Woman 1: I just don’t know if I can believe this.
Woman 2: All the people who have known him personally keep saying he’s not guilty. I for one am 1 of those people.
Woman 3: I don’t believe this at all. My daughter also liked him and she doesn’t see him doing this. Maybe some girl got butt hurt and is now making false accusations.
I had reported it a few weeks before.
Now I was sitting in a locked bathroom, curled up in the corner, fighting the urge to puke as I read comments on news articles about his arrest. I knew people would label me a slut and a liar. I knew they would dismiss me as a whore out to destroy an innocent man’s life. He had warned me that’s what would happen if anyone ever found out. But I was not expecting most of the commenters to be women. I was not prepared for some of them to be old friends.
Most of the comments were full of disbelief, dismissal, and disgust. Some explicitly so. Most of the disgust wasn’t directed at him- it was directed at me. I stopped reading when I couldn’t see through the tears. Even more painful than their reactions was the realization that He was right. My rapist knew people better than I did.
#MeToo has become a cross-cultural phenomenon. Nassar and Weinstein are common household names. Laws have been changed, movements have begun, stories are being published. Brave women everywhere are coming forward. And yet, has anything truly changed? The choice to speak up isn’t made based on changes in criminal or civil laws, a popular hashtag, or even media coverage of famous trials.
Perhaps the better question would be: are we any less afraid?
Are we any less afraid of our rapists – friends, family, strangers? Are we any less afraid of the reactions of the important people in our lives – will they believe us, throw us out, perpetuate further abuse? Are we any less afraid of our own minds – the deeply ingrained shame and humiliation, the lie that we are responsible?
I have learned that fear is like a living thing. It will swallow you alive, if you let it.
Before you get any ideas, I am not strong. This is not one of those stories where you finish reading and think what an inspiration. This is one where you think, God, I’m glad I’m not that girl. When it happened to me, I froze. I didn’t kick and scream or try to punch him. I was too terrified to to say no. I had far too much to lose. Instead I zoned out, finding it easier to bear when my mind was elsewhere. You’re probably thinking if she didn’t scream, she must’ve wanted it. I don’t blame you. I’ve thought that myself. I’ve agonizing over every detail that I remember, wondering why I couldn’t see through his lies and why I was so bone-deep terrified of one man. Before you wonder, I was wearing jeans, winter boots, and my favorite striped long-sleeve sweater. I don’t drink, do drugs, or date. My future was too important for all of that.
I am not brave either. I spend every day in denial and every night waking up in terror. My “friends” on social media think I am successful and happy. My coworkers call me a workaholic. My classmates call me a perfectionist. The way I see it, if I keep my mind busy enough with other things, I won’t have time to think.
I thought I would carry my story to the grave. I didn’t tell anyone in my life what had happened. I was ashamed, violated, terrified and humiliated. I truly believed it was my fault. I internalized the guilt and fear and carried on with life. It took job changes, school changes, and even a move before I trusted a therapist enough to explain the story behind my anger problems. Shocked, she told me it wasn’t my fault. I couldn’t comprehend that she believed me. He told me so many times that no one would believe me, that everyone would dismiss me, that I wanted what he was doing to me. He didn’t just rape my body. He raped my mind.
I still refused to report it, though. I was too scared he might find out I had told someone. But she kept trying. One day she looked at me and said, What about your sister? That was all she had to say. I would do anything to protect my sister.
So I spoke up. It was the worst decision I ever made.
I will never forget the look on my mom’s face when I sat her down and explained why I was home unexpectedly. My parents blame themselves, even though they couldn’t have protected me. They go out of their way to be supportive and take time off work to come with me to court. The criminal justice system is a long, agonizing process, an excruciating version of hell where you are required to repeatedly relive the worst days of your life in front of dozens of strangers. I slowly stop functioning in the days before hearings, whether or not I am required to attend. It is difficult to sleep, eat, or work because I am trying to keep my mind steady and my hands from grabbing the nearest knife. It doesn’t feel worth it. Snakes in expensive suits try to twist my words; turning the truth into a question mark only costs a few hundred an hour.
