A Long Time Coming

*Trigger warning that today’s post contains a story of sexual violence.

Through very little thought or planning on my part, my work life fell into place and eventually developed into a career plan.

When I was twenty, I started working in a clerical job at a federal law enforcement agency, and over the next eight and a half years, I progressed from clerk to stenographer to secretary. At my supervisor’s suggestion, I started taking college courses at night so I could eventually get a degree and become an agent.

I wouldn’t say I was passionate about the work, but it was a steady job with great benefits and would provide a solid retirement when I turned fifty. 

After a year of night classes, I decided to quit my job and go to college full time with the intention of coming back after graduation. All was going according to plan until one Friday night a few weeks before I was due to leave my job to start college. On that night one of the men I worked with, a man I trusted, raped me, and my life would never be the same.

Because he had a badge, there was nothing to be done; he would say it was consensual, and there were no witnesses. He would face no consequences, but my life was forever changed.

I did leave that job and carry through on my plans to go to college, and after graduation I did apply to return as an agent. I was accepted and awaiting the day I would leave for training.

Despite intensive therapy throughout my time in college, as the date for training school neared, I began to be more anxious. I spiraled out of control, and I entered the land of “what ifs.” What if I saw him again? Or had to work with him? What if another man even touched me inappropriately? What if…?

As my anxiety levels rose, I realized I had to abandon my plan of becoming an agent. I had to give up a career that offered meaningful work, good benefits, and secure retirement. I withdrew my application, and, once again, I felt untethered.

It took me years to get back on track, and I ended up in the nonprofit sector where I worked mostly with other women serving vulnerable people. My vulnerability resonated with the people I was serving, and I felt a passion for helping people find their voice, perhaps because my own voice had been silenced by rape. 

I didn’t think much about the career I had lost until I turned fifty and remembered that I could have retired then with a secure pension and great benefits. But because of the derailment of my career, I knew I would have to work for many more years.

In fact, I stopped full-time work just short of my 70th birthday. 

Rape is a topic that does not come up in polite conversation. The very word is a conversation stopper. Beyond saying, “I’m sorry that happened to you,” people usually don’t know what else to say. I get that. It is like many other unexpected, life-changing things that happen to people—cancer, suicide of a family member, mental illness, etc. Awful things sometimes happen and leave us at a loss for words.

When the #metoo movement started, I remember saying out loud to no one in particular, “Me, too.” That was a lightbulb moment. 

More than forty years after it had happened, I could see how being raped not only changed my life, but also gave me something that I could share with other survivors. I not only survived being raped, but I was able to reinvent myself, and I went on to live a full, productive life of meaningful service in the nonprofit sector.

Suddenly, I had found a deeper passion.

I signed up to be a Survivor Speaker at our local resource center for survivors of domestic abuse and sexual assault. I wanted to speak to other survivors to let them know they are not alone and there is help and hope. 

Over the past two years, I have shared my story with many different groups of people, and I have seen how talking about being a rape survivor can be a conversation starter for other survivors and their loved ones. I have heard “me, too” from people I have known for years, but I did not know this part of their histories. 

Now that I have found my voice, I want to get involved in law enforcement reform and use my experience to help create a system where victims are believed and offenders are held accountable for their actions. 

TLH photoMadeline Bialecki grew up in Detroit and recently returned after living in Philadelphia for twenty-eight years. She began writing about her spiritual journey and faith life after the death of her best friend in 2012. She likes to read, knit, bake, and garden. She shares her spiritual journey here.