Trigger warning: This post contains description of sexual violence.
When I walked into the campus police station, I was instructed to wait in the lobby for the officer who would be out shortly to take down my story. The dispatcher barely looked at me when she spoke. I felt like I was the criminal. The no eye-contact treatment.
The station walls were made out of the same material as the walls of the room where I had been raped by a fellow student less than a week ago. Cement. My stomach was already sick.
The female officer was first. I followed her into a very small room. At least I got to sit by the door. Her questions were manageable. I thought I passed the test. But, failure. She informed me that another officer would need to come in to ask more questions. Do the best you can, sweetie. Now, I was upgraded to, "sweetie." If I was black, Asian, Hispanic; would I still have been sugary?
The male officer came in wearing his uniform. He looked like the police officers in movies -- like the plastic toy police officers with movable arms and legs that the neighborhood boys had when I was growing up. He looked confident. I felt not-confident. I was wearing a pair of blue sailor pants and a patriotic red and white striped sweater. I looked like a girl on a sailboat off the LI Shore in a 1952 postcard and felt like I might get seasick.
He had a blank pad of paper and a pen. The pad of paper looked brand new, fresh out of a storage closet. Maybe he had never had to take notes before. Maybe he had never asked anyone what they were wearing on their date. Maybe it was the first time he got to discuss velvet and rhinestones and bras and underwear and sex on the job. Maybe he had never interviewed someone who said she was raped by a guy who was really good looking, really rich, really smart and really talented.
Maybe he had never had to ask if the sex hurt. At least, I hoped not.
It is years later. I remember it all. It was never to be forgotten: not the moment I met my rapist at orientation, the moment I told my RA, the moment I told the Dean, the moment I told the police, nor the five hours of photographs in the Time Warner Building in New York City for the June 3, 1991, cover of TIME Magazine when the week's issue featured "Date Rape." I am writing this article to help you, the reader, be able to better help someone like me, a victim of sexual violence.
First, thank you for doing what you have done to help us. The laws you've passed with the collective voting process. The services you've supported through donations to shelters and crisis centers. The day you decided that those who have been robbed don't pay to have their apartments fingerprinted, and approved government payment for evidentiary rape kits at the hospitals. Thank you for changing the age of consent and the non-requirement of resistance to prove we "really didn't want it." You let us know that our perpetrator might not harm seventeen (on average) more women, or men, after us.
Please know just listening to our stories is helpful. So is not interrupting and waiting to clarify until the end. And, asking questions with a gentle voice or letting us sit by the exit route from the interrogation room helps us feel safer. When we report and you chose not to sit behind your desk opposite us and don't cross your arms over your chest, we feel like you are open to hearing our pain.
Thank you for telling us the limitations of your knowledge of the situation, but that you want to help us find the answers. When you make good eye contact with us, are a good listener and use open-ended questions, we are more willing to share our stories. When you show genuine caring in your responses and expressions, and don't lecture or scold us for our actions, we are empowered in our healing.
Everything that you do teaches us about how the public might respond when we tell others our stories. Many of us use your body language, questions and attitude to gauge our responsibility for our own victimization. We sense how much we "should have known" based on your assessment of our situation. We often feel guilty, embarrassed, and weak. When you believe in us, you help us heal and find strength. Thank you.
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and Take Back the Night in conjunction with Sexual Assault Awareness Month. To learn more about Take Back the Night and how you can help prevent sexual violence, visit here. Read all posts in the series here.
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-866-331-9474 or text "loveis" to 77054 for the National Dating Abuse Helpline.