When You Are Female, They Ask You What You Were Wearing

Trigger warning: This article contains sensitive content involving rape and sexual assault.
Nishe

“Hello, who’s there?”
I call out into the dark.
Like walking into your home
after a long period away
Your stomach drops, and you get the feeling in your gut.
Something’s amiss.
Someone has been here who wasn’t supposed to be.
He didn’t wipe his feet at the door.

*

It’s always easier to catch the man, they say,
If there’s traces of him inside the house.
They hope for an easy discovery,
I hope for a clean slate.
I hope for no traces,
I hope for no memory.

*

“Hello, who’s there?”
There’s an intruder
and he tried to take over my body.

*

If you’re a female,
They teach you to always be aware of your surroundings,
Never let your guard down,
Even for a minute.

*

Like a deer in an open field,
You never know who might be
Stalking out their prey.

*

If you’re a female,
They tell you to watch how much you drink,
And if you turn your back,
Get a new one,
Or, better yet,
Bring it with you everywhere you go!

*

I didn’t have that luxury
Of buying a new drink
Every time I turned my head.
While I might have lacked budget,
I had an excess of trust.
I knew the people here.
I had been here a hundred times before.
If I left my drink,
I simply put a coaster on top,
Signaling “Not yet finished”
And returned, hoping it wouldn’t be warm.

*

If you’re a female,
They ask you what you were wearing,
As if that was equivalent to a green light on a busy road,
Signaling you were ‘open’,
Whatever that means.

*

The question is asked,
Like it is possible to forget what you were wearing
When your worst nightmare came true,
When the things you’ve seen on TV suddenly happened to you.
You never forget what you were wearing,
But it’s something you hope at some point you will.

*

My outfit wasn’t the least bit provocative,
Not that it matters,
Not that it would make a difference to anyone who asks,
They will only scoff,
Suggesting I was ‘asking for it’
It was my favorite long sleeved plaid button up shirt.
Blue and white.
Regular blue jeans.
No rips.
And boots with fringe on the side
I wasn’t showing any skin,
But it didn’t matter.

*

The hunter was on the outskirts.
Waiting,
Calculating.

*

I remember the outfit,
Despite it no longer being in my possession,
But in the hands of the detective,
Who put on gloves when she picked them up
To bag them,
Hoping to conserve any traces of evidence
That might have been left behind,
If the intruder hadn’t wiped his feet at the door.

*

I sat in the front seat of the cop car,
Hoping to avoid feeling like a criminal, myself,
Except I did, anyhow.
I was a prisoner
Inside my own body.
No longer at home in what was supposed to be my home.

*

The officer tried to make small talk as we sat in the waiting room:
Where I was from, what I did for a living,
I looked at the faces of the men and women who were waiting, too
And wondered if they found my company odd,
If they wondered the same about me:
Why I was here,
Or why she was here, too.

*

The nurses spoke to me like I was fragile,
Like bruised fruit,
Unfit to be sold,
Because of customers standards.

*

They offered me cookies,
Goldfish,
And cold water,
While they explained resources available to me,
And how my day would unfold.

*

First,
Retelling the events from the night,
What I could remember.
In a way, it’s positive that I don’t remember,
One nurse said,
That in itself in evidence.
That to me,
Is called protection.

*

Next,
Came a series of tests.
The nurses who did this every day,
Patient after patient,
Went through the motions quickly,
And told me to speak up if I needed them to slow down,
Or I wanted to stop.

*

We waited until my nerves broke, so I could provide a urine sample,
Then, more questions.

*

The irony of the room was in the smell.
Like a hearty dose of wasabi,
The smell of rubber and antiseptic cleared my nasal passages.
It was as if the room and all of its previous contents have been saged,
Washed clean,
Wiped from memory.
The room itself felt bleak,
Like it too, knew too many secrets.

*

The tests were the hardest part,
But for the first time all day,
I felt grateful it was done quickly.
tips swabbed every orifice of my body.
I turned my head,
And shut my eyes,
Pretending I was somewhere else,
Anywhere else.
I held on to the nurse’s hand,
So I didn’t feel so alone.

*

Next, I put on a paper robe
As a black light was waved over
Every inch of my bare body.

*

When I stepped back into my clothes,
I felt as though I was no longer wearing any.
The detective had offered to drive me home,
But I had said I would walk.
It was only a few blocks,
And I needed some air.

*

“When will we know?”
“Unfortunately, it’s not a fast process,” she said.
“It could be months”
Somehow I left that day with a little bit less of me
Than I had walked in with.
It could be months
Haunting my thoughts with each step I took towards home.

*

The detective explained that she would be in touch,
And I could reach out if I had any questions.
To me, it felt like salting a wound that was reluctant to heal.
Next, would be a statement,
Interviews,
Evidence,
And lastly, she hoped, a confession.

*

When I told my friends what had happened,
I found myself defending my actions,
I found myself defending my right to be allowed in public,
To be allowed to be at a bar, and have a drink, and hang around people of the opposite sex,
Without being accused of ‘asking for it.’

*

I was told I don’t “have the best reputation,”
I said, but I always own my choices.
I was not given one.
I had to be informed what had happened,
And to this day,
I don’t have all the details.
I’m not sure I would want to.

*

I was told I shouldn’t have left my drink unattended,
I shouldn’t have been alone,
I shouldn’t have been at the bar,
Or I shouldn’t have drank “too much”

*

I haven’t heard from the people who I thought were my friends
Since that night,
And since that day at the hospital,
I have yet to hear from the detective, too.
It’s been months.

*

It’s a hard pill to swallow
When a story is technically your own,
But the narrative
Doesn’t belong to you. TC mark

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