truth

Now or Never? Bearing Witness to the Complicated Relationship Between Truth and Time for Women Who Have Been Sexually Assaulted

Woman-with-mouth-taped-shut 16 years ago, I was raped. I told one “friend” (the cousin of the man who did it) right afterward and she told me it was my fault. It took me another seven years to tell my mom. I never told the police or anyone else for many, many years besides my husband. Does the fact that I didn’t report it…that I wasn’t strong enough…that I was scared out of my mind…that I believed for a long time what my “friend” suggested, that I asked for it…totally negate the crime that was committed against me? Does it make the person any less responsible? If he was now someone powerful and wealthy and I, more courageous, would the time lapse really matter? If you think it does, I can only pray that this doesn’t ever hit close to home for you. Unfortunately, for many it does.

I was around 21 when I was sexually assaulted in the bedroom of a man I had met at a bus-stop in Germantown. My toddler daughter was in the other room (her father and I had broken up when she was two). I took her as “protection” at my “date’s” invitation. I begged and cried softly, not wanting to scare her, asking him to please unlock the door. I don’t remember the perpetrator’s name, don’t know whether he is famous or not, don’t know whether he is living or dead. I don’t remember when I told my now adult daughter; I told my husband when we met in 1999, and told three or four sister/friends in the last ten years. And now, those of you reading this know what happened to me over 30 years ago. Why didn’t I report it? It has to do with being 21, and lonely, and trusting, and believing that I was a good judge of character, and shame, and embarrassment, and some of the very same questions that people are asking now. For those who need a “perfect” victim, I was not one; yet, the truth is, it happened. – Philadelphia, PA 

***

It was my mother’s sisters son. My first cousin. Family! I didn’t understand why he kept looking at me and was always trying to make me come to his room. He finally got me by myself and started putting his hands in my panties all the while threatening to hurt me if I told what he was doing to me. He finally was able to put his whole19 year old penis in my 7 year old body.  After a while what he did didn’t hurt anymore but he always looked at me, pinched, or made me know he would hurt me. My sister caught him with me. Told my mother! I didn’t tell cause he said he would hurt me, and he did things to get his point across not to tell! – Philadelphia, PA

***

I was sexually assaulted in college and I was threatened that he would kill me if I made him lose his job. He snapped later and it came out anyway.The way I was treated by people, friends, family, the school, police, courts etc as the “victim” made me feel like if anything in my life was ever to happen like this again I would NEVER say anything. I would just “allow” myself to deal with being violated because telling the truth was so much worse than what happened. I dropped the charges because I didn’t want to deal with it anymore and had no support. I transferred to another school and decided to leave that part of my life behind. I was molested as a child and then that happened. In both cases, every time I told the truth, I wish I never did. – King of Prussia, PA

***

I was raped. It wasn’t by a knife wielding thug in the streets, it was by the man I loved. I had just had his baby. I still had the episiotomy stitches. He insisted on sex, and I said no. I tried to fight him, but he was bigger and stronger, in more ways than just physically. He broke my stitches. Then he laughed and said, “That was almost like rape.” For reals. This happened in 1989. It took me decades to call this by its true name: rape. I was confused because we had a relationship. I. Was. CONFUSED. I didn’t tell anyone but God for years. It never even occurred to me to call the police. He had me duped, believing I could not call “the White man” on a brotha. And he wasn’t the only man who violated me. One or two other men have forced themselves on me after I said “No, please stop.” But I WAS CONFUSED, and just lay there, ashamed, and blaming myself. I was raped before CSI and Law and Order SVU. Raped before I’d ever heard the words “rape kit,” if I even had the nerve to have one collected, which I assure you I wouldn’t have had. DNA? What was that? To say little of the fact that I was, and remain, almost pathologically loyal to those I love. I do not tell, and if I do it’s rarely been with any intent to prosecute. – Claudia – Lexington, KY

***

Growing up when my mother and I would visit her family in the UK every few years, I developed a crush on my cousin’s neighbor. When I was 15, I was thrilled to find out he was interested in me.  When he asked me to take a walk with him, I gladly accepted. We ended up in a field about a mile down this isolated country road, and he started pushing me to have sex with him. I repeatedly said I didn’t want to and he repeatedly pushed more and more—until finally I just gave in because I was petrified. I never said yes, I just lay there, horrified and waited for it to be over. He told me afterward if I told anyone, they’d never believe me because he lived next door to my family and they didn’t know me “from a hole in the ground.” I called my  30-year-old sister crying. When she asked if he held me down or hit me and when I said no, she said that’s not rape, you’re just a whore. It happened four more times, because now I was convinced he was right—if my own sister blamed me, what would everyone else think? The last time he told me I didn’t do it right and proceeded to masturbate in front of me. I was too humiliated for words. My mother asked about what was going on with him repeatedly but I didn’t answer. When we got home, she told me that this boy worked with my uncle and told him that I was a slut. When I started to sob and told her he forced me, she told me that he had never said anything and she just made it up to find out what happened. For the next several years, she would ask me to replay it over and over and over again—looking for proof that it was really rape. I never reported it because a) I was humiliated, b) I was told it wasn’t rape at all, it was actually my fault, and c) my own family treated me like the criminal. I hated the thought of being a “trauma victim.” I denied it had any impact on me… despite the fact that I began chain smoking, developed a full-blown eating disorder, and spiraled into alcoholism. I was sexually assaulted twice more, which only confirmed for me that it was definitely my fault. I didn’t get help for it at all until 14 years later when I nearly had a breakdown and began experiencing symptoms of PTSD. I don’t feel the same level of shame that I used to, I know being raped doesn’t define me, I know it’s not my fault, and thankfully I’ve finally begun to heal. – Havertown, PA

***

I was 19 and in college. My roommate invited me to a friend’s fraternity party. The pledges for the frat were to pick us up and take us home. I was so excited to be going out and letting lose. It never occurred to me that I wouldn’t be safe at a friend’s party. I had too much to drink that night. People just kept handing me drinks and I drank them without question. My friend said I could lay down in his room while I waited for my roommate, she said she’d be ready to leave in just a minute. But my friend followed me back to his room. I don’t remember much, I was well past the point of blacking out. Most of what I know from that night had to be recounted to me. I don’t know how long I was in my friends room before my roommate found me. She found my ‘friend’ on top of me. Groping me. I have fuzzy recollections of trying to get him to stop. But he was much heavier and stronger than me. When my roommate came in he stopped and turned his attention to her, luckily she was sober enough to fight his advances. I know that she argued with him to get us a ride home and when he refused she left to find someone to help us. That’s when he started on me again. I don’t think my roommate was gone for too long but if she had been much longer he would have raped me. I know that much for sure. When she came back with another guy who was willing to take us home our friend was mad, and yelled that ‘there was no way in hell he was going to let another man take home his lays for the night.’ I didn’t report it. I didn’t even understand what had happened. I blamed myself for being so drunk and so trusting. It was maybe a year or so before I understood that what my ‘friend’ had done was wrong. And when I saw him on campus again he pretended like he didn’t know me. Friends discounted it because he didn’t have sex with me. I believed them when they said it wasn’t a big deal. I felt like I was overreacting. I don’t know that I’ll ever feel like it wasn’t 100% my fault. It’s been four and a half years and I just hope that one day I can enter a party or a crowded bar and feel safe enough to relax just a little bit. -Anna, Atlanta, GA

***

I was 17. A virgin. Never had a boyfriend and had never been kissed. In a few weeks’ time, I would be graduating from high school and moving on to bigger and better for the rest of my life. A cousin of mine whom I admired because she was so cool hooked me up with a guy who was friends with her boyfriend. We were going over her boyfriend’s house, and we would all hang out for a bit.

I  was so excited. And scared. I didn’t wear makeup often, but I took the time to put some on. Dressed nice—everything was covered up.

I couldn’t tell you WHAT the boy looked like now, and I don’t remember his name.

All I know was things were fine while we were all in the basement talking, listening to music, and laughing. When my cousin and her boyfriend went upstairs, I was scared. I was an awkward girl who didn’t know what to do. But I knew what I DIDN’T want to do.

Have sex.

He kissed me. Well, he tried. Twice before succeeding. It was OK, but the fear wouldn’t go away.

Almost instantly, he began taking my clothes off and forcing me to the rug.

It didn’t last long. My “I said no, please stop” on repeat lasted longer.

I found my pants, put them on, and ran up the stairs and into the bathroom just as my cousin came out of a room.

It was then, in the bathroom, that I realized I had clutched my panties and stockings while rushing from the basement. I stuffed them into my purse.

I remember us four in the living room, waiting for our cab to come later. Prom time was coming up and the guy had the audacity to say he would take me if I wanted him to. I looked horrified.

At the time, I didn’t think of it as rape. I blamed myself. I was the one who put on makeup and tried to look cute. I sat in a basement alone with a guy I didn’t really know.

It wasn’t until years later when I entered an all woman’s college and during orientation week we watched videos on date rape did I realize what had happened to me.

The time between the rape and that realization left me empty. I won’t tell you how many pregnancy tests I took, praying I wasn’t pregnant. I also constantly wanted to be tested to make sure I had no sexually transmitted diseases. I didn’t date. I ate a lot. I stayed to myself. I was stained, tainted. Who would want me if they ever knew?

After realizing that what happened to me was rape, I still blamed myself. I still felt tainted, and if I was honest with myself, I’m still stained by it 26 years later. I never told my family (just a best friend), the number of relationships I’ve been in has been next to none, and I still lock myself up from men.

I’m still looking for a day where I can take a deep breath, see my worth and my beauty, see that I have something to offer someone, and let myself feel love without the stain of this event.

– Baltimore, MD

If you would like to add your story to this list, please email me at tmlgwriter@gmail.com. All stories will remain anonymous unless you state otherwise. There’s freedom and healing in releasing the shame and telling your story.

“And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony…” – Revelation 12:11a

TMLG

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