Sexual assault has slowly been making its way around the edge of political conversation for a few years now. But although it’s a topic that has slowly been gaining traction in the public arena recently, it’s something that’s staggeringly underreported, with an estimated 60% of sexual assaults never even reported to police. Attacks on college women have an even higher rate, with less than 5% ever reported to law enforcement.
It’s been suggested that a reason for this poor rate may have something to do with the fact that in 80-90% of cases (as asserted by the National Institute of Justice), the victim and assailant know each other, and the more intimate the relationship,
the more likely it is for a rape to be completed. Further muddying the proverbial waters, only about one- third of schools are fully compliant with the federal Clery Act, which requires schools to report on- campus crime statistics to federal education officials. As stated by Kim Edmonds of Women’s Health Specialists in this issue, “Rape, and sexual assault and sexual violence in general, is one of the biggest issues you could ever try to have a conversation about…”
Whatever you attribute the cause of our high rate of sexual assaults to in this country, we believe it’s important to make an effort to bring some attention to the issue in order to at least begin a dialogue about it. This week we interviewed a woman (who requested to remain anonymous), who was sexually assaulted, and has agreed to share her story with us.
How long ago did this take place, where did it occur, and did you know your attacker?
I was 15 (nearly 20 years ago, which is weird to think about), when the first thing happened. I still blame myself, even though I know better. I should’ve seen the position I was putting myself in, protected myself, fought back harder, screamed louder, told everyone… but that’s not how it went.
He was my best friend’s guy-next- door crush, and through our last year in junior high we had hung out with him a few times. He was out of our league, popular, a little older. At some point he started calling me, and I felt so special. Whenever we talked, it somehow led back to sex, and why I was a virgin. I was coming out of being really religious, and was considering new ideas like maybe waiting until I was really in love rather than waiting for marriage.
He listened, wooed me, built me up with compliments, read me his poetry. He had a girlfriend, and that made me feel even safer. I came to think of him as my secret best friend.
If you would, please walk me through what happened.
One afternoon he invited me over to swim. His parents were gone, and he had the keys to his sister’s car. As we drove, he told me he was thinking of asking his girlfriend to marry him, but that he had feelings for me. He thought about being my first. It was such a weird thing to say, and immediately I felt a shift in the atmosphere; my stomach was full of butterflies. He asked me what I thought about that, to which I mumbled something along the lines of “Wow, I don’t know… Maybe?”
I didn’t think he meant right now, today. I thought he was saying someday, me instead of her. That answer haunts me.
At his house, he guided me to his bedroom so I could change, but then we sat down on his bed. I remember the sun was coming in through the blinds. They were crooked, damaged on one end. He leaned over like he was going to kiss me, but then he stopped and looked down at my body, and put his hand under my shirt. For a second I froze like a deer in headlights. I’d never been in anything near this situation. I’d only had my first kiss a few months before. I giggled, squirmed away like it was a joke, but his face had this determined expression. He pushed me back onto the bed, not hard, but I felt this shock of fear. I remember I was wearing a skirt, one I’d had since fifth grade that still fit me, I felt exposed. So quickly he was unbuckling his pants. I propped up on my elbows and said “wait,” but he was already reaching under my skirt to pull my panties down while I tightly clenched my legs. I pleaded with him, “I… don’t want to get pregnant,” as though I needed to make a case, as though I needed a more reasonable explanation for resisting than being terrified.
He didn’t say anything. It was like he didn’t hear me, and my heart was pounding so loud I could barely hear myself. I felt him prodding, pushing so hard against me. I started begging, over and over, “Please stop! Please, no, I can’t!” It was like he was punching me in the crotch, a broad, sharp pain followed by dull aching followed by sharp pain again. I started to cry, and prayed out loud for God to help me, to stop this. But nobody stopped it, no one was listening. I tried to leave my body, to disconnect from it. Finally, the weight of his sweaty shoulder pressed down against my face. The sun through the blinds. My broken heart. My breath shuddering.
He got up and started changing into fresh clothes; I cradled my knees to my chest and cried. He glanced over at me, and said, “Sorry.”
What happened afterwards?
