On June 26, 2017, four months before the “me too” campaign reignited, Cosmopolitan.com published the story of Calla Hales' rape in an article titled, "She Told a Guy She Worked at an Abortion Clinic. On Their Next Date, He Raped Her." No one, including Calla, could have predicted the vitriol directed at her from FOX News, the anti-choice movement (which claims Calla made up her rape as a part a pro-choice agenda), journalists, and even some feminists, all for opening up about her experience.
While extraordinary progress has been made in the past two months to make it safer for survivors to speak out, it was just seven months ago that Calla risked her safety to speak her truth. Here, Calla tells us, in her own words, what it was like to have her rape reported on and to subsequently have her character attacked, what she thinks has changed in the past seven months, and how she finds resilience to move forward as a director of an abortion health center, as a survivor, and as a woman in fear for her safety.
In the past six weeks, we have experienced a flood of survivors’ voices being heard and believed, and real consequences for some perpetrators. It was only seven months ago that Cosmo published the story of your rape, yet the way you were treated in the media and larger society was completely different from what we are seeing now.
I am thankful that others feel supported enough to speak out about their assaults, and I commend them for their bravery and send them so much love. I hate the fact that survivors had to shoulder this burden to expose their own pain in order to create change. There is a small part of me that’s angry that my pain somehow wasn’t enough for people to accept. I also am struggling with re-traumatization, and am thankful that I have found some incredible sources of support over the past year.
I don’t know if Cosmo released the article now, instead of seven months ago, I would have gotten a different response. While public support around sexual assault and rape has increased, so have the anti-choice attacks around abortion on cultural, legal, and physical levels, and so much of the backlash I’ve experienced is specifically because of the role abortion played in my story.
The idea of re-traumatization is confusing, especially for people who aren’t survivors. We go through enormous obstacles to speak out, and when we share our story it can make us feel our trauma all over again, even after years of healing from the initial trauma. What’s been your experience with re-traumatization?
It's been difficult. Some days, the aftermath of the attack and new waves of anonymous hate feel worse than the attack itself. For me, the physical pain ended, but the emotional trauma didn’t.
As survivors, I think we all fear that we will not be believed by friends and families, the police, the courts, or the community around us.
The fear of not being believed is absolutely something I worried about. I vividly remember not being as supportive as I should have been in college when a classmate was raped. I know how easy it is to slip into that immediately questioning mindset, to poke at muddy waters in hopes of finding clarity.
When I told my story, I questioned who would really even care that it happened because, as it stands, there are some folks that really hate me because of my job as the administrator of a health center that provides abortions. It's unfortunate and I hope that there's a cultural shift, but at the time of my attack and in this moment, it's reality.
I've always fancied myself as a strong, independent woman, and I thought I'd be able to brush off a lot. The fact is I am a strong and independent woman, and not being believed still fucking hurt.
I know, as survivors, we all have complex relationships with speaking out. What did that decision feel like for you?
It was absolutely petrifying. I had a lot of conflicting emotions about it, and some days, I still worry if I made the right call. A lot of my anxiety centers around how this story would affect my family and friends — would they still love me when they found out? Would they believe me? Would they abandon me?
When the request for the Cosmo interview came in, it had been almost two years since the attack, and I felt that I had made significant progress in my healing. Despite this progress, the first thing I thought about when considering the request were the relationships that I had lost in aftermath of the attack. I initially balked at the idea of an interview; I didn’t want to risk the new support and stability I had found. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that telling my story could help me heal.
Why was telling your story important to you?
In all honesty, I’m sick of being beholden to this event. I’m sick of it owning my life, my emotions, my relationships. It happened to me, but it doesn’t have to define me. The past two years have been a very turbulent journey to get to this point in my life, but they have brought me to the realization that it wasn’t my fault. My goal was, and still is, to help survivors realize they aren’t alone, and that they are worthy of love and support.
What has been the hardest part?
The hardest part has been ignoring the trolls. I know, it’s so easy to say, “Don’t read the comments,” but when it’s your personal life that’s being picked apart, it’s hard not to look. To see comments that say, “You’re too fat and ugly to be raped,” “You deserved it, baby killer,” and “You know you wanted it, you attention whore” can really mess with your head. Some days, I feel angry and confrontational. Other days, I question my existence — am I too fat, too ugly to be loved? Did I deserve it or give him some unconscious body language that led him astray? Most days, however, I ask myself what Chrissy Teigen would do and carry on throughout the day.
I want to talk about your security concerns. Preferred Women’s Health Center, where you are an administrator and co-owner, has been the target of some of the most aggressive anti-choice actions we have seen in the country, including cyber attacks, barricading patients from accessing the building, and violent threats against you your staff. Have those security concerns changed since the publishing of the piece?
Security concerns have changed, and not in ways I imagined. I already had some security protocols in place, but I’ve recently started getting recognized in public. It’s a little terrifying to have a stranger walk up to you and say, “Hey, are you Calla Hales? You work at Preferred Women’s Health Center?” I never know how the conversation is going to go — I’ve had both positive and negative encounters start like that.
The worst encounter I’ve had was when a little girl, probably no older than six, came up to me while I was in line at a bagel store, tugged on my hand and asked me if I was a “lying slut.” The young girl was with two older men who recognized me and she had overheard their conversation. It was so hard to stay in line and not cry; everyone around me had overheard the conversation, but no one wanted to acknowledge it. It was this suffocating silence.
The most entertaining instance was when a woman thanked me for sharing my story while I was in Lush buying anti-chafing powder.
Your story demonstrates that whether are talking about rape or about abortion access, we are asking the same question: Who is trying to control our bodies and why?
Sexual violence and organizing against reproductive freedom are both about control. Specifically, they’re about how to take control away from repressed, marginalized, and minority bodies.
It’s hard knowing that I was targeted because of my work. It happened because a man felt threatened by a woman’s autonomy. I’ve experienced a lot of hate in my profession, but this type of intimate attack was unexpected. I never imagined a situation like this, ever.
How are you taking care of yourself these days?
I’m pretty bad at self-care. I’m really great at throwing myself into projects and keeping myself so busy that I can’t really dwell on the things bothering me. It’s something I’m actively trying to be better at. Right now, this means attempting a better schedule of diet and exercise, trying to sleep more, and seeing my therapist regularly.
If you could communicate one thing to fellow survivors, what would it be?
It is not your fault.
What’s the one thing you’d most like to say to people who aren’t survivors?
It’s hard to know how to support survivors. Sometimes it’s best to simply say, “I have no idea how to help you or support you like you need right now, but I want you to know I’m here, I love you, and I want to try.”
I believe that telling our stories is an act of healing and resistance. Thank you for all that you do and for sharing your words with us.
Top image via Cosompolitan.com
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Alisa Zipursky writes the blog Healing Honestly where she tells stories about being a survivor of child sexual abuse and living with PTSD. It's funnier than you'd think. You can follow her work and get in touch with her at HealingHonestly.com.