07 | A Pattern of Rape / How I Got There | 1992/1993
I think I have it in me. I hope I have it in me. There’s a story to be told, a book to be written - a book about rape. It’s my story, our story, and it’s time. Coming to the end of 1992, I’m in my 48th year, and not getting any younger. Time to settle down, focus, write, deliver.
My friend Alan is with me as I struggle to “get down to writing.” Through the years he never wavers. He wants me to tell my story. He believes in it, believes in me. He knows the challenge; a human rights activist and writer he has recently published his first book, “Burma: The Next Killing Fields?” It tells of the courageous struggle for human rights and democracy in his adopted country, his spiritual homeland, where as a young man he entered a monastery and became a Buddhist monk. He writes of life in the jungle, side by side with student-activists-turned-guerillas, fighting for their precious democracy in the late 1980s. He tells their story of being hunted down by the army under the oppressive rule of the Burmese generals and their military junta.
“Marcia, I’m leading a New Year’s retreat in California. Ten days of silence in the countryside, at a beautiful retreat center. Please come as my guest. Meditate in the hall with us when you want; write in your room when you prefer. Clear the mind of everything but the story you want to tell. The world needs to hear it."
I arrive to begin the retreat on Christmas Eve, 1992. I can expand here, focus here, drop into writing here. Over the days I write about rape in many aspects; stories of survivors, treatment modalities, personal experience. As the writing develops, I am struck by how North American my perspective is. Rape is a universal experience. I want to release it from my narrow cultural context and make the writing relevant globally. I know something more is needed, and I file that realization away on an index card I tuck into my notebook. “Go Global” it says.
A few days later, about halfway through the retreat, my hair dryer breaks. I’m not much of a renunciate, and there are some things I just can’t do without. Sitting in a drafty monastery, with long hair, a hair dryer is one of them. So, despite the agreement by all retreat participants to remain on the monastery grounds for the duration, I set out to buy a replacement at the strip mall drug store I’d noticed on my way through town.
It’s a crisp sunny day and my senses, cleansed and pure from the silent retreat environment, are overwhelmed with the beauty of the fields and gardens as I wend my way down the hill toward town. I let it enter and feed my sensual soul.
The Long’s Drug Store is a different experience all together. Christmas clearance tables filled with garish holiday decorations, fluorescent lights, customers elbowing their way past me, are an assault to those same senses. But the store is well stocked, as I expected, and I find a hair dryer in minutes.
Standing in the checkout line, taking it all in, my eyes sweep the magazine racks. Something catches my gaze and I reach for it - “A PATTERN OF RAPE: War Crimes in Bosnia.” Newsweek Magazine’s first issue of the new year, Jan 4, 1993, shows two young women, girls really, sobbing and holding their faces in their hands.
I'm jolted to the core. I need to read this now. I buy the magazine and the hair dryer and return to the retreat.
What I read then is now well known to the world. But at that time, it was new to me, and I was in shock. Although I know there is a horrifying ethnically motivated war in the former Yugoslavia, I have no idea of what is happening to women there. The article points to the "massive, organized and systematic detention and rape of women, in particular Muslim women, in Bosnia and Herzegovina." Little do I realize, at the time, the impact these far away events are to have on the course of my life.
The article broadens and deepens my vision of the subject - rape as a global phenomenon. It renews the determination in me. Previously I had seen rape as a random act, an opportunistic one, fed by the deep-rooted misogyny inherent in the oppressive global gender systems. I have held the common view that rape in war time is an act of the victor “reaping the spoils of war.” I have never understood it as a systematic part of a strategy of genocide, an act designed to terrorize a population, shatter families, destroy communities, and, in some instances, change the ethnic composition by deliberately impregnating women and detaining them long enough to make termination impossible.
The sense of isolation I’ve always felt as a survivor of rape, that sense of being alone with the horror, dies in me that day. My first, tentative steps on a new path emerge. I am determined to connect deeply and widely to the world of other survivors, to know more, to understand more deeply. I have no idea where this path will lead me, but I know I am on my way.
A few days later I leave the retreat center for the final leg of my California journey, one for which my soul longs, a visit to my dear friend Marianne. As psychotherapists and feminists, we are deeply connected in our hearts and minds. After her brutal struggle with breast cancer, requiring chemotherapy and a mastectomy, she has returned to school to study for her doctorate in psychology. I am brimming over with news to share, stories to relive. My body is anticipating our embrace. Arriving at her home in Menlo Park, I run through the open back door, through the kitchen, and burst into the living room where she is sitting with our friend Irene. The year previously, they and their classmates at the California Institute of Transpersonal Psychology had the good fortune to study with Tosun Baba, a Turkish Sheikh, a remarkable Sufi wise man and teacher with a boundless heart. Joined by a number of their classmates, they became his students in the practice of Sufism, the mystical branch of Islam. Marianne and Irene are devoted to the path he has shown them - including that of service. We embrace. “Marcia, sit down please. Have tea with us. We have a proposition for you to consider.” Irene explains that, horrified by what she is reading in the media about the women war victims in Bosnia, she has contacted a woman in Zagreb, Croatia. Her contact is a member of the Center for Women War Victims, a group in of feminist anti-war activists. The Center is assisting women who have fled the rape and violence of the ethnic cleansing in Bosnia, and escaped into the relative safety of Croatia. When Irene asks her how we can be of help, she is told that their staff is in need of training and support for assisting these survivors of unthinkable violence. Irene immediately begins to put together a team to go to the war zone. “Marcia. will you go with us as our rape specialist? “
Without taking a breath I answer. “Yes.”
Six weeks later our team of 3 women and 2 men is stepping off a plane in Zagreb, Croatia, embarking on, what is to be for me, a life changing journey.