A former classmate and childhood friend reached out to me via social media a couple months ago. She sent me a link to this blog post, sharing that she thought I might be interested and that the woman who wrote the article, Rachael Brooks, was publishing a book about her experiences as a survivor. I read the blog post, then navigated to Rachael’s website, where I read more of her content, and then promptly pre-ordered her book on Amazon.
Rachael’s debut memoir, Beads, was delivered while I was out of town for the Thanksgiving holiday. I set it aside once I returned in order to finish another book and about a week later, my opportunity to read it finally arrived. I opened the front cover, expecting to read about a woman who’d lived through a violent rape and that her life was negatively impacted for a long time after the horrific experience. And while Beads did address these topics, there was so much more within this book’s pages than I ever could have predicted.
After a lifetime of instructions meant to teach me “safe” behavior, “appropriate” attire, and the “proper” way to speak to make sure that I’m not setting myself up for unwanted sexual attention and/or asking to be assaulted, the very first chapter of Rachael’s book allowed me to breathe a sigh of relief. I found myself chuckling because I felt that the author understood me in the most wonderfully tragic of ways.
I remember thinking, Someone gets it.
“Let me tell you all the ways to avoid getting raped.
Exactly. There are none. Sober or drunk, revealing clothes or sweats, makeup or none, it does not matter.” -Rachael Brooks
Reading this book was a profound experience. My story is unique, but the shared experience between myself and the author (our survival of rape) was what initially drew my interest (you can read a little of my story here). With every survivor’s story that I read, I feel a little stronger and a little less alone because I believe that together we can make the world a safer place. I feel empowered because, together, our voices become louder and ensure that we are heard. I have hope that by telling our stories today, we are going to make the world of tomorrow a better place.
I knew I would get something out of learning Rachael’s story, but I never could have anticipated how much.
I picked up Beads and I couldn’t put it down until I’d read the very last page. As I slowly closed the book and gazed at the front cover, fighting the tears that wanted to spill over, I knew that I had just finished reading something life-changing.
I considered sending the author a letter to tell her all the ways her book had impacted me. I also wanted to share with the world what they should expect from her story because I value the hope it can provide to survivors as well as the inspiration to heal ourselves and the power we have to help others.
Ultimately, I decided to write an open letter, both to Rachael and the world, to share my reaction and emotional response to reading her book.
“Never blame yourself. You did not get raped. Someone raped you.” -Rachael Brooks
I just want to say thank you.These are two simple words that can’t express how I feel after reading Beads, but it’s certainly a start.
As the blurb on your front cover indicated, I expected you to tell me that your life fell apart, but you painted a much deeper, much more intimate and candid portrait of the devastation you endured as you detailed your experiences. You withheld nothing as you shared the self-destructive methods you clung to as you attempted to cope with the aftermath of such a violation of both mind and body. Your willingness to shine a floodlight into the darkest corners of your life leaves me speechless; suffice it to say that I am in awe and admiration of your strength and bravery.
You exposed with candor the shortcomings of our legal system and how it deals with crimes of sexual violence—without undue judgment. You exposed how the victims, the survivors, of these crimes are disbelieved, blamed, and left in limbo, without closure, for years, as the kits that could potentially provide the evidence needed for a conviction sit on a shelf somewhere, collecting dust.And then, you were frank as you depicted how that affects you when you’re the one in desperate need of that closure.
“Allow yourself to feel.” -Rachael Brooks
I recognized so much of myself as I read your account of what you went through emotionally and psychologically, both immediately and long after your rape. But it was your transparency, self-acceptance, and absence of judgment toward yourself that was most profound to me. As survivors, we can be our biggest critics, unforgiving of ourselves and our behavior while reeling from such a violation, but you illustrated that it doesn’t have to be that way—we can be kinder toward ourselves.
There are many paths our lives can take after such an experience, but you chose the most noble, the most inspiring. You courageously chose to use your experience to help and provide hope to fellow survivors, to actively work to effect change in our legal system and society’s treatment of us, and to do everything you can to make this world a better place.
For yourself. For me. For survivors. For our children.
On behalf of myself, my daughters, and everyone whose lives will be better because of you:
“Believe in yourself. You can do this. It will absolutely not be easy, but you can get to the other side.”
Learn more about Rachael on her website, where you can also read more of her writing on her blog. You can also order a copy of her book, Beads: A Memoir about Falling Apart and Putting Yourself Back Together Again, here.
Katherine Turner is the author of Finding Annie, a contemporary romantic women’s fiction novel that explores the power of love and human resilience in the wake of trauma and abuse. She blogs about mental health, trauma, and ways we can be more compassionate as a society. Sign up for her newsletter to stay up to date and get the first five chapters of her novel Finding Annie free!