Note from Jen: Trigger Warning within this post. This post is not written by me. There is graphic mention of rape and sexual assault! I am posting this anonymously, per the author’s request. I think this is such an important step in her healing, but also, this needs to be talked about. This is not your fault, whoever you are. In light of so many recent discussions about the rape culture we live in, I wanted to share this powerful post with you all. Please do not stay silent. Please find what you need, even if you start here with this post and this community on this anonymous blog post. You are NOT alone or at fault. I have been in contact with the author for many months now and this is the first time she has talked about this, let alone written about it. It is beautiful and brave and I bow to her. May you all find the healing you need and the community you need. I hope this is a start. Please post comments to the author as she will read them all.
I never knew going for a run was something I could regret so much. That I could regret for so long. That one choice, one night would change the way I look at myself, the way I interact with people – my basic identity and self-esteem so much. But it did.
I wasn’t even a runner; I was a soccer player. I played soccer almost every night of the week, year round. Once every couple months, each team had to take a hit and play in the latest time-slot – kick off didn’t begin until eleven o’clock. It was a brutal time-slot for most; the moms who would have to get up with their kids in the morning, the twenty-somethings who had to go to work – but I’m a nighthawk and I was a student, so it didn’t matter to me.
My week had been particularly stressful and I was gearing up for a stressful weekend. It was a long-weekend and all my local family was heading out of town to be with the rest of my family. I wasn’t able to attend because I was shooting a wedding that weekend and hosting about six people at my place who were coming to the wedding from out of town. I’m not a great host, I didn’t know the people very well and the wedding was going to be widely attended by guests from a part of my life I was trying to disengage from.
So when I got home from soccer late that night, I was totally wired. I decided I needed to run off some more anxiety and frustration, so I took off in my soccer gear straight from my driveway and headed to the trails near my house.
The neighborhood I live in is safe. It is one of the safest in my state. There’s not a lot of crime here – and the crime that is here is usually frauds and domestics. Needless to say, crime was never really at the forefront of my mind when I was trying to make choices or discern whether I should do something. That was probably another mistake.
There’s a half-mile stretch of well-lit sidewalk on a main road when you leave my driveway. Then you have to go through a parking lot and through a clearing in the woods and down a dirt path to get to the hiking trails of the local nature park. Once you hit the parking lot, that half mile separates you from the nearest houses. Once you’re through the clearing, the trees shield your visibility from any passing traffic. Really, it’s the perfect place to hide. Or to commit a crime. But again, that wasn’t on my mind at the time.
Now, I could launch into an explanation about why those things should have been on my mind. I could talk about my background, my education, the fact that my best friend is a decorated police officer – all the things that should have made me stop and think. But I wasn’t thinking about those things; I was thinking about other things. I was thinking about how great the soccer game I’d just played was. I was thinking about how much cleaning I had to do to prepare for the wedding guests. I was thinking about how screwed I’d be if it rained that weekend and how that would screw up my photo ideas. I was thinking about how I wouldn’t get to see my two baby nieces that weekend because I was stuck doing this wedding on a long weekend.
So while I was totally wrapped up in all that, I forgot to be smart. I forgot to think about myself. And I made a stupid choice. Like I said, it’s a choice I am always going to remember. And it’s a choice that some part of me, even if it is the smallest part possible, is going to blame myself for for the rest of my life.
Because I was raped that night. Twice. All those specifics about what would make the area an excellent spot for a crime that I wasn’t thinking about – someone else was thinking about. And they were waiting.
Which is crazy. Because… I mean, it was the middle of the night. And who goes on trails in a park in the middle of the night? Trails with no houses around? So who would wait there in the off chance that someone does? But they did. And I did. So it happened.
I think I would have been able to get away if there had been one guy. My high school made all the girls take self-defense every year in P.E. I was the most fit I’ve ever been. I’m strong. I’m resourceful. So, if there was just one, I think I would have gotten away. But there were two. And I couldn’t get away no matter how hard I tried.
The thing that surprised me the most – and still surprises me today – was how not violent it was. It was sexually violent, but it wasn’t violent; they didn’t beat the shit out of me, they didn’t try to kill me. They just restrained me and took turns with me; I had a few bruises from their grasp and a few scrapes from when they pushed me up against a tree or forced me to my knees; one of them hit me once, not even very hard, when I bit him from said position. But my face showed no signs of violence. And no one I knew would even bat an eye at scrapes because of my intense soccer schedule. It’s like they knew exactly what to do to keep me quiet.
If my face had had a bruise on it and someone would have asked me what happened, I probably wouldn’t have been able to hold it in. Not in the few days following the attack, not while I was still grieving and processing. If my best friend, the police officer – or my mom – or my sisters, had asked what was wrong, or what happened, I wouldn’t have been able to keep it to myself. But my family was already gone for the weekend, my best friend didn’t see my until after the wedding and… even looking at photos from the wedding now, I don’t know that I can even tell something terrible had just happened. So no one asked.
They didn’t ask and I didn’t feel like I could tell them. Because my best friend is a cop, I know exactly what “rape victims” go through when they report. You go to a hospital where you strip all your clothes and let a stranger examine every inch of your body for evidence, do a full vaginal exam and give you a bunch of pills to fight unwanted pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases. Then you sit in a room with a cop, either male or female (who you already know because your best friend is a cop so you know all her co-workers), and answer questions, explain your story, say the same thing over and over again, so they can see whether you’re lying or not.
And then you try to explain to your cop best friend, who was told what happened by the cop who interviewed you, how you let yourself get raped. And then no one… ever… looks at you the same way again.
Then they look for the guys but because they’re strangers and they wore condoms, odds aren’t good to begin with. If they do find them, if they get charged, if they make it to court – everybody knows what happened. Everybody knows what they did to you. It becomes a completely public record and the proceedings are open to everyone.
And I cannot speak for other people who have gone through this, but when I was laying on the cold ground in the middle of the night after something like this happened to me, I was only thinking about what other people would think. So knowing what I knew and knowing who I knew and not really yet understanding the gravity of what happened to me or how my choices following the attack could weigh just as heavy on me as the choices leading up to it, I got up off the ground, composed myself, walked home and sat in the shower in the hottest water I could bare for as long as I could bare and tried to get the feelings I was feeling to wash down the drain. That may sound like such a clichéd “movie of the week” thing to do, but that was my experience; telling a rape victim not to shower until they’ve sought medical attention is ridiculous. I understand why they tell you that, but come on; I’ve never felt so dirty and gross and disgusting.
I hadn’t had sex before that. I was eighteen and “waiting” or whatever (I’d never even had a PAP). Obviously, I knew what was happening to me; I didn’t grow up under a rock. But there were so many things I didn’t understand – like whether all sex hurt like that, or whether they were making it hurt more because of what they were doing to me. Personally, I think they were making it that way because it hurt significantly more after I bit the one guy and pissed him off than it did before.
Six months later, after I started having meaningless, random sex with a meaningless, random guy a bunch of times to just try to get these guys off me and out of my head, I felt guilted into getting my body checked out because “I could knowingly be giving someone something I caught from the rapists” and blah blah blah. So I did. And I’m healthy (and I went back for the appropriate follow-up blood tests, etc). I also stopped having sex because it was hurting me in my current state way more than it was helping me.
Around the same time, I told a friend what was going on. Coincidentally, it was the friend whose wedding I was at that weekend (a detail I left out when I told her). She has since completely severed all contact with me. Perhaps me telling her has nothing to do with that, but it seems like curious timing – so that experience hasn’t led me to open up to more people around me. In fact, I am afraid that whoever if reading this right now, if they know me, will do the same thing. I’m terrified of people not loving me.
Long term, I question every day whether I made the right choice after the attack. I don’t really think I did, but I think it is much too late to change those choices now. No one around me knows. I went to see a counsellor once; I don’t plan on going back. And everyday when I look at the people around me who I love and who I think love me, I always wonder if they know. If they can tell by looking at me. If there is some silent signal that this happened to me. And I wonder if they’ll continue loving me if it was ever confirmed. If they ever read this.
I’m sure I give off red flags; I’m sure there are things I do that have just become part of my personality that I do because of what happened; I hate being touched by most people and even my closest friends recognize that I want to initiate and be in control of any physical contact. I am neurotic about locking doors and windows when I am in my house or any other. I insist on the buddy system when walking anywhere after dark. I had never really cared about these kinds of things before; I guess I thought I was invincible, and now I know I’m not.
And there’s always this internal battle going on. Part of me just wants to be another statistic, because nobody notices a number; but if I am just another number, my experiences can never ensure that someone else doesn’t have to have the same experiences.
**Hateful, mean or snarky comments will not be approved.
Jennifer Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Her work has been featured on The Rumpus, The Nervous Breakdown, Jezebel, Salon, and more. Jen leads her signature Manifestation Retreats & Workshops all over the world. The next retreat is to Ojai, Calif over Labor Day. Check out jenniferpastiloff.com for all retreat listings and workshops to attend one in a city near you. Next up: Seattle, London, Atlanta, South Dakota, NYC, Dallas, Tucson & The Berkshires (guest speaker Canyon Ranch.) She tweets/instagrams at @jenpastiloff.
Jen works with many young women like the brave author of this piece on her retreats and workshops.