I said yes. At first.
I was a virgin, and he knew it. He knew I wasn’t on birth control, so condoms were a must. I couldn’t risk jeopardizing my future–a full scholarship at the University of Alabama and graduate school ambitions–with an unwanted pregnancy.
He entered me, and it hurt. I told him it hurt and asked him to slow down, but he didn’t. I laid there and waited for it to hurt less. He said it would get better if we kept going.
He pulled out and took the condom off. He re-entered me. I said no. No, please, stop. I was too drunk and he was too big to push away.
“You need to know what a real penis feels like inside you,” he said.
I was 19. He was 33.
I’m 33 now. Nineteen-year olds look like children to me.
He told me that I was “mature for my age,” so that made it okay.
He spent the summer buying liquor and getting me drunk. Blackout drunk, night after night. I drank so much I started sleepwalking. I would wake up standing in the hallway or on the second-story balcony. It’s like my brain knew the situation was wrong and was trying to help me escape.
He made all the decisions. How much I drank. That I was “mature enough.” That I needed to feel a “real penis” inside me. He never asked me what I thought. His opinion was more important than mine.
I told one person. My best friend at the time. I told her I’d lost my virginity, but that the way it happened was wrong and felt bad. She said, “Well, I talked to you that night, and you were pretty drunk. So that’s kind of your fault.” I didn’t tell anyone else for years.
I didn’t call it rape for a long time after that.
But I do now. It’s taken a very long time and a lot of therapy. But I call it what it is now.
I was raped, and it was wrong. I was manipulated over a series of months into a situation I should not have been in by a person who didn’t have my best interest at heart. I was young and naive and inexperienced. I said yes, then no, and that no should have been honored. It wasn’t. And that was wrong.
I kept silent for a long time, and the secret ate away at me. It brought a fear to my relationships that I couldn’t name or understand. It convinced me that I was unimportant, and that no one would listen if I spoke up, anyway. In all of my writing and blogging about deeply personal aspects of my life, I never mentioned it, because it felt like something to be ashamed of.
But I’m not ashamed now. I recognize the young, vulnerable girl I was and how I was taken advantage of. I don’t recognize that as a victim, but as a survivor. It was another storm I weathered, and I’m stronger and more self-aware for it.
I wanted to share my story when the Stanford rape case dominated headlines earlier this year. Many women shared their own stories, and I felt the pull to unburden myself in public, to speak out and be yet another vocal survivor. But I didn’t. I wasn’t ready yet. I had a few more wisps of a very old shame to brush off and a few more deep breaths to take before I could expose my deepest wound.
But then, over the weekend, a recording surfaced of the man who could be president in a month, talking about forcing himself on women. A man who was in a position of power and older than the women he pursued, just like the man who manipulated me and forcibly took my virginity. A man who felt his desire was and is more important than the women he’s in the room with. A man for whom women mean so little, he believes “you can do anything” to them.
I am those women.
His comments are not “locker room banter” or idle chit chat between two men. They are an accurate reporting of behavior and beliefs. This man who could lead us did violate women and does believe he has a right to do so. This man does not respect people. He is not a leader. He is a heartless criminal.
He is a rapist.
And if you choose to deny that fact, you are complicit in the rape of women like me.
Part of my healing process has always been to “do” something with my pain and help others in similar situations. After my recovery from a longterm eating disorder, I became a therapist for people in eating disorder recovery. As a yoga teacher, I talk openly about body image and healing on the mat. I realized earlier this year that it was time for me to do something with the pain of rape that I had felt for so many years.
A few months ago, I signed on to volunteer with the Rape Response program at the Crisis Center. Through that program, I act as an emotional support first responder for people who have been raped. My job is not to fix or counsel, but just to be present, to validate and give information, and, most importantly, to say, “I believe you. And it was wrong.” I’ve only worked a handful of cases so far, but it has already been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life, and I know I will volunteer with Rape Response for a long time. I wish I had had that kind of validation and support when I was raped 14 years ago. I wish all survivors did.
I no longer say my rapist’s name out loud, and I won’t deign to type the name of the man who believes his status gives him the right to treat women like objects and invalidates the need for consent. But that man could be President and have access to the federal funding that keeps programs like Rape Response running. Will he care enough to make sure that money continues to support sexual assault survivors? Can we be certain that all people who experience rape will have a place where they are heard, believed, and validated?
There’s only one way to be sure: To show him in November, once and for all, that “no” means no.
To donate to the Crisis Center in Birmingham and support all its programs, including Rape Response, click here.