Over the last 24 hours I’ve received several messages, from friends and strangers alike, telling me about experiences that they have had that were similar to mine. All of these experiences were told to me in confidence. I wish all of these women and men were able to talk about their experiences openly, but not all of us are at the point in our lives where we can share the painful things that have happened to us. There’s nothing shameful or wrong about feeling guarded about hurtful experiences of your past. I shared what I shared because it was time and I was ready.
One person, however, asked me to share her story on my blog. This was written by my own sister. I was a witness to the aftermath of these events. I saw the social pressure involved and watched helplessly as my sister bent to it, as we all did. This is yet another example of the shame and guilt surrounding this topic brought on by our society. Only after we break this silence and stop placing blame on the victims of abuse will we be able to grow and move forward as a culture. It brings me to tears to read this, but I feel again that it is the right thing to do to share it. Her words follow:
In my early 20s I was raped and physically assaulted by my ex boyfriend in his apartment. Yesterday my amazingly brave sister told her own story of being raped because she wanted to reach out to victims and young people to help them understand what rape is, even when it doesn’t seem like rape. I want to tell my story because the reason I didn’t press charges against this person had a lot to do with social pressure from our mutual friends. We shared many mutual friends. It was common knowledge that he was pretty crazy, and it was common knowledge that I was fairly promiscuous, we all were, that was the scene we were running in. They knew I had hurt this guy pretty badly and they probably thought I was exaggerating the events of that night since drama tended to follow me.
I don’t think anyone in our circle wanted to believe that their friend was a rapist, because then they would have had to act on it. They’d have had to shun him, pick a side, potentially rise to defend me or other women. Literally everyone knew this guy was trouble, but it didn’t stop them from being friends with him. They knew that I knew he was trouble too, they were the ones who TOLD ME he was trouble, but that I dated him anyhow. They told themselves “what did she expect?” and I can’t be angry at them for that. We don’t want to believe our friends are capable of things like that. I mean, things got pretty intense between the two of us when we broke up, but I really didn’t believe that he would do something like that to me until it was happening. The situation became very confusing for me when I realized that people were just going to let this guy “get away with it” and were encouraging me to let it go. The truth was, this man purposefully and admittedly used sex and brutality as a weapon to hurt me, and afterward he used the lack of response from our mutual friends as a shield against his guilt and a proof of it being acceptable behavior. Somehow it all just melted away. I stopped talking about it, they stopped talking about it, people kept hanging out with him, nothing changed, except for me.
Although it feels difficult for me to mention the acts he committed that night, it is important to state them so that it is understood that this wasn’t just collateral damage from a break up gone bad. This man took advantage of what remained of my trust in him so he could purposefully brutalize my body and spirit and he did it in a clever way that would make it difficult for others to recognize his behavior for what it was. That night I got drunk and went home with my ex boyfriend in what I thought was a fun “hey, why not” sort of situation. We started having sex and then I realized he was raping me. I realized this because the energy changed completely, I asked him to stop and he wouldn’t. I knew it was rape because, like some nightmare, he started telling me he was doing this to me on purpose. That he knew I’d come home with him when he saw I was tipsy, and that he was doing this to me to make me stop hurting men. He called me horrible names, he said that he owed it to mankind to break me and mess me up so I wouldn’t again hurt anyone the way I’d hurt him. He said all this while he was raping me and holding me down so hard that I had 10 purple bruises for each one of his fingers tattooed on my arms for a week. Afterward he laughed at me and said more terrible things as I gathered my belongings and I stumbled out of his apartment into the night.
A relative insisted that I get a restraining order on him. First, you get a temporary order and the offender is informed of it. He has to show up in court several days later to defend himself or else by default he receives an order that lasts for a year. He did show up in court, and I had to stand there, with a bailiff between he and I, telling a male judge the entire story while shaking like a leaf. I had to admit, in front of my rapist and a judge, that I was afraid of him, that I feared he would hurt me again. When it was his turn to speak he said that my story was “a complete fabrication” and that we ran in mutual circles and I was only getting the restraining order so I could get him fired from his job or so I could get him kicked out of the clubs we went to. The judge asked me what I thought of that. I said that I just wanted to have this situation on record and that I wanted him to legally be unable to approach me or contact me. The judge looked me straight in the eyes and said “This man has 3 other restraining orders against him from other women, all ex girlfriends of his. You should consider pressing charges against him.” and put through the permanent restraining order.
I should have pressed charges against this man when I found out about the other restraining orders, but I was suffering from that same self induced apathy that my friends practiced. I wanted to move on. It wasn’t my job to hold onto this person’s accumulated pain that he tried to shove inside me that night. I felt like it shouldn’t have been my job to hold him accountable for it, but it was. I should have pressed charges, but I was too afraid of the consequences. Too afraid of the expense, and the drama. I did not trust the judicial system and was traumatized by that courtroom experience. The fact that my peers weren’t backing me up made me think that a judge and a jury wouldn’t have backed me up either. I’m not writing this to blame my friends. I understand why they didn’t speak up. I’m not writing it so I can rally the courage to track this guy down and press charges against him now. I’m writing it to express the imperative that as a culture, we must not brush these things under the rug when they happen. That we face them together with lots of communication and honesty. That we decide it IS our business when things like this happen. That we do pick a side, take a stand, and rise to defend each other.
Six years after these events two FBI agents showed up at my door, telling me this man had committed a similar crime against someone else. I kept thinking I should have pressed charges. Maybe if I had, I could have prevented this from happening to another woman. That’s the consequence of my lack of action, my failure of courage, my lack of trust in the justice system, and my belief that I didn’t have a case against him. That’s the consequence of the lack of action of my peers. Was our lack of action to blame for what he did? No, but the truth is, if we had done something about it back then, there’s a chance that maybe he wouldn’t have kept hurting people. Maybe he would have gotten the help he needed to stop being a monster inside. Because when we allow people to commit acts like this in our culture, we are helping to create these monsters too. We are allowing these people to continue being damaged, and broken, blaming others for their pain, and smashing that pain into other people until it doesn’t feel like such a burden anymore.
I have since moved forward, and I have had a few wonderful, healthy relationships since then, but it took a lot of personal work. After being in the courthouse, I sat on the floor and cried until I couldn’t breathe, and then I made the decision that I wasn’t going to be a victim. I knew what I had done to bring this into my life. In some sick sense, he was right, I was being careless with people’s hearts, I was being your typical 20 year old, having my 2 week flings and discarding people, ignoring my and other people’s relationship boundaries and taking what I wanted when I wanted it. I was being careless with my own body. I was being careless with other people’s bodies. I was being careless and abusive to my own heart, my spirit, myself. I felt that if I changed my behavior because of this event, that in a way, he would “win”. That his “solution” would work. That he would stop me from hurting people he way I had hurt him. That is the nature of abuse and what makes it so insidious. Everyone is guilty of something in life, and abuse makes you feel like you deserve any punishment you get. So I had it out with myself. I took responsibility for what led me to his bed that night, and every night before it and I never treated myself that way again. Taking that responsibility helped me find the empowerment I needed to put my head up, make some serious changes in my life, and eventually to find some forgiveness, both of him, and of myself. He didn’t “win”, because rather than creating another broken person, his attempted murder of my self esteem lead me to become a better person than I was before.
That is the power of holding ourselves and others accountable for what we do in this life. It gives us the choice to say, “No. The abuse stops here.” and we owe that to each other.