CW: Aftermath of sexual assault
To the rape corridor I go by myself, to the police I go by myself, every time, because the photographer could drop me at the precinct the first time, but I wasn’t gonna drag anyone else into the logistics of reporting sexual assault and for a minute in truth I hoped I could skip the rape corridor itself, which is, the real life set of micro hospital rooms where we wait in line to get processed. We get to sit down if there’s four or three of us the hour in question, if we come unaccompanied the odds are much better, but then, that Filipino girl she’s there with the boyfriend, that one is here with the mom and a sister, you can’t hold it against them still damn it’s a lot of people, I am hoping my name won’t be called that loud, hoping I can get away with this.
The rape corridor I visit twice; come back in this many days to pick up the HIV results and the general disease test, I don’t have lacerations just traces and no stitches are needed, the first time I give them the underwear I saved once I returned home—so you did want to report? I was ambivalent yet I saved the underwear, believe me I’m aware CSI is not real but you never know I thought fingerprints maybe, I will say, evidence stored in a clear laundry basin for days.
There is a lot of apologizing and flaring up and what I will come to understand as a collective shifting of blame. A police official, a woman, calling me the day after the report, saying, common people don’t know, but assaults in public places are on the rise. By then I am not common people because I have joined the rape contingent, or, my birth name has achieved a high enough level of notoriety that a blue demarcation line has been drawn between the body and common people. [Could be both? Who’s to say?] And instead of asking, when you say common people, how do you mean, instead of asking, police, why have you decided to give me such a damning statement about the city’s security at large, I nod and I try to be the woman you call the morning after a report. Behaved. Alert. Sure sure if you say so officer you’ll be the judge of that.
Getting away with this.
Can I swing it?
I have to do a work event between rape corridor one and two. I have to inform a number of people I won’t be taking calls because I need to go back and forth to the police. People I work with have a projection habit a mile wide and I’m the big screen, baby, and I still get calls. [Sorry can’t talk right now, I’m in the rape wing of hospital— / oh, oh, you must tell me everything]. Police stuff goes faster than you’d imagine, the last time I see them is when they take me back to the scene, an unmarked car picking me up as they said it would, them both in a bleak mood, snapping, me retracing the steps I took the night in question the street in question, here is where he grabbed me, me realizing the guy could have killed me on the spot had he chosen to toss me in the path of an oncoming car—they do speed there, the red lights they run—or, he knew I didn’t see him, I could have been thrown into a van, an open door, I wasn’t mentally present at the time: and those flash bang oh fuck, fuck me but it could have been worse awareness videos the police doesn’t seem to enjoy watching play out on the face of the rape victim, but then again, remember, they see this every day; please try to be nicer. Try not to get caught.
Are you ever going to find the guy (no), how long are you going to try (eh, three to four weeks), will I be shown pictures (nope), and, how soon will the blame be shifted on me (kind of now?) Lady detective number two does not like me, at all, doesn’t hide it, at all, being in treatment for depression is noted and underlined, I am asked point blank if my boyfriend did this—was it the boyfriend?, goes a male detective I find myself wishing to impress because of the severe distance game he establishes, calling me by my first name and ma’am in the space of a single sentence, followed by a sudden switch to the third person, I told the night squad the girl is shaken, and I’m like, sweet, I’m a girl now, that’s considerate, so when the boyfriend question dashes off the corner of his mouth, I’ll be there saying no, God no, I don’t even have a boyfriend.
In the hospital where I’m being processed, it’s a white page if my name is called, I don’t see a scene where I just get the point and nod—the doctors will see her now. Then my turn to be tested, visited, smeared, pictures taken of the vagina, are you obfuscating the story, and I am mostly fine, cooperative, thrilled to leave the corridor and get on the medical bed to be opened up and worked in, talk with people between the clinical beats.
The point and nod would have been cooler. That one yes you. We are ready for the girl.
And yes, the underwear is taken into custody there. The ob-gyn and the trauma doctor file a medical dossier. The trauma doctor is quick and precise and she does this every day. The trauma doctor lets me know that anger is a legitimate response, and feeling more like you got robbed, can’t recall if I asked, but it’s pretty normal too. At some point I think of a sword and I laugh, by then the trauma doctor has left the room, so the burden of victim giggles after receiving smear and wants to drag me into whatever candy hell nonsense is crossing her mind at the moment, boop, it lands square on the ob-gyn. Who I do feel bad for years later. And when I’m sent to the room where a cute girl-nurse, super young, says she’s a feminist, unprompted, draws my blood to run the HIV test, my memory pulls a Hello Kitty bandage into the frame when there must have been none. Boop. Off you go. Born free.
