Since I started a blog a few months ago, I often have inspirations -- a small voice that tells me what I need to write about next. Sometimes these hunches are inspired by current issues in the media, and other times they are inspired by personal experiences that are making their way to the surface of my consciousness, urging me to write about them. This topic has been a nagging small voice for at least a month now. The media has definitely pushed this nagging voice, with Cosby, with the Rolling Stone debacle and the discussion of campus rape. But I had a great deal of fear about writing about my experiences. I realized that my fear is not all that different from what I felt 25 years ago when this experience happened. The fear is rooted in the shame of what I experienced and that blame that I still put on myself 25 years later. This collective, misplaced blame that our culture inflicts on survivors of sexual violence is something that is hard to escape.
Twenty-five years ago, October 1989, in my first month of college, I was raped. As a teenager, I never had a relationship and had never even kissed anyone. My experience with drugs and alcohol was extremely limited. On this night that is etched in my consciousness, I hung out with my roommate and her boyfriend and was under the influence of a drug that rendered me somewhat frozen. My roommate and her boyfriend left me at an apartment with someone I did not know. This person was drunk, took advantage of the situation and raped me.
I remember making my way back to my apartment, broken. I remember the long shower and the feelings that could not be washed away. I walked around campus that day in a fog of sadness and pain -- heart-wrenching physical and emotional pain. Back in my apartment, my new friend, Heidi, looked at me and knew something was wrong. She pulled me back into her room and asked me what was wrong. I told her. She was loving and kind and most importantly believed me. Somehow the story got out to my four other roommates. One was extremely angry and wanted me to press charges. Two of them did not believe me and openly said that I was responsible for this experience, as I was there alone, and it must not have been rape. The one who left me there never did say much except to tell me later that her "real" boyfriend (not the one she had been with that night) was very angry at her for leaving me there, unprotected and vulnerable.
Reporting this rape was not an option in my mind. My mom was a director of a family violence/sexual assault agency, and I heard all the stories of women who were raped and their rapists were never convicted. Most importantly, in high school, I witnessed extreme victim blaming when a victim of statutory rape was ostracized for reporting the rape. These fears, the reactions of my two roommates, and the fact that it was an acquaintance rape where I was under the influence of drugs kept me silent. I did what was expected of me, kept quiet and let this trauma eat me up inside.
This experience colored my life in ways that I was not aware of until much later. It made an already difficult relationship with my body even more difficult. I learned to disconnect from my feelings even more and to detach from my body. The only thing good that came of it was that it solidified my friendship with my lifelong friend Heidi. My relationship with men became fraught with mistrust and fear for many many years. It took away my intuitive sense of what was healthy and what was not, and it was hard for me to discern who the "good" men were, and instead, I could only love men who were broken, even if they were violent. The disbelief of my roommates and the dismissal by others taught me to question my own reality. My intimate relationships were affected in ways that are difficult to define. I never went to therapy for it, because I didn't know if it was real. Was it a real "rape," or were my roommates correct in thinking it was my fault for being in that situation? Were the feelings of violation and deep despair a mere figment of my imagination?
Since this experience, I met many women and men who experienced similar traumas: women and men who never reported sexual violence, who questioned their reality even when they knew deep down they had been violated. These shared experiences have helped me validate my own reality, to know that what I experienced was real and to see how it affected me. I am filled with despair and guilt when I hear the statistics about the percentage of rapists who rape again. Could I have stopped this rapist? I can only hope it was a one-time thing for him, but I will never know.
Why do I share this now? Some of the reactions I have seen to the Cosby cases and to the Rolling Stone rape story have made me deeply uncomfortable. Again, 25 years later, I see victim blaming and questioning of victims stories. It is not a walk in the park to come forward with a story of deep sexual violation. The percentage of "false' reporting of rapes is very small. It makes me physically ill when I see women and men accusing victims of lying or somehow profiting from reporting of these horrible violations. The Rolling Stone story made me even more uncomfortable as I heard that "friends" were sharing that there were discrepancies in Jackie's story. This could have been me. My roommates could have come forward with similar allegations, even though what I experienced was very real. My heart went out to Jackie going through her recovery from this horrific event in the public eye. I cannot imagine how heart-wrenching and painful this must be for her.
I share my story because I cannot be silent. My silence makes me complicit in a culture that still blames victims for rape. I have two daughters and I do not want them to live in a world where women are brutalized. Unfortunately, they do. What can I do? I can teach my daughters to believe survivors of sexual violence, support them and fight for them. I can teach them to be open about their own experiences, to seek support and fight back. Importantly, I can teach them to never leave their friends alone in situations that could be dangerous, to listen to their guts and get themselves and/or others out of situations that just don't feel "right."
Looking back on this experience, I feel tremendous sadness for the broken and alone young woman that I was. My heart fills with gratitude that I had my friend to support, believe, and love me even though I could not talk about it. My heart breaks for men, women, boys and girls broken by sexual violence. Sometimes, we learn to slowly mend our broken pieces and tragically, sometimes we don't ever mend those broken places and escape in death or addictions. The more we speak out about our experiences, the more we can fight a culture that shames us and strives to keep our experiences hidden. If we have the courage to share with others, to band together and speak out, we can become unbroken; ready to change a world that shames us and to eliminate sexual violence.