In September of 2006, I had been in college for less than a month. Everything still felt so new and exciting– I was living away from home, I was finally working toward getting that journalism degree I wanted, I was making friends and living my life.
I was never one of the gals who went to house parties in high school – I was way too focused on everything else: starting a community service club, running the student newspaper, playing tennis, applying to college. But when I went two hours away to Appalachian State, the upperclassman, who I would later realize weren’t legal drinking age either, seemed to have an endless supply of anything us lowly freshmen wanted to try. I happily indulged, bonding with my newly-found friends from the dorm, and together — often in packs of 10 or so – we walked to house parties and took in the “college life” we thought was so cool.
But everything changed for me the night of my eighteenth birthday.
I had been casually seeing this guy who helped me get a job at the student newspaper. We had mutual friends, and I thought he was nice enough. He asked me out on a few dates which ended with a few kisses, but I didn’t feel anything romantic between us. I had just broken up with Mr. Faithful and I really didn’t want to start anything new. But he was a good, older friend and when he offered to throw my birthday party at his place, I couldn’t have been more thrilled. I brought along two of my new friends (who are still some of my dearest friends today), and we started drinking the moment we arrived.
He had bought all of us a six pack of something – I really don’t remember if it was Smirnoff or Mike’s Hard Lemonade or something else. I just know it was something easy to drink for newly-forming palettes that weren’t trained on what quality alcohol is and what it’s not. I know there were drinking games, a champagne toast, a banjo playing and a severe lack of food. My friends paired off with party guests and I walked around meeting everyone, getting kissed on the cheek by strangers because of my birthday pin and princess crown. I felt really mature and incredibly special – like I was finally having a real party and I was finally becoming an adult.
I’m not sure what time things started to become hazy, but at some point, all I wanted to do was to lie down. To this day, I still don’t know if anything was put in my glass/bottle or if I just had too much to drink, but I curled myself up onto the couch in my pink-and-white flowered dress and settled in to take a nap. I opened my eyes a few times and saw a few people from the knee down, walking around and then out the door. I noticed it get quieter and when someone put a blanket over me. I don’t really remember falling asleep, but eventually I did.
And the next thing I remember was pain. Something started really hurting.
Groggily, I tried to wake myself up to make it stop, but everything felt really heavy, especially my eyelids and my arms. I noticed the smell of sweat and wondered if it was me and if I brought deodorant with me. I was embarrassed that I might be smelly. I started to come fully awake and in what seemed like hours, but was really seconds, I realized what was happening – I was being raped.
The guy who threw the party was moving on top of me and I could feel the sweat from his forehead dripping onto mine. I didn’t know my dress had been pulled up to my stomach and I felt it crumpled against me, irritating my skin. With all the might I could muster, I pushed him off of me and he said the five words I can still hear perfectly:
“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”
Even though I knew I shouldn’t if I wanted to file a report, as soon as I got home, I showered. I picked the corner stall of the women’s bathroom on my floor and I sobbed until I couldn’t anymore. I scrubbed every inch and tried my best to ignore the pain when I rinsed down there. When my parents arrived around noon to celebrate my birthday, I told them everything and we cried together. I never put on a pretty outfit to go out to a fancy lunch with them as I always did for special occasions, instead, I stayed in a Gap sweatshirt the entire day. The picture of me blowing out my candles on that day is hard for me to look at – because I see the pain in my eyes that probably no one else notices. My parents asked if I wanted to press charges, my dad threatened to go after the guy (obviously), but I made the decision not to.
For a very difficult reason – I had just started at the student newspaper and I didn’t want some scandal ruining my reputation or keeping me from escalating up the ranks. I figured since he had been working there for a few years, his tenure would overpower my words, so I just remained silent. I called him out on it one time and he denied it. He’s never admitted it, and he’s claimed he didn’t remember anything from that night. But I still remember those five words of half-assed remorse that he said.
He graduated two years before me and I became a desk editor, the associate editor and I landed internships in NYC. I give a lot of credit to what I learned at that newspaper, and sometimes I wonder if I would have been as successful if I would have spoken up and called him out. I still feel uneasy about not doing anything about the situation, especially when a friend who was on staff talked about something similar happening to her with the same guy.
But what I’ve struggled with the most is the legitimacy of my rape. And what being raped says about me as a person, as a woman…as a survivor.
I was not attacked in some dark alley. The bruises I have from being raped are not visible. I didn’t bleed. I didn’t scream “No” over-and-over, only to be ignored by passerby. I wasn’t held at gun or knife point. I’ve barely told anyone about what happened to me. It took some therapy in college, some life lessons and a lot of growing up to admit to myself that I was raped. It somehow didn’t seem like it was bad enough to be called that or somehow, I was responsible for what happened to me. Maybe if I hadn’t drank so much. Or if I had decided to not go to that house party. Maybe I led him on into thinking I was into him, when I wasn’t. Perhaps I gave him a sign that I wanted to have sex, even though I never consented to the act. But as so many people have recently pointed out – rape is rape. And the victim is never to blame.
It happened and it was awful and it has changed my life. It changed who I am as a person. For a long time, I thought about it every single day. I still think of it when someone asks me how many people I’ve slept with – do I count the sex that I was forced to have? Does he count as a sexual partner? I think about it when I’m starting to get into a relationship with someone or developing feelings, and there have only been a handful of boyfriends I’ve actually told. I’ve only shared my story with close friends, some of which have also been raped, some that are shocked to know what I went through, without telling anyone. Its impact has made me incredibly interested in sex crimes — I wrote my senior thesis in sociology about human trafficking, and I cry almost every time I watch Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. I’ve searched the Sex Offenders Registry, only to find there are two convicted violent rapists within blocks of me. I carry mase when I run, just in case. I pray for it never to happen to me again.
My rape was legitimate. It was painful – emotionally and physically and personally. If only for a few moments, it took away something that belongs to me: my choice. My choice to make love or to have sex or to do everything-but. It took away my choice to let a man inside of me. It took away my choice to ask for more and to tell someone to slow down. It took away a piece of me that I’ll never get back.
But it also did something else for me: it helped make me a fighter. And if sharing my story, as difficult as it is to pen, can help another woman realize that her rape was real – regardless of what she drank, what she was wearing or who raped her – then it’s worth it. These words are worth sharing, and I’m finally ready to publish them.
No one can change what happened to me or what may have happened to you – because we weren’t given a choice. But it is our choice to move forward. It is our choice to say what happened was legitimate, and no one has the right — or the power – to say it’s not.
If you’ve been raped, the RAINN hotline will answer your call. If you want to read the letter that helped inspire me to finally write this post, read this from Eve Ensler. If you just want to share your story or talk to someone who has been there, email me. You’re not alone.