Disclaimer: This post is very personal, very painful, very brutal. I am sharing this story in response to #YesAllWomen and the courage of those who have spoken up.
Nobody ever talks about what happens after. When the dark night ends and the shadows retreat, when the cold rays of dawn break through and the world goes on.
From the time we are little girls, we are taught to protect ourselves from rape. We are told to dress appropriately, to not get too drunk, to use the buddy system, to not walk out to our cars alone, to carry our keys in the ready position between our clutched knuckles. We are taught to scream “fire!” to increase the chances of getting help. We are told to never let our drinks out of our sight, to give fake digits instead of refusing to give our phone number. We learn to lie and say we have a boyfriend, to wear fake wedding rings, to pretend we belong to someone else. Over and over again, we are given the message that it’s OUR responsibility to keep from getting raped. It’s our responsibility to not make a guy angry, to not provoke violence, to not “ask for it.”
So then, what happens when we follow the rules and we still get raped?
I went out with a friend — I used the buddy system.
I had only two drinks — I didn’t get drunk.
I wore jeans and a t-shirt — I wasn’t dressed provocatively.
When he came over the first time to ask me to dance, I politely declined. No, thanks, with a smile. I saw you dancing earlier with your friend, I know you like to dance, he says. I shake my head, tell him I don’t want to dance, but thanks anyways. He walks away.
A few minutes later, he returns with his buddy. They ask if they can sit at our table, since there aren’t any others open. We shrug…sure, I guess. He asks if he can buy me a drink. I tell him I’m done for the night. He buys me one anyways. I leave it untouched on the table.
He starts striking up conversation. Tells me he works at a jail in Wyoming, he’s in town for the weekend. Lets me know he’ll look out for me, he knows how bad guys can get. I tell him I’m okay on my own, thanks. He asks me questions about me, I keep my answers vague. He tells me he’d like to get to know me better, so I tell him I already have a boyfriend.
My friend gets a text message from her boyfriend and tells me she’s going to the bathroom to call him. When she doesn’t come back after a few minutes, I tell him that I’m going to find her and we’re heading home.
When I get to the bathroom, my friend is gone. I wander through the front section of the bar, and I can’t see her anywhere. I walk out to the front sidewalk. No sign of her. I text her…where did you go? As I turn to go back inside and look some more, he appears in front of me. Surely you aren’t really leaving already, he says. I shrug and say I have to work in the morning, so it’s time to head home. He asks where my friend went…just as I get a text from her. Went home, sorry. He reads it over my shoulder.
I turn to leave and walk home — I live only a few blocks away. He stops me, tells me I can’t go by myself, it’s not safe. I tell him I’ll be fine. It’s a short walk, it’s well-lit, and there are people nearby to hear if I yell out.
He offers to let me stay in his hotel room across the street. He says we can even leave right now if I need to get up early. I say no.
He offers to walk me home. I’d feel better knowing you got there safely, he says. Again, I say no. Firmly. He insists. I shake my head and start walking. He follows me.
My roommate. He’s at home tonight, so I’ll be fine. He will pretend to be my boyfriend, the guy will scram. I shoot my roommate a text message. Walking home, guy won’t leave me alone. Need you to run interference.
The whole walk home, I keep my distance. My keys are in my fist, protruding from my knuckles. He doesn’t try anything, and I start to relax. His chatter is idle, about work and weekends and nothing threatening.
When we reach my street, I tell him he can turn back. I don’t want him seeing which house is mine. He shakes his head. He wants to see me get inside safely.
We walk up to my porch and I tell him thanks for walking me home. He steps off the porch, and I turn to unlock the door. As soon as the handle turns, I feel him shove me inside and slam it behind us.
I start yelling for my roommate. No answer. I tell him that he needs to leave. He asks me where my bedroom is. I stand firm, say NO. I tell him to get out. He grabs my wrist, I struggle away from his grasp. He tightens his grip. I try to push against him, get him closer to the door. He has other ideas.
Where is my roommate???
He drags me to the stairs. I start hitting him with my free hand, trying to break his grip and get free. He’s got a big grin on his face. I’m terrified. I know where this is going.
He gets me up the stairs and I see my roommate’s empty room. Not home.
