Tori Amos on Being a Rape Survivor
20/20 Interview with Tori Amos about Rape and Being a Rape Survivor
Tori Amos on being a rape victim and rape survivor. In this interview, Amos discusses the psychological repercussions of rape, why she's talking about the rape, and healing from rape.
(This is an unedited, uncorrected transcript.)
Chasing Away the Demons
CONNIE CHUNG Tori Amos is a pop singer who has sold millions of albums. Among her fans are many young women attracted to her message of strength and confidence. But one of her songs in particular has had a profound effect on her listeners. It's about a horrible trauma that she suffered. As Elizabeth Vargas tells us, it ignited a healing process in women who have gone through the same terrifying experience.
SHANNON, COLLEGE STUDENT I still have no idea how he managed to do it, how he managed to hold pin my wrists down and cover my mouth.
KELLIE GREENE (PH) I kept yelling at him to take my money, "I have money. It's on the counter.
SHANNON He was very condescending and, "You asked for it. You're lucky.
KELLIE GREENE And he kept pushing me to the ground and kept hitting me and hitting me.
SHANNON He said, "Don't scream, or I'll kill you.
KELLIE GREENE And finally, he said, "I'm not here for your money. And that's when I got quiet.
SHANNON I thought that being dead would be better than what I was feeling.
KELLIE GREENE And I knew what he was there for. He was there to rape me.
ELIZABETH VARGAS, ABCNEWS (VO) These women are linked not only because they survived rape, but because they are able to talk about it. It has been a long journey for both. One suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, the other was on the brink of suicide. And their paths to healing both intersect with music, the music of Tori Amos. At 35, Tori Amos is a popular rock singer. Her last three albums have all gone platinum. She sings about the familiar and the forbidden.
TORI AMOS I'm very interested in chasing a shadow and chasing the dark side. This is what I do.
ELIZABETH VARGAS (VO) It is her chilling lyrics in the song Me And A Gun that document that dark side, describing an event that happened to her in her early 20s.
TORI AMOS (singing) Me and a gun and a man on my back.
ELIZABETH VARGAS (VO) Tori had just finished playing a nightclub and offered a fan a ride home. He ended up kidnapping and raping her. After years of struggle, she found her only way to deal with the rape was to write a song about it.
TORI AMOS It's a song about brutality and invasion on the deepest level. (singing) You pushed flat on your stomach ...
ELIZABETH VARGAS (on camera) Every time you sing that song, do you go back to that place that night?
TORI AMOS To heal the wound, you have to go into the dark night of the soul.
ELIZABETH VARGAS But Tori Amos soon learned that healing can be difficult. So many rape victims suffer severe psychological repercussions. They become distracted, depressed, feel like they're going crazy. It can be so overwhelming that many rape victims don't deal with the rape at all. They tuck it away. And for those women, doctors says it takes a trigger to bring the rape back to the surface. It can be an emotional event a song, a book or a movie. Only then can the women reach out, start talking about the rape and finally deal with the trauma. It was this movie, Thelma and Louise, that was Tori Amos's trigger seven years after her rape.
SUSAN SARANDON, ACTRESS (CLIP FROM THELMA AND LOUISE) In the future, when a woman is crying like that, she isn't having any fun.
TORI AMOS People had to move away from me in the theater, just because I was, you know, sobbing. I was like a little wellspring sitting there.
ELIZABETH VARGAS (VO) Tori Amos says hours after seeing the movie, she wrote the song Me And A Gun. What Tori never anticipated was that her own breakthrough would trigger the breakthroughs of so many others.
TORI AMOS We were getting hundreds of letters every week.
ELIZABETH VARGAS (on camera) What did the letters say?
TORI AMOS They're all different, but the thread is that there are so many people out there that have had some kind of sexual violation.
ELIZABETH VARGAS (VO) Tori began to discover that in the crowds waiting outside the concert halls were survivors of rape. People waiting as long as eight hours for a chance to whisper their story or pass her a letter. Tori never misses an opportunity to listen or share. Shannon, a 19-year-old college student, credits Tori Amos with helping her deal with her rape.
SHANNON I won't say that she saved my life, because I don't think she'd like that. But she definitely helped me to find the strength to save myself.
ELIZABETH VARGAS (VO) Five years ago, Shannon was raped after a high school party. One of the guests held her down and attacked her.
SHANNON I remember just clinging to the metal on the bed and looking out the window and feeling like I was dying. Then he finished, and he patted me on my head. And he told me not to worry, he didn't think I was old enough to get pregnant anyway and walked out the door. I got up and took a shower. And it all settled in while I was taking that shower, the realization that I was never going to be the same person. And standing in there, just turning it on as hot as it would go, because I thought I must be a dirty, horrible person if this happened to me. And I was trying to wash it away. But it wouldn't go away. And when I couldn't wash it away, I decided to sort of put it away.
TORI AMOS (singing) I've got something to say, I know, but nothing comes.
ELIZABETH VARGAS (VO) Rape is a recurring theme in many of Tori Amos's songs. This song, Silent All These Years, underlines the feeling victims have of being boxed in by their silence. It is a common symptom, says therapist Alison Clement (ph).
ALISON CLEMENT, THERAPIST There are a number of survivors that don't come forward for a very long time. Some never come forward. It's not impossible for a survivor to put in the back of their mind and make like it never happened.
TORI AMOS I didn't really ever talk about this. I didn't deal with it. Girlfriends were coming up to me saying, "You need a therapist. You need a shrink. I'm not going to talk to you anymore.
ELIZABETH VARGAS (on camera) Why didn't you deal with it?
TORI AMOS I think on a lot of levels, there's a real embarrassment and shame to any kind of invasion on that level. (singing) Silent all these years.
