Image Credit: Max Pixel
A mother wakes up from a deep sleep by the tapping of her young daughters fingers against her shoulder. She opens her eyes to see two big eyes filled with tears and hears a sweet tone that reminds her of the pure innocence of a six year-old whispering “Mommy.” She had wet her bed and was ashamed, but her mother told her, “You got scared and your body reacted, just remember mommy will always keep you safe. We’ll get some clean sheets and it’ll all be okay.”
And just like that, it was all okay.
Twelve years had passed since that night. I am eighteen years old now. A freshman in college at Nebraska working on figuring my life out. Every day was a day closer to accomplishing my goals and dreams. I was apart of the small percentage of college freshmen who knew what they wanted to do and had their whole life planned out. Since I was eight years old, I’ve wanted to be a lawyer. Not your average lawyer; no, I was going to be powerful and make a real difference in the world. I was a Pre-Law student minoring in Women and Gender Studies with a concentration in Race, Ethnicity and Gender politics. I planned on going to law school in New York after getting my bachelors degree at Nebraska. I knew I wanted to be a civil rights lawyer, I didn’t want to mediate divorces or review contracts. I wanted to fight for people who can’t fight on their own. I was going to be the face that fights for the rights of our fellow citizens. I could almost hear the New York traffic from my dorm room every morning. My ears were yearning for the day I could wake up in my future New York City apartment.
But this morning was different. I woke up in a wet bed feeling confused and realize I had wet my bed. I was ashamed and I was scared. I felt like that little girl again. I come to find out that adult bed wetting can happen when your body is in extreme emotional distress. The determined go-getter in me was reduced to a scared child. I thought back to the last time it had happened when I was six years old. It’s interesting how our minds are so intricate that an event in your life can spark a memory that you didn’t even know you had.
It was in that moment that I realized my once beautiful innocence has been stolen from me.
It’s the absence of memory that keeps me up at night where I am trying to fill in the blanks of what he had done to me and why he did it to me. I lay on my bed and it takes me back to that night. I am laying down on his bed in a euphoric state that I have never experienced; I can’t lift my head or my arms. I was so tired yet kept staring at the ceiling seeing clouds above me. I watch as he closes the door behind him, and just like that, the memory is over. The memories come and go in spurs, but the trauma lingers like a devil sitting on my shoulder dictating my life. The memories of that night that my brain hides from me are channeled into other mediums by this fictitious devil on my shoulder, filling me with intense fear when I walk in the parking lot by myself convincing me that I’m being followed. Or, waking me up in the middle of the night to imaginary footsteps outside my door.
I experienced intense nightmares: I’d wake up crying, panting, or with my arms wrapped around my body. Every night was like living a horror movie for me, constant panic and fear, all while never knowing what to expect. I tried for so long to remember anything from that night. I would lay on my bed and stare at the ceiling hoping it would trigger a memory. I would stare at my body in the mirror tracing my fingers up my thighs and arms hoping to wake the memory in my mind from when he took my clothes off. I eventually began to resist the urge to remember. It came to the point where all I wanted was to forget. I never slept at night with the darkness and silence haunting me. I took sleeping pills and slept all day long in order to not think for a little while. I was failing my classes and ignoring my friends and family. I didn’t recognize myself anymore. My life was taken over by this nightmare that was all too real.
There I am in my own bed the next morning wondering how I got there. I take off my pants to find my underwear are on inside out. I try to piece the previous night together, but I can’t, I felt as if I wasn’t even there. One friend said she found me in the hallway of the party crying hysterically saying over and over, “Something is wrong.” I tell my roommate and next thing I know, I’m at the hospital getting a rape kit done.
The nurse apologizes and says part of the rape kit is the process of myself taking my clothes off while she exams my body for signs of force. As tears stream down my cheeks, I begin to slowly take my clothes off one by one. I drag my sleeves down my lifeless arms and feel the tenderness of my forearm. As I take off my pants, I envision my boyfriend and think back to the first time he had taken my pants off. I cry harder and try gasping for air as it hits me that this moment of forced vulnerability will forever affect my intimacy.
