I was raped the summer before entering my senior year of college. I was working as a hostess at a restaurant, living in Queens with my best friend from first grade and had an internship teaching a computer class at a non-profit. I had just had a visit from four women I’d studied abroad with in Mexico and things were going well.
The rape shattered how I perceived the world around me: the illusion of safety, my relationship to men and worst of all, my sense of self just as I was traversing the tricky waters of what it means to be a woman in this world. It felt like my wings had been clipped just as I was starting to take off.
Not only had my body been violated but the trust I had in loved ones I’d known all my life who chose my rapists’ “side” was destroyed. Then, predictably, the legal system failed me, “there was not enough evidence”, I was told, after having driven back through four states to spend an entire day giving my statement and showing my dirty clothes and bruised face and body to the police. Of course, I know why people do not go to the police. But I needed to speak my truth and perhaps prevent this from happening to someone else. Sometimes I wonder if I did.
For years I was a shadow of myself: hiding from life and addicted to things that merely comforted me and got me by before I was ready to face the reality and depth of my grief. It was years before I started to feel again and shed necessary tears. Years before I began to reconnect with a body I feared may have inadvertently “caused” the attack. I had gained 40 pounds and I cut off my long brown hair. I did all I could to distance myself from my body and like many people who experience sexual assault, distance myself from being seen by others, especially men. I was always on the lookout for my next attacker since I couldn’t have seen it coming the first time.
The multiple traumas inherent in rape, or at least how I experienced it, meant that I was attacked again and again. First physically, then psychologically and emotionally from all sides. If it wasn’t something I brought upon myself internally, it came from a loved one or society at large. Family members said to me, “I didn’t tell your aunt what you’re going through, I didn’t want her to think differently of you.” And don’t you dare read those comments section. Ever.
If I had been attacked on a street corner, would they have thought differently of me? If I had gotten into a car accident, would you have even thought twice? What if I had been robbed? Why is it that because it involves my (femme body), and that the weapon is rape (not sex), that this is taboo to talk about?
Why do we bury women under mountains and years of shame and silence that they either fight with every breath to get out from underneath of, or live their lives suffocating under? Eating ourselves to death? Drinking ourselves into silence? Smoking ourselves to surround the shame sufficiently? Becoming just perfect enough that no one will ever guess?
And how is it that the attackers are not crushed beneath the weight their layered pain has caused? I know, I know, that hurt people hurt people. I know that these people are not well. I am not apologizing for them, far from it. But where is the living death they feel? The living ghosts of survivorhood I walked for years and sometimes still inhabit? I wonder if they feel it too, in their own way, or if it is relegated to us. Our chains to cast off eventually, hopefully.
I know that part of that process is speaking our truths: these words. We need not live in silence and in fear of shame. How many times must we hear it?
You did nothing wrong. It is not your fault. You did nothing wrong. It is not your fault. Into infinity.
Hold that girl or woman or that boy or man or that person who shut their eyes tightly or woke up confused and somehow might still feel a hint of doubt that they did indeed do something wrong. That they told the wrong person or showered too soon or said the wrong thing to “provoke” it. There is nothing you could have done, or nothing you could have done “better.”
You did nothing wrong.