I’m an Unlikeable, Unrelatable Rape Victim
This story is intended for victims of sexual abuse, violence, molestation and rape. I wanted to capture the odd behaviors, bizarre thoughts, and general psychological reaction I had to my recent rape so that others might see themselves in it and feel less alone and not complicit in their victimhood. I also want to encourage more people to come forward about rape, be less afraid, and know that if we all talk about it, if we scream at the tops of our lungs, the stigma of being a victim of sexual assault will die a fast death. And we will finally get what’s sorely needed: all sex crimes being reported. Although my story didn’t end well, I still reported to the police. It’s in the system. And that should count for something.
(Most articles cite sexual assault resources at the end, but I think they should be at the top.)
RESOURCES FOR VICTIMS
I wrote this just two weeks after being raped — enough distance for a modicum of perspective and close enough to recall some of the utterly banal details of conversations I had with Tom- four days of details that proved red herrings, as I tried to remember snippets of the banter we shared as we lounged in a hotel room, tried to capture a clue that would give away his personality disorder or reveal a foreshadowing of the rape that I missed.
But after straining for dozens of hours to extricate specific quotes and imbue them with meaning, I know I’ll never have closure. I’ll never know if the act was premeditated, if he’s done it before, if he’ll do it again. If it was a misunderstanding. (My therapist is of the opinion is that it was a premeditated act and he is a serial rapist. She gave me no psychological room for comfort. Bless her.)
I get it: rape is rape. But it’s the most insidiously underreported crime in the world because the relationship a victim has to their rapist is complicated. It’s a crime that fills the victim with self-doubt and anxiety and shame, especially since sex and power are ambient intangibles, relationships are hard to define, and sex crimes still are not taken as seriously as home invasions or murder. Aside from its alienating qualities, rape further separates the victim from her body when the police turn it into a crime scene, continuing the body’s objectification past the violation. I’m still not convinced that most rapists are aware they are rapists (since many feel entitled to intercourse and control over women), lending to the crime a unique cultural characteristic whereby assailants have psychological immunity from the devastation they have wreaked.
I was raped on February 21st, 2015. That declaration sounds definitive and authoritative, like a clear-cut, unmistakable fact. I can even tell you what time it happened. When he flipped me over onto my stomach and then brought me up to my knees on the Radisson Blu hotel bed, a position he’d previously said provided him the most friction, I glanced at the clock on the nightstand. It was 2:33 in the morning. Although I was frightened and confused beyond comprehension, the underlying assumption was that this was all a big misapprehension, which is why I decided it was better to give in and try to enjoy myself, even though I was absolutely, without a shadow of a doubt, not physically attracted to this person and not sexually aroused in the least and I had, in fact, said “not now” and “no” at least three times.
Part of the conscious decision I made to close my eyes, pretend he was a cast member on the last British sitcom I’d watched, and see this through to its inevitable conclusion stemmed from mental fatigue. I was exhausted. I had picked Tom up from the airport at midnight and the ensuing nervous small talk we made on our way to his downtown suite, especially fraught with tedium since we’d never met before, had wiped me out. Staring at the wall sconces, I thought, “Maybe if I fantasize hard enough, I can make the best of this humiliating situation by coming.”
To be clear, I wasn’t certain I was being raped, and in my head, I wasn’t calling the guy behind me grabbing my waist a rapist. After all, he had a name, and we’d been talking on the phone every night for months. At the very least, he was my friend. And he’d flown in all the way from Philadelphia to be with me for four days. He’d also spent hundreds of dollars on me in the past couple months, lavishing me with plane tickets and random care packages. The cumulative effect of these presents was a tacit indebtedness.
We agreed beforehand there were to be no expectations of each other when we met up for this long weekend, no doubt in part because I kept changing my mind about getting involved in a committed, long-distance relationship (I live in Minnesota) and Tom’s confidence on where we stood was shaken after I had canceled a previous trip. He agreed to respect wherever our relationship settled in real life. (In a subsequent email he sent the day after he returned home, he called my instinctually correct equivocation “capriciousness” and, with the momentum of that word, used it to imply that I was a lying whore. So clearly, he wasn’t ready for our affair to be anything less than what he demanded.)
