In the wake of conversations surrounding the hashtags #YesAllWomen, #SurvivorPrivilege, and #JadePose, I’m reminded of the survivors who quoted reasons for not reporting their own sexual assaults under #WhyIDidntReport. Still some claim survivors have a duty to put themselves on the line for a legal system that proves time and time again to fail them, and if they don’t, they are blamed for this crime perpetuating in society.
I can relate to #WhyIDidntReport. I was sexually exploited in relationships for much of my youth and young adult life, although what happened I still can’t label as rape. My experiences were no different from my peers who were just discovering sex for the first time with little or no direction from the adult role models in their lives. We were taught that rape is violent; it requires you to scream, “no” and physically fight your attacker off. Coercion, threats of violence, and having sex with a passed out body, were not rape. They were not mentioned. But this is exactly what was happening to me and teens all around the world.
So, when I was “really” raped. When I was pinned down and fought for my life. When I said, “stop” and he said nothing. I knew I had to report it.
I met Sayid shortly after I moved to Seattle. I had left a failed marriage, packed up my toddler and moved across the state to start a new job, promising myself my new life in the city would finally be what I dreamed of. So when Sayid met me in this vulnerable place, he knew he found the perfect mark.
Our relationship echoes many others stories of abuse: I fell quickly in love, impressed with his job as a lawyer, his beautiful townhouse near downtown Seattle, him knowing just how to romanticize me. He built me up, making me believe in myself like I had never been able to before, binding my self worth to his encouragement. And then, slowly the red flags started to come out.
Sayid never raised his voice. He never got angry. He never appeared to be violent. His game was much too calculated to ever let himself lose control. He was the king of subtlety. He knew how to make almost every change in my life, that he wanted, my idea. He built a wall: me and him on one side, everyone else on the other. He would stir up feelings of resentment and frustration in me that I repeatedly found myself directing at someone else.
Yet somehow, I always ended up apologizing to him.
About six months into our relationship, he started to grow distant. I wanted him to meet my family and my daughter, and take him home to my hometown some 300 miles away. After a night out to dinner and dancing, I cuddled into bed at his townhouse, watched him lock the door and crawl on the other side of me. Unlike almost every other night, he didn’t initiate sex. I quickly fell asleep.
Hours later, I started to wake in daze with something tugging at my shoulder. I slightly mumbled, “stop” and attempted to turn back towards the wall. In a few moments, I drifted back to sleep when it happened again. Quickly both my shoulders were pinned to the bed. He lifted his leg to straddle me. Instinctively, I reached out my hands to fight him off, but he re-gripped and pinned my forearms to my chest. I never thought about what to do next, I was locked in “fight or flight” mode and did all that I physically could to try and stop him.
Because of the strength in his upper body, I was helpless underneath his weight. He was able to keep me pinned with fairly little effort. For a while, he hovered over me, smirking, watching me fight, watching me fail. As I started to grow weak he reached for my waist band, gripping both my forearms in one hand. I was able to break a hand free but he readjusted and then tried again, eventually pulling my pants down enough to put his penis inside me. He leaned his head in while he raped me, pushing his forehead so hard against mine I couldn’t even attempt to turn my face away.
He had control over every inch of my body.
It lasted for a little over an hour. I experienced extreme disassociation and amnesia in the days following. When I confronted him about the little that I did remember, he cut me out of his life and disappeared, ignoring my calls and pleas for an explanation. I was in shock and devastated. I had regular panic attacks and lost all function in my life. Shortly after, I checked myself into an outpatient mental hospital for five days. When I got out, I felt compelled to do something. I needed to feel like I had worth again, like my experience matter in this world. I finally told my story.
If it was possible, things became worse after I reported it. At the advice of the Sex Crime’s detective, I filed for a protection order. As an attorney, Sayid would do anything to prevent a paper trail documenting his actions. He had the resources and the money, and was prepared to exhaust the system until it, or I, gave up.
