I don’t talk about rape.
I saw it all over my social media feeds. #MeToo. #MeThree. Sexual assault stories. Accounts of sexual harassment. Catcalling on the street. I kept silent and just scrolled past. After the dust had settled and progressively minded news outlets stopped publishing the detailed, enthralling, important discussions that came from the fallout of the #MeToo social media storm, I continued my silence.
I kept silent — even after a friend asked me why I didn’t contribute a hashtag or two.
The world isn’t entitled to your rape story.
The world isn’t entitled to knowing whether or not you’re a victim.
My best friend saved me.
I was 17 and a freshman in college, thanks to graduating a year early; I was thrown into the mix of 18-year-olds ready to take on the world, and I was grateful. I was even more grateful to be invited to a house party, filled to the brim with a weird mix of teenagers and men in their late 20s. It was a regular, weekly house party where underage students could go reliably every weekend and drink — maybe even jump off a roof into the pool if it was hot enough in Memphis. (It usually was.)
Two people lived in the house that I knew of; one was a teacher and the other, well, I didn’t care. The teacher was very popular and pretty attractive — the other, well, I didn’t care.
After a few shots of Burnett’s vodka, my best friend and I somehow got separated. He was and is a social butterfly, making friends wherever he goes. I knew I’d find him, despite being staggering drunk, in line for the bathroom.
The other roommate’s bedroom was right next to the bathroom. I remember that, clearly. I remember somehow being talked into his bedroom. I remember him kissing me. I remember kissing him back, but thinking to myself that I didn’t want it to go any further because the teacher was, as I mentioned before, attractive. I didn’t want to screw up any potential with someone attractive because I slept with his roommate.
“We shouldn’t,” I remember saying, squirming underneath him.
“Oh, come on,” he breathed into my ear as he pressed his body into mine.
The thing about having conversations about rape is that you relive yours continuously. Educating others, talking openly about sexual assault cases, commenting on the news of day, whether it’s Bill Cosby or Harvey Weinstein — all make me relive it. I remember how I felt, how he smelled, how scared I was.
Because of how much I see it, I unfortunately compare my rape to others, especially when the accounts I read are vivid, detailed. Sexual assault is sexual assault is sexual assault, regardless, but my trauma makes me scream inside and feel things I wouldn’t normally feel. I feel angry sometimes at a woman’s definition of rape just because her situation differed from mine. That’s not fair to anyone, period. Other women have had it worse than me, and I would feel awful if someone said my sexual assault isn’t worth being traumatized over. I’d slam someone for doing it to someone else. It’s not fair, and I don’t want to feel this way.
As much as I try, I don’t feel a solidarity with other rape victims.
The fear sobered me as I realized this man was pinning me down.
“No,” I said, strongly. With power in my voice. “I don’t want to.”
He leaned into my ear again: “You saying no turns me on even more.”
It wasn’t just the words in that order that scared me; I was a writer, even at that time. I wasn’t scared of him being turned on at me saying no. I was scared of the fact that this man felt entirely entitled to my body, and he was going to get it, regardless of how I felt about it.
I said no. I continued to say no.
It was painful. It was mortifying. All this power I thought I had was gone in an instant.
My best friend busted down the locked door.
His name is David — my best friend, not my rapist.
My rapist did apologize that night. After David broke down the door, pulled him off of me and dragged my sobbing mess out of the house, a stir was made. David was yelling. His voice was strong, although I do not remember what he said. (In an effort to lighten the mood, I joked later that it was the deepest I had ever heard his voice.) Other young women came to my aid, asking what happened.
“He was raping her,” David told them as I continued to cry. He loaded me into the car.
My rapist ran outside from the commotion and, with his hands out, offered: “I’m so sorry — I didn’t know she was 17.”
We drove to the hospital, where they told me I would be required to make a police report if I wanted a rape kit done. I didn’t want to get my friends in trouble for drinking underage, and I especially didn’t want to get the teacher in trouble for having a bunch of teens there drinking.
Nobody at the hospital told me that I, or my friends, wouldn’t get in trouble. (Five years after my rape, the Memphis Police Department would have to account for over 12,000 untested rape kits, a major scandal.)
To this day, almost 10 years after my rape, I still don’t know what my rapist’s name is, but I continued to see him far beyond that evening.
I froze when I saw him making sandwiches at Jimmy John’s later that year.
Two years ago, a hostess sat me at a table in a cajun restaurant in a hip part of town, and I froze when he started walking toward the table to serve me. He didn’t recognize me. I thawed long enough to leave after I received my water.
I continued to go to the house parties after that evening. I avoided my rapist. He avoided me. I remember a friend at the time asked me shortly after going to one of those parties: “Why do you still go after what that guy did to you?”
“Why would I let this guy dictate what I do?” I stubbornly retorted.
He did, though, passively.
I stopped speaking up so much when rape or sexual assault would arise. My relationship with men changed. After therapy, I started becoming more vocal about it, but I would notice how people would recoil.
“As someone who was raped,” I’d preface. “As a rape victim,” I’d start.
But being raped doesn’t make me qualified to speak for all victims. Being sexually assaulted doesn’t allow me to discount or expand upon what happens to other victims.
Some of us do go after criminal charges; others don’t want to hurt other people in the wake of a lengthy judicial process. Some of us speak up, and some of us don’t.
I don’t talk about rape because I’m tired of talking about it. I’m tired of reliving it. I’m tired of talking about rape in an age where attaining awareness is a worthy enough reason to die on a hill.
Are we aware of rape now? Are we aware that 21 percent of undergraduate women are sexually assaulted?
In my very humble opinion, I think we’ve reached the awareness apex.
I don’t talk about rape, because I’m done talking. I’m ready to do something about it.