He drags me into my bedroom, and at this point I’m in a blind panic. I am kicking and hitting and screaming and struggling and fighting for everything I’m worth. He throws me onto my bed and pins me down.
I can’t breathe.
He reaches behind him and pulls something out of his back pocket. A pair of handcuffs. I knew I didn’t want to leave these at work, he says.
He grins at me. This is going to be fun, he promises.
So what happens after?
I woke up the next morning and had to go on living.
I had a wedding to shoot, so I numbed myself out, shoving down the emotions and got myself ready to work. I gathered my gear and took some ibuprofen and away I went.
On my way, I checked my phone.
A text from my roommate. Sorry, I ended up going over to a friend’s. Hope everything went okay.
A missed phone call from him. The rapist. My stomach lurched again.
I made it through the wedding. I threw myself into the work of the day, ignored the soreness and stiffness, hoped the bruises stayed covered.
I called my friend to tell her what happened. She threw all the rules back in my face. I shouldn’t have let him walk me home. I shouldn’t have accepted the drink from him. I shouldn’t have let him sit at our table. I told her I didn’t know if I should call the police, report it. She said don’t bother.
He found me online. He sent me a friend request. I denied it. He sent me a message. I had a lot of fun, and I’m really excited to get to know you better.
What?! I wrote him back. I told him that he raped me. That I said no. He acted as though I was crazy. He said I was “into it” the whole time. He didn’t understand why I was upset.
I blocked him so he couldn’t contact me again.
A few weeks later I realized that I should probably get tested. He didn’t use a condom. When I told the doctor why I needed the tests done — all of them, please — I said it with shame. I couldn’t believe I had let that happen to me. She told me I was lucky that it wasn’t a violent rape.
Seven years ago. That’s how long it’s been.
For several years after it happened, every August I would have recurring nightmares about the rape. The first time it snuck up on me. I was at my boyfriend’s house, and we’d had a great day together. We fell into an exhausted sleep, and next thing I know he’s trying to calm me down. When I finally realized where I was, and that I was safe, I broke down. I told him what happened, and he was heartbroken for me. He held me and let me cry. It became our norm, for most of the month of August. I’d have my nightmares, he’d soothe me back to sleep.
I’ve tried finding ways of taking my power back, of reclaiming the part of me that was destroyed that day.
After dawn breaks the next day, we have to figure out how to go on.
We have to live with the shame that society puts on us. A secret shadow of shame and self loathing. We’re one of them now. The raped. We didn’t follow the rules well enough. We didn’t protect ourselves, we couldn’t keep it from happening.
We already blame ourselves, and we are afraid of telling others…because they might blame us, too.
What if there was a different option? What if there could be a different kind of post-rape world?
I could have found comfort and solace in my pain. I could have stood outright and claimed my innocence in that night. I could have had somewhere to turn, someone to help me process what had happened and show me how to heal from it. I could have reclaimed my body.
Because, really, that’s the biggest scar we live with after a rape. Our body no longer is our own. It has betrayed us, it has been taken from us. Forcefully, painfully. We detach from it, because it bears the residue and the memory of a nightmare. Someone else has invaded it, and we no longer feel safe there.
I have chosen to stop the shame. To reclaim my body. To reconnect with the warrior within. I am no longer willing to be victimized. I will not hide in the shadows again.
I have started learning the art of jujitsu. Not so that I can protect myself next time, but so that I can be amazed at my own strength. So that I can discover new ways to use my body and move my body and find confidence in it.
I have made the conscious choice to let go of my pain. Not to stop hurting, but to remember what it feels like to feel good in my own skin.
I have decided to speak out. Not for my own story to be heard, not for sympathy, but to give others the courage to speak out for themselves.
I have forgiven my rapist. Not to condone or forget what he did, but to release him completely from my life. To remove all traces of his energy and DNA from my existence. To free my own soul.
I have forgiven myself. Not because I was to blame, but because I took on shame that was not my own. Because I turned my back on my own body and disowned her for so long.
I am reaching out to you. Not because I want anything from you, but because we must all stand together. It is only through loving ourselves that we can teach others to love us. It is only through respecting ourselves that we can show others we are worth respecting. It is only by claiming our own worth that we can show others our value.