We do live in a rape culture. That should be pretty obvious by now, but for some reason people are still having trouble accepting this fact. I understand that rape is an uncomfortable and unpleasant topic, but we can’t just sweep it under the rug anymore. Can we all just agree that it exists and then start working on ways to fix it? It’s 2017, and we should be civilized humans by now. This shit is getting ridiculous.
I was sexually assaulted by a classmate of mine on August 30th, 2008. I was sixteen years old. See how I used the term “sexually assaulted” instead of the word “rape”? That’s rape culture. It’s subtle but it is there. I’ve spent years in counseling and read essays and books galore on the subject and I cannot even give myself as a victim full blown credit for what happened to me. I understand that rape and sexual assault officially do have different legal meanings, but in retrospect, what happened to be was cold hard rape. No more excuses. The first step in fixing rape culture is to cut the bullshit excuses.
I don’t want to share all the details of what happened to me but I will give a summary to give this some context. I partially don’t want to share the details because it has been eight years, but it still hurts to talk about. That never really goes away. The other reason I don’t want to share the details also goes back to rape culture. I don’t want the details floating around out there for people to pick apart and analyze and tell me where I went wrong or how I could have prevented it. People are fucked up and this happens to victims every day. Now do you understand why very few people even report their rapes?
I was sixteen. At the time, I felt very mature, but I didn’t realize how young that still is until my little sister turned sixteen. It is so young. The magical time in your life where you don’t have enough brain power to make adult decisions, but you are flirting with adult behaviors like alcohol and sex. It can be the most thrilling of times, but you also have to watch out I guess.
I was sixteen. So was he. I was drinking. So was he. I couldn’t find my phone and he helped me look for it and we got separated from the crowd. The next thing I remember, I was waking up in a grassy field with my jeans down, my shoes gone, in the middle of the night with no one around. I do have some fleeting memories of what happened, but they are very unpleasant and I don’t like to think about them. I don’t remember most of it, thankfully, but that is a double-edged sword. On one hand, I’m glad I don’t have vivid memories to relive for the rest of my life. However, my lack of recollection is very bad for my credibility down the line if I decide to pursue this in court. (I did try.) The defense attorneys for rapists eat that shit up. It makes going to trial for the crime ten times more difficult, which is obviously super shitty for the victims.
I was sixteen. I told my parents what happened the next day. They reacted with shock and horror, and then took me to the hospital where they had to do a rape kit. I don’t know why victim blamers automatically assume a woman is lying about her rape, especially if she goes to the hospital. Having a rape kit done is the one of the most awful human experiences I can imagine. It’s a time where you particularly don’t want to be violated or touched or asked intimate questions, and that’s exactly what they have to do to complete a rape kit. I cannot imagine a person who would go through that experience voluntarily. They collected and kept the jeans and white top I was wearing as evidence. I had just bought over the summer and I had been so excited to wear them to the party, but I definitely never wanted them back.
I was sixteen. I had been at a party. After I reported my rape, there were cops who had questions for my other classmates who had been at the party. Kids hated me because I got them in trouble. I got angry phone calls. I lost friends and got dirty looks in the hallway. Turns out, kids at sixteen who have been drinking behind their parents backs really do not like talking to the police. It is really hard to get information from them, so a clear story really never emerges. This is already bad news for your rape case. It barely has enough information to get off the ground. It’s very frustrating. Your emotions are going haywire and you know in your bones that something really bad has happened to you, but no one can make it better. Even the cops, who you think are good and helpful people, seem to come up short. The main detective on my case sat at my kitchen table with my parents on either side, and I had to answer questions about every poor decision I made that night. List exactly what you were drinking. Name everyone you talked to. What were you wearing? I have a daughter your age and she would never lie to her parents about where she was and drink alcohol at a party with boys. You are bad because you did.
I was still sixteen. We were working with the prosecutor’s office to try to build a case, but it is a difficult thing to do. Even the people in charge of doing this, the detectives and lawyers, seem to be a little clueless. I begin to think about what the trial will be like. I have seen from TV and movies that defense attorneys for rapists can tear apart a victim. I don’t feel emotionally strong enough for that right now. I have to see my rapist every day at school. His defense attorney is an acquaintance of my father’s and my dad finds it distasteful that this man would take a case against the daughter of someone he knows. The lawyer has a good track record though he got another local football player out of rape charges a few years back. At least he is good at what he does.
In an insane twist of fate that I cannot explain still, the rapist’s defense attorney died unexpectedly as the case preparations were getting underway. The arraignment was stalled and eventually never happened. The rapist’s defense attorney drank too much one night and tried to walk home in the middle of January. He passed out and froze to death on his neighbor’s lawn. I cannot make this shit up. The man whose job was to crucify me for getting intoxicated froze to death because he was too drunk. I think that is actually the dictionary definition of irony. Or at least, hypocrisy. Another conversation for another time.
You are still sixteen, but almost seventeen. Things go back to normal, but it is a new normal. Things will never go back to the way they had been and you have known this since day one. You will move on, but it’s a part of you now.
You are in college now. You won’t think about it all the time, but in the next few years, there will be a lot of high-profile cases that make you think about it in different ways. You will cry silently one night in your dorm room as you read articles about the Steubenville victim. You can’t believe they released her name into the media and you can’t believe it was a mistake. You can’t help but notice the similarities in your cases. Maybe you are reading too much into it, but the little details you learn break your heart. Did you know most sexual assaults happen in the late summer months? I learned that from one of my rape counselors. This case and others will jump start people talking about rape more. Your ears perk up and you listen in, but a lot of what you hear makes you angry and upset.
You are twenty-four. You are a young adult now and you have a lot going on these days so it doesn’t cross your mind as much anymore. It will always be a part of you. You will avoid reading the statement released by the Stanford victim for weeks, and when you finally do, you cry hard and feel everything all over again fresh. You know how brave her statement was. She becomes your greatest hero and you don’t even know her name. You don’t need to. Her words are so clear and true that you cannot believe anyone could disagree with her, but somehow people do. It is so easy to get disillusioned. It helps that people are starting to become aware and talk about the issue. You recognize that we have a long way to go. You are hopeful but cautious for the future. When you were sixteen, you weren’t cautious at all.