In my recent memoir, Where Fault Lies, I detail the nightmare that begun when I chose to report my rape. There is so much more to this decision than doing the right thing for society. When you have PTSD, you have to put your health first. And in my case, the process of reporting not only put my healing on hold for a long time, but caused additional distress from which I may never recover.
Within days of receiving notice of the protection order, he filled for one against me: turning himself into the victim. He stated that I was harassing him, that he was in fear for his safety. I didn’t feel safe in my own skin, my own home, or my own thoughts.
That was only the beginning.
He attached videos and photos he had taken in the bedroom as evidence in order to paint me as promiscuous, undeserving of justice. I never let anyone record me before him; I should have known better. My sexual acts became a part of the public record.
He called businesses I frequented, drawing them into the mess he was creating, forcing the management to request I not come back.
Eventually, I was able to get in touch with an organization in Seattle that helps victims of sexual assault with legal matters. But this only made Sayid work harder to shut me up. He called the police, pretending to be concerned about the safety of my child and requested they perform a welfare check.
That day I stopped trying to be strong. I was angry with the officer for asking ridiculous questions, having to prove I was a fit parent, and able to take care of myself, but I did my best to pacify him. I knew bringing a fight against a lawyer was going to be hard, but he was fighting more like a politician, playing dirty. I wanted to give up. I wasn’t myself. I wasn’t dealing with my trauma. I hadn’t even begun to heal. I was only reacting to whatever he had planned next. Still in his control.
A few days later, I received a certified envelope in the mail. Instantly, I recognized the handwriting. I torn open the envelope as I felt my stomach drop. I read the notice at the top: Small Claims Court Notification. I was in disbelief. He was suing me for defamation of character, stalking, and violating his right of privacy. He calculated the amount I owed him to $4,987.50, twelve dollars below the threshold for small claims court. Choosing to pursue it in small claims meant I couldn’t take a lawyer to defend me. That wasn’t a coincidence. He was forcing me to face him alone.
Serving me at my house reminded me he could be anywhere. I no longer slept. He violated my human rights. He tried to intimate and harass me into silence. He put a number on the price of his inconvenience. Holding that notice, I didn’t feel worth the paper the ink was printed on.
Sayid is still working on exhausting the system. My protection order was eventually granted, but is now in it’s second stage of appeal. It could be two or more years until it’s finally settled.
My rapist won’t be charged. It’s not the kind of rape that they like to charge. I knew him. I consented to sex with him before. I didn’t have bruises. I didn’t report it right away. And I didn’t remember all of it. It was the wrong kind of rape.
For a while, Sayid was very clever about how he harassed me. But shortly after the small claims notification, he was arrested for violating the protection order. He has now been arrested three times on gross misdemeanor charges, but has been able to avoid conviction through loopholes in the system.
I had no way of knowing what was to come the day I reported the assault. I never knew the energy reporting would require of me. He had already taken enough. It’s not an experience I would lightly encourage on anyone. Survivors have to think of themselves first, because they’ve already given so much. That is why they call us survivors: we are left to fulfill the hole that is left when we survive or own murders.
There isn’t room in the justice system for us to do that.
This story is long from being over; I honestly don’t know how much longer my rapist is going to be in my life. As long as he is fighting appeals and filling motions, I will do what I can to support the system in his conviction. It’s likely at this point Sayid will avoid any punishment for his crimes. However, there is now a documented pattern of behavior.
I don’t know if Sayid had raped before, but he was too good at it for it to be his first time. I am confident now though, he will think twice about doing it again. As much as it turned my life upside down, it was worse for him. He tried to pull me down with him. But, this experience didn’t ruin me. It made me stronger.
I can be proud that I may have prevented another victim, or at least created a long record in case his next victim is able to report. I am starting to move on with my life, and at some point this will be a long distant memory. But I, on the other hand, with haunt him for the rest of his days.
Would I make the same decision if I could go back in time? Honestly, for me, it never really felt like a choice.