As I withstood repeated thrusts and his enormous hands spreading my ass so he could view his own handiwork, I recalled our previous phone sex sessions where I had insisted on rape-like scenarios. In one, I was drunk and he was sober. Embarrassingly inspired by the Seinfeld episode where Elaine attempts to distract George’s boss at a bar by offering up that she’s a nudist who is inclined to “let the guy do whatever he wants,” I gave Tom carte-blanche, male-privileged freedom: what would he do to me if any action he performed was virtually consequence free? It was a thrilling exercise for both of us.
On all fours, I winced and shuddered and regretted my own foray into this unseemly territory. If I hadn’t put that crap in his head, no way this would be happening. And why was I so afraid to get mad and kick his head in? Why wasn’t I standing up for myself?
The self-blame didn’t stop there. I blamed myself for not saying “no” angrily, for not holding onto my prized, ridiculous Converse pants longer as he grabbed and pulled them off because I didn’t want them to rip, for not running for the hotel door the second shit got weird and I felt intimidated. I was intimidated by his size alone (he’s fully 15 inches taller than me), and I didn’t think I had a prayer if I made the snap decision to run. Also, I was worried that if I ran, he would think I was crazy.
Not only was this assault a classic case of rape-by-the-book (with no gray area whatsoever), but in the moment, I wasn’t convinced it was a crime, not even when he jokingly sneered, “I didn’t fly out this far to not have sex.”
The next morning, I texted my best friend. I prefaced the announcement with: “If I tell you something, do you promise to not to freak out?” (a sure-fire way to put someone in the horrible position of not being able to react honestly). I explained that I was “sort of” forced into a sexual encounter, to which I immediately offered the pathetic explanation on Tom’s behalf that he may have assumed we were playing a game. Without hesitation, my friend told me I was raped and that I needed to leave the hotel. I explained to her that Tom would not see this as a violation. Truthfully, I wanted to talk with him to get his side of the story, so I could get my bearings on knowing how to feel about my own experience.
ME: Don’t worry, I’m okay. After it started happening, I gave in to it.
FRIEND: It’s not okay. You need to leave now.
ME: I should have a chat with him.
FRIEND: Please leave.
ME: But I’m not afraid of him. Maybe he didn’t know.
FRIEND: Do you really think he deserves a chat? He’s a man. He doesn’t get a second chance.
ME: But he’s not violent, and I want to make sure he doesn’t do this to other women.
FRIEND: You can do that by pressing charges.
ME: But I let him after awhile. I was tired.
FRIEND: This is how men get away with this stuff. He was supposed to stop the first time you said “no.”
ME: It’s all so gray.
FRIEND: It’s not gray at all!
ME: But I didn’t’ say “no” and make a face. I was nervous.
FRIEND: It doesn’t matter how you say it.
ME: Omg, I’m an idiot.
A few days after the attack, my rapist sent me an email declaring his love for me in one paragraph and chiding me for being a manipulative degenerate in the next. In that moment, as I lingered over this psychotic email sipping coffee, I finally had the clarity my friend had tried to hammer into me. I went from dazed and emotionally meandering to filling up with murderous, righteous, and pointed anger.
I decided to name my rapist publicly on Twitter, to describe the incident as clearly as I could, and to express my rage in whichever way I wanted to because I felt entitled to that. Although incredibly nervous before I started tweeting details, the more I wrote, the more empowered I became. And the more empowered I felt, the more control I felt I had over how I would handle my rapist, myself, and MEN. I wanted to take back my night in my own way.
Within minutes, I was barraged with direct messages from Twitter pals and acquaintances. People re-tweeted my tweet naming him as a rapist. Of the women who connected with my privately, 80% of them told me about a rape or molestation they experienced at some point in their lives that they kept hidden. As the stories dropped in over the next few hours, I reacted to them with equal parts stunned horror and communal gratitude. I wasn’t alone. And I was hitting some kind of nerve.
