"This can't be happening. I know better. How did I let myself get into this situation?! I can't believe I was so stupid! No one will believe me. This is my fault. I asked for it. I shouldn't have worn these jeans. Why did I follow him? Stupid, stupid, stupid!"
Those are just a small sampling of the thoughts I had after I was sexually assaulted in college several years ago. Even as I begin to tell this story I had never intended to share publicly I can feel the guilt and self blame rising up. My hands are shaky. I can't believe I still fight my own thoughts on whether or not it was my own fault.
The whole case with the "All-American Swimmer" rapist makes me pretty angry. Mostly because of that headline and the victim blame/shame going around. She was drunk! What did she expect?!
She expected to have a freaking hangover. Not to wake up in the hospital covered in bruises, learning that she was raped behind a dumpster. There are a million things wrong with everything about this case.
Back in 2003, after spring semester, I had left Christian Heritage College in California to head back to Greenville, North Carolina to spend time with my mom and sister. While I was visiting, I decided to take summer courses at Pitt Community College to fill up my summer.
Sociology 210 : Intro to Sociology.
In that class we talked about family structure and dynamics. Our professor had polled the class in a discussion about life stages: Who was living at home with parents? It was a community college, and most of us being around 18 or 19 years old, were living with our parents.
More than halfway through the semester, I was pretty well acquainted with my fellow classmates. So it was no big deal that one of them asked me if I could help him study for the upcoming sociology test. I'm a nerd and I love helping my classmates.
I felt zero qualms about following him in my car to his house, where he lived with his parents. We wouldn't be alone, I reasoned. I pulled up next to him at his townhome. Still good. I walked up to his door. Totally fine. He let me walk in before him. Oh, he's polite.
Going from "Everything Is Fine" to "I'm in Serious Trouble" was defined in a singular sound.
The Deadbolt locking behind me.
As soon as it clicked, I knew instinctively that I was in trouble. That's why he had let me in first. He wanted to lock me in. He's blocking the only exit. He didn't live with his parents. He lied. We're alone. I felt a cold chill run over my body as I started to recall articles about date rape, and GHB and roofies. I wasn't safe. I felt it in every fiber of my being.
Standing behind me, he took my keys out of my hands and tossed them across his dining table, which was to my immediate left.
Run! Scream! Move!
Nothing. Frozen. I felt like I was outside my body, watching everything unfold like a badly scripted Lifetime Movie. My mind was still trying to figure how to get me safely out of this situation without angering him. Why is he smiling at me like that? He's standing in front of me.
Want to go upstairs? No. Did I say that out loud?
Let me make you something to drink. No. What if he drugs me?
I'm still motionless in the doorway.
My mind is fumbling through those articles I had read. Searching for a tip on how to escape this danger I had put myself in. If I turn for the door behind me, he would grab me before I got the deadbolt undone. I can't get to my keys.
Let's just sit here on the couch. I don't even get to respond because he's already forcing me from the doorway to the couch. Why is he sitting so close to me?! What is he doing? This isn't happening. No, I don't want you to touch me. Please STOP!
I'm not sure why I didn't say that out loud. I was paralyzed because this couldn't possibly be happening to me. I knew better. I was smart. I read all the articles about staying safe. I knew better than to let myself get into a situation where I was alone with a guy I didn't know that well. He kept telling me to relax. I don't want to relax. I want you to stop touching me.
He's saying disgusting things about my body. MY body. Why is he talking to me like that? I wish my breasts were smaller right now. I feel filthy. I feel ashamed. I feel stupid. Maybe these jeans are too tight. Why did I wear these jeans?
Why is this normally kind, funny guy from class suddenly angry and forceful and strong?
It's summertime in the south and I'm wearing jeans, a tank top and a long-sleeved, button-up shirt over it. Why do I feel the need to explain what I was wearing? My buttons are buttoned. Why is he unbuttoning them? I didn't ask him to do that. I really want to leave. What if that makes him angrier?! What will he do if he's angrier? How do I get out of here?
He says, "You don't want me to touch you here?" He can tell I'm uncomfortable. I'm actually terrified. I barely spoke a No. Does that count? Was I loud enough? Perhaps he didn't hear me say no? Is he going to stop?
After the assault, he moves to the other couch, perpendicular to the one we were on. He says nothing. Can I leave? He's finished with me. Maybe I'm invisible. Maybe I'm not really here. Not a word is exchanged as I rise from the couch, and attempt to put myself back together. Will I ever be put back together? I fetch my keys. My hands are shaking. My knees feel weak. I walk out the door.
I'm shaking my head as I walk to my car because that did not just happen. That only happens to the girls in the magazines who had a story to tell. That only happens to the girls in the short skirts. That only happens to the girls drunk on alcohol.
I don't drink.
I don't even remember driving the 40 minutes home. I remember washing dishes and standing in front of the running water for.... how long? I'm not sure. Why am I still standing here? Pull yourself together. Snap out of it! Feeling lost. Feeling disconnected. Feeling filthy. Feeling stupid. Stupid girl. You know better. Really brought this upon yourself.
I tried convincing myself that it hadn't actually happened at all. I mean, I couldn't report it because what would I say? That I willingly went to his house? I could see the looks on the imaginary police officers faces as they close up their notes, agreeing that I had asked for it by going to his house alone.
"But I didn't know we were going to be alone," I'll plead, "He lied to me! I thought we were going to study for our sociology test." They might call me naive for believing that. Tell me that I should have known what was going to happen. I fear they'll ask what I was wearing. I was completely covered. But that won't matter because I asked for it. I'm not sure how, but I'm sure that I did.
For the next four months, I spiraled into my anorexia losing 35 pounds, depressed, and telling no one what he did. I thought I was invisible. I didn't really speak to my peers anymore. My health professor that fall semester noticed my weight loss, and asked to speak with me after class. Maybe it was his softened, caring, safe tone, but I spilled everything that I hadn't told anyone.
Except my attacker's name. I didn't tell him his name.
Am I protecting him?! I hadn't seen him around campus, so maybe he didn't go there anymore. Maybe he doesn't exist. There was no use giving up a name of someone that didn't exist anymore. I was so messed up I dropped out of my classes.
I spent most of that winter starving myself and not leaving the house. I'm not sure what I was trying to accomplish. Perhaps I was still punishing myself for...whatever I had done to make him hurt me.
The spring semester came and attempting to make up for wasted time, I promptly booked myself 19 credit hours. A bit more hopeful with a fresh semester. A fresh start. I walked into my health class, with the same caring professor from the semester before. Sat down, got out my course materials, ready to go.
And then he walked in.
You have got to be kidding me. He exists. He still goes here. He's in my class. Did he see me? He did. He saw the look on my face and smirked. He smirked. As if he was remembering a funny joke. He actually had the gall to lock my horrified gaze and deliver that smug smile.
I waited until the classroom was empty after class and told my professor that The Guy was in THIS classroom. Careful not to tell him the name or where in the class he was sitting. I asked if there was a way I could switch my class to another time slot. There were other options, however, with 19 credit hours I was left with zero wiggle room in my schedule.
I'm stuck. In this class. With that guy.
I devise a plan that allows me to avoid him by running to this class early and then waiting until the class is empty before leaving, and then taking the long way around campus to get to my next class. My safety plan.
About five weeks into the spring semester, my health professor wants to speak to me after class.
He clears his throat and begins, "That guy that attacked you, does he sit on this side of the room?" He motions to the opposite side of the room that I sit on.
I'm confused, "Yes he does." Why is he asking me this?
"Does he sit in the second row?" he continues. I nod, slowly, but am getting really anxious now. What is he getting at?
"End of the row?" I just stared at him. I think I'm holding my breath.
"Is his name Jeremy?" Hard swallow. No, I can't swallow. There's a lump in my throat.
I'm speechless. I just stared at him, obviously bewildered. I have given no hints. How does he know that!? How did he figure out who it was? What is happening right now?
I wasn't prepared for what he said next.
"It has been brought to my attention that he has assaulted at least six other women on campus."
He's saying something now about speaking to campus police, the sheriff is waiting for my statement. He directs me to the right office and as I walk over in some kind of dazed stupor, I'm trying to sort out what was just said. I reach the office and there's a girl ahead of me who needs to speak to the campus police and the sheriff.
She's one of his victims, too. My heart feels heavy. Jeremy hurt her, too. This happened after my assault. There are a few other girls waiting to speak to the police. I feel sick. Oh my gosh...they all happened after my assault. A flooding realization.
I was the first victim here.
We were sitting there in shamed silence waiting in turn to tell our story to the police.
By the time I stepped into that office, I was trembling. I now had the unimaginable discomfort of recounting in graphic detail what I had tried for nearly a year to forget.
Terrifying still, the officers looking at each other and nodding as I'm telling my story. Because it's "exactly the same as the others," they tell me. He used the exact same ploy on every single one of us. He doesn't live alone...he's a nice guy, he came off shy, he was a good student, he just wanted to study, he was kind of meek.
A sham. He's much stronger and angrier than he looks.
I still feel the guilt all these years later. What if I had said something sooner? What if I had told my professor exactly who had done it?
I know exactly why I didn't. I had broken one of the rules.
I had read so many articles about staying safe as a teen : Don't let yourself get alone with a guy, stay in pairs, don't walk alone after dark, fix your own drinks, don't wear tight clothes, don't wear short skirts, don't flirt, don't be too nice, don't wear too much make up, don't wear anything low cut, don't be too this or too that.
Those are really all just the same way of saying Don't Ask For It.
Why? Because apparently it's the girl's responsibility to keep herself from being assaulted or raped. Because "boys will be boys." Because they "can't control themselves." Because they "have needs."
You can only feel bad for the victim if they didn't break the rules. I let myself get alone with him. I endangered myself, therefore I was to blame. I asked for it.
This is the culture we have been fed since we were young girls. We must take great measures to ensure that we don't cause a man to stumble.
This is not okay.
No one takes responsibility for anything anymore. Except maybe victims. We take a huge helping of responsibility for his actions. Self blame is the name of the game. A tortuous cycle where you start off angry at what he did and end up telling yourself why you're the idiot for letting it happen to you.
I'm not sure how to end this. This -- take no responsibility, blame the alcohol and the victim "rape culture." I wish it would stop.
These questions : What were you wearing? Were you intoxicated? Are you sexually active? Were you flirting? Do you usually wear makeup?
Why is this a thing? Why are we questioning the victim's behavior? She didn't cause him to hurt her. He has a problem. He didn't have consent. No other factors are needed to place fault. Blaming alcohol for attacking another person is absurd. There are plenty of people who have been intoxicated and somehow managed to not rape or assault anyone.
If you have been assaulted or raped, find someone to talk to. Tell someone. I know you're blaming yourself, I know it doesn't make you feel better to hear that it's NOT your fault. Report it. If he does it once, he'll do it again.
I didn't report it. He did it again. She didn't report it. He did it again. Seven times.
That's why he was smirking. That's why he was smug. He had gotten away with it many times after me.
I don't know which girl finally came forward first, but I'm grateful for her bravery. She likely saved countless other female students from the shame and anguish.