TW: Mentions of rape and sexual assault

I was sexually assaulted when I was a sophomore in college.

Let me rephrase that.

I was raped when I was a sophomore in college.

I was 19. It would take me two more years to call what happened that night sexual assault, it would take two years after that for me to finally call it rape. But rape is what it was; that’s what happens when a boy is on top of you, shoving himself into you, because “it’s not fair” if you cum but he doesn’t. It’s rape when you didn’t say yes, but your only form of no was a weak “I don’t want to…” that trailed off when he did it anyway.

Rape is a brutal word. It screams of a fight, of pushing back, scratching, screaming. But rape can be silent, too. It can be the awkward pants of someone above you while your brain is a thousand miles away trying to somehow rationalize what the hell is happening and how the hell you got here, in a bed that isn’t yours, in a situation that escalated from making out — can you even say you had sex with him when it feels like you weren’t really part of the act?

I went to a tiny college. In total, there were maybe 600 students, and my assaulter — my rapist — was a starter on one of the teams, we’ll call him “Conrad.” When I was still exploring what had happened to me, I told one of my closest male friends, and an old teammate of Conrad’s, that I’d been uncomfortable with having sex with Conrad, my friend told me,

“Oh yeah! Conrad told the entire team he had sex with you and you just laid there.”

My rape had taken place only a year earlier, I was still coming to terms with it, and even though Conrad had graduated the year prior, my “friends” were still unwilling to say what he’d done was in the wrong.

I never publicly came forward with what happened to me. I knew all too well what would happen — exactly what has happened to women who come forward against men in positions of power or prestige. Conrad would be fine; his old friends and teammates would rally against him. I’d be painted a whore, an attention-seeker, it would be my name, not his, that would be dragged through the mud.

Conrad was an athlete, a starting player, popular. He was friends with my friends, he played on the same team as some of my male friends. For what Conrad did to me? He’d get a hall pass.

I can count on one hand the number of people who I went to school with who know about my rape. I consider myself an advocate for those who’ve been assaulted, especially women who experienced their rape in college, but being an advocate for myself is harder. Even now, I’m too afraid to publicly name Conrad, to speak my truth, to tell his old teammates, my old friends, what happened.

Why? Because what proof do I have besides my own trauma. They’ll say, “Well Conrad never did that to me!” or “Conrad was a great teammate!” as if these things disqualify him from being capable of what happened — from my rape.

Time and time again, we see victims, mostly women, collect their nerve and come forward with what happened to them. Their rape. Their abuse. And they are shouted down. They are told their experience wasn’t real, wasn’t valid, because John’s friend’s cousin can vouch for him.

Here’s the thing that hundreds — thousands — of people don’t seem to realize. Victims don’t come forward because it’s fun or because they’ll make boatloads of money or suddenly become famous.

They come forward because all that once, there is a realization that you are not alone, and if your assaulter, your rapist, did this to you, he could’ve done it to someone else.

I am not ready to publicly name my rapist. I am, to this day, many years later, still do afraid of the vitriol and backlash that would come from people I once considered my closest confidants. But I’ll tell you this — there are few things in this world as traumatic as living with the experience of a sexual assault, and fewer that are as difficult to talk about.

There is no winning in coming forward with your rape. You will be blamed. Mostly men, but some women, too, will decide they don’t believe you. Or that you should’ve fought back. Or that you’re lying for your own personal gain.

To the women who do come forward, who have come forward, who are too afraid to speak up: I believe you. Every day, every hour, I believe you. It was not your fault, you are not alone; you are shoulder to shoulder with women from all walks of life, a rainbow of genders, sexual preferences, skin tones.

As for our rapist (yours — ours) — we are coming for you. Today we may live in fear, in the shame you forced onto us, but tomorrow, tomorrow we raise our chins and step forward. A united front of victims who are no longer afraid, no longer living in blame, and you? You are not safe. There are no more hall passes.

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