As a writer, I often worry about how to tell this ugly story in a beautiful way. I think about the way the rain looked running down my car windows the day my best friend told me what a slut I'd been. Or how I remember that I was wearing a snap front shirt and the way it sounded when he took it off me, after I'd said I needed to leave. Maybe starting there with a sensory description would make the story at least sound better.
In the end, I realize that the most important part is just to tell the story. That's the real gift. Just telling the stories is what catalyzes change, connects me to those who need to hear it, and helps with my own healing. There is power in every one's voice. There is power in mine. I can speak about it. I have that gift where others can't or won't. I understand the desire to keep quiet. Speaking about this will make many people in my life uncomfortable, angry, sad. I haven't been talking about it because I don't want the stigmas or assumptions people make about rape victims attached to me. But I can talk about it, therefore, I must for all those who can't.
I was raped. I was taken home by a man after a first date in 2004. I'd told him that if I went back to his house, I wasn't having sex with him. He feigned offense that I'd think that was what he wanted. We sat and talked for a bit. I thought his breath smelled and I didn't want to have to kiss him, but when he tried, I was polite, like a good girl, and let him. I said I needed to leave and he started unbuttoning my shirt. I said I needed to leave and he took off my pants. I reminded him that we weren't having sex. He agreed again. We ended up having sex.
It wasn't till almost a year later that I remembered the finer details of that night. I'd never forgotten them, I just didn't have perspective at the time. When I'd called my friend the next day to tell her about my date she said, "Rebecca, you give it up too easily." And I never told anyone about it again. I was a slut. I needed to watch my own behavior.
And then one beautiful 4th of July, riding my bike through town to beat the traffic and find a good spot to see the fireworks with my new boyfriend, I remarked on a guy I once knew who lived downtown and probably had a good view tonight. Thinking about him again and the time we'd spent together, I suddenly saw myself in that apartment again, reminding him that I didn't want to have sex, not once, but several times, trying to leave as he coerced me into more and more of what he wanted from me. And I remember how when he finally pushed himself onto me, how I yelled, "NO" very loudly again and again, followed by, "Stop!" I remembered how he clamped his hands down harder on my arms and pulled me closer to him to stay in as I struggled. And finally I remember how I had gotten a leg free and had to put my foot on his chest and push him hard to remove him from on top of me.
I stopped pedaling my bike, remembered a date rape pamphlet from junior high, and ticked off all the boxes for the signs that I may have been raped. The immediate next thought in my head was that no one would believe me. I couldn't prove it, and being 2004, we hadn't refined our definition of rape to include coercion. There was still a part of me that thought it was my fault. I knew the guy wouldn't think what he'd done was rape. "Oh! Come on!" he'd said in outrage when I'd pushed him off, "I was already there. Can't I just finish?" I think I even apologized.
I always thought that I would be the kind of woman who would scream my story, seek vengeance, tell the police in a steady, strong voice what had happened to me and take the sucker to court, see him put away for daring to violate me. But I didn't do anything like that. I told my boyfriend at the time and did some writing about it that he wouldn't read because it bothered him too much. And I shut it down. I pretended it didn't matter till I got older and other things happened where someone tried to take my choices away and I couldn't ignore the similarity of the feeling. I've known for awhile that it is time to talk about it.
Because, in the end, the event wasn't as traumatizing as keeping quiet about it. It bothers me more to think about other women that he might have taken advantage of. Was I his first? How many came after me? Could I have helped others by speaking up? And then there's this big life event that people who love me don't know about. That bothers me too. Not to say, "I was raped, pity me," but to say, "I was raped, admire me. I am still the person who trusts without reason. I am still the person who cares open-heartedly. I am still the woman who loves her life even when it's not going so well. I'm still that person, and this was also part of my life."
I take all the scary things that come with it. I know some misguided person out there will confirm my fears and tell me it was my fault, I deserved it, he had every right to have sex with me. I know my family will be shocked and possibly hurt. I fear most of all for that. I know other people who have known me for a long time might attach those victim stigmas that kept me quiet long after I stopped feeling shame about letting him rape me. No one lets rape happen to them. Only society lets rape happen by making it this taboo thing that we don't talk about, that's too unseemly to discuss. Talking about it heals humanity and stops it from happening. Keeping quiet feeds the culture.
So I'm talking about everything. I'm telling all the stories.