TRIGGER WARNING This article contains information about sexual assault and/or violence which may be triggering to survivors.
The first time I was sexually harassed was in spring, I was 8 years old and I was busy setting up the toy market with my friend Angela in the castle square in Ferrara. A gentleman bought some things and then said “Be good, you’ll give me a receipt, won’t you? “, and I, all proud, started writing on a piece of paper. He started groping my ass, slowly, and then he left, with his receipt.
A year earlier my parents had divorced, and one night I heard them talking: “you take the girl”, “no I can’t, you keep her”, “no you”, “you”. You don’t understand. I can’t understand it either. You can only “know”, not understand. It was definitely a turning point. An internal deflagration. A star had imploded and a black hole was born inside me. Years later I understood that my parents were worried that they were not up to the task of raising me on their own, but in return they trusted each other, and were trying to protect me from their real or supposed shortcomings. But when you are 7 years old, you don’t understand these things. All you know is that there’s something terribly wrong with you. As you grow up and reach puberty, you become more and more a people-pleaser, and you disassociate yourself from your body and soul. This black hole has been fuelled over the years by other incidents outside the family and has been one of the main obstacles to developing a strong self-esteem and an awareness of my boundaries and needs.
Violence is physical, but also psychological and social.
It was a constant torment on the street. Among the many gallant and appreciable flatteries, I always found (and by always I mean, every day) the boor who threw me the most vulgar and disgusting appreciations. The church and doctors propagated the message that my body was wrong, to medicalize, to cover up. The TV told me that it was to be uncovered, perfumed, shaved and used to sell and buy.
Either way, the body was always treacherous and dangerous.
My boobs were grabbed violently and ravaged four times, once in church. My ass? It’s been touched without permission a few dozen times. But not the childish touch from elementary school. I am talking pushy bossy fingers.
Violence is physical, but also psychological and social.
React? Yes, of course. I’ve tried. The result were very heavy insults, once even a kick in the stomach, another time a punch in the back, another time I was followed all the way home. Roaring voices that leave you helpless and shocked. And a sense of shame, as unjustified as it is palpable. I know a lot of people will understand me. If you’re into it, you’re a slut. If you’re not, you need to get laid more, you bitch, cunt, wooden pussy, rubber pussy, lesbian, sour pussy, frigid. And every time, the shame of being wrong, of having something dirty inside. And then the fear. The fear that a heterosexual man can’t understand. I am lucky, after all. I have an exuberant body, which attracts attention, but also strong, which commands a certain caution in certain men. I think of those who are reading now and feel petite. I think of your fear, similar to mine, but amplified by the awareness of appearing helpless.
Violence is physical, but also psychological and social.
An older boy “adopted” me at a difficult time in London, and behaved like the perfect older brother. Except, he went back to his hometown and told people that I gave him the best blowjobs. Another fellow countryman, when I rejected his love, concocted a campaign of hatred and lies that left me overwhelmed, and homeless, spreading rumors, yet again, about alleged blowjobs.
Violence is a hallmark of patriarchy, and it also involves women.
How many women have used sex and violence to destroy a “rival”? In 1996 and 2003 I survived this type of violence. Different in age, origin and social background, the only thing these two women had in common was the jealousy towards me and the lie they spread to hit me: they would have seen me the night before giving a guy a blowjob in the club’s bathroom. It seems that this blowjob thing is the favorite lie to discredit a woman. Maybe now it’s anal sex. He comes my two cents: the next time someone tells you that “she gave a blowjob/asshole to a guy” you blow a raspberry. You should also know that female rivalry is a cultural product: actually the female body reacts to stress signals by generating oxytocin, which is magnified by estrogen. Simply put, stress makes us want to form alliances and take care of each other. We are not rivals we are just drawn that way (cit. Jessica Rabbit).
The first time I was raped, I was 17. He was my boyfriend. He chased me around the house, dragged me to my bed violently, and violated me to punish me for my “rebellion”. Fights were frequent, because he was insanely jealous. I was the problem because I was “too beautiful”. Did I leave him after he raped me? Of course not. I didn’t even know it was rape. I didn’t think about it anymore. The black hole swallowed up everything. I didn’t think about it for 20 years. But the traumas in the shadows keep rotting away.
The second time I was raped, I was 24. The man in question courted me tightly and romantically for weeks, and then, finally, the first kiss on the beach. We went home together, but he didn’t give me any time, he took me by force, bent me over 90 degrees and fucked me, came a minute later, got dressed, and lied on the bed reading. From that day on, he never spoke to me again, avoiding my presence. Instead of getting angry, I felt wrong once again. I found out, after many years, that he did this to other women.
