I played the flute in school in the Marching and Concert Bands. In marching band, you not only had to play an instrument, but you had to march in configurations for parades and half-time shows that were often difficult. So in high school, those of us in band started what was called “band camp,” which was going to school two weeks before school started to practice our music and movements.
One warm August day when I was 15, right before my sophomore year, with my lyre to hold my music on my arm and the small sheet music to “School Song” and “Alma Mater,” I set off to the bus stop to go to band camp. A stranger came up to me while I was waiting for the bus, at a quiet neighborhood bus stop, and accosted me by knife point, and took me. Over a period of hours, this monster raped me a few times in two different cities, threatening that if I didn’t do it right he was going to kill me. I was lucky to get this man put in jail, which is not that common in rape cases, and it was amazing he was able to stay in prison for fourteen years. It’s almost unheard of for rapists to stay in jail this long. Society’s justice process, systematically incarcerates black men at a much higher rate than whites. The man who assaulted me was black and this inequality might have played a role in his longer sentence.
The male doctor who examined me in the emergency room right after the rape said that my hymen was already broken, even though I was a virgin (this can happen to girls in many non-sexual ways), thus almost lessening the validity of my rape claim. Then two police detectives kept me in a hot room with no water for 2.5 hours grilling me. I was in so much pain I couldn’t cross my legs, and was in shock. These two detectives interrogated me like I was the criminal and not the victim, trying to get me to admit that the perpetrator was really my boyfriend and I didn’t want to admit that to my mom who was forced to sit in the waiting room not able support me. While rape victims cannot remember or put together all the details sometimes, I knew quite clearly and gave the police information that maybe the defense could later dispute, but the police who were supposed to be on my side couldn’t deny. I brought them to the location of the first place he raped me and the grass was still patted down. And I brought them to the back of a casual restaurant and showed them the clothing he had made us discard, after he made me steal sweat suits for both of us from a nearby store, which held DNA evidence, and just for a topper, I told them exactly what square of sidewalk he dropped his red lighter. For years when I would walk on that square of sidewalk I would always remember a red lighter had once been there.
The first year right after it happened, which was my sophomore year, besides sometimes going to court and seeing my counselor, a lot of that year is a blur. Yes, there’s basically almost a year of my life I can’t remember, at school or at home.
For the rest of high school I was still an emotional mess, but I got back to writing, which I had done a little before the assault in journals and stories. I couldn’t write the year I was raped because I was too traumatized, but after that year I started writing again. I wrote at a crazy rate the last two years of high school, in study hall, in Geometry, waiting for school to start, even skipping class. I wrote at home a lot too. I wrote short stories and a novel I never finished that was over 300 pages (in the days when most of what we wrote was by hand). Writing gave me a voice. My voice had been taken away from me when I pleaded “NO NO!” to the rapist and that voice was ignored and basically silenced. Writing and having a voice gave me just a tiny sense of power.
Five years after I was raped, I was in a car accident, in which I wasn’t hurt, and in college six years after the first rape, I was date raped by an acquaintance. He was very generous with the beers, and years later I have suspected that he might have drugged me because I lost track of a little bit of time. I didn’t choose to prosecute this rape because this man was a rich exchange student and I was drinking. None of this should matter, but I had a hard enough time getting a poor black man in a racist and classist society in prison when I was a virgin and not drinking, that I knew I was certainly going to be re-victimized like I was in my first rape by the police, and I couldn’t handle that. Soon after this I started getting flashbacks. Before this, I had plenty of depression and anxiety because of the assault, but no flashbacks, a major sign of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. It’s not uncommon for another traumatic event to bring on PTSD. My first flashbacks were scarier because I didn’t know what they were. It made it feel like the attack (most of my flashbacks, which I still have periodically now, are of the first more violent attack, although once in a while the accident and other rape get in there) was actually happening. It was a little better as I understood. What helped me feel some healing at this time was writing poetry and getting into anti-racist, feminism, and LGBT activism through the perspective of my major and minor I was studying.
The mention of this activism leads me to mention how I really like the YWCA’s mission of advocating for marginalized groups of people who have less privilