I was raped. There, I said it. That’s actually the 1st time I’ve ever said those exact words. Usually, I will say: “I was attacked.” or “I was sexually assaulted.” Call it sexual assault, an attack, rape, 20 minutes of action,,, it’s all the same to me. I was 17. I was sober. He was a stranger with a weapon. I don’t know how old he was. I don’t know if he was sober, but he wasn’t drunk. I don’t even know his name. I was on a public pay phone, 29 years ago this fall, in the laundry room of my apartment complex. When I hung up, I turned to apologize to him for taking so long on the phone. That makes me laugh now.
The thought that I was turning around to APOLOGIZE to the piece of shit whose sole intent was to harm me. When he first grabbed me, I thought it was a joke. My mind could not comprehend what was happening. Until he showed me the knife. That’s when fear grabbed me. My mind, my body, my entire soul was gripped by fear. I did not want to die, yet that’s what I believed was about to happen. Yes, I fought. Yes, I screamed. It happened so fast as he quickly overpowered me and dragged me away. As he dragged me from the brightly lit laundry room to the darkness and into the woods behind the last two buildings of residence, all I could think was how yellow crime scene tape would soon be wrapped around that tree. Or perhaps that branch, or would it be over there…?
Where WOULD someone eventually find my body? My next thoughts were of my 11 month old son. About how much I loved him, and how he was now going to grow up without a mother. He too, would be affected by what would occur (in the next 20 minutes) on this September evening. Someone would have to tell him some day, what happened to his mom. Would that person then be affected by this (20 minutes) as well?
Because you are reading this, you know I didn’t die. At least, not in the physical sense. But parts of me did die. I wouldn’t let people get close to me. Of course physically, but mostly emotionally. I couldn’t, or wouldn’t, trust others but mainly, I couldn’t trust MYSELF. I kept looking back, and would think: “How could I not have been aware? “Why didn’t my gut warn me of the danger? “Where was my ‘little voice’ that has always led me to the right path? “Why did God forsake me when He promised He never would?” In the days and weeks which followed, there was much to be done. I felt, (like most women probably feel), violated, even raped, over and over again. I was forced to relive that traumatic event, not only in my mind, but also TO others. “Out loud”!
1st, The rape exam. Even at that young age, I knew the hospital staff were doing their very best to make me as comfortable as they could. I also understood the importance of collecting evidence as soon as possible, but it was a humiliating experience in its own way. It is (was) NOTHING like what you see on TV! My friends, who came to the hospital to support me, (one rode in the ambulance with me, 3 others followed by car), didn’t think to bring clothes for me. And why would they? Before it happened to me, I wouldn’t have thought about it either! Fortunately, I had no life threatening injuries, therefore, I wasn’t admitted. I was sent home, many hours later, in two hospital gowns. One put on the normal way from the front, and the other from the back, like a robe. Underneath I was naked, and felt like “The Emperor” in his “New Clothes”; On display for all to see. I just KNEW everyone could tell what had happened and SEE the filth I felt. Because I wasn’t admitted, I had to wait until I got home to shower.
2nd, The police report. I had to go downtown to the police station, then wait to sit with an officer and report EVERYTHING. Every disturbing thing he said to me, every degrading thing he forced me to do, every vile thing he did to me. Worse yet, when my mom was allowed back in the interview room, I sat there and tried not to watch, as she read the finished report. I remember feeling like this poor excuse of a human had just raped my mother as well. I should point out: I know she meant well, but if I could give just 1 piece of advice to moms of daughters who’ve gone through this, it would be: PLEASE don’t read the report! It will only: anger you more; make you feel out of control, and almost insane; and/or quite possibly, render you *just shy of homicidal! Don’t tell YOUR friends ANYTHING, especially in front of her! When you think she’s asleep, trust me, she’s NOT! (Unless she gives you the okay to speak to your BFF, find a therapist to speak to in private if you must). And don’t question her repeatedly. She wants to talk to you, and she WILL talk to you, but she’s being FORCED to talk about it to authorities right now. Don’t be another source of pressure on her. *My mom said, more than once, she wanted to take me and “knock on every door of that complex packing her .38 snub nose revolver until he opened one”. I knew my mom, and that wasn’t “just angry talk”!
3rd, The suspect sketch artist. Yet another officer took me into a dimly lit room with soft music playing. Presumably to relax and comfort the person who needs to recount the details. Yet it was very UN-comfortable, because I had to visualize this monsters face for hours until the sketch expert got it just right.
4th, The gyno exam. This is where I had to recount to yet ANOTHER two people what had happened. My Dr. and his female nurse. You know, the one always present during exams. I had more swabs done, a full pelvic exam, ultrasound and more blood drawn for testing of all STD’s including HIV, Gonorrhea, Syphilis, you name it. Basically, another rape exam without the humiliation of evidence collection. I was lucky. I only contracted genital warts. Curable, with no risk of “carrying”, “passing”, nor “repeated outbreaks”, once they’re gone. It took several weeks of appointments in the doctor’s office, applying medicine and some sort of UV light for an amount of time. “You cannot have sex during these several weeks of treatment,,,” the doctor said. “Umm,,, OK!” Sex was the LAST thing I wanted, anyway!
