“come on, i thought you liked me… stop yelling, you’ll wake my roommates up!”
Photographed in Arlington, VA on August 5th.
Click here to learn more about Project Unbreakable. (trigger warning)
Maybe internet social media isn’t the best way to put this out. Or maybe it is, actually. Yes—to those who know me in person—this is me. And yes, he really did say those words to me while it was happening.
What’s even worse than going through something as traumatic as sexual assault is the kind of reactions that I was met with from people that I thought were my friends when I opened up to them about it. People accused me of lying about it, or told me that I deserved it anyway because I had done something wrong to get myself into that situation. As Franchesca Ramsey said: “There are women that speak out about experiences that have happened to them, about their rape experiences, and time and again, everyone tells them, ‘Well, it was your fault. You shouldn’t have done this, you shouldn’t have done that.’ No. Can we stop telling girls that they shouldn’t get raped and instead tell men to stop fucking raping women? If someone rapes you, it is the rapist’s fault, not yours.”
I pored over the events of that early morning of May 3, 2009 over and over again in my head for six months following the incident. It was mental self-imposed torture, I suppose. Was there a way I could have stopped this? Yes, of course. It was my fault for kissing him. It was my fault for asking if I could lie down in his bed because I was feeling too drunk to stay awake. It was my fault for getting drunk. It was my fault for going to that party with him. It was my fault for not being more adamant about saying “no.” It was my fault for nervously laughing—he must have interpreted that to mean I was trying to be coy, that I was teasing. It was my fault for not being strong enough to be able to push his body off of mine. It was my fault for not knowing any other effective self-defense moves. It was my fault for being his friend. It was my fault for getting close to him. It was my fault, it was my fault, it was my fault for coming to Virginia Tech, it was my fault for being born.
I stopped going to class because I was afraid that being anywhere but my dorm would mean that I would see him—at a dining hall, at a bus stop, in an academic building. Only a few people know this, but I actually dropped out of a majority of my classes and became a part-time student. I tried to stop going to social gatherings because I was too afraid of seeing him. My attacker. No, my friend. A guy that I thought was cute. I don’t know why I was so afraid of seeing him. It’s not like he would have raped me in the middle of campus. But I froze up every time I did see him, and I cried every time after he was out of sight, angry at myself for letting one fucking person affect me so much. It wasn’t until I was on the very edge of taking my life—literally—when someone realized that I needed help. I finally realized that the only way I could even start moving on was to get justice, some sort of emotional redemption. I went to a university hearing with him where we both presented our sides, and though I never intended it to be so severe, he ended up getting suspended for three semesters.
But I couldn’t feel any sort of victory with this outcome. It only made things worse for me. His friends—people I was also friends with—ended up kicking me when I was down. They said I was a cunt, a selfish bitch, a slut, a “tramp that should just keep her mouth shut.” They said I should never have said anything, that I should have learned to “just deal with it” and not go to such drastic measures so as to get him suspended. “He’s a good guy, he’s been through so much hardship.” “He had such a promising future. You’ve ruined his life; where will he go now?” “All I hear about you is how much of a bitch you are, and he has so much to complain about but he doesn’t. Look what you’ve done to him.” “I don’t know who you’ve told, but you better cover your tracks and say that you made it up, or you’ll ruin his life.” He was the victim. I was the bad guy. I was wrong for getting justice. I was being self-centered and inconsiderate. I did not deserve justice, the same way I did not deserve respect from him that night.
I apparently deserved an apology, though, and he knew it, too; the morning after, he woke up and said “I’m sorry about last night. I know you wanted to wait for someone special, and I was hoping maybe someday… I could be your someone special.” It makes me cringe now, thinking about it. But he was sorry. He apologized, because he knows he did wrong.
I ended up spiraling into a severe depression as ‘friends’ abandoned me to take sides and gossip about me. They heard what I had done to him; I punished him for something that was apparently my fault. People stopped talking to me and started talking about me instead. Friends that I expected to be there for me quite suddenly dropped out of my life. Maybe I was ‘asking for it,’ by being too clingy or too needy or too much of an emotional wreck. I guess I get a lot of things I don’t explicitly ask for because my gestures or my posture or the way I act or my manner of speech somehow asks for me, on my behalf. People I didn’t even know found out about the situation. Instead of being mad or indignant or enraged about the workings of the unapologetic rumor mill, I just felt a horrible sense of shame and embarrassment. I felt so alone, and increasingly more and more alone every day. As people started distancing themselves from me, I started pushing people away myself. Or maybe I started it. I don’t know.
