His face, his assault, my destruction has held an unrelenting and vicious grip on my very being every day of my life since then.
When I was a junior in college in 1967, I was raped by a Students For A Democratic Society (SDS) activist named Ron Bitten on the couch of the apartment I was sharing with another woman. His face, his assault, my destruction has held an unrelenting and vicious grip on my very being every day of my life since then.
After the rape, I disappeared for two weeks. I don’t know where I went and neither does anyone else. My mother back in my hometown 1,000 miles away was frantic, but when I returned and told her on the phone what happened to me, she said, “Oh Suzan. It takes two to tango.” She also called me “Sarah Bernhardt,” meaning that I should cut the drama. And with that she summed up the general pre-women’s movement attitude toward rape.
That rape shaped my life, my fears, my direction. In my first women’s liberation collective at Boston University, we adopted a revenge project in which we helped women to revenge their rapists in ways they wanted. I wanted to brand Ron Bitten across the forehead with “RAPIST” but try as I might I could not find a blacksmith who would make such a brand for me. Of course they were all men.
By the next year, I got seriously into the martial arts. Originally, I was motivated by my fantasies of revenge, but I also dreamed of having the ability to protect other women. That eventually turned into a 20-year career as a Tae Kwon Do master. I retired from the martial arts in 1991, but just a week ago I got a video message from the Institute I founded, which still bears my name and in which the students still bow to my photo. In the video, a bunch of students wished me a happy 70th birthday.
Through the years on the various continents where I’ve lived, I’ve raged with a fierce devotion to righteous movements, despite the irony that my rapist was a well-respected leftie. In 2012 I was pulling together the initial draft of my memoir and I decided for the first time to look for him. Ron Bitten was on Facebook and through the information on his wall I was able to find his home address and phone number. He was married, had children, had been a journalist, and maintained as a key aspect of his identity his time in Boston as an SDS and anti-war activist. He now lived in Florida and was retired.
Finding that he had lived a seemingly easy life and had managed to afford to retire so early made me sick. I was sure that he probably did not remember raping me at all. He may have raped other women. If he recalled anything about the incident, it was probably just as another “score.” Since he worked as a journalist, he apparently wasn’t nervous about having such a public profile, despite his criminal act. For me, that violation is a daily nightmare. Until about a decade ago I couldn’t say the word “rape.” I still don’t see movies or TV shows that have rape in them. I don’t read literature that has rape in it. If I hear a noise at night, I think it is him or some other rapey guy.
Since locating him in 2012 I have been in turmoil about what to do.
Fast forward to October 2017. The #MeToo movement was revived after the Harvey Weinstein revelations. My Facebook wall was drenched in the courage and candor of countless women. Many were not feminists or activists or artists or writers—they were women who had been assaulted. Some tried to list their assaults, but there were always too many. Some wrote wrenching accounts of how rape had misshapen their lives. I, on the other hand, only wrote “#MeToo.” I have never spoken publicly or written about being raped by Ron Bitten.
I am once again working on that memoir, which I had put away after my disturbing research on this rapist. Yesterday I decided that it was time to confront this bastard. I went to his Facebook page.
Ron Bitten died on September 13, 2017. Now what?
Sue Katz’s business card identifies her as a “wordsmith and rebel.” Her fiction and non-fiction have been published on the three continents where she has lived and worked, first as a martial arts master, then promoting transnational volunteering, and most recently, teaching fitness and dance to seniors and elders. Her books include Lillian’s Last Affair (six short stories about the love lives of older people) and Lillian in Love (a unique novel about a romance between two old women in senior housing).