5th, The field investigation. This is when the sex crimes unit, where you filed your report, calls to say they’re sending an officer to you during this 2 hour period on this day. (At least that’s how it was before pagers and cell phones). You sit around waiting for this officer to show up, and time seems to slow down as if the Earth is slowing to a stop. You jump at every little noise, and when there’s finally a knock, you’re almost too scared to go towards the door. The officer has you take him to “the scene of the crime” where if you’re lucky, evidence (like your panties and bits of jewelry) will still be strewn about in the woods for him to pick up with gloved hands to place in paper bags. There was no CSI Team with large metal boxes of forensic equipment. There may have been, but I don’t recall, a camera. All I wanted to do was run away, but I had to stand there and verbally confirm the items found, belonged to me,,, at one point. I certainly didn’t want them back.
I am sharing this somewhat detailed account, voluntarily for the first time in almost 29 years, for two reasons. 1) When people hear a woman has been raped, sexually assaulted, attacked, I don’t know that they actually understand the gravity of what that means. Sure, there are fictional dramas on Prime Time television which sometimes give a somewhat accurate account of rape. You hear on the news about rape, sexual assault, date rape, etc, but rarely do you hear the details. I could go much further into the details of those “20 minutes”, but I won’t. I’ll just say: “It was vile, disturbing, degrading, I still have the occasional nightmare and shiver run up my spine”, and leave it at that. I think of it, like others think of some of the video games kids play, or professions not everyone could stomach. When you hear the words, or see the blood all the time, you become desensitized to it.
2)In my opinion, The justice System is designed for the criminals, NOT the,,, Victims (for lack of a better word)! The loop holes, burden of proof, judge’s authority, statutes of limitations,,, it’s all about criminals rights! We need to band together as a civilized society to protect the rights of the,,, VICTIMS! My attacker was never brought to justice for his crime against me. I still don’t even know his name, and I probably never will. I have accepted that. The Criminals Rights (Act, Laws, whatever they’re called), in this country have essentially raped me again. Or violated me, at the very least.
The 5 Year, Statute of Limitation on rape, ran out on his crime against me almost 24 years ago. Even if he is caught tomorrow, and brought to trial on a crime against another, he will never be punished, or even charged, for what he did to me. Thank you, Justice System! That said, I do however, believe in Karma, just as much as I believe in Heaven and HELL! I’m just saying…Now, I have had many years to process, compartmentalized, and come to terms with my life and all that entails. There have been many mistakes I’ve made, failures, and no doubt there will be many more. But for all the mistakes and failures, there have been many more successes, victories, smiles, laughter and love. Also, I’ve no doubt, there will be many more of these as well. I don’t consider myself a victim, (I have NEVER called myself a VICTIM, and I HATE that word), yet I don’t call myself a survivor either.
Simply stated, I am still alive and I still have a lot of life to live. Therefore, I’m constantly surviving and I’m not finished yet! Decades from now, my family can call me a survivor at my funeral, if they so choose! I have always believed: “Everything happens for a reason. God has a plan, and we are to trust Him. Every so often, God will reveal his plan, but not always.” Because I choose to have faith and refuse to let anyone take my power away, I still believe that, to this day. I don’t know why God sent me down that particular path. I have my suspicions, but that’s another topic.
You’ve said correctly, Meredith, how rape changes a woman. It really does change her to her core. I am here to say: “20 minutes changed me”. I was changed for the worst in all the typical ways. But then, slowly, I began to realize: With the right love, support, attitude, time,,, I was changed for the better as well. Or, I don’t know, perhaps I CHOSE to be better? I do know, it did not happen quickly. It took not months, it took years. I find I am now more tolerant. Not of criminals, but of groups of people as a whole. I do not group an entire race, gender, religion, etc, in whole based on what one person, or a few people, did. I know what matters in life, and I know how to let go of the little things. I know what kind of people I want to surround myself with and quickly recognize those I do not. I know what kind of life I want to live, and what is truly important for my children to learn. For others, it will not change them for the better at all. Only for the worse.
My heart breaks for ALL who have been changed by another. If this message reaches: One woman who was raped or violated, and gives her hope; One mom of a woman who was raped and helps her care for her baby; One young man who has been desensitized by our mainstream media and gives him a glimpse of how he would change SO MANY lives in just “20 Minutes”; One Judge, Jury Member, or Law Maker, who has the power to serve the one who was violated, (men are raped sometimes, too); Then perhaps I have fulfilled a purpose God had intended. Even if it is not His will that I shall ever know. I am grateful for you, your truths, your humor, your voice, Meredith! Keep on bringing it up! Hugs, Love, and Sweet Mimosas to you!