My name is Claire, and 9 years ago I was raped. I have kept this event mostly to myself, stored away in a corner of my conscious and subconscious mind as my deepest, darkest secret.
It happened in my neighborhood, the place where I grew up: a quiet, suburban development in a quiet, rural community in Pennsylvania. It is the kind of place where people convince themselves that horrible things do not happen. It is the kind of place where people ignore the horrible things that do happen.
It was a warm September night, about 9 pm, and I was walking back to my house with my best friend — a banal route we had taken for as long as we could remember. A man approached us, began asking us something, then threw me to the ground and violated me. I screamed for my life — not a single neighbor (many of whom I had known since I was three years old) so much as turned on a light. I fought my way free and we sprinted the hundred yards back to my house.
For the next two months, police officers sat in my living room while I stared at lineup after lineup of men who were already in custody for similar offenses. Some looked vaguely like the man I drew for police on the night of my attack, but not one face instilled the fear in me that he had. As time went on, I slowly lost hope that he would be caught. He never was. Eleven months passed between that September night and the day I left for college, and I saw the scene of the assault every single day. I could not wait to move away. Any place felt safer than home. Now, nearly a decade later, the memory of that night still makes my heart race, my palms sweat and my stomach recoil. Those are physical responses. I am sure it has affected me in ways I cannot yet comprehend.
“Rape” is not a word I take lightly — it is not a word I use as a euphemism in casual vernacular. It is a word that I reserve solely to invoke its true definition:
unlawful sexual intercourse or any other sexual penetration of the vagina, anus, or mouth of another person, with or without force, by a sex organ, other body part, or foreign object, without the consent of the victim (“rape”. The American Heritage® Science Dictionary. Houghton Mifflin Company. 23 Feb. 2016. <Dictionary.comhttp://dictionary.reference.com/browse/rape>.)
It is a word that makes my heart skip a beat.
Enough with the victim-blaming and shaming. Survivors of assault face incomprehensible emotional and physical trauma. We do not need your doubt. We do not need your skepticism. We do not need to be the butt of your joke. We need your full attention. We need your unmitigated support. And most of all, we need your unconditional love.