Eight years ago this month my life changed forever when I was raped. It’s an issue I’ve tried to avoid writing about, because it’s hard for me to look at directly—even though I think about it every day. Lately I feel haunted by it, and I’m not sure if it’s because I’m spending too much time alone, or because I’m anxious, or because it just happens to be August.
It turns out, you can’t really talk about rape. It shows up in movies, it’s almost a weekly feature on Law & Order, but you can never really talk about the time that it happened to you. For one thing, it’s painful to discuss… though it is sometimes equally painful to hold it inside. For another, it makes people uncomfortable. In spite of the shockingly widespread nature of the crime—RAINN reports that someone in the U.S. is sexually assaulted every two minutes—it’s something we speak about in hushed tones. It seems generally expected that outside of “appropriate” venues, like a support group, we do not discuss our experience of rape. Break that taboo and you get stared at, or people look at the floor, or some people even get angry that you dared to speak out. Fear of people’s reactions is another reason to be quiet. I learned this early on when, during my rapist’s trial, the prosecutor handing my case (a wonderful woman to whom I am tremendously grateful) told me that the officer to whom I reported my rape would not be testifying at trial. It turns out that officer—who was a woman—told the prosecutor she didn’t initially believe I was raped because the guy who did it was “too good looking.” Since then, I’ve had other people express disbelief at my story. The fact is that I was one of the first victims to go to trial in the state of New York with definitive evidence of a date rape drug. Given how much I still had in my system mid-morning the following day, a toxicologist testified at trial there was no way I could have given consent. But that’s not enough evidence for some people; for some people there is always a question mark.
For a long time I wanted to speak about what happened to me, because I think that people don’t speak enough about it. Since all this happened, I’ve had friends tell me in hushed tones about how it happened to them too, and how they never told anyone. Or how they never went to police. These days, I understand the value in silence. For me, I went to police because I knew I could never live with myself if my rapist remained free and went on to hurt someone else. But it came at a very high cost. It took over a year from the rape to the end of the trial. In that time, I was terrified he would find me or try to do something to me. I feel tremendous guilt about what it did to my parents, knowing I was raped and having to sit through a trial, and I wonder if I would have been better off not telling them. I have still never told other members of my family. At the time of the rape I had a boyfriend, who later became my fiancé. We split the year after the trial. I know in my heart there were other things wrong with the relationship, but I always wonder if the rape is what ultimately doomed us.
I have not been in another serious relationship since. I was always an introvert and a workaholic; I’ve never had great luck with men. But I wonder all the time if I’m too damaged now to be loved. Who can blame anyone for not loving a woman who constantly has her defenses up, who scrutinizes her clothing choices before walking the dog because she doesn’t want attention? Who could blame someone for not loving a woman who gets irrationally angry when guys on the street honk at her or when she feels threatened? Who would want to stand by someone who used alcohol over and over to get past anxiety and to make friends? I’ve been criticized for being depressed and sad and insecure. I’ve also been criticized for pushing myself too hard. I know I get anxious and over-defensive. No one knows my shortcomings better than me. But I sometimes just want someone to understand. There is no way to understand what this all does to you if you haven’t been through it.
When I was raped, I didn’t want it to change me. I wanted to be strong. I wanted to be the girl who had a happy ending. I am angry at myself constantly for not being there yet… but I’m trying to be forgiving. I’ve stopped drinking, something that required tremendous willpower. In the next year I’ll be done with my Ph.D., I’ll (hopefully) have a new job, and I’ll finish my third half marathon. I also study sexual violence as part of my research and I discuss it in classes because I still want it to be talked about. I still hope I can make a difference in someone’s life. There’s a zen saying that I think about often: “If you understand, things are just as they are. If you do not understand, things are just as they are.” I spend a lot of time trying to understand what happened to me and a lot of time trying to see the future. I will probably never do either. My life is what it is, and I’m trying to be grateful just to have the chance to move forward. I’m at least doing a better job of it than I used to do.