Three days after my last chance encounter with my rapist, I left to study abroad for five weeks. After I had admitted to my parents I was suicidal, in a rather ingenious move by my father, he signed me up for an Architecture study abroad. I had mentioned the program to my parents after seeing all the students’ work on display from the trip. It gave me something to look forward to. Now it also gave me an escape. A chance to really get away and breath. To walk away from the fear and know there was no possibility of bumping into my rapist around town. Plus, by the time I returned he would have moved.
I spent two weeks traveling through Italy and three weeks traveling through Greece photographing, sketching and learning to watercolor. It was one of the most profound experiences of my life up to that point. It was the fifteenth year my professor and his wife had led the trip. Our group consisted of seventeen female students and three male students from Universities all over the United States. My professor knew locals everywhere who welcomed us as if we were family.
We stayed at mom-and-pop establishments and ate at local restaurants. My professor taught us to picnic cheaply in Italy buying fresh meats, bread and cheeses. We Enjoyed private dining at restaurants where the chef pulled our professor into the kitchen and enlisted his help cooking. On one occasion, we were brought fresh fruit on a silver platter from a local woman as we painted. Local children came and played around us as we painted. We were immersed in the culture. It was the trip of a lifetime. I enjoyed myself and forgot about everything I had been facing. I put the rape behind me and just took everything in. I experienced and appreciated life, other cultures, food, art and architecture. I felt “normal” again.
Over the course of my five-week trip I only thought of my rape twice. This may not seem significant, but it was a huge reprieve for me. After months of everyday being dominated by thoughts of the rape, being so distracted to only think of it twice in five weeks was huge for me. The first time was during our visit to the Uffizi in Florence. As we walked through The Galleria dell’Academia we came across the “Rape of Sabines” statue by Giambologna. Immediately the female student next to me remarked that one of her friends was raped in college. She then recounted the event in all its horrific detail. It made me sick. I struggled to hold it together and not start crying myself. I didn’t want to listen, but at the same time I couldn’t stop listening. Even to this day, I remember every detail she shared.
The second instance was one of the last nights of our trip. I was sitting at a table with two other female students and one of them admitted to being sexually assaulted in college. The other then admitted to being molested by a babysitter as a child. After their vulnerability, I felt compelled to share. I told them I had been raped my freshman year and that had led me to feeling suicidal. We cried together. Neither of the women had ever sought any help to deal with their incidents. I encouraged both to get connected with a counselor. I shared how counseling helped me face my emotions in a safe environment and was helping me move toward healing.