For people to brush it off as a lie or some vain method to seek attention and pity is just hurtful, to say the least. I don’t want your fucking pity. But I do want your attention, so I can tell you this: I want you to think twice when someone opens up to you and you feel the urge to judge them. For people to imply that I’m really just a loose party girl that slept with someone and then regretted it the next day and decided to “call rape” is all sorts of sickeningly unfounded. You didn’t even know me, and you don’t know other people who may have gone through the exact same thing but were too afraid to say anything because they feared your damn judgment. People’s insinuations and accusations did irrevocable damage to me. But no matter. Being still stuck in a mindset where I thought I was the bad guy, I tried to defend these accusers—“maybe they just don’t want to admit that something like this could happen to someone they know,” or “they don’t want to think of their friend as somebody who could do something like this” or “they’re just sticking up for their friend.” I was more concerned about not tarnishing my perception of people and less concerned about the truth—that what I had gone through was rape, that people can be cruel and ignorant, and that I had a right to feel the way I did about the situation. I was more concerned about defending the actions of those who were hurting me rather than attending to my hurt. I didn’t want to think of these people as bad people—the same way they didn’t want to think of him as a bad person, I’m sure. Stockholm Syndrome. I felt myself starting to deteriorate, slowly, but surely… I ended up convincing myself that it didn’t happen. That I did make it up. I started believing them. And then I lost my fucking mind, because I think somewhere deep in my head, somewhere I didn’t want to explore, I knew what really happened—so why was I denying it? For them? To make life easier on him? Maybe it wasn’t really rape. It wasn’t violent, like in the movies. I wasn’t drugged, either. I was incredibly drunk, yes. But it all happened in slow motion. It wasn’t aggressive. It wasn’t a stranger with a ski mask in a dark alley. It wasn’t rape. They’re right. I’m being a drama queen. It wasn’t rape…
I got the exact help I needed, thanks to Virginia Tech’s Office of Student Conduct and the Women’s Center, along with Cook Counseling Center. I cannot thank my alma mater enough for rehabilitating me and getting me to where I am today. I never thought I would graduate in time, let alone with three degrees. I threw myself into my work—my studies, my extracurriculars, my piano, my singing, my job. Some of the best people I know today came into my life at this time, and they saved me in so many ways… but mostly, they saved me from myself. I’m not sure you would have suspected anything like this from me if I hadn’t told you. Maybe you would have. Maybe you knew there was a reason behind my bitch tendencies. In any case, you would be very surprised at who’s hiding what secrets.
Today—May 3, 2013—marks four years since it’s happened.
I don’t think about it as often as I used to, but I would be lying if I said it’s completely in the past for me. It crosses my mind in some way at least once every other day. He probably doesn’t remember saying the words on the posterboard pictured above, but I do. They ring clear in my head every so often when I have nightmares about it. The people who only added to the problem instead of alleviating it or staying away from it: I forgive you. You are immature and small-minded, and ignorance can’t exactly help itself. You are forgiven. You didn’t know any better then. I hope you know better now, and that if this happens to somebody else you know—your friend, your sister, your mother, your brother, your cousins, your own children—you don’t judge and shame and ostracize them the way you did to me, and that you try to actually be there for them instead. Their pain is valid. I understand that false accusations happen, and that is disgusting—but this doesn’t mean that you start off assuming every rape case is a false one.
“She’s so dramatic,” you may say to yourself. “She just likes to write and blow things out of proportion.” You would be correct: I do like to write. It is how I cope, and it was with this incident that I realized how much writing can do for my peace of mind. Knowing the words to describe exactly what I thought and what I felt (and continue to feel) helps me reclaim some of the power that was taken from me that night (and from any situation, really), in some odd way. Knowing that it can help somebody really have any empathy for me and my situation gives me solace, because what is humanity without empathy? As a writer, I write about things that matter to me. This mattered to me. So much. It was the night I lost my virginity—which I had been saving for someone special. I ended up later realizing that I didn’t lose my virginity, because I didn’t give it to him; he stole it from me, and I’ll be damned if that counts. I ended up giving my virginity to someone that truly deserved it two and a half years later, to someone I will always consider to be the great love of my life.But I am not dramatic, and I am not blowing things out of proportion. I am bringing things very much into proportion and putting them in perspective. I refuse to apologize anymore about writing about this. I don’t owe him anything, but I’ve at least maintained his anonymity. This isn’t shit to sweep under the rug, this isn’t a detail to dismiss, this isn’t just another reason to hate me. This one of many events in my life that shaped who I am today.
I’m writing this entry to say that it is not okay to perpetuate a hateful, ignorant attitude towards me or anyone else based on something that 1) you don’t even know anything about and 2) is none of your business. It is not okay to formulate, speculate, and then distribute an opinion on things that you don’t even know all the facts of and is none of your business. Consider it a privilege if I or anybody else has trusted you enough to disclose this part of their lives to you, and don’t betray their trust in you by treating the situation as though it were another piece of gossip. It used to be very easy for me to trust people, and I never hesitated to tell people the deepest secrets of my life. After this, I can’t deny that I’ve become a lot more cynical. But another reason I am writing this entry is to say that if you have been through anything even remotely similar to my situation, you are not alone, and I am here. I don’t care if I haven’t talked to you in ten months or ten years—if you need help, if you need advice, if you need insight, if you need someone to rant to when you get those random panic attacks—I am here. I can’t thank my best friends enough for being there for me. Thank you, thank you, thank you, and this will be the last year I commemorate this event with such words and tears. I am moving on.