I am a rape survivor.
Let me start off by giving a brief history of my young adult life. I developed earlier (and larger) than most of my friends. Because of this, I received a LOT of attention from men and boys in my life. From the age of 12, I was hearing boys discuss what it would feel like to touch me, and it was quite disturbing to me. I mean, I was 12! I hadn’t even experienced my first kiss yet, and here people were discussing parts of my body and asking me for pictures. Even at home, I felt I was on display. I remember a time when I was around 14, one unbearably hot summer night, before AC was standard, I was wearing a spaghetti strap shirt, and my sister said to me “you look like a slut.” Hearing those words come from my own sister, in my own home, where it was just my mom, her, and I, and I should’ve felt comfortable in whatever clothing I chose…it brought me to a very dark place. I knew what people noticed about me. I knew what I was good for. I didn’t need to be smart, or have any kind of personality. It didn’t matter. The only thing people would ever see would be my body.
Fast forward a bit. Contrary to popular belief, I was not a “slut.” Matter of fact, I didn’t start having sex until I was 17, much later than a lot of my peers, and I had very few partners. But, I wasn’t one for relationships back then, as I didn’t trust that men could want me for anything more than sex, so the rumors continued to swirl. The rumors followed me throughout my senior year of high school, throughout my college years, and back home after college. I couldn’t escape them. No matter how long I waited until I had sex with a guy, no matter how protected the guy made me feel, it always seemed to get out. And as always, the focus was on me: “dude did you hit that?? How were the tits?” And the guy was a hero, and didn’t have a need for me anymore. I served my purpose for them. I had decided I was never going to be better than this, so I might as well give in.
I started being a little bit more promiscuous during college. I realized the guys I liked were only interested in me for one reason, so I could be with them and accept that, or move on. Plus, I was in college. It’s time for experimenting, right? Why bother with a relationship when I’m never going to see these people after graduation? So I accepted the friends-with-benefits relationships that appealed to me, and left the others at the door. At least this way, I was making my own decisions. I was taking control back. But one guy in particular changed all of that.
It was the summer after I came back from college. We met at work, and ended up becoming friends. We spent a lot of time in each other’s company that summer, usually with lots of other people. I felt accepted in this new group I had joined. I didn’t feel like people only valued me for one thing. I felt like they listened to me. I felt like he listened to me. And…I liked him. Against my better judgment, I had a legit crush on this guy. We started hanging out with smaller groups, and we started texting all the time. We had a lot in common. He had a girlfriend, but she wasn’t around that summer. Normally, this would be disgusting to me, and I wouldn’t even think of being the person someone cheats with. But there was something about him….it just got me. I couldn’t help myself. We started casually sleeping together. He invited me over for a July 4th party at his house. Everyone knew we were hooking up. Everyone knew to keep it quiet. So when he invited me into his room in front of all of his friends, I thought “oh my god, this is uncharted territory. Things are working for me! He LIKES me!” I was so happy. We talked for hours, and at some point we started to have sex. At this stage of my life, I knew what I liked and what I didn’t, what I consented to and what I didn’t. There was one thing I was absolutely not okay with happening. We had discussed it before. I trusted that he would respect my wishes. And he had before. But something changed this time. He took control. He turned me over and held down my arms. I tried to get out from under him, I tried to scream, I tried to move. I was yelling “NO!” over and over again. He kept getting stronger. I kept getting weaker. He said things that still haunt me. Eventually my body went limp. I became numb.
I don’t know how long I lay there after he left, trying to piece together what had just happened. Trying to figure out how to leave. Maybe I could’ve gone home. But I had lied to my mom about where I was staying that night. I was fearful that if I went home, she would be mad, and I’d be in trouble. Looking back, this seems a ridiculous concern. But the mind plays tricks on us.
For at least a year afterwards, we worked together still. And just like it always happened in my life, rumors spread. He told people I worked with that I liked what happened. That I asked him to do that. He destroyed my credibility. He made me feel like I couldn’t ever find anyone who would believe me. He told people he rejected me and I was just making stuff up to get back at him for it. The amount of self-doubt I experienced over the next few years was astounding. Did I ‘ask for it’? Was it my fault? I had worked so hard to build my sense of self-worth back up from when I was younger. It all crumbled. I had no faith left. No hope that maybe someday, a man would want me for more than one reason. No hope that I could love myself again.
For a long time since then, I grappled with what happened. Was it rape if I consented to sex? How do you give consent for one type of sexual act, and not another? Did he cross a line, or was the line not made clear by me? What could I have done differently? But all of these questions focus on what I did wrong. I didn’t even tell my friends about it. I didn’t think it was believable. I didn’t know what they would think of me. Would they side with him? Maybe it was my fault…
Six months after the incident, as I have come to call it, I began volunteering for an organization that works closely with domestic violence survivors, working in courts to help clients apply for restraining orders from their abusers. The lessons I learned in this year helped me figure out what I wanted to do in my career. I felt I could advocate for these people because I understood them.
However, it wasn’t until my year as a counseling intern at an inpatient facility that I realized how much this trauma deeply affected me. I found myself being triggered by certain clients, and I didn’t know who to confide in. What if I told my supervisor, and she recommended I stop the program? I was not willing to give up more of my life for this creep. He took enough from me.
I started going to counseling myself after I completed my internship. My counselor helped me tell my story. She helped me hear it for what it really was. She helped me tell my story to my mom and my sister, a task that I had dreaded for years. I thought they would blame me, that my mom would be mad at me for lying to her…that they would want me to press charges. But they supported me. My sister held my hand while I struggled to find the words to tell my mom. I thought this was a failure, something I should be ashamed of. They told me they would be there for me no matter what I decided to do.
I didn’t choose to press charges, but I did tell my story. And I’m not saying it’s easy. It takes a lot of hard work, and time, to take back what someone has taken from you. I’m going to be working on that for the rest of my life. It’s part of my story. It’s mine to tell. He can’t silence me anymore. His words might live in my head. I may feel scared, I may have nightmares sometimes, but he can’t control me anymore. He doesn’t get to decide what my life will be.
I am worth more than my body.
I am a good person.
I did nothing wrong.
No one deserves to be raped.
I didn’t deserve to be raped.
I deserve respect.
I deserve love.
I am worth all of that.