I Reported My Assault and Learned Firsthand Why So Few Survivors Do

“Are you sure you didn’t consent and forget?” -A Police Officer, to me, the day after my attack

Juliet Fessel
Jun 29, 2020 · 8 min read

I’ve dealt with unwanted attention, in many different forms, since a young age — long before I became an official “survivor” in the eyes of the law.

But when I was sexually assaulted by a stranger in my own home, and soon discovered I was not my attacker’s only victim, I realized that however difficult the process may be, my case could save someone else. So for the first time in my life, I came forward.

This is that story.

Author and sister at the Women’s March, Washington D.C., 2017
Author and sister at the Women’s March, Washington D.C., 2017

I wake up to the harsh peal of my daily alarm, and the bright morning sun blasting through my open blinds. I have a spotty memory of my last human interaction, which for a moment, I hope was just a bad dream.

As my mind comes to, my heartbeat speeds. My hand shakes as I reach for a pair of shorts. I’m crying.

I avert my eyes from the remnants of last night’s events, sprawled across my bedroom floor, and I frantically dial my therapist. By the time he answers, I’m hyperventilating.

“Juliet, I’m so glad you called. What’s going on?”

I can’t sugarcoat my thoughts. I sob, “I was raped last night.”

He walks me through a panic attack, then gently suggests I call the police. I tell him I really have to get to work, but that will be my next step — as soon as my shift ends. I thank him for calming me enough to collect myself, and I leave the house.

I open the bar, and luckily, business is slow. I have a horrible headache.

One of the coworkers I’d been out with the night before shows up, so I pull him aside to quietly tell him what happened, and maybe, get some insight.

He’s silent for a moment, then contrite. “Fuck.” He shakes his head and continues, “when I saw that guy talking to you… shit. I knew he was bad news. I’m so sorry, Juliet. I really didn’t want to believe it.”

I’m confused. “You didn’t want to believe what?”

“I’m sorry.” He repeats while scrolling through his phone.

“What are you doing?”

He lifts the screen towards me, where he’s pulled up a conversation between himself and another bartender-friend. There’s a photo of my attacker in the thread, which causes my entire body to tense.

He explains, “my homeboy sent me that picture like a month ago. His female cousin met that dude, then woke up half naked in a park. I was told to keep an eye out… you know, make sure he doesn’t come here.”

I’m silent.

“I’m really sorry.” He says again. “I didn’t expect you to leave with him. I know he ain’t your type.”

“I didn’t want to leave with him. He made it happen.” My voice shakes as I continue, “fuck, man. Listen… I need you to send me screenshots of this conversation. Please. We need to go to the police.”

He seems hesitant. “I can’t be involved. You know, people talk. I can’t-”

I cut him off, “send this to me, NOW. I’m going to the police whether or not you’re with me. If he’s done this at least twice, there’s probably been more — and going to be more. PLEASE!”

“I got you.” He sends the testament, but begs me to keep his name out of it.

As soon as the next bartender on duty takes over, I rush home to dial 9–1–1.

I scrub the makeup off my face as I wait for police to arrive. I’d rushed to work with concealer smeared atop smudged eyeliner. I still feel dirty.

I hear the doorbell and am immediately nervous about how my roommates will respond to a cop entering our shared home. I rush to greet the officer at our front door. He looks about 40 years old, maybe younger.

He speaks first: “Juliet? How old are you?”

I can’t help but let out a nervous laugh as I answer, then ask “why?”

“You look like you could be 16. I had to make sure you’re an adult.” He steps into my living room and asks where the attack occurred. I lead him to the closest door, my bedroom.

At this point, the last thing I want is to be alone with a strange man, but I remind myself that this one is here to help me.

I walk him through my recollection of the traumatic event:

I met him randomly at a bar after work. No, I don’t remember his name. But he bought me a drink. My coworkers were elsewhere, talking with other friends. I suddenly start losing consciousness, so I try to call a ride share. He follows me outside, takes my keys, and demands to drive me home, himself. He must’ve found my address in the open app. Next thing I know, he’s on top of me, and I can barely move, but I start screaming “get the fuck out of my house! Get out!!!”

I’m crying again.

I’ve been trying to ignore the officer’s uncomfortable body language. He’s clearly not particularly enthusiastic about taking this case. He jots something down in a tiny notepad. I wait for him to respond:

“So you were drinking. Are you sure you didn’t consent and forget?”

I’m immediately filled with rage — not even for myself, but for those who’d start to blame themselves, and opt to suffer in silence at the hands of this presumption. The tears turn to hysterics. I shout, “I abso-fucking-lutely DID NOT CONSENT.”

He argues, “how much did you have to drink though? You said you were losing consciousness. So how could you remember whether you consented?”

I’m absolutely bewildered by the ignorance and audacity. “Are you FUCKING kidding me?” I’m shooting daggers, as I repeat, “I DID NOT CONSENT.” I spew, “Are you even trained for this shit?!” I go on to disclose the details I’d discovered, earlier in the day, about the perpetrator.

The uniformed man sighs, then explains that if I insist on pursuing the case, I’ll have to go with him to get a kit done. He warns that it’s very invasive, and seems to be attempting to talk me out of it.

I agree to the exam, so we collect the clothes I had on the night before, which apparently, I “probably won’t be getting back.”

One of my roommates approaches my open bedroom door. He inquires, “yo… what’s going on?”

The waterworks restart as I, once again, relive the agonizing event through words, for the next of many times. I fear his response will be like the cop’s, but he appears empathetic.

He replies, “I wish I was awake… I can’t believe it happened here. I wish someone was awake. I’m so sorry. Can I hug you?”

I bawl into his chest as the officer addresses him, “hey, can you get the other people who live here? I need to know if anyone heard anything.”

Soon, all occupants of the house are watching me weep, expressing sympathy, insisting that they were out or asleep, with nothing to add. I can’t stop apologizing for the trouble, and reassuring them that I’m okay.

I continue venting on the way out to the cruiser, then all the way to the station. I start to worry that I don’t seem scared enough, and I’m nervous that somehow, my courage comes off as deceit.

I explain, “I know I’ll be fine.” I chuckle awkwardly, “I‘m already in treatment for trauma. I’m not doing this for me. I’m here for the ones suffering in silence. I’m here to save someone else.” I’m absolutely rambling. And I don’t care.

I finally part ways with the cop as a female nurse leads me to a small, private waiting room. There are colorful books and stuffed animals on the shelves. I can’t help but imagine how distressing this process would be for a child, or someone in a much worse place, mentally.

I’m relieved to find a female social worker with a kind, warm energy, assigned to my case, and I quickly disclose the things the officer had said to me before.

She looks appalled and clarifies, “most law enforcement officers are not, in fact, versed in the delicacies of sexual assault. He was so wrong to react the way he did. And I’m so sorry you were subject to that. But I’m proud of you for following through with this anyway. This is important.”

She stays with me through the kit, which is a longer, more grueling, daunting, experience than I’d imagined.

“What happens next?” I ask the nurse.

“Well…” she already seems apologetic. “It’s hard to know when we’ll have the results. It’s a complicated process. You’ll probably get a call from a detective in a day or so, and they’ll set up an official interview and figure out where to go from there. Get some rest until then.”

I play phone-tag with the detective over the next few days.

When I finally connect, I offer my availability: “I can come in this evening.”

The voice on the other end of the phone speaks nonchalantly, “we’re open Monday through Friday, nine to five.”

I sigh, “I work day shifts right now, with an unforgiving manager. But I can head straight to the station after I’m off.”

“That won’t work for us, hon, we’ll be closed. What do you want me to do?”

I plead, “I want you to give a fuck!”

“Excuse me?”

I’m almost embarrassed for losing my temper, but it feels justified. I exclaim, “there’s a fucking serial rapist in our city. Isn’t it your job to give a fuck about stuff like that?”

“We’re doing what we can.”

“No you’re not! And while I wait for you to, he’ll attack someone else!” I press my ear to my phone, to catch barely-audible murmuring. I wait a moment before becoming impatient. “Hello?”

“Come in as soon as you’re able tonight.” Click.

Over the course of a few months, we determine the identity of the culprit, discover multiple dropped cases against him, and record a phone call, over which he mostly admits what happened — along with a false claim that I wanted it. So this does not prove to be sufficient evidence of absolute guilt.

I eventually quit my job and move.

Due to the fact that my attacker, a free man, is aware of my former places of employment and residency, I qualify for a protective program, which helps make some of these life changes easier. I’m grateful for that.

But my case is still open.

I’m not sharing this story for sympathy. (Seriously, I don’t need it.) I’m not sharing this story to slander the police. I’m not sharing this story to shame my coworker. And I’m not even sharing this story in lieu of justice.

I’m sharing this story to shed light on a profoundly disturbing, common, cultural issue, to which implementing long-term solutions is neglected. This is the result of the most classic, overt, obvious case of assault in my life. With that in mind, you can only imagine the universal response to more complicated, nuanced instances.

You could call this my “Me Too” article, despite the fact that it barely scratches the surface of how rape culture has shaped my life, as well as society as a whole. But I need to make it clear: I, and other other survivors, are not “playing victim” for personal liberation or attention. We just want you to [give a fuck— and] help protect those who haven’t said “me too” yet.

You can start by educating yourself on how to stand against Rape Culture. It’s a privilege to learn about this by choice, rather than experience. And when we each take personal responsibility for problems existing in society, we begin to build a better future for all, together.

Juliet Fessel

Written by

(A)uthor/ctress/rtist/ctivist/thlete | instagram.com/julietfessel

Fearless She Wrote

This is a space to empower differences, tell our stories, and share our lives together. We will not be silenced. We will be fearless. And we will write.

Juliet Fessel

Written by

(A)uthor/ctress/rtist/ctivist/thlete | instagram.com/julietfessel

Fearless She Wrote

This is a space to empower differences, tell our stories, and share our lives together. We will not be silenced. We will be fearless. And we will write.

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