Trigger Warning: This article contains sensitive subject matter involving sexual assault and suicide.
It was a rainy, spring evening when I got the call. It was my mom who told me. She had heard it through a friend of a friend.
The man who raped me had killed himself.
“Good,” was all I could say.
But was it good? Is the loss of life ever a good thing? I knew that there were people who would mourn him. I knew that for his family, friends, and other loved ones it was an overwhelming loss. To those people, he was just a good guy who did bad things.
But to me, and to his other victims, it was a victory. The world was suddenly a safer place. I didn’t have to look over my shoulder every time I saw a tall, lanky boy who sort of looked like him anymore. He died, and I took the first deep breath I had taken in years.
Maybe it was rape culture that did it. Maybe it was just his dysfunctional family and friends. But after Paul (name has been changed) raped me, it was like the world split in half. Paul was my boyfriend for the better part of 5 years, so we had a lot of the same friends, we hung out in the same circles, and we knew each other’s parents on a first-name basis. Everyone knew that I sent Paul to prison, and it seemed like everyone had an opinion.
Some people thought I was brave. Others thought I was a liar. His parents and friends, mostly, seemed to think I was the devil. Even though Paul plead guilty, and even though Paul raped me, somehow I was to blame. His father saw me on the street once, and yelled from his car that I was a whore. His friends would see me in grocery stores, or just walking to school, and yell at me. How dare I lie about being raped? How could I put an innocent man in jail?
He wasn’t innocent though. Paul was a serial rapist and abuser. I would later learn that some of his youngest victims were children. He went to prison and went on to abuse even more women. Still though, somehow, I was the face of rage for the people in his circle. I was the one who spoke up, I was the one who put him in prison. For them, I was the one to blame.
For almost 2 weeks before the assault, Paul stalked me. He showed up at my house, he called me almost 20 times a day. He followed me on my way to school or to friends’ houses. He waited at bus stops for me so he could scream at me and publicly shame me.
Even though I knew it was wrong, I loved him. I loved him for almost 5 years, and that didn’t change as he became abusive. So when he approached me on that day, asking me to come over to talk, I said yes. My brain was screaming at me not to. I never thought he would seriously hurt me, though. Despite all the warning signs, I walked into his apartment that day thinking I was safe. He locked the door behind me, and suddenly, I knew. It was not safe.
That was the day he put a knife to my throat and raped me.
That was the day that everything changed.
That was actually the last time I ever saw him. I walked into my house that evening and into a new life. Everything was the same, my cat was still there to greet me, my dad was sleeping on the couch with the TV on as he usually did, but nothing felt the same. I remember sitting there, my body bruised and bloody, wondering if the world would ever look the same again.
I did all the things you’re supposed to do after being sexually assaulted. I woke up the next morning, still in the same clothes, and dragged my broken body into the closest ER to do a rape kit. I could feel the grasp of rape culture around my neck throughout the entire process. The triage nurse rolled her eyes when I told her I was raped, the cops were annoyed that they got a call right before their shift ended, and the detective couldn’t help but ask me what I was wearing.
As I laid there, with my legs spread so a gynecologist could look for evidence of rape, I wondered how many women had been there before me? I wondered how many women would be here after me? How many women would he rape if I let him get away with it? So I spoke, I stayed firm, and I pressed charges.
In what I can only imagine was a moment of guilt, Paul admitted everything. He plead guilty and spent a year in prison.
Paul got a year, but I got a life sentence. Nothing was ever the same again. I was now looking at the world through a new lens. I was now a girl who knew that monsters lived among us.
I tried my hardest to move on. I spent months after the assault trying to forget he ever existed. I drank and went to clubs and cried to anyone who would listen to me. I was sure I would never be whole again.
And then I met someone new. I went to therapy. I screamed and cried and swore. Life moved on, Paul was released from prison, and I found a home in someone else’s heart. It wasn’t the same kind of love I had for Paul when we were teenagers, it was the kind of love that asked, and never took.
The years passed, and I moved on the best I could. I moved in with my new boyfriend. I went back to school. And eventually, I had a beautiful baby boy. Life was good. Most days Paul was a distant memory. I won’t lie to you, recovering from rape isn’t easy. There were days that I couldn’t breathe, where it felt like his hands were still around my neck, but as time went on, those days became further and further apart. I was learning to forgive myself, and maybe even one day forgive Paul.
And then it happened, seemingly out of nowhere, almost five years after being raped, I got the call from my mom.
Paul was dead.
It feels wrong to be relieved that someone died. Normally, I would say that the loss of life is never a good thing. While I wouldn’t say that the loss of Paul is a good thing, I can say that for all the people Paul assaulted while he was alive, it is a relief. He can never hurt us again.
I can’t tell you why Paul killed himself, but I can imagine guilt played a part in it. I know that there are people who will mourn his death, I know that there are people who loved him. There are people on the planet who thought Paul was everything. Who think I’m the one to blame for his pain. And that’s okay, I have come to terms with it. I know how deeply rape culture runs in our society.
I know the truth. The people around me know the truth. I know Paul was a monster. He was sick beyond repair. I am fine to pick up the pieces that he left behind. I will live the rest of my life as the only person who remembers what Paul did to me.
I guess Paul on the other hand, couldn’t handle living his life as a rapist.
I’m not sure how you heal, but I just know that you do. You scream and cry until there is nothing left in you. Because you have to.
Because the Pauls of the world don’t deserve another thought, and neither do the people who support the Pauls of the world.
To the girl who has a Paul of her own right now:
I see you.
It wasn’t your fault.
I believe you.
Life will get better. There is a life worth living after being raped.