By Mary Rogers
It was 1995 — the year I turned eighteen.
I was carefree; searching the horizon — life was full of possibilities. I was legally an adult, though I still mostly felt like a child. It was the year I was determined to find myself and begin my life’s adventure.
I was raised in a very strict Seventh-Day Adventist household. Every thought was thought for me — every action planned. When I was given freedom, even though I was eighteen years old, I had no idea what to do with it. I was caught somewhere between a girl and a woman. I thought I had all of the answers. I was arrogant and oh, so naïve.
It was summer and the heat was unbearable. There wasn’t even an inkling of a breeze anywhere. The heat was suffocating as the air was so dense. Sticky with sweat, my best friend and I decided to go to the lake to find some reprieve. We did cartwheels in the grass and swam carefree with the fish. We were young and full of hope for our futures.
As the day went on, we ended up joining with a group of gentleman around a bonfire. Someone said this — we said that — and before we knew it, we were headed to a house party after dark. As we travelled out past the city and embarked on dark, long, unpaved driveway — we had to pull over to try and read the directions scribbled on a brown bag that once concealed a bottle of Mad Dog 20/20. Confident we were on the right path, we continued on until we found a two-story house at the end of the road. The music greeted us long before we saw the porch light.
I remember feeling anxious, nervous, and a little apprehensive as we entered the mansion full of loud, very intoxicated people. There were coolers sporadically placed containing every type of beer manufactured. There were kegs and women doing handstands. There was a full service bar for the harder stuff and the formal dining room had a glass table that had every imaginable drug known to man.
It didn’t take long before I lost my friend in the chaos. Feeling insecure and ready to leave, I started drinking beer and then moved on to the heavier stuff. After two drinks — or six — the gentleman I had been eyeing at the lake seemed to take notice of me. We hung out for a while, drinking and talking. I think I may have even made an attempt to dance. Finally, he took my hand and took me upstairs to “talk somewhere quieter.” I knew the game — and I knew the last thing on his mind was talking. I knew what he wanted and I would be lying if I said I didn’t want the same.
However, at some point, walking up the staircase, I realised I was going to be sick. The alcohol, the stale cigarette smoke mixed with the obvious marijuana flumes made me wretch. I tried to play it coy, but once we made it inside the room and he started jumping up and down on the mattress — I vomited all along the side of the bed into the carpet. The guy who brought me upstairs threw a towel at me and started spewing profanities as he left the room.
I made my way to the adjoining restroom and after vomiting some more; I rinsed my mouth and splashed some water on my face. I felt woozy and the whole world seemed to be spinning. I went back to the bedroom and made an attempt to collect my clothes as well as my composure. I decided it was time to find my friend and figure out a way to get home.
As I was opening the bedroom door to exit, I was startled as I was instantly pushed backwards. Before I could even wrap my head around what was happening, I was punched in the face — hard. I flew backwards towards the bed. Standing before me was a man I did not recognise. He wasn’t wearing a shirt or shoes or socks. He only had on a pair of tattered button-up jeans and a masquerade mask. I became instantly frightened and fight or flight kicked in. I punched, clawed, and kicked to no avail. He was much larger and stronger than me. I screamed to the top of my lungs but no one could hear me over the loud reverberation of the bass. The music was deafening and far louder than I could ever be. That night, at eighteen years old, I was beaten and raped.
After he left, I stayed curled in a fetal position on the bed for quite a while. I felt frozen in time. My entire body was bruised. I finally found the effort to get myself up. I searched for my clothes, but was only able to locate a few pieces that weren’t ripped to shreds. I fled the house, ran into the night, mostly naked, with tears streaming down my face.
My friend was not far behind. Luckily, she had not been raped, but narrowly escaped. Her battered face showed how close she had come to losing the battle. We made a vow in the darkness of night, under the stars and full moon, that we would never talk about what happened. We both felt it was clearly no one’s fault but our own. We had arrived, scantily clad, to a house full of strange men. What did we expect was going to happen?!
I carried the shame of that night for many years. One day I came across a quote that read, “No one asked my rapist what he was wearing.” (Author unknown)
I thought, “Wait, I was raped and it wasn’t my fault!” I was the victim. So why did it make me feel so dirty and shamed?! Why did I still feel guilty?
Recently, there has been an article in circulation in which Chrissy Hynde, of The Pretenders, has received a lot of backlash from a statement she gave to The Sunday Times. According to Ms. Hynde, when she was 23, an Ohio motorcycle gang member promised to take her to a party but instead took her to a vacant house and forced her to perform sexual acts under the threat of violence. Ms. Hynde stated that she takes full responsibility for what occurred. She said, “You can’t paint yourself in a corner and then say whose brush is this? You have to take responsibility.”
The singer’s comments were condemned by the head of the charity Victim Support, who said victims should not blame themselves. Lucy Hastings, the charity’s director, said: “Victims of sexual violence should never feel or be made to feel that they were responsible for the appalling crime they suffered — regardless of circumstances or factors which may have made them particularly vulnerable.”
“They should not blame themselves or be blamed for failing to prevent an attack – often they will have been targeted by predatory offenders who are responsible for their actions. It is critical that nothing deters victims of sexual violence from coming forward to the police or to independent organizations so they can get the help and support they need.”
I strongly identify with both sides. I think it’s extremely important to teach young women to behave in a conscientious manner — to not put yourself in harmful situations, to dress appropriate for the occasion, and to not be a “tease.” Don’t play with fire. I also agree that victims should not blame themselves. But, if you know anyone who has been raped — they usually do.
I think it’s even more important to teach men to respect women and their boundaries. There is never a time, regardless of circumstance, that it is ever okay to force yourself on someone. No means no! Period.
The current American Statistics on rape show that every two minutes, someone is sexually assaulted. One out of every six American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime. Among all victims, approximately nine out of ten are female. One out of every thirty-three American men has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in his lifetime. At least 10% of all victims are male.
I think it’s important that we are talking to our youth and educating them of these statistics. I think it’s also so important to hold space for them to be open and honest without feeling condemned, judged, or asked questions such as, “What were you wearing? Did you provoke this in any manner?”
As I look back to twenty years ago, I wish I had the strength and courage to have come forward.
I can’t help but wonder how many other girls may have been victimised by my rapist? Maybe I could have made a difference by ensuring it never happened to another if I had reported it? They always say, Hindsight is 20/20.
If you or anyone you know and love has been a victim of rape, I encourage you to let go of the shame and come forward.
You, alone, have the power to prevent it from happening to another.
For more self-study, The Urban Howl recommends Resurrection After Rape: A guide to transforming from victim to survivor.