According to a study I read, most people think rape victims who report after time has passed are just out to get money. They don’t understand the kind of fear that keeps us silent. I have absolutely nothing to gain from this. You won’t either. This is a never-win situation for us. Regardless of the outcome of trials, whether criminal or civil, whether it happened yesterday or years ago, the real damage has already been done. And you are forced to relive the horror over and over again when you try to put your abuser behind bars. I avoid statistics on rape convictions like the plague. It makes me physically sick to think of what I’ll face if he goes free: an entire lifetime knowing he could be just around the corner, like he promised he would be. Always, he said.
Please, I am begging you. Speak up.
It will be the hardest thing you have ever done. I can promise you that. I could underline and bold and italicize that sentence and it still wouldn’t be enough.
You will think about it every day, despite your best attempts to forget. You will live every single minute of your life afraid. You will struggle under the intense pressure of proving what happened to you really happened. You will wish a million times you had never said a word. People will attack you and your character. It’s easy because you’re faceless and unidentified. In the minds of his family, friends and complete strangers, it’s all a misunderstanding, she’s crazy. This is a mistake. They’ll figure out she’s a liar soon. Perhaps they are afraid of admitting that there is a problem. They don’t want to consider that the brothers and fathers and friends in their lives may not be who they seem. Perhaps they are afraid because they don’t understand why you “let” this happen to you, or the complex feelings that follow.
Let me make something clear: We shouldn’t have to explain why we were raped when we don’t understand it ourselves. It’s not our responsibility to explain another person’s choices or motivations. We shouldn’t have to satisfy people’s’ curiosity with all the humiliating details. We shouldn’t have to be dressed a certain way or not doing a certain thing in order for our rape to be accepted as valid. We shouldn’t be expected to see through all of their lies when they say it is our fault and we are responsible for what is happening to us.
How could we sum up the horrible pain, the way they twist our minds, the fear that crawls into the deepest places of ourselves, the blank spaces in our memories?! Impossible! This is not some damn Law and Order: SVU episode! This is our LIVES. We are real people, with real feelings. Other people’s words matter, even if we don’t admit it to ourselves.
Strangely, after his actions became clear, people who didn’t say anything hurt even more than the haters. People who should’ve spoken up and condemned him turned their backs and refused to acknowledge his evil. Silence is not “staying neutral”. Silence is letting the abusers win. Silence is supporting abusive behavior.
If only all of the people who haven’t been raped, assaulted, or abused realized how blessed they are. If only they would stop condemning and start listening. If only they realized that their nasty comments don’t hurt because we’re weak; their words hurt because we are people just like them.
We are so much more than depressing news articles on a Facebook feed and cold statistics in research papers. We are human beings with dreams and disappointments and hopes. We are someone’s coworker. We are someone’s best friend. We are someone’s sister. We are fellow survivors who understand what you’ve been through. We understand the fear.
But we can’t fight for you if we don’t know. We can’t protect others if we don’t know. We can’t protect you if we don’t know. Please understand that we don’t speak because we are no longer afraid. We don’t speak because we will feel any safer or less broken. We don’t speak only because we are sure people will believe it. We speak in spite of all of that. Because we are speaking truth.
Speaking up will nearly break you. It will take every ounce of your strength to step out of bed every day and fight. Fight to be heard, fight to be believed, fight to keep a dangerous person away from other naïve, innocent women. Speak up for the girls he’s been around and the girls he hasn’t even met yet.
If you know something, say something. Don’t let this part of your story terrify you into keeping the rest of your life blank and afraid. You may not have any control over the pages other people add without your consent, but you are in control now. You can fight to rewrite the ending and close the chapter. You can conquer this fear. Or you can stay silent. Whatever you choose, your story is up to you.
And no matter what happens, I believe you.