I recently read an article by CJ Hale titled “12 Things No One Told Me About Sex After Rape” and it got me thinking about my own experience being raped and sexually assaulted and how I continued to live in it’s shadow for quite some time. So I decided to make a list about it. But first, to recap. I was molested by my step-brother who was much much older than me when I was a teenager. He got me drunk and took advantage of me when I was a young teenager. I didn’t grow up with him, but he was visiting once a long time ago and it happened. It was a confusing time for me, since it happened suddenly and I felt trapped not knowing what to do, so I kept it inside. The second time, I was in college, (college is a fantastic time for rape and sexual assault). First time it happened, I actually said no, and tried to fight him off, (we were both under the influence of alcohol) and he just kept going. That was also a confusing time, terrifying, and I wasn’t sure how to feel about that absolute lack of power. So, I told someone, I reported him and it lead to an investigation and rumors spread throughout my small college. That led to him being banned from the school (he wasn’t a student) and his friends who had invited him, hating me for the next four years. His friend tried to pursue me after I pressed charges and told me it was simply a “misunderstanding” and I have to admit, for awhile, I wondered, would he have done it if he wasn’t drunk? Was it also my fault that I wasn’t forceful enough with my “No”s? What could I have done differently. Then the last time, at college, it happened when someone slipped something in my drink, and I woke up naked and alone. Only to have the guy who had raped me show up the next day, and ask me “How I was doing and if he could have his hat back?”
I was completely traumatized, one, because I have no memory of anything that happened that night (This time I actually wasn’t drunk, I had had one drink and had brought one with me to a friend’s party, uncovered, and unattended- talk about classic) and two, because the guy who did it acted friendly. I actually summoned the courage to tell him it wasn’t right, demand details, etc, and he swore “I knew you were a little ‘out of it’ but you wanted it”. He seemed nice enough, but then I asked him “Were you drunk?” (For whatever reason, I thought, maybe he victimized himself too) but he said “No”. I later found out from a friend he had a reputation for these things and he actually didn’t drink alcohol. Irregardless of the fact, I was raped, and had to do something, So I went to the school. I recounted everything I told them, painfully, and they wanted to suspend him for a semester. He had 30 days to decide if he wanted to object or not and on the 29th day, he said he objects. Then began the long and terrible process of standing trial with a school thrown together make-shift committee. He and I had the chance to call witnesses. Since I had no recognition of what happened, and no one I knew could tell me, I just brought a friend for moral support. He brought three people.
They began the trial, each, working on degrading my character “She’s a drinker” But I Wasn’t drunk! “She wanted it” But I have no memory! “She sleeps around” But I didn’t want him! I cried a lot. I had no strength to say anything. I was broken and embarrassed, and afraid, and confused. It was my darkest of days. I said through my tears “I just want to know the truth, I just want justice” and he lied through his mouth saying “I was drunk, she was drunk, you know, it happens” In the end, that’s what the committee decided to, “It happens” and they told us not to have contact with each other. I wasn’t allowed in his fraternity, he wasn’t allowed near my dorm.
So these are the things no one told me about being a victim of rape on my campus:
1. The rapist is a human! Surprise. S/he may be a star student. A fun person. Everyone may love them and support them. They may have even been “nice” to you before they raped you. Heck, they may even be “nice” to you after they rape you. They may try to cook you breakfast, drive you to the drugstore to get the morning after pill. Society has this weird idea of who is and who isn’t a rapist. Which, for the victim, makes things even more confusing. While we know, statistically speaking, most rapes happen with someone we know, it doesn’t make it easier to comprehend when your lab partner or coworker rapes you, or when a person who you though was your friend, willing participates in a gang rape. After my rape, I use to go to my rapist Facebook page and ask myself “Could he have done it?” I spent years trying to make him into a monster. But he’s a human who raped me. Who has a family, a college degree, a career. I actually even think he went on to law school. This has been a constant struggle for me. But rape is about power, and even powerful people, can do it.
2. Sadly, the college system as it stands, does not support the victims of sexual assault and rape. They often create make-shift committees, that are further traumatizing for the victim. This does not mean you should not report your crimes, but be prepared for a long battle. In the end, you did your best.
3. Have a Good support group and talk about it. I held it in for so long. I stopped sleeping for three months, only falling asleep while exhausted or drunk. My “friends” would want to go to parties at the fraternity, and I’d have to explain why I couldn’t go. Sometimes they went without me. Sometimes, they didn’t understand. When I would run into him at a bar and have a panic attack, they would sometimes tell me to “wait until they finished their drink” and I would run outside, smoke a cigarette, and just cry by myself. Only one friend, really understood and was super supportive. When I couldn’t sleep, he stayed up late with me and watched movies, When I cried, he told me jokes, He never went to frat parties, he never asked me to recount the story, He treated me like a human, not like damage goods, He told me I was brave, for that, I am eternally grateful to him and consider him my brother, he helped me through my darkest hour.
4. To supplement pain, you may lose yourself. I became an alcoholic of sorts. When I couldn’t sleep, I’d drink myself to sleep. I felt brave again and able to face people when I was drinking and I drank a lot because on a small campus of two blocks, there are many people to face everyday. Others use sex as a way to feel control. They are making decisions now with sex, not someone else for them. Some use drugs. Some just stay away and avoid. I think it’s important not to lose yourself, not to trade your pain in for substances. It took me years, and I mean years, until I gained control of my drinking. It was not the best way, and if I had gone to a therapist or a support group, I may have been able to better recognize the patterns.
5. There will be triggers. I can not read an article about rape or watch a movie about rape, especially date rape and not feel uncomfortable, sad. It comes in waves and overtime it does get better. But it’s good to be able to recognize the triggers and know that they will not go away for sometime.
6. People will forget you were raped. It’s true. Even the people who love you or knew you when it happened will forget. They will say insensitive things. They will use trigger words. They do not understand. It’s a strange world to be a part of, but that doesn’t mean they don’t care and don’t love you.
7. You don’t have to explain or talk about it until you are ready. I didn’t tell my husband about my rape until after a year of dating. He was very supportive. I just told him I had been “assaulted” and I’ll explain when I’m ready. No matter how long it’s been since the event, it will always be exhausting to talk about. The only difference, is that overtime, it will be exhausting and powerful. It does get better.
8. Once a victim, you have the ability to be a victim again. I don’t know why, but sometimes I feel like I have “victim” written on my forehead. The point is, it could happen again. I hope it doesn’t but it can. Truth is we are not the responsible ones for someone’s actions. There are “preventative” measures I suppose, but still it could happen again. That doesn’t mean you are dumb, or that it’s your fault. It also doesn’t mean that you have “victim” written on your head. It just means there are bad people out there. Keep being strong.
9. www.upworthy.com is my friend! It’s silly, but I learned so much more about sexual assault and how victims handle themselves in the few months Upworthy has been around than I have in the year since my rape. It helps me remember I am not alone and somehow reading about others makes me feel powerful.
10. When you have sex again for the first time after rape, it’s a very strange day. The previous feelings of happiness and intimacy are often gone and you wonder if you can feel them again. Certain things may happen that cause you to flash back. Or else, you may just be numb. You may feel unworthy, you may feel undeserving. You may feel like used goods. I can’t describe it, but that feeling will go away. One day (any maybe soon) you’ll feel intimacy again. You’ll feel powerful again. You’ll feel deserving and worthy again.