I was raped, and I didn’t even admit it to myself for four years. My story is not unique. Not even a little. It’s a story I think that sadly more women will relate to than you could ever know. When I was pitching this story, a very close friend of mine confessed she had a similar story and had never shared it with anyone. I guess that’s why I want to tell it. Maybe if I tell my story, someone else will decide tell theirs and if we keep telling the same story over and over just maybe in some future it will be just a story and not a living nightmare that happens every day.
It was Halloween and a coworker was having a party. I had an idea for what I thought at the time was an oh-so-clever costume: a girl on the walk of shame. It entailed a haplessly buttoned XL-men’s shirt worn like a dress, messy hair, slept in looking make-up, and one shoe. Some people deemed it sexy, others whispered not-so-quietly about how slutty it was. I didn’t care, I wish I could say it’s because I was confident in who I was and didn’t need the approval of others… but really I had the horrible mindset that bad attention was still attention. Anyway, when I arrived at the party, two feet inside of the door I was handed a shot, which I took, and then given another drink. I remember it was a Green Apple Smirnoff Ice, because I haven’t had one since that night. Another five feet in the door and a “friend” lifted up my shirt-dress while asking “what I was wearing under that.” Just my underwear, he found out in front of seven people standing in the kitchen. I should have left then, instead I took another shot.
Throughout the night I kept making eye contact with one coworker in particular. Let’s call him Brad, not to protect his identity, but more because I can’t stomach typing his name repeatedly. Brad and I had been flirting for a while at work. Well, the flirting was mostly one sided (him commenting on my ass) because he had a girlfriend and another coworker was good friends with her and she hated me for even letting him flirt with me. This night was the only night we had ever seen each other outside of work, I never imagined he would act on anything.
Even now after everything, I want to say it’s because he was drunk, but I know that that is not the case. A rapist is a rapist, drunk or sober. But the alcohol had certainly emboldened him when he cornered me in a stairwell. I remember pushing against him when he kissed me, his hand sliding up the back of my shirt. I was petrified that his girlfriend’s friend would walk down the stairs and see this. I stated that he should stop, because he was with someone. It was easier to say that than to find the courage to say “I don’t want this.” He just ignored me and kept kissing my neck. I don’t remember how I managed to get him to stop but somehow I had gotten away. But not before she had seen us. She left immediately, cursing my name and calling me a slut. I felt guilty.
After that I stopped drinking, I needed to leave but I didn’t want to drive drunk so I stayed as far from Brad as I could and around as many people as I could until I was sober enough to drive. A friend of his came to the group I was with and expressed concern that Brad was going to attempt to drive. He could barely stand and most certainly could not operate a car. It was made clear that he was not welcome to stay at the host’s house, and his friend had to be at work in the morning and wasn’t going to drive him. I made another mistake; I offered to drive him home. At the time it seemed like a better alternative to him driving himself. But I had gotten lost on the way to his place and he was too wasted to tell me how to get there. No one answered my calls. So I was stuck with him. I should of kicked him out at the nearest Steak’n’Shake and let him be someone else’s problem. At the very least, I should have left him in my freezing car in the parking lot until he sobered up enough to find his way home. But I was concerned about the being a perceived as a cruel.( Isn’t that rich?) So I offered him my couch until the morning.
My intention was to dump him there and go in my room and lock the door until he left. But he had another idea, and he was stronger than me. I don’t think he even heard my crying. He replied to my pleas for him to stop with “I know you want this too.” For a second I gave my consent, thinking if I gave in that it would be better, but it wasn’t and I repeated my pleas for him to stop. But he didn’t, so I gave up. I started to feel like I had brought this on myself, I made my decisions that night and that was where it got me. I considered that I was lucky that he wasn’t more violent. When he was done I ran to my room. I sat by the door and listened to him snoring. I didn’t sleep, I didn’t even lie down. I just waited for him to leave. Someone picked him up in the morning, I watched him get in the car from my bedroom window, imagining it was his girlfriend, wondering if she knew who he really was.
I lied in bed for what felt like the whole day, but it was only really a couple hours until I received a text from Brad’s friend that he had left his keys and hoodie at my place and he needed them immediately. He offered that I could just drop them off at work. I agreed. You know when you walk into a place and you absolutely know without doubt that you have been the main topic of conversation before arriving? It was clear to me that this was the case as I pulled into work and everyone outside smoking had suddenly stopped talking to watch as Brad’s friend collected his stuff from me. I was Hester Prynne but instead of a Scarlet A, I wore sunglasses because I didn’t want them to see that I had been crying.
When it happened, for a moment it occurred to me to call the police. But I knew it didn’t look good for me. I remember being in high school in sex-ed and them talking about rape. Everything they talked about was about was if you were raped by a stranger at gun point in a dark alley then you would go to the police for testing and if you were lucky they would catch the bad guy (oh, and pray that you are not pregnant because abortion is evil even if it’s your rapist’s baby). No one told me what to do if I knew my rapist, if I had to see him every day, if I had invited him inside my home. I felt like I already knew the conversation I would have with the police if I reported it. “Ma’am, you said you had been drinking.” “Yes, but…” “You were just wearing an oversized shirt?” “Yes, but…” “He forced himself on you, but you still offered to drive him home?” “Yes, but…” “Then you invited him inside…” “Yes…” “You said no at first, but then yes and then no again?” “Yes…” The pain he inflicted on me was invisible, and it wouldn’t be enough for police to do anything about it and most likely they would just tell me that I should be more careful.
In the coming week I didn’t talk to anyone. Not my family, not my friends and definitely not my coworkers. The same imaginary conversation I had with the police is the one I imagined having with the people closest to me and just thinking about it made me feel ill. I had been silenced by years of being exposed to news stories of girls who were raped and called names as they testified against their charming, talented, good looking rapists. I’ve watched communities ban together to support a real life monster against a women “out to get something” for herself. Why would it be different for me? I had even less evidence than some of those women. I was certain that the only thing that waited for me if I spoke up was persecution. I knew at work that my “friends” blamed me, no one talked to me directly about it, but it was clear that they disapproved. It didn’t seem to matter to them that I was slowing shutting down, they didn’t even notice. It hurt that people so easily turned against me without ever asking me what happened. If I wasn’t working, I was sleeping. At one point I had slept for almost twenty hours straight. I was deeply depressed and angry at myself. I started to have panic attacks every time I drove to work and my life began to feel more and more surreal. I just kept telling myself that I had no right to say anything to anyone, that I let it happen and saying that he did anything wrong would be responded with the list as long as my arm of reasons it was my fault. I had thought of every way I made a mistake that lead me to that moment, and I quietly beat myself up for everything I thought I did wrong.
It took me four years to even say the word “rape” in context to what happened to me. I can count the people I’ve told about it on one hand. So, you might wonder why I would share this so publicly six years later? Recently, a former classmate of mine was charged with rape. The facts are pretty clear and there is no doubt he is guilty. But there is a large amount of people who are defending him and it’s caused something in me to snap. I cannot listen to rape culture anymore. There are hundreds and thousands of girls and women who right this very second feel like they asked for it. They did something to deserve it. They have no power and no voice. They don’t believe how they feel matters. But it does matter. You have a fundamental right as a human to feel safe. You could have been prancing around naked and that still doesn’t mean you were asking for it. Men’s inability to understand and accept the word “no” is not on you. You aren’t just causing problems by coming forward and talking about what happened. I wish one of my co-workers had asked me what happened. They all assumed the rumors where true. I don’t know if I would have told them if they asked, but maybe I would of. Maybe I would have understood then what I know now: that no one deserves that and his reputation is not more important than my life.