He dropped me off at home, and I went straight into the bathroom and threw up, then I took a shower. Then I called my friend, and told her I needed to get out of my house. I couldn’t come to terms with what had just happened, it was too much. She was hanging out with some guys who had alcohol. I wasn’t a drinker, at least not before then, and I immediately got wasted. It was obvious something was wrong, but I lied to deflect the questions: told them I had gone too far with someone and was scared of pregnancy (apparently my go-to for relatable teenage fear). And I wanted that to be true, I wanted it to have been my choice, I wanted the emotional wrecking ball swinging inside me to be a simple “yes or no” type of fear that could go away with a negative test.
Did you report the incident?
A couple days later I told my friend—confessed it. She yelled at me and called me a fucking liar, and warned me never to say that to anyone again. Then she called him and asked if it was true, and then called me back to say he said I was a liar. It was the worst possible thing that could’ve happened. I couldn’t take it, that feeling of being in this glaring, judging light. It was like it had become even more inescapably real by vocalizing it, and the worst reaction I could imagine was coming at me. I decided it was better to just absorb it, deal with it internally. Plus I thought that if I told my family one of them might kill him, and I didn’t want them to get in trouble because I’d made this “stupid mistake.”
Within minutes of that phone call, I suddenly had this deep urge to hurt myself, to control my own pain by causing it. I punched a wall until my knuckles bled. I started scratching at my skin with safety pins, started giving myself all kinds of piercings. From then on I was drinking heavily, sneaking out of the house all the time. I was like a runaway train.
Then it happened again. I slept over at this guy’s house after a party, so drunk I couldn’t stand or keep the room from spinning. After everyone left, he just climbed in next to me and pulled my pants down, telling me “It’s OK, it’s just me,” when I mumbled “don’t.” When I woke up I felt disgusting, like my body was just this thing. My whole life was quickly spiraling out. I couldn’t connect with anyone, I resented my family (illogically) for not preparing me or protecting me. I started compulsively putting myself in bad situations—going to frat parties and getting crazy wasted, staying late, letting the creepiest guys (the ones who like obvious teenagers) come onto me.
I wasn’t thinking about why at the time, but in retrospect I think I wanted to control this fucked up sexual tragedy I had experienced—the same way I had hurt myself physically to control the pain, I was trying to be in control of who used me, because someone was just going to no matter what. I’d say no, resist, give in, hate them, hate myself. I don’t know how to explain what I was thinking, why my instinct was so self destructive and why my brain didn’t override it when it was clearly awful in so many ways. I guess it was partly because I wasn’t talking to anybody about what had happened, and I didn’t have words for any of it; I was acting it out like a pageant so maybe somebody would see and stop me.
Did you tell your friends and/or family about the attack?
I finally did have a breakdown, when I was maybe 17 or 18, and talked to a friend’s mom. She just held me, for so long. After that I started opening up to more people, talking to friends, writing poetry, speaking at Take Back The Night. It was incredibly cathartic, and coincided with the beginning of several sequentially better relationships. I never could tell my family though. I guess I still want to protect them.
Have you seen your attacker since the incident?
I did. Maybe a year later, before the second incident, he called me and asked if I wanted to come over. It was the strangest thing, like nothing had ever happened, and something in me just snapped. He and I were the only people in the world who knew the truth, and here he was acting like I didn’t know that. I rode my bike to his house, and when he opened the door I told him I wanted him to apologize to me, right now. He actually had the gall to ask “What for?” I looked him square in the eye and said, “You KNOW what for.” He got sort of sheepish, and said “Yeah, sorry about that,” and I left, feeling all triumphant for some reason. Honestly, I don’t know if he was admitting what I wanted him to admit to me, but in that moment of rage I felt like I had accomplished some big win for truth.
If you could speak directly to your attacker, what would you say?
If I could see him now… Well, I’d want to ask him how he could’ve enjoyed that, what kind of sick person he must be to enjoy raping a crying little girl.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I wish I had gone right in and told my parents, not washed away the evidence, called the police, gotten counselling. Maybe it would’ve come to nothing, but at least I would know I tried and saved myself from stumbling through it alone. I wish I knew for sure that he hadn’t done that to anyone else after me, and gotten away with it because I was too scared. I carry a lot of guilt worrying about that.
Sexual violence is a common occurrence. If you or someone you know has been assaulted, there are resources available to assist you. Please refer to the list included in this issue. Additionally, if you have a personal account of a sexual assault or reaction to this piece that you would like to share with Synthesis in a Letters To The Editor section, please email them to zooeymae@synthesis. net.