That night, another wonderful friend, who is a guardian ad litem and steeped in the social activist and justice community, called me. We’d never spoken before — up till that point, we were Twitter-only friends. She wanted to touch base with me, reach out, and make sure I knew had support, even though we were relative strangers. This woman is a force, and I was relieved to have someone like her on my side. I’d spilled so much on social media that it appeared I had exorcised all my demons, but the details I’d omitted from the story made me feel like a hypocrite. I had another secret.
“I hate to tell you this and you’ll probably think I’m stupid or maybe you won’t feel sorry for me,” I cringed, realizing I needed absolute compassion, “but I stayed with him. I stayed with him for three days afterwards.”
She said she’d worked with many victims of sexual violence, many who would return to their abusers seven, eight times before they would leave domestically violent relationships completely, if they ever did at all. But Tom hadn’t been violent. Forceful, yes, but not violent.
“It’s normal,” she repeated.
That wasn’t all, of course.
“I also continued to have sex with him. Consensually.”
My mind was reeling from saying it out loud. Nobody would take this crime seriously. Who gets mugged and then tags along to follow the mugger home? My actions, I worried, made my claims highly suspect. But my advocate friend didn’t miss a beat.
“It sounds like you were in shock.”
The technical term is “rape trauma syndrome,” a descriptive set of chronological, phasic behaviors that victims of sexual assault exhibit as they process their attacks, and no two people react alike. In my case, I went into denial about being raped. Then in order to regain control of the assault, I owned it by provoking sexual intercourse with my rapist. Apparently, this reaction falls within the range of “normal” responses. Reassuring to learn, but I still felt psychotic, and I haven’t been able to cry about this incident because I have an inability to pity myself in light of my own choice to continue a sexual relationship with him.
I assumed that this admission diminished the severity of what I endured or, worse, negated my rape altogether. A real victim would’ve left the hotel when her best friend told her unequivocally to go. A real victim would NEVER have continued having sex with her attacker. I’d transformed from an outspoken feminist with a zero-tolerance rape policy into Patty Hearst in one evening. If I didn’t believe this was rape as it happened and for days afterwards, as real and blatant as it was, how did other women perceive their grayer-area assaults? This is partially why sex crimes in the U.S. go unreported. And that oft-repeated, generic “1-in-6 women worldwide experiences rape or abuse” statistic? A total underestimation. By a wide margin. No way it’s anything less than half. Maybe even half is underselling it.
After going against the better judgment of my friend, who repeatedly, calmly, and firmly requested that I please leave my assailant (exactly like a good friend should do), I decided to have a chat with Tom. He was down in the lobby working remotely. I texted or called him, I can’t remember.
“Please come up. We have to talk.”
We laid down on the king-sized bed as I explained, in plain language so there were no more misinterpretations, that the previous night had not been consensual. I didn’t use the “R” word because it wasn’t easy to say. As I spoke, I felt bad for Tom having to hear this truth. My own face flushed. He stared up at the ceiling. I couldn’t sense a reaction. He wouldn’t look at me.
“I feel like a piece of shit,” he said. “I’m so sorry.”
But emotions weren’t registering on his face. He appeared neither horrified nor upset. Even the words rang hollow. However, I’m not a person who processes feelings quickly or expresses much emotion beyond anger, so I tried not to judge his lack of outward remorse. But his apology, bereft of fear or intensity in the face of such a heinous accusation, was like a jumble of meaningless syllables strung together to fill up silence and manipulate the narrative, downplay the arc. He wouldn’t give me histrionics.
Then he turned to me.
“I know you said no, but I thought you wanted it,” he mused, almost to himself. “Is that why you wouldn’t kiss me?”
“No means no,” I said barely above a whisper.
“But why didn’t you say it sternly?” he audaciously asked, and I didn’t have an answer.
The next couple of weeks, as I replayed the incident in my head pretty much all day every day, giving myself short breaks to watch movies, I vacillated between independence and complete and utter dependence on everybody for everything. I was unfiltered and unhinged, and I couldn’t control my mood swings. I couldn’t even control my arousal levels. (As I typed the details of the rape for this piece, my body reacted sexually — much to my utter fucking horror.)
