My Belief System Crashed When My Rapist Was Let Go
According to the state, evidence of my rape wasn’t strong enough for trial. I internalized their refusal to try the man that had stalked, threatened, and raped me as my not being worth the effort. Against me, the state decided on inaction. In my case, they believed that indicting my rapist, the staffing of a trial and the tax money it required would have been gratuitous. Forgoing my worth and right to justice, I had to bargain with the lack of value society saw in me. My awareness of being capable, black, and here isn’t valuable currency in a society that instead prefers the company of invisible mute black women.
I passed the emergency room receptionist a note saying, “I’ve been raped and need to see a doctor.” I was ashamed and couldn’t place myself and rape in a sentence together out loud. My note disarmed her. Her face changed shape and offered comfort through the glass. Her voice was filled with warmth as she asked me to come to the back. The doctor saw me immediately. One of my best friends met me at home to escort me to the hospital. A mutual best friend reached out to her after a confusing conversation with me. Not out of the numb haze that helped me survive, I wasn’t sure what had happened to me until I heard the concern and sadness in my friend’s voice. I was still wearing the outfit that I’d had on. I was on my period and had not showered. I knew that I couldn’t. I was told to stay as is to help my case. I had wonderful people helping follow the proper victim rules.
Detectives met me at the hospital some hours later after my arriving at the hospital. I’d tell the detective everything. For the rape kit, I’d comb my unclean and on cycle body for evidence in a hospital bathroom stall. They arrived in time to watch the doctor administering medication. Several powerful pills and an injection meant to kill any possible exposure to infection. He’d threatened to “give me pretty babies.” My rapist subscribed to colorism and thought his light skin, light eyes, and dark freckles made me a lucky victim. Believing that my dark skin and genes would benefit from his preying gene, he assaulted me while wishing himself on my womb. I’d be sick for the next seven days as the medications killed the potential of any virus or life taking up residence in my body. Big droplet tears fell out of my eyes as I choked on a pill. I was having trouble swallowing. A frustration knot had lodged itself between my lungs and jaw. I had felt entitled to a different version of that day. I was supposed to be anywhere else doing whatever else. Instead, I was sharing traumatic details with hospital staff and police while my body was combed for evidence and treated for possible infections. I felt violated.
I would add more shame and more hurt to my list of feeling after having to share my statement with more police officers. One officer would laugh at a particular detail shared about my being held against my will, threatened, and raped. Later that week, I’d run past my rapist’s family and lawyer to the community area of the precinct to avoid looking like the victim. I would pretend to need driver’s license renewal and grab several unnecessary pamphlets before running back to my car. I was there to pick my rapist from a lineup. A more friendly officer would escort me from my car, through a back entrance, and into a dark room with a large one-way mirror. I picked my rapist out of the lineup within seconds. Hours later and over the phone, I’d learn that there would be no trial. I had done what I needed to do to make it home too well. Using my will to survive against me, the DA suggested that potential jurors could believe in my wanting what my rapist did to me.
I believed that the police would catch my rapist. I believed that my rapist would be convicted. I believed that what he’d done to me was criminal, and with evidence on my side, he’d be tried and sentenced. There’d be surveillance footage of my rapist following me. There’d be initial calls to the police after he stole my phone and car keys. My obvious pain upon arriving at the hospital would work in my favor. The detective’s witnessing my apparent humiliation would convince them of my rapist’s guilt. My tearful anger would show that I was the victim. They’d sense the calm displaced feeling that had taken over me. My world took on a fresh unfamiliarity. My body no longer felt like the body I’d owned pre-trauma. I was different from the woman I had been. I believed that the changes I was experiencing would reveal that my side of the story was the only version of the story.
Against my rapist’s, my word wasn’t strong enough.
The state couldn’t relate to me as a victim and my not being perfect didn’t help. An empty bottle of Absolute that sat in my trunk for weeks did me in. My brother collected them. I procrastinated and hadn’t passed it over to him. I like my liquor dark, but defense lawyers used the missing vodka to suggest a gets-drunk-in-the-car-narrative; justifying my rape. It was the lazy option. My rapist was in my car briefly to take my keys and phone before driving back around to forced me out of my car and into his truck. However, the case was cloudy, and authorities couldn’t see me well enough to feel a call to action. In the state I lived in, I wasn’t relatable enough for media coverage. The taxes that I paid were for other more worthwhile in their eyes victim. Considering the many unsolved crimes against black women, I shouldn’t have been shocked. As my rapist drove me through a forest preserve and by a river, I thought of countless black female victims who’ve become memories that each beg whatever-happened-to. When he let me go, I was stunned and relieved but knew I had a responsibility to get his preying ass off the street. My esteem took a hit when the state decided not to prosecute my rapist. I felt negated.
The assault and the decision to not try my rapist knocked me off a high that I believe was my new life. That week, I wrapped a pilot and charmed network execs into booking me for another. After the no case call, I got on a stage to dance behind Beyonce for Oprah Winfrey’s farewell. Patti LaBelle, Aretha Franklin, and Oprah saw me perform. While on deck, a sound bite played of girls and women speaking powerfully of their resilience and power. I cried. I was having the time of my life and in the company of brilliance. However, whatever special shit I thought I was on or wherever I thought I was arriving to, didn’t matter. I was still a black woman seeking justice in a country with a rich history of ignoring black pain.
Who had I thought I was?
The assault that had impacted my perspective, my peace, my emotional health was nothing to the others who were in a position to protect me. When it came to tangible things, my experience did not matter. The law’s instinct to protect me, like for many other black women, went numb. I’d been naive to think that the law would provide me with the solace of justice with normalized misogynoir, antiblackness, and black pain.
I didn’t feel woe taking over me. I was a calm angry, but accepting my life in an erased margin void of protection. I did not evoke empathy in most. I finally saw that most did not relate to or approve of my anger. We’re expected to assume guilt in the place of expecting justice. To free myself from the disappointment of my assault’s not receiving proper attention, I needed peace in seeing the much-bigger-than-me problem. I didn’t see it, and I had no peace. Regardless of their talents, the people who love them, and how good they were to the world around them, the women at the mercy of my rapist also wouldn’t matter because they’d look like me.
I sought approval and chased being 110% better before realizing my investment in things that could never serve me. I thought I could pursue an all pleasing version of myself. I tried to achieve perfect by way of ability, beauty, and respectability. I believed that if I were smart enough, pretty enough, and poised enough, the world would readily receive me. My logic was unfounded, but I believed in my looking great on paper to my detriment. I assumed there was value in my having a private prep school and an Ivy under my brain belt. My parents are still together. I’m thin, able-bodied, and attractive. At the time of my rape, I had a lot of disposable income. Entitled, I would have argued that I could do, be, or accomplish anything. I knew I was capable of anything, but I was unaware of my entitlement’s limitations. Residing in a world where women like me are stopped short by middlemen at the edge of aspirational things, I should have known better. Instead of trying to outperform the perception of others, I learned that I needed to grow comfortable with my identity as a black woman who’s experienced rape. For my sanity, I had to stop caring about the minds I’d never read and the gaze I’d never avoid.
Not caring is easier said than done.
My awareness of the gaze and its negative perception has done several years worth of root like work on my spirit. I am now forced to be present because the past is a beast that outsizes and outsmarts me whenever we meet. Equipped with hindsight awareness, I think it’ll improve my fight, but I’m left triggered and in need of being restored. As I come up for air, I try not to care again, but I resent my wide-eyed post-rape self. I resent the person I’ve become when my nerves scare me into flight. I sometimes fall for my brain telling me that my experiences make me too difficult for love. That when the love of my life looks at me, he sees the woman my trauma created instead of the woman he once eagerly loved. I try not to care that anxiety mopped up my care-freedom or that depression took away my desire to dance. I obsess over how to unstick while understanding the land and policy stacked against me, so I’m avoiding investing in a world that refuses to protect me. It’s too triggering.
I have to not care so I can live.
SASHA Center http://www.sashacenter.org Phone: 1–888–865–7055
National Organization of Sisters of Color Ending Sexual Assault (SCESA) www.sisterlead.org
Girls Educational & Mentoring Services (GEMS) (212) 926–8089 www.gems-girls.org firstname.lastname@example.org