You cannot respect your body and soul if you lack self-esteem; and we cannot recognize the predators, both inner and outer, if our initiation has been interrupted or is lacking.
The third time I was raped I was 24, a few months later. This time it was a very close person, an old and dear friend. We were coming back from a bonfire, it was morning now. He’d driven me home, and we’d have the last talk before bed.
Out of nowhere I find him on top of me, weighing me down. I protest. He blocks my arms and goes inside me. I start crying. There’s nothing I can do. I’m exhausted. I surrender. This body belongs to everyone but me. Fuck it, keep it. It’s all over in a matter of minutes. I’m blurred. He apologizes. I stammer something, open the door and leave. I’ve completely forgotten what I did afterwards. Did I shower? Did I cry? Did I throw up? I don’t know. Maybe I went to bed while the black hole ate me inside.
To survive, I denied the evidence. Besides, who would have believed me? I was a free woman, traveling alone, and I had had many lovers, for the chrism of the society in which I was born. Many had seen me dancing uninhibited and partying in the company of male friends on many occasions. But what if they had believed me? One of the consequences would have been to destroy the group of friends. The group of friends that had become my strongest point of reference over the years. But I didn’t make all those considerations at the time. The black hole, now a giant one, swallowed up everything and I have always denied it to myself, for 10 years.
I think I understand why Asia Argento now says Weinstein raped her, but at the time she went back to bed with him. Because I did the same.
I considered myself less than nothing. My survival trick was to invite my rapist the next day to my house to fuck, and I would decide when, where, and how, to be an active participant in the thing and normalizing the rape. I wasn’t going to be a victim; I was going to be an accomplice. As if everything had been normal that tragic morning, as if it was written in the stars that we would end up in bed together. I wanted that, too, deep down, I did. Yeah, right. I wasn’t raped, I wasn’t raped, I wasn’t raped by my friend. No. And so, magically, the violence doubled up. First by him, and then by me.
In 2013, for the first time, I said the words: I was raped. I was under an olive tree in the Assisi countryside, with a cheese sandwich in my hand, together with my friend Rosa. That walking trip changed my life. I met the Great Mother within me and in nature, the great transformative breath that unites creation and destruction, and she gave me the compassion and courage to name my truth, and to regain the wisdom of the body. From there I began to heal. Returning to my body. Then I talked it over with the psychotherapist. Then with an old friend. Then with my beautiful partner. And now here.
The violence I suffered came from individuals, society and myself. What to do to heal completely I don’t know yet, but I am fine with the fact that it is a long, spiral process, full of new beginnings and ends, and my partner is with me. I have a very complicated relationship with sex. I often have flashbacks that leave me motionless and shivering. And the more I dig, the more they come out.
I never discussed it with the attackers. Sometimes I wish, sometimes I hope I never meet them again. But one of them is always with me; I did not know and could not protect myself, I mercilessly attacked myself for so many years, treated myself like trash and ate the rotten fruits, convincing myself that I deserved nothing more. The more I dig, the more I feel compassion for this woman, who is me, victim and perpetrator, and consequently for everybody else, including my attackers.
I wrote these lines for myself, but it is also my testimony that violence is very frequent and devastating, but you can turn this wound into nourishment. Paradoxically, it gives us, the survivors, a depth and a privileged point of view to help others. Can we heal ourselves without healing society?
My creature Medulla was born out of this violence and the many deaths that followed within me. It is the attempt to rediscover a healthy male and female principle within each of us, and to accompany other people in this discovery, through a profound journey to rediscover the body, its cycles, its truths and its wisdom.
Can we heal society without healing ourselves? The attacker is rarely a stranger, very often we find him at home or in the close circle of friends. This is my experience and world statistics agree. Sometimes he is present within us, an internalized projection of patriarchal violence, which damages both man and woman.
Today is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. Violence is too widespread to be ignored any longer. Each of us has a friend, brother, brother-in-law or father who is, or has been, violent. Every one knows a woman who thinks she deserves that violence. But violence is systemic, not just individual.
We are all united by these wounds, and together we can speak about them more openly, with great compassion, recognizing first of all the dysfunctional mechanisms present in each of us, even in our way of consuming and producing, and in our way of treating nature. A deep respect for the body-soul cannot mature when the relationship with Nature is corrupted.
This is my contribution today, but every day I work with myself and others to create a healthier ecosystem. I dream and build the dream, and I am less and less alone.