KELLIE GREENE Sexual assault, you have the word "sex attached to it. It's a personal experience, and nobody talks about it.
ELIZABETH VARGAS (VO) Kellie Greene was raped five years ago when a man entered her unlocked apartment.
KELLIE GREENE He rushed around the corner, smashed me in the head with my tea kettle. And I remember feeling the the wetness pouring down me. And I thought that it was water, but then I realized it was my own blood.
ELIZABETH VARGAS (VO) After the man had beaten and sexually assaulted her, he got up and walked out.
KELLIE GREENE And as I laid there, half-naked, bleeding, I remember catching a glimpse of someone in the mirror, and it was me. But I didn't recognize myself. And I was amazed at how this person could have so much a lack of respect for human life to do that.
ELIZABETH VARGAS (VO) Kellie tried to resume a normal life but began losing confidence, couldn't make decisions. She isolated herself. Both she and Shannon pushed away the memories of their experiences.
SHANNON I spent four years pretending like it didn't happen. I couldn't take it anymore. And I was depressed for no reason.
KELLIE GREENE You lose your trust. You become fearful. You feel trapped in your house.
SHANNON I was sitting in my room, thinking of ways that I could kill myself.
ELIZABETH VARGAS (VO) A friend gave Shannon Tori Amos's Little Earthquakes CD. The song Me And A Gun served as Shannon's trigger.
SHANNON It was like I instantly knew exactly what she was talking about, and I locked my door and I put the song on repeat, and I just sat on the floor and just absolutely sobbed. It was just so amazing to suddenly feel like, "I'm not all alone, and this is normal to be feeling this way.
KELLIE GREENE She's been able to come forward and say that it happened to her and she doesn't show embarrassment. She doesn't show shame. She just shows strength.
ELIZABETH VARGAS (VO) Tori's amazement at how survivors were connecting with her songs began to turn to alarm when at a concert, a young girl collapsed, overcome with emotion. The girl was brought backstage.
TORI AMOS I just said, "So what's going on with you? And she said, "I want to come and join the tour. I said, "What's so bad that you want to do that, like now? And she said, "Because my stepfather raped me last night. He'll rape me tomorrow night, and he's going to rape me tonight when I get home.
ELIZABETH VARGAS (VO) Tori came to the realization that she was in over her head. These girls needed professional help, and she was not equipped to provide it. It was at this point that she cofounded RAINN. It was the first ever national hot line linking victims of rape and incest with professional counselors 24 hours a day.
TORI AMOS (TV COMMERCIAL FOR RAINN) In the time it takes you to brush your teeth, one woman in America is forcibly raped. Unlock the silence.
ALISON CLEMENT Talking about it is a very important step in the healing process. I believe that it helps a survivor move from victim to survivor.
ELIZABETH VARGAS (VO) Since its inception four years ago, RAINN has been receiving an average of 4,000 calls a month.
ALISON CLEMENT Because the very best a survivor can do is say this happened to me. I'm alive. I'm OK. I made it through it, and here I am today.
ELIZABETH VARGAS (VO) One of those calls came from Kellie Green. She began getting counseling and working as a RAINN volunteer.
SPEAKER Please join me in welcoming women's rights defender and advocate, Kellie Green.
ELIZABETH VARGAS (VO) Just as Tori used her own experience to help others, Kellie began reaching out as well. She now speaks at colleges and most recently at this human rights conference.
KELLIE GREENE Why should I be shamed into silence when it is the rapist who is responsible for his actions?
ELIZABETH VARGAS (VO) Shannon is also reaching out. Long before she could talk about her rape, Shannon began writing about it on the Web site she created called ;Welcome to Barbados, named after Tori's lyrics.
SHANNON I miss who I used to be so much. Sometimes I think that part of me isn't dead. She's just hiding in some deep corner, and she's scared of being hurt again.
ELIZABETH VARGAS (VO) The site has now become a clearing house for thousands of rape survivors, posting their stories, giving advice and offering support. (on camera) If you could say one thing to Tori Amos, what would you tell her?
SHANNON That she deserves every ounce of thanks I can muster up because, without her, I don't know where I'd be.
KELLIE GREENE I think I would ask her, how do you move on with your sexuality that's lost? How do you get that back? How do you feel safe? And how do you have that healthy relationship with another person?
ELIZABETH VARGAS And is that something you're still searching for?
KELLIE GREENE I want to find it again. Yep. That's the last thing. But it's the hardest, I believe. It's the hardest.
ELIZABETH VARGAS (VO) We invited Shannon, Kellie and their friend Debbie to spend a few minutes with Tori backstage before a concert.
TORI AMOS Come sit.
KELLIE GREENE May I ask you something personal, because I may never get the chance to do it again?
TORI AMOS Yeah.
KELLIE GREENE How did you get past the sexuality, to find it again?
TORI AMOS It's taken me a long time to be a woman.
KELLIE GREENE Right.
TORI AMOS I have a really good shrink, and we started beading a necklace as she calls it, you know.
KELLIE GREENE Uh-huh.
TORI AMOS This much at a time, a little bead here, a little bead there. A memory, a moment and then one day, something shifted.
KELLIE GREENE I hope that I can get there someday.
TORI AMOS You can get there.
KELLIE GREENE I know.
TORI AMOS You're going to get there.
KELLIE GREENE Thank you.
TORI AMOS (singing) Me and a gun and a man on my back, so I must get out of this.
CHARLES GIBSON Neither Shannon, who you met in that story, nor Tori Amos ever went to authorities to report their rape. Kellie Greene did. And the man who raped her was captured in another case and identified as Kellie's rapist through DNA testing.
Last Updated: 10 February 2016
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD