Dear Reema,

Shanese Gounden
Jan 17, 2017 · 4 min read

My mother is friends with your mother and posted your essay, The Pink Room on her Facebook profile. We talk almost every day on the phone and she called me up today to tell me to read your essay. It made me cry. With shaking hands I clicked on the Dear Reema link, feeling compelled to share my story.

I sit in my living room in Boston wrapped in my electric blanket, cradling a small glass of Angel’s Envy. Your essay shook me to the core. I feel the wind knocked out of me as memories of when I was sexually assaulted come flooding back.

I am Indian, born in South Africa and raised in Thailand. I came to the US in 2010 for university and spent the first six years I was here in Milwaukee. I recreationally smoked marijuana from time to time, and my dealer was a Russian guy named Max. We were also friends. One day he came to my apartment to sell me weed while my roommate was away for the weekend. It was Friday night and I asked him if he wanted a drink. We had a vodka cranberry each and he packed a bowl for us to smoke after he sold me my usual quarter of an ounce.

I had a tiny room with a bed, desk and closet. My bed was against a huge window, and that’s where we sat smoking our bowl. The combined effect of vodka and weed left me feeling quite mellow. I’m not sure how it happened but suddenly he was caressing me and telling me how beautiful I was. I tried to play it cool, thanking him and trying to get some physical space between us. He moved closer and tried to pull my clothes off. He coaxed me, and tried to get me to relax. He just wanted to see, he said. I kept telling him ‘no’, but he kept pulling my pants down, lifting my shirt up.

Most people have a flight for flight reflex, mine is just to freeze. I tried to resist and when it wasn’t working couldn’t seem to move at all. He had his way with me and left. I lay on my bed, paralyzed, not even sure of what really happened. I took a shower and scrubbed myself down. I grabbed the Clorox wipes and cleaned my bed frame, my windowsill, and my walls. I threw my sheets and comforter in the washing machine, and I tried to bury the memory.

I didn’t scream, I didn’t fight, I didn’t do anything. Maybe it was consensual? I had a boyfriend who lived in Chicago at the time. I was terrified to tell him. Would he think I cheated on him?

My roommate came back the next day and I didn’t say anything about it. A week later we were at Dominoes Pizza waiting for an order and a conversation about cheating came up. I ended up telling her about what happened and she put her arm around me and told me I had to tell campus police. Campus police referred us to the Milwaukee Police Department (MPD) and I had to file an official report.

A large African American female police officer took my statement. She very casually asked me for details of the “encounter.” She wanted to know how much we drank, how much we smoked, the exact order of which clothes were removed. Did I tell him I didn’t want to have sex? Did I try to fight him off? It was a terrible experience. Afterwards, the MPD sent me to Aurora Hospital, where two very kind nurses took me in for examination. They took a urine test to make sure I wasn’t pregnant, they took a blood test to make sure I didn’t have an STD, and they swabbed for proof of sexual assault. Then they had me choose a stuffed animal. I chose a little moose, and sat in the waiting room for the results. I wasn’t pregnant, I didn’t have an STD, and there wasn’t any proof of “forced entry.”

The police contacted Max. They didn’t find anything they could charge him with, but their visit was so scary that he fled to Russia several weeks after. The police concluded that since we were both intoxicated if it ever went to trial it would be hearsay. Nothing much happened after that.

I called my parents. I wanted them to know I was an adult and had handled it myself. My mother was distraught. It was her worst nightmare, she told me. Mine too, Mom. I saw a therapist for a while. I think she helped. The worst thing is how much I doubt myself. Despite remembering super clearly what happened that night, the fact that it was never legally substantiated and the fact that I never physically fought with Max while he was trying to have sex with me, makes me doubt it was ever sexual assault.

I read in your essay that everything happens for a reason never sat well with you. I am a naturally happy, optimistic person, and this experience didn’t change my outlook on life. I think, for me, the only comfort in having that happen to me, was to learn that I was resilient enough to get through it.

Your essay made me realize that too many women are sexually assaulted with minimal repercussions for the men responsible. Burden of proof should not fall upon the victim, and immigration status should not hinder authorities from persecuting the crime. Your essay was well written, heartfelt, and inspirational. If sexually assaulted women cannot get justice through the legal system, I hope they find solace in your letters. Thank you for providing a platform for learning, reflection, and expression for those of us who need a little empathy.