My nights were spent watching rape-revenge movies: Kill Bill, I Spit On Your Grave, Steel and Lace, Ms. 45, Pulp Fiction. I daydreamed about tying Tom up to a chair, kissing him, and asphyxiating him with my bare hands. A couple of friends jokingly offered to break his kneecaps. I filed their empty threats into my mental revenge portfolio and imagined myself doing the honors. I relished Marcellus Wallace’s post-rape speech as he stood over Zed telling the story of how he was going to remove Zed’s dick with a pair of pliers and a blowtorch. Say what you will about Tarantino: he gives underdogs the voice and the power they wished they’d had in the one moment they needed it most.
Every once in awhile, I catch myself in a good mood and wonder if I’m actively repressing some horrific memory. But it’s probably nothing. I’m probably just in a good mood.
I would love to report that I’m over it. That I’m channeling my anger in a healthy way. That I’m rising above this situation. But I’m not. I’ve done all the things I’m supposed to do: I have a legal advocate, I’m in counseling, I reported the crime to police, and I plan to press charges if the state decides there’s enough evidence to prosecute. While all of that gives me a sense of stability, I don’t know HOW TO BE. Beyond conduct, I have a lot of maniacal questions whose answers I’ve had to navigate blindly because I have no behavioral precedent to follow.
When is it okay for me to watch porn again?
When am I allowed to flirt with guys?
Why aren’t people constantly asking how I’m doing? Why are people asking too much? Is this all we’ll ever talk about?
I hate pity. Don’t pity me. Shove your pity up your ass. I’m not a victim. Victimhood is a state of mind.
Maybe I wasn’t raped.
Did broadcasting it on Twitter make it worse? Did I just prolong my agony?
I don’t want to feel like a victim. I don’t want anyone to think differently of me, but I want my rapist named. I want people to think of him differently.
What if my rapist rapes again? Has he ever raped before? He’s going to fool other women into sex and they won’t think it’s rape either.
Should he be allowed to live in free society, walking amongst us, pretending he’s not a monster?
Is he a monster? Or a guy who made a terrible mistake?
Am I an idiot for falling for pickup artist tactics? PUAs prey on weak women. Am I weak?
I’m looking into his face. I’m squeezing his throat. I want to crush him. I want to see his eyes go gray.
He was so unattractive. I feel like that made it worse. I feel guilty for wishing he had been better looking.
He has resources, his father has resources. I have to go up against that? I can’t go up against that.
Ever since I called it “rape” on Twitter, I can’t stop calling it rape. I’m saying “rape” too much. I can’t get through a conversation without saying it. I’m overusing it. RAPE RAPE RAPE RAPE RAPE RAPE RAPE
Everything makes me mad. I was already curmudgeonly before, and this is bringing out the worst in me.
I can hear time pass. Everything keeps going. Nothing stops around me. Why am I the only one stopping? This doesn’t seem fair.
Just got into a fight with my mother and screamed that I was raped, and honestly, it felt like the most trite and hysterical Lifetime scene ever, and I was deeply ashamed at how unoriginal it was.
My rapist criticized my life, said I was a mess. Was he right? That email moved me to report this. What if I’m making this up in my head and I’m just vindictive?
Why was I self-conscious during the rape?
What if rape is a biological imperative and Republicans are right? Well, I’ll say one thing: my body didn’t shut anything down.
Literally as I polished up this story, the Criminal Investigative Division of the Minneapolis Police Department returned my call. He identified himself as Lt. S and then gruffly asked what I wanted.
“I left a voicemail,” I responded, my voice shaking. “I was calling to find out where we are with my case.”
“Nowhere,” he hissed. “The prosecutor is dropping it.” I felt an adrenaline rush and the ensuing tachycardia, which always makes it difficult for me to be calm and articulate and organize my thoughts. Lt. S sighed and started mundanely rattling off the litany of reasons for dropping my case:
“No jury would side with you. They wouldn’t understand why you didn’t leave after he raped you. In the report, you claimed that you allowed the rape to happen. And you waited to report it. We’ve got a backlog of more important cases. There are little girls — 8, 10 years old — who’ve been brutalized, and your case isn’t a priority in light of those. Tom’s attorney sent us some information on you too.”
“Information on me? What information? And how is that even relevant?” I asked.
“Ma’am, I can’t tell you that over the phone. If you details, you can come down to the courthouse.”