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Voices / Letters from readers

Allow me to tell you the story of my rape and abortion

RE: “Abortion might be legal, but that doesn’t mean it's right” [Counterpoint, Aug. 28]:

To Kenneth Scipione, and every man who thinks like you do: Have you ever talked with women about their abortion/rape/incest experiences — and by “talked with,” I mean “listened to and empathized with”? (If you’re not quite clear on what “empathy” means, there’s a wonderful Sesame Street skit with Mark Ruffalo on YouTube that explains it well.)

Because you wouldn’t dismiss the impact of abortion so blithely if you had any clue what it’s like: physically painful, emotionally grueling. It is not a decision that women make, or a process we undergo, lightly, even when the need has come about through rape or incest.

Allow me to tell you my story.

Thirty-two years ago, I was raped at age 25 by a man I didn’t know, who pushed his way into my car on a dark evening when he saw that the friend I’d come to pick up for a concert was not home yet.

He held a knife at my face, made me drive us to a deserted parking lot on a street I wouldn’t have felt safe walking at night, told me to take my clothes off, and pushed himself into me. I briefly contemplated running but didn’t know the neighborhood and so didn’t figure my chances of escape were great. More than once, I thought he was going to kill me.

When I got home, my stepsister came over to take me to the hospital. The presence of semen in my vagina was apparently enough for the staff to determine I’d been impregnated, and they scheduled an abortion. I was in shock, of course, barely registering any of it.

The abortion cost me $500. I was making $9/hour, breathing paint fumes and sanding dust, so that was 56 hours of pay I lost right there, plus the time off for the procedure, and to recover.

But besides the money, there were the after-effects.

I was afraid to be alone for almost a year — whether at home, in a car, or waiting for a class; even with someone with me, I was hyper-vigilant.

I had nightmares for two years, waking up screaming. I spent money I couldn’t afford on therapy, trying to manage my fear. I finally found a therapist who helped me see that my brain had gotten stuck in the thought that I was going to die: for two years, I’d been only partially alive, convinced I wasn’t all the way here.

Let me tell you, that sure takes a toll on daily living and any sense of enjoyment or forward movement.

As a woman, I am very used to men deciding my body is there for them to treat according to their own needs, desires, and emotional imbalances — i.e., without respect, care, or love. I have always been perplexed and angered at how men think they have the right first to mess up a woman’s life and then to leave her to deal with the wreckage.

Whatever happened to compassion, protection, support and, yes, empathy? (Check out that Sesame Street sketch; you might learn something.)

You will probably never really understand, Mr. Scipione, what it is like to be accosted, abused, marginalized, and stepped upon.

But you could, at the very least, step off your soapbox and try to learn something from the half of the population that deals with those actions every single day.

Jenny Chapin
Brattleboro

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Originally published in The Commons issue #527 (Wednesday, September 11, 2019). This story appeared on page D3.

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