Let me start off by saying that I am the lucky one in this situation. I wasn’t sexually assaulted, I don’t have horrifying flashbacks of a man I despise lying on top of me, thrusting in and out of me against my will, and I don’t have panic and anxiety attacks when I hear his name. However, I am affected by this man’s actions on a daily basis.
I started dating my girlfriend in January of 2016. I met her during the first semester of my freshman year and we were absolute best friends. We vented to one another, joked, went out on the weekends together, and talked about our dreams and aspirations. We often joked about the prospect of dating—until, one night, in a shitty bar, that joke became reality, and ever since, we’ve been absolutely smitten over one another. She’s my absolute best friend, and we share our lives together—the good things, the mundane, and the tragic.
I never knew much about her past dating life. I knew only that she was beautiful, and from what she had told me during the first semester, many guys on our campus took to her beauty. As we became closer, I, as I typically do, became excited about the prospect of us spending plenty of time together down the line—we were only freshmen, and three more years with her was an unprecedented amount of time for us to grow closer and deepen the connection that we had already begun to create. All was going swimmingly, until one night, she started crying as we lied in bed together:
“I was raped. And the worst part is that he will never believe it.”
I grew up in a family where respecting women was the norm. I have two older sisters, one of whom is Ivy League educated, and both of whom earned dean’s list all throughout college and work top-notch jobs in medical professions. My mom is our family’s primary breadwinner—she is the principal of an uppity private school in a big city and earned her master’s degree summa cum laude in the 80s. Being surrounded by so many successful and confident women made me admire them.
My father had taught me from a young age to appreciate and respect women. Whenever I failed to do so, my penalty was harsh. I recall a day when I was nine years old. Innocently, I ordered my mom to make dinner for me, complaining about my hunger. My father was absolutely livid—I was grounded for a month and told that no woman would ever be my subordinate, and that I was never to treat one as such.
“What do you mean you were raped—when, by who, why didn’t you tell me?” I was shocked.
He was someone relatively close to me: an upperclassman in my fraternity who I had conversed with in the past and thought to be a relatively pleasant and harmless guy.
Without going in to too much detail, my girlfriend was held down, given ultimatums, told she couldn’t leave the room unless “she blew him first,” and, ultimately, was raped after a date-night for our fraternity.
I don’t know if any of you have ever talked to a sexual assault survivor about their incident, but I had never seen my girlfriend like this. Her normally rosy colored cheeks turned white, and her infectious smile violently turned into a full-fledged frown as tears rolled down her face. “I don’t want to go back to school. I need to get away.”
The rape has been so traumatic for my girlfriend that she is considering transferring away from our current university—a place that once brought her joy and comfort. Regardless of the financial and social ramifications, she is so deeply disturbed by the actions of that fateful night that she feels the need to transfer away from the trauma—even uttering our school’s name sends chills down her spine.
I’ve laid in bed with my girlfriend before, tears streaming, as she states repeatedly, “I wish I had known better,” blaming herself for something she couldn’t have stopped. Perhaps the most disturbing part of this situation is that her rapist, a man who turned a confident and bubbly girl into an insecure mess, takes no responsibility for his actions. He claims that their sex was fully consensual and that, when it tuned and became non-consensual, he wasn’t pushy and apologized for his actions (none of which is true). He brags about their hook up, and believes she is making the entire story up. This creates a deeper sense of neglect for my girlfriend, who feels ashamed and lonely in the seemingly winless battle against her own mind.
Rape is a ripple effect. Yes, like a rock hitting the water, the epicenter feels the most severe effects of the action, but the ripples feel a more slight, but pervasive force.
Those close to my girlfriend have felt unimaginable sadness. Her mother has taken mental health days home from work, unable to concentrate on her career. Her father has cancelled trips because all he can think about is his daughter. Her brother lives in constant anger towards her aggressor, and her sister’s already waning mental health is deteriorating. And then, there’s me.
I often have what feels like hundreds of emotions flowing through me at a single time. I feel scared about the lasting implications this will have on my girlfriend’s mental health (how will I learn to deal with her future sadness and depression from flashbacks). I feel embarrassed—my own fraternity (a place that I spent six miserable weeks pledging my allegiance to) accepts rapists. I feel fragile—if my girlfriend does leave our school because of this egregious event, I’ll miss out on those three years I’ve so looked forward to and fantasized about. And, I’ll lose what’s left of my best friend.
I feel weak—I can’t do anything. I can’t take back this monster’s terrible actions, and if I retaliate against him in a physical action, I run the risk of criminal charges and (even worse), I worry about the embarrassment that my girlfriend will feel as more people would start to find out about her rape. And maybe the worst emotion of all—I feel alone. I can’t express my feelings to my girlfriend because the little energy that she feels on a daily basis shouldn’t be allocated towards making me feel better—it should be allocated towards her self-healing and self-help. And if I ever complain about how I feel, it will be trite compared to the trauma that my girlfriend feels on a daily basis.
I am not the victim, though it often feels like I am.
I’ve heard it said that every serious crime ruins two lives: the victim’s and the aggressor’s. As my story can prove, rape is a crime that can ruin far more than two lives. So, whenever you hear about a rape victim, know the severe psychological pain that they face on a daily basis, and be respectful of their feelings. But, also look to understand and support their family, friends, and loved ones—trust me, they’re hurting too.