When I was 17, I was raped.
The man who raped me, I barely knew. But I knew his family pretty well, they were my employers. He asked me to babysit his daughter and I accepted. He had a meeting and his wife was out of town. I was raped in his house while his daughter slept upstairs in her bed. I tried to fight him, but it didn’t work. I didn’t scream, because I didn’t want her waking up and coming downstairs and see what was happening.
When it was all over, I was terrified. I went home, bypassing the hospital, fighting my urge to stop and ask for help. But I was afraid I’d lose my job and that no one would believe me, or that I’d be blamed for it.
So I didn’t say anything to anyone. It was a rough time. I went to school and pretended to be present. But I mostly spaced out, trying to figure out how to get out of this nightmare I’d been dropped into. My grades dropped; I slept a lot. My mother told me I was angry and crabby all the time. I wanted her to see that something was seriously wrong with her daughter, to ask me what was wrong. I wanted to tell someone.
But I didn’t. I went to work, avoiding his parents. I went home and I slept. When my nightmares got too intense, I drove around all night, or I went to 24-hour shops like Wal-Mart and Meijer. I finally got the nerve to tell his sister. I said her brother did something horrible. She asked me if he hurt me. I told her yes.
She said, “I’m sorry that happened. But it’s best to just keep it to ourselves.”
So, I did. I continued to wander through my life, completely numb and yet in constant pain. I often considered suicide. I attempted it once, but planned it often.
Two years later, my life was looking pretty bleak. I finally told my best friend I was raped and was urged to report it. I was still terrified, but I figured the last two years of my life had been hell. It couldn’t get much worse.
Mustering every ounce of courage in my body, I walked into the police department. I talked to a lady officer who took my statement. It was all I could do to get through that. I left and felt some relief that things were going to be ok. I had done the right thing; now I just had to let justice do what it was supposed to.
I was called in to meet with a detective a few weeks later. The detective was about six feet tall to my five foot two. I had always feared men, but it had been even more so following my rape. He questioned me about why it had taken me so long to report it, and told me flat out that he didn’t believe me, and that rape cases were hard to win because girls were usually just trying to get back at someone. He said that most girls didn’t follow through and end up dropping the case.
I was mad that he was already so sure that I was in a lose-lose situation. I was mad that he didn’t believe me. I was mad that he thought I was just trying to get back at someone. I was mad that he lumped me in with every other girl, but it made me determined to prove him wrong. I felt like I needed to prove him wrong, to fight back against him because he felt like someone who was trying to overpower me as well. So I answered his questions over and over. The detective told me my case was not strong enough and we needed to do something else. Then he made me do something I was not prepared for.
He made me call the man who raped me. I asked him why I needed to do that. He told me we would be able to get him to admit to it, and then we’d have him. First of all, I didn’t have the number and second of all I knew the rapist wasn’t going to fall for it. I knew he would know something was up. I hadn’t spoken to him in two years – and suddenly I want to chat? I knew it was doomed to fail. I told him I didn’t want to do it. I couldn’t do it.
The detective threw my file down on the table and said, “Then you might as well walk out that door now, because he has won!”
I didn’t want that to happen. I didn’t know what to do. So I agreed.
The detective dialed the number and I took the phone in my shaking hand. I knew my voice was going to be shaking and that was going to clue the rapist in.
The rapist picked up the phone. I identified myself and he knew something was up.
I looked at the detective, terrified. I didn’t know what to say. The detective waved his hands at me to talk. I didn’t have any idea what to say.
“I need to talk to you about what happened,” I stammered.
“What are you talking about?”
I looked at the detective for help. He was smiling and waved his hands at me again.
“I need to talk to you about what you did to me.”
“What I did to you? I didn’t do anything to you.” I panicked. I looked at the detective, shaking my head. Again, he waved his hands.
“Yes, you did.” I started crying.
“Oh, you mean that night. You know you wanted it.” All the horrific details of that night came flooding back to my head. I shook my head trying to get it to stop. I thought I was going to throw up. He was still talking, but I couldn’t hear him. I hung up the phone and collapsed in a chair.
The detective stood up and clapped his hands. “I think we got him! I know that was hard, but I think it is really going to help us.”
I couldn’t even see straight anymore. I was so panicked and scared I could barely breath. It had taken me two years to get the rapist’s voice subdued in my head and now I didn’t know if I’d ever get rid of it.
“I have to go.” I got up and ran to my car.
I never went back again. The detective called me and called me, but I never responded.
I too, had become like the others. Not following through. I was mad at myself for allowing the detective to be right. But I couldn’t handle it anymore. If this was how all rape cases were handled, I completely understood why no one followed through. First the rape, then you feel totally violated again by the people who are supposed to help you. I knew I was alone in it, totally. No one could help me. No one would help me. So I buried it deep, deep inside. And I never talked about it again.
Life went on. I moved thousands and thousands of miles away from where it happened. I healed by my own ways, and I grew into a strong independent woman who happened to have a rough past. I got over my fear of men and even married one, and we have a beautiful child. I succeeded in my writing career and succeeded at almost anything I attempted. But when my daughter turned two, I started having flashbacks of the rape and feeling very much like a victim. Not who I was at all.
So, I reached out for help. But decades later, the system hasn’t gotten much better. I talked to my medical professional who told me to call her if I needed to talk, but when I did, she said she was too busy. I tried to go to a counselor who wanted to do an alternative form of therapy that involved eye movement and a lot of touching. Being touched repeatedly by someone I didn’t know was not something I was really in a space for. I live in a small town so there aren’t many options. The support and resources for victims/survivors needs serious help.
I didn’t write this for sympathy. I wrote it because I know now, as an adult and a thriving person, how often girls and women are raped and how often their pain goes unheard. What burns me about this is that while the “system” might have come a long way, it still has so much farther to go. It has made me determined to do what I can do help improve the system, and the support for the victims and survivors.
One of the things I do for income is mystery shopping. I go to local businesses and rate their quality of services, cleanliness, etc. I’m looking into what it will take to apply the appropriate guidelines for health care/crisis services. I’m trying to set up a mock drill with the local hospital (and the one on the reservation) to see what the protocol is for rape victims and abuse victims so that they can use it as training for future cases.
Something has to be done, because not everyone is as determined and stubborn as me. Many victims don’t even get to be survivors — they end up being victimized again and again, in various ways. Because when you are not heard in your most vital time of need, it sends a message that you really aren’t important, you don’t really matter.
This is added to a pile of guilt, shame and emotion that can drive someone to kill themselves, or become hooked on alcohol or drugs just to escape the demons. And there are demons. And those demons usually show up at night, when everyone else is asleep and it’s just you and your internal terror.
I blamed myself for decades about that night, for the stupid things I did and didn’t do. But I had to find some kind of self redemption. That isn’t so easy when no one around you is supporting you. This is the first time I have written in depth about this.
It helped, I knew it would. It just took me a long time to muster up the courage to face that demon one last time. But I did it because I was given the gift of writing and in doing so, I heal myself and others. I can only hope that this will reach anyone who may need it and know that they are not alone, and things are not helpless. Somebody once said the greatest thing you can do for another human being is hear them. I couldn’t agree more.
“In the Rain” Lida Rose @ Flickr.com. Creative Commons. All Rights Reserved.
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