I scrolled through pages and pages of the website, my heart breaking a little more with each story. But somehow my heart also started healing with each persons bravery.
I've only told a few close friends about that night in 2006, and it's partially because I didn't know what had happened until a little over a year ago. I'm only now starting to talk about it.
It was a Rockabilly house party. I was fresh out of a Mormon college and had no idea what Rockabilly even meant. I dressed as "appropriately" as I could which, when I look at it now, makes me shake my head. It had polka dots. That's about it. But I'm so glad I have this picture, because for me, it shows that I wasn't dressed like a "slut". It also makes me sad to have this picture because I realize that I'm still trying to convince myself that it wasn't my fault. It also makes me heartbroken because it captured the night that altered the way I now see the world and that will stay with me the rest of my life.
I don't remember the majority of that night; it was probably the first time I'd gotten drunk. I'd been raised Mormon my entire life; sheltered from everything that was glaringly ugly, dirty, and sexual. All of those words meant pretty much the same thing to me. Consequently, I was a novice to everything presented at the party: cigarettes, booze, hookah, partying, kissing...
At 20, I'd never dated a person in my life; I'd never held someones hand. I remember him in the hallway looking at the Sharpie tattoos drawn on my forearms and saying something like "That really makes me want you." I later sat with him on the hammock and in my state of liquid courage tried to kiss him back. I'd never done it before and I was somewhat aware of how inept I was. But, y'know, my first kiss right? That's what a party was all about. My naivete was absolutely frightening. And this is where the pleasant part of this story ends.
I don't remember anything until everyone had left, and I was going to sleep in the empty add-on room. My friend and his girlfriend went to bed across the house and left me to my blankets. He said he was going to sleep there too, and in my innocent mind, I thought that this would mean sleeping on the other side of the room. I thought he was tired. I thought he meant that he needed rest.
That's not what he meant.
My memory goes in and out, but I do remember him on top of me, learning that I was a virgin and saying "I should stop."
But he didn't. He didn't stop.
I often wonder what I was doing then. Was I resisting? Was I not resisting at all? I don't know, but I don't need to know. The fact is that it was clear that I was so innocent, naive, and severely intoxicated that any sexual encounters should have never been started in the first place. He knew this. I only realize this now.
He left to retrieve a condom from his car, which I only realize as I type this, that this means he wasn't wearing one in the first place. Before he could return, I found myself sobbing at the bed of my friend trying to wake him up. His girlfriend came out and handled the situation, questioning me and asking me if he "came in me". I didn't know what that meant. In my state of trauma I just said yes. I'm not sure how long it took for things to settle down, but I remember going outside and sitting on the curb in the middle of the night calling my closest friend and tearfully asking her what to do. She offered to take me to Planned Parenthood, explained what birth control was, and told me that we needed to pick up Plan B. I owe that woman a lot.
The timeline is fuzzy, but I know that I was tucked in on the couch, that he laid on the floor in the living room and that when I woke up he was gone. I'm writing this as dry and void of bias purposefully, in hopes that this all becomes more clear... this is still really difficult to write.
I left that experience confused about everything but the fact that more girls raised without sex education needed a place to go for support. I wanted to educate them and spare them the trauma I experienced. I never did figure out how to reach the population I wanted to. How do you reach girls who are scared of the subject that have parents that hide the subject? Regardless, I still believe that is a calling in my life, and I'll figure it out eventually. Never attending a sex-ed class negatively changed the course of my life.
He apologized to my friend afterwards, and the friend blew it off with a "Don't worry about it." It's strange to have the innocence of a child and the body of an adult. In this way, I think a lot of his responsibility is easily dismissed because everyone assumed that I knew about things. About rape culture. About safety. About kissing. About erections. About ejaculation. About the anatomical parts of my pussy. About safe sex. About how to say no. About how to get out of a negative situation. But I didn't. And in this way, my religion had failed me. And in this way, as he realized this was the case, he should have stopped.
The part that tortures me is that I had been conditioned by society to believe that sex was a compliment. I was shocked that anyone would want to be close enough to have sex with me. Because of this concept, I warped my experience into a positive thing. I was no longer a virgin, and the world tells us this is a good thing, right?!?! This experience was the catalyst for a dangerous few years in which I attempted to make up for lost time by living at clubs and sleeping with as many men as possible. I have collected so many awkward, alarming, and awful memories and I wish someone had taken the time to explain sexuality to me as a teenager. But I made it out alive! It's amazing to me that I escaped not only alive, but healthy and unscathed. Those years were the most dangerous and fucked up years of my life; if I can survive those, I can survive anything.
None my horrible choices, rationalizing of that night, or belief in internal slut shaming made sense to me for years until one night, a little more than a year ago I found myself reading Full Frontal Feminism and coming across a paragraph that stopped me. I choked on air. My heart felt like it dropped. It all made sense. It all fit together. I wasn't able to process this at the moment, and cried all night trying to explain to my uncomfortable boyfriend exactly what was going on. It took me several sessions with my therapist to be able to keep my shit together. I never touched the book again. It was too heavy.
I don't know where he is now; last time I saw him was when we were both on a runway for a fashion show years ago. He was with his fiance and our brief greetings were polite. I don't know if I'll ever feel comfortable calling him out by name. My deepest fear is that he will tell me that I'm lying and convince our mutual friends of the same. He was considered a "babe" and was popular downtown, and this makes me wonder how much blame it will deflect off of him. I don't want to cope with that situation.
I don't think he knows he did anything wrong. I don't think he knows how much he has ruined my ability to have healthy, intimate relationships. I don't think he realizes that I have to pick up all of these pieces and try and build a new view of the world. I don't think he knows that he nearly destroyed me.
I always worry that someone will hear my story and think that I got off easy. That I'm "privileged" in some sort of way; that it could have been worse. Maybe they would think that I shouldn't have been drunk or that I should have known. I still have to talk myself out of the shame and guilt that I've learned both as a hyper religious adolescent and a member of our fucked up society. But none of that is true. There is no "privileged" version of sexual assault. There is no "could have been worse" kind of rape. We must consciously remove ourselves from what the world teaches us about victims who deserve it.
We must trust the truth.
I'm helping facilitate a round-table discussion on how we navigate rape culture tomorrow evening. It's forced me to think about the things I do to keep myself safe. I've realized that it looks a lot different than others'. I've never felt threatened at night, so I have no fear of dark alleys. I've never been assaulted publicly, and I feel comfort in knowing that I'm strong enough to kick someone's ass. What I do have is a deep rooted subconscious determination to destroy every serious partnership that I am in. I choose incredibly fucked up partners for long term relationships; the last two being an extreme sex-addict and the other suffering from extreme sexual anorexia. This inability to have a healthy bedroom life reinforces the mental trauma that I experienced that night. It is something that to me, seems impossible to overcome. That person took an experience that could have been a beautiful introduction to intimacy and broke it into a million selfish pieces. I now invisibly try to keep myself safe at all costs. Years of therapy have helped dramatically, but I expect only decades will heal this fracture in my core.
I'm grateful to Grace Brown for her project. It was the mental push I needed to sit down and finally write this out. I'm grateful for tomorrows discussion, because it will mark the point in my life where I become a very visible and unsilenceable advocate for something that we all need to talk about more. I'm grateful to have this blog, where I am able to process the hardest things imaginable and share them with hundreds of thousands of readers that are able to process them with me. And I'm grateful that I'm resilient. I'm here. Talking. Reaching out. Standing up. Supporting, listening to, and loving all of you.
Yeah. That's me.
I'm not certified to give counseling on this subject, but I am always here to support you. If you need help, RAINN has a confidential and free sexual assault hotline that you can call: 1-800-656-HOPE. England's crisis hotline is 0808 802 99 99. Australia's is 1800RESPECT. Canada can call (604) 872-8212. New Zealand has a crisis line at 09 623 1700. For other places in Europe, you can use this page and there are more hotlines here.
I've written two other articles on this subject; one about innocence and one about apologies. Read them as well if you'd like. If you're interested in submitting a picture to Project Unbreakable, you can email here: firstname.lastname@example.org. You are also welcome to share them on The Militant Baker Facebook and I will be sure to send them her way.
And feel free to share a little of your story below. It doesn't have to be much, but know that you have a place to share if needed. Sometimes validation can be the most powerful thing of all.
You're not alone. You are resilient. And I love you.
Stay unbreakable, baby.