And this is not what I wanted to say.
What I was going to tell my man, eventually, is that I didn’t report my assault sooner because the morning after the assault I had a photo shoot scheduled that I didn’t want to postpone, because the photographer was coming in from another town and it had taken us weeks of back back and forth and forth to agree on a date and location for the shoot, and I stayed silent on that detail because it looked bad and I knew.
Q: what kind of freshly raped woman does a photo shoot before going to the police?
– a professional actor
– a woman who can’t afford an executive assistant
– any woman whose reality mask is warped by the grotesque of being alive on camera
– patient talks about a sword
What I wanted to tell my man is, the third detective I speak to, ash blonde, casting herself as the good cop, someone who cares, she’s the one who goes: I do know you, I know your name—finger snap—what do I know you from?
Over the course of half a decade, the rape corridor might very well be the one public place I do not get recognized and rocketed personal information at. So, my man. Give me something I can work with here. Blow me a kiss. Smile. Glisten.
But I’m not telling my man.
Still there is a shimmer about hopping to the precinct after choosing a modest outfit for the day, long sleeves knee-length skirt Canva flats, and I am mindful of looking the part, every time I go back and forth, back back and forth and forth, even though I giggle, no makeup no hair done no master plans, nobody but you pushing through the anxiety this needs to be done today, over the next hour: the second time I’m there, a woman, older, fine-bone attractive in the maintaining years, she’s waiting too, a foreigner, her words rising up on an eastern cadence but it’s the dead stare and the face twitch that give her strange away, and it’s afternoon of week two and nobody’s coming to pick us up or move us around or give us the nod, and this lady is wearing an evening gown. With a lovely deep golden cape over her bird shoulders. And I want to say, lady go home and come back when you’re not overdressed for the scenario, lady don’t you have any friends, no me neither but my clothes make sense because I’ve been adjusting why are you not adjusting, and before I start taking some of her babble in—I don’t know what happens to me this has sent my life in complete disarray this was soo unexpected what am I gonna do now—before the babble starts in earnest, I have said out loud, oh come on we’re all here for the same reason, I just snapped it to the corridor in general, like settle the fuck down nobody’s special, a tone to be hated or regretted, and the shame kick does get to me in fifteen seconds, inner voice bouncing off the walls:
excuse me who do you think you are
are you a lifer, watching over your block
no, I am not.
And sure, much as I can and I do believe certain pieces were going to fall into place eventually—eventually, Han getting to Tokyo, eventually—and much as I cringe every time my birth name is called when it cannot be helped, waiting in line for a passport chanting don’t say it don’t say it can you say the number instead, lately I have been getting away with it, by the sheer power of covering up and going about the daily under a different name, the one I designed, no more need for new hot shine gloss picture of your face hoping your work will be featured cause you’re wild to look at, no more hoping they pick you from a lineup, easy.
And I don’t want to go back to the rape corridor anytime soon if that can, in fact, be helped, but in my head I’m back in the rape corridor and I’m nicer to the breakdown lady and maybe I fetch her a cereal bar from my invisible handbag, or I push a twenty in her palm to improve the odds of her making it to the next stop of wherever she’s going, or I say nothing at all, silence is a fair option, or I nod off as I stare at the safety posters and I sing love of the common people, yes we’re living in the love of the common people smiles from the heart of a family man.
Barbara Genova (she/her/them) is the pen name of an actress/writer who chose to start over after getting stranded in Central Europe during the first of many Covid lockdowns. Poetry and stories written as Barbara have been published, or are forthcoming, at Hobart, Strange Horizons, Expat Press, Misery Tourism, Bureau of Complaint, The Daily Drunk, Anti-Heroin Chic, Scissors and Spackle, surfaces.cx, Sledgehammer Lit, Fahmidan Journal, Hallowzine, The Bear Creek Gazette, A Thin Slice of Anxiety, Roi Fainéant Press, Poetry Super Highway, Gutslut Press and the Hecate Magazine anthology issue #2 (DECAY, winter 2021). She can be found on Twitter @CallGenova and on Instagram @thebarbaragenova
Banner Art: ‘Figure/Floating’, a visual poem by Robert Frede Kenter (c) 2022. Twitter: @frede_kenter.