a fact of too many lives. One way to make it stop is to end the secrecy and to end the shame. Women have to speak out. This is why I’m sharing my story.