I called my boyfriend the next day and explained to him what happened. How is an nineteen year-old boy supposed to react to news like that? He tried staying calm and told me it would be okay. I never wanted to stress him out; he was a college football player at Iowa on a scholarship with a lot on his mind already. The only thing that helped me stay sane was knowing he’d come home to Nebraska soon and everything would feel back to normal for a little bit.
But that wasn’t the case. He came home two weekends later and I was nervous. I wanted to show him that I was still the same. He brought up the rape, but I didn’t cry. I said, “I’m okay” and smiled. Every time we were together after that, I saw our love slowly fading. I blamed myself even though I tried harder than ever to put on a happy face for him. Sex was different with him now. My body still hadn’t returned to me from that night; I wasn’t me anymore. I was numb.
One night, I was laying in bed with him after we had slept together. While he was fast asleep, I began to cry. I realized that I had been overcompensating in order to show him that I’m still the same by doing things like initiating sex more than normal, changing my personality too much that it came across as mood changes, and not being the girlfriend he knew me as. I became aware that things were different now and this love story that we planned on lasting forever could be ending sooner than anticipated.
The nurse takes note of the bruises on my forearms. Then, she begins the internal examination. Pain overcomes me as the instrument shaped like a duckbill goes deeper inside of me and the nurse tells me “You are doing great; stay strong.”
The nurse and the police officer are both sure that I was drugged, as my symptoms lined up perfectly with a date rape drug. The police officer tells me I am brave woman. I hold back the tears as I think to myself, “But, I still want to be a little girl.”
I go into the bathroom to change out of the hospital gown back into my clothes. I stare at my naked body in the mirror and whisper to myself, This is not my body anymore.” Everyone knows me as a strong female who doesn’t let anything get to me. I never was one to cry in front of others and I never talked about personal matters. I always wanted to be there for others. I never worried about having anyone there for me because I depended on myself. I worked my whole life to be seen as the powerful New York lawyer I strived to be.
Until that moment in the bathroom when I looked in the mirror I didn’t see myself. I saw a scared and ashamed little girl eyes filled with tears who needed someone to tell her that it will all be okay.
I am a victim of rape. No, I am not a survivor because the day my rapist told me he had sex with me was the day the little girl in me died. He told me I wanted it.
I believed him.
The next day the bruises of his fingers holding my arms down showed up.
I still believed him.
He called me and threatened me to stay quiet.
I still believed him.
My roommate told me that this is textbook rape.
I still believed him.
Our society has always believed the man. I believed him, even in my situation where I knew how I felt and had several professionals tell me this is rape and that it is NOT my fault. I was so nervous of how I would be perceived that I believed the man who raped me.
Two months of mental torture after I was raped I knew I needed to take my power back. My life that I knew was completely different, taking my power back was going to be starting over. The first step was the hardest and that was breaking down my walls and know that I’m still a strong woman regardless of what happened to me by accepting help. I needed to tell myself that this nightmare in my mind was reality and when I accept the reality of what happened then I can better understand how to grow from it. Which is when I realized that I never believed him: I just wanted to. I wanted to think that I was the one who made a mistake and I wanted to think that he was a good enough guy to never do such a thing. I wanted this to be a mistake that I made so bad. But I have the internal wounds of sexual assault that will never be healed.
The reality is that I hardly consumed enough alcohol that night to be even slightly intoxicated. I only have a single memory from the party, I was drugged. Maybe my rapist isn’t who drugged me, but he saw me laying on his bed and did what he could to slip his penis into the unshaven vagina of a girl NOT expecting sex and NOT wanting sex. Maybe I got on top of him, maybe I took his pants off. I’ll never truly know. It doesn’t matter if I did, because a drug took over my body and he was sober, yet still made the conscious decision to take advantage of me. He told me I was almost unconscious while laying on his bed. I didn’t press him more on why he still had sex with me. When looking back, I realized I didn’t question him because I didn’t want to know; I was more comfortable blaming myself then knowing he took control of the girl no one takes control of. Rape is about power and control, two things that I considered to be positive traits of my identity—what he stole from me that night. The bruises I had on my arms tell enough that he forced himself on me, as I traced the outlines of his fingers he left on me. After those two months had past I looked back and realized I had lost a lot of things—I failed my first semester of college, broke up with the boy I thought was the love of my life, dropped my sorority and stopped putting effort into relationships with my friends and family. The one quick decisioned act my rapist made completely destroyed my life.
I never reported him. I never told anyone other than my roommate and two people who had seen me at the party. I didn’t want to be the girl who was raped, or even worse be mocked as someone who lied about rape. Eventually, I heard of numerous stories of women being sexually assaulted at the same fraternity house. This was the moment I felt as though I could take my power back in the form of doing something to make sure this doesn’t happen to any other girl. I will be the strong lawyer I always wanted to be. I will fight for the girls who can’t fight for themselves.
I didn’t come forward when I was raped and I’m sure the other victims feel the same way I did. I talked to the assistant chancellor of my university. I said I was assaulted, but told her I do not want to press charges; in fact, I didn’t want my coming forward to be about my rapist at all. I only wanted the fraternity to be looked into so that this wouldn’t happen to anyone else; I wanted other women to be safe.
But rumors spread and my name was out. The fraternity was notified that they were being investigated and my rapist dropped my name because he assumed they were being investigated regarding my rape, when really, they were only being investigated for misconduct since I never gave the university any information regarding my experience. The fraternity made an effort to spread lies about me in order to discredit my name, some of the lies being that I agreed that he didn’t rape me and that I was doing this solely to make a statement as a self-proclaimed feminist. Members of the fraternity would all follow me at once on Instagram, which I can only assume was their way of harassing me. Slowly, I became labeled to many as the “rape girl.” One woman said that she doesn’t stand behind posers like me who lie about rape to make themselves feel better about a mistake.
I don’t understand why I am not believed or why anyone could think I did this for attention. I never wanted him to get in trouble, because I knew in doing so I would have to go through countless months of court dates and interviews. I mentally couldn’t have handled that. I never formally filed a complaint against him. But, by biting the bullet, I took the ridicule along with it.
They say I did this for attention, that I wanted to prove a point, that I lied, that I asked for it, when in fact, everything I did was solely so that I wouldn’t get ANY attention from this. I tried going through this alone for as long as I could, but the scariest thing was being alone with my thoughts.
If this were my drunken mistake, then please tell me why I prayed to a God I didn’t believe in every night to end my suffering, because I didn’t want to live anymore.
Why did I throw up for three days straight after my rape from my body rejecting food?
Why did I have to have panic attacks every single day and woke up every single night crying hysterically in cold sweats from nightmares I had?
Why do I get flashbacks of my rapist yelling at me?
Why did I have bruises on my arms from his hands holding me down?
Please tell me why I can’t look at my body in the mirror without crying.
Tell me why I feel so disconnected from myself, like my body isn’t mine anymore.
I need to know why I can’t show intimacy anymore.
Let me know why I couldn’t look my mother in the eyes for a month because all I could think about was how broken she would be when she finds out.
I guess that’s all just normal, right?
I am a victim of sexual assault. I NEVER pressed charges, I NEVER reported to Title IX, I NEVER willingly shared my rapist’s name; in fact, I stopped working with the university because I couldn’t handle the mental strain anymore. Yet, I still am mocked by people who don’t know my situation at all. So, if I wanted this for attention, my rapist would be in jail right now and I would feel fine. Unfortunately, I don’t want this for attention. All I want is to feel normal and NOT like a victim.
The thing about rape is that no one can see your wound, but you suffer from it every day. A man made a decision to have power over me without my say, yet I have to live with his consequences and he is fine.
To those who don’t believe me, know that by mocking this rape you are burying the little girl who died deeper and deeper so that she can never rise up again.
All she ever needed was for someone to say it was all going to be okay.
L. Elaine is a current college student pursuing Political Science and Women and Gender Studies. She now is a crisis counselor for sexual assault and domestic abuse survivors at a local nonprofit and is a board member for her university’s Women’s Resource Center.