It’s Peace Corps week! A few years ago. to commemorate Peace Corps week, I shared snippets of emails that I sent back to my friends and family while serving in Moldova, and today I’m writing about a part of my Peace Corps experience that I’ve never talked about publicly before. At this point it’s a secret I’m tired of keeping.
One night in December 2006 I took the evening rutiera (minibus) from Chisinau back to my village. The thing with this rutiera route was that it didn’t stop at my village: its route ended in the village next to mine, which was about a 10 minute walk away. I got off the rutiera around 10 pm and started walking briskly to my house. Two men came up behind me and I said hello. They said hello back, dragged me kicking and screaming into an field, made me take off all my clothes, and then they raped me. One of them kept raping me while the other went back to the village to grab some friends so that they could rape me too.
To make a long story short, I pressed charges immediately and all the men went to jail for six years. The truly disgusting part? I found out later that one of the rapists (who’s face I couldn’t see at the time) was a student of mine.
I was medically evacuated to Washington, DC a few weeks afterwards and they asked me if I wanted to go back to Moldova. I immediately said, “yes” because, come hell or high water, I was not going to let my rapists decide the course of my life. I had wanted to do Peace Corps so badly, and they were not going to take that away from me. I was placed at a different site with a lovely host family and fantastic counterparts. I was glad I went back, and I got to finish my Peace Corps service on my own terms.
Peace Corps (both the country office and headquarters) handled the rape as best they could, and I don’t fault them for anything. I was a woman walking by myself at night, something I assumed was safe BECAUSE IT SHOULD BE. I was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.
You’ll notice that I didn’t title this blog post “My Peace Corps Story,” or something like that, because it isn’t. There is so much more to my Peace Corps experience than being raped, and it in no way defines that experience. In fact, I’d eagerly do Peace Corps again if given the chance. When I think back on Peace Corps, I remember meeting Nate, my awesome group of peer educators, my friends, how hard my counterparts really did try, the cold winters (and poopsicles in the outhouse), and how much I hated potatoes and dill. That right there is my Peace Corps story.
I’ve put a lot of time, energy and tears into processing being raped. I treat being a rape survivor kind of like how I would manage having a tail (yes, like the tail that a dog or cat has. Bear with me here; this is all metaphorical). Humans don’t have tails, but I do, and I used to be ashamed by it and try to keep it hidden. Hardly anyone knew about it, and sometimes its presence would make me really upset because I didn’t know how to deal with it. So I figured out how to keep it stuffed away, hidden from everyone. But, now, I don’t care that I have a tail. Some of the most amazing women I know also have tails. It doesn’t define who I am, but it is part of me. And I am not ashamed of who I am.
I am myself: I am a strong, fun, loving, interesting, bad-ass, experienced woman. I am also a wife, a mother, a friend, a public health professional, an athlete, a photographer, a tour guide, and a rape survivor. I am proud to be me.