Maybe it didn’t really happen? Maybe it was all in my head, like they said. Maybe I’m crazy, like they said. Mentally unstable.
Until the physical evidence came out. Yes, it did happen. Then it was Slut. And Questionable Reputation, a derogatory slur, slung about frequently by sorority girls eager to thrust the spotlight off their own poor choices. Yes, I had wanted it and was crying rape to get revenge on him for not wanting me. He had a girlfriend, after all.
He was good-looking and rich. Big Man at the fraternity house. Parents were alums of the university, on the board of trustees. Dad was a high-powered attorney.
I didn’t stand a chance.
But something inside me kept saying, no. No, this is not okay. No, you may not do this to me. No, I will not pretend like nothing happened. No, I am not a piece of meat for you to use and toss aside.
I’d wait until no one was home, shut myself in my bathroom and scream at the top of my lungs until I collapsed in tears. I’d punch the floor and scratch at my eyes. I thought if I wailed loud enough and scraped hard enough the images of him on top of me would stop. That moment when I regained consciousness, realized what was happening and experienced the horrible cliché of trying to scream but nothing coming out. The terror of being violated, trying to sit up and being pushed back down on the bed.
And then nothing but darkness again.
Waking up on the couch, shirt inside out, shorts on backwards. Hearing him bragging to his roommates about how he’d taken care of me last night when I was sick, vomiting up bottles of cheap champagne I was “forced” to drink at the fraternity’s little sister initiation the night before. My friends left me, it was 1990, I was twenty years old, and there were no cell phones. My purse was in another girl’s car.
I had no money, no way to get home, and no way to get into my apartment. My “big brother” brought me back to his apartment that he shared with several other frat brothers. As I was getting sick in the bathroom, I remember his roommate coming in and holding back my hair.
It was Him.
But we were friends, and I recall thinking, “Oh good, someone is going to help me.” He assured everyone that he would stay behind to take care of me, so they could all go back out to the bars.
The last thing I remember was being carried to the couch, where everything went black.
I need to pay attention when something on the internet says, “Trigger Warning.”
Reading the letter the Stanford rape victim wrote to her attacker, I thought, “It’s been twenty-six years, I can handle this.” The second sentence in, I started having difficulty breathing, but I couldn’t stop reading. Her words sucked me down into a sinkhole of memories that encircled me, tangling me in that old, familiar, paralyzing web.
So much of the Stanford victim’s story resonates with me: the Golden Boy, whose future we couldn’t possibly ruin; the accusation of “she wanted it” because clearly, unconscious people love to have sex; the re-victimization with the trial and all the ridiculous, impertinent questions about her personal business, as if the answers would somehow justify the crime committed against her.
My five-year-old son watched a cartoon on the couch while I vomited and sobbed over the toilet in the bathroom. I turned on the shower so he wouldn’t hear me.
Because twenty-six years later, it still matters. It still matters that he did this to me. It still matters that he took a piece of my soul that I’ll never get back. It still matters that he got off with a slap on the wrist. He was found guilty by a university peer council, but the decision was overturned by a higher-level council at an appeal at which I was not even allowed to testify. He did leave the school, but that was his only consequence. The DA tried to prosecute him but couldn't even get an indictment.
My case was covered in the New York Times HERE. When I read the article now, I am sickened that I actually cared about what happened to him because I thought he was my friend. They told me that "acquaintance rape" was different from "real rape," and I believed them.
It still matters that we allow this to happen in our world, that there are men protecting men, and women standing behind those men, enabling them.
Twenty-six years later, and our daughters are no better off than I was back then.
This is not a reality I can accept, as I witness my children growing up. I cannot accept it for my daughter, whom I worry about becoming a statistic, like her mother. I cannot accept it for my son, who is growing up in a world that tells him that “20 minutes of action” needn’t have consequences. Read the letter that Brock Turner's father wrote in his defense HERE.
In the words of Twitter user Kristin Hull: “anyone calling sexual assault ‘20 minutes of action’ has not been assaulted for 20 minutes.”
How many of us have these stories to tell? How much longer will we allow this to continue?
We can do better than this. We have an obligation to do better than this.
I am tired of screaming at the empty bathroom walls.
It’s time to scream out in the open, and this time, I don’t care who hears me.