Rape… “too much for the reader to deal with.”

Rehearsing for a performance of dance and song, everyone.

Rehearsing for a performance of dance and song, everyone.

I’m Stuck!  I keep starting posts and deleting them, at least six times over the last few weeks.  Fear stops me.

The picture I posted is not what I imagined I’d pick.  I was thinking something sad, related to what I haven’t said yet.  The picture is of a singing rehearsal for the Movement, Dance, and Song program we are putting on next month. At Shishur Sevay we have Dance & Movement three times a week, and Singing & Harmonium twice a week.   We have dances now that include everyone.  One dance is a train, with the older girls pushing along the chairs with the girls who cannot walk.  In other dances, we have harnesses that the older girls use to swing the younger ones as they dance.  Most of the time we dance and sing to the songs of Tagore.  I want to get someone to film the small event.  The picture above is reflective of what it is like at Shishur Sevay these days.  We are no longer living crisis to crisis.

So how do we talk about sexual abuse without “spoiling the atmosphere?”  It is so incredibly easy to ignore.  Like others, I was shaken by the gang rape in Delhi, and then the rape, mutilation, and death of the five year old.   Both these events galvanized the country.

But I also started thinking about what happens every day….  I thought about what one of my girls said of her life before Shishur Sevay, “You beg in the day; then the men use you at night; then you beg again in the morning.”  I thought about the sexual abuse in orphanages…. and I thought about our experience with one of the girls sexually abusing another, in fact, abusing the children with disabilities who cannot protest and cannot tell.  I thought about the pacts of silence around abuse, here, there, everywhere.  Shishur Sevay has become Zero Tolerant with regard to abuse.  There has to be a safe place.  The victims have to come first.  Still, you can’t be zero tolerant unless you can find out what is going on.  All the doors in our house have glass panes.  We have CCTV with cameras all over.  Nothing is ever enough.  Evil has its way of seeping through.

I wrote a book, “The Preteen’s First Book About Love, Sex, and AIDS,” published in 1995 by American Psychiatric Press.  I wrote, “The crossing of sexual boundaries between people, whether in word or touch, seems to cause deeper wounds and greater shame than any other kinds of abuse.  The person who commits the crime of sexual abuse seems to pass on the shame and humiliation to the victim.”

What then do we tell the children?  Do we “normalize” abuse as something that may happen, but isn’t their fault?  What are we saying then about our cultures, and I use plural because these problems are universal.  This is not an India problem except that it has attention now, and because I live here with children who have been abused, and may very well be abused in the future as women, women alone, women as wives, women as cognitively or physically impaired.

I looked again at the picture I posted above, and posted it again.  It’s the same picture but having talked about sexual abuse, it’s not quite the same because we are not quite the same when we see behind the wall.

Rehearsal for a Performance of Dance and Movement, and Song

Rehearsal for a Performance of Dance and Movement, and Song, Everyone

At Shishur Sevay we are also starting tabla classes.  I bought two sets, so two girls could take their lessons at once.  I unpacked the tablas yesterday and then I started tapping the daya and soon I was far away, not thinking about anything, tapping to ancient rhythms that took the troubles out of my mind space.

`Dr. Harrison playing with the new tabla, getting lost in the sound.

I read that tabla is an ancient language, “Everything that is to be played on tabla can be spoken; in fact, everything that is to be played must first be spoken.”  So here are some spoken words I hope one day to be able to play in the language of the tabla.


I forgot for a moment

I had been raped, for

One moment forgotten,

In eighteen years remembering —

Eighteen years is

for fear,

Eighteen years is

for hate,

Eighteen years is

for pain,

Eighteen more years, for

One more moment, of


I had been raped.



My first book, “A Woman in Residence,” Random House 1982, now in Kindle, is an autobiographical account of my training in obstetrics and gynecology.  The manuscript I submitted to the publisher included the story of my having been raped at knife-point when I was 17, but the editor insisted I take it out.  She said, “It’s too much for the reader to deal with.”  I went along with her, too vulnerable to argue.

My fear?  I guess I just discovered it, “too much for the reader to deal with.”

Let my dialogue begin.  I have been too silent for too long.

6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. shreyailaanasuya
    May 26, 2013 @ 21:30:23

    Love and respect to you, Michelle.


  2. joycegodwingrubbs2
    May 27, 2013 @ 06:34:39

    Saying “Atta girl” might seem frivolous to some, but I assure you it comes with love, energy, approval and hope. Michelle, I am working with my friend Laura Swift and will share this post. She is working with Dr. Anna Reame of Northwestern University and the “Voices and Faces” program which is easily accessed on the internet. I would love to see you share your story on this invaluable tool being fostered and championed to help bring awareness and momentum to the issue of sexual assault. You are correct when you say, “it is time.” I shocked many people at my workshop last week when in response to the pain I heard in the voice of a young lady who was taking my memoir writing workshop, I spontaneously read the last entry in my private family Legacy book. It revealed the perpetrator who molested/raped 8 girls in our family and was a “revered” pastor. The victims included me. It is time to tell our stories, and tell them out loud, in print, and with power and purpose. I stand with you Michelle.


  3. Alfred Kroeger
    May 27, 2013 @ 23:56:09

    It might only be through telling your story that you can fully give your pain to yesterday. I’d like to share a poem I wrote with you regarding this……………………..All That I Am
    © April 10, 2011 A. Kroeger

    Pain reminds me where I’ve been.
    It need not be my destiny.

    Give my pain to yesterday,
    it will become a memory.

    Understanding yesterday
    prepares me for tomorrow.

    Accepting all I have become
    gives meaning to today.



    • joycegodwingrubbs2
      May 28, 2013 @ 15:34:45

      I am proud to say this is my “brother of my heart” and has been since we were in Jr. High. Both of us know something of pain, but Michelle, like you he can express it in poetry. A man who understands and would fight for the victims/survivors like so many others who want the wrongs to be made right. I hope you find solace in this and encouragement as you move forward.


  4. Sue Gambill-Read
    Jun 09, 2013 @ 19:39:26

    Why does no one ever say it’s too much for the victims to deal with? It’s TOO MUCH. Silence from the victims is understandable. Silence from the perps is inevitable. Silence from those who learn of its existence is criminal. I do like how you wove in the beauty of life and recovery. There is hope. If we can’t stop the attacks (but we have to try) lets at least not let the victims be lonely, ashamed and suicidal.


    • joycegodwingrubbs2
      Jun 09, 2013 @ 20:20:08

      Thank you Sue for you insightful and powerful response. So well said, and so accurate. I too believe that Michelle has done a masterful thing in this share. I look forward to her writing even more that will inspire victim/survivors, those who work with them, and those who should support them in voice to shatter the silence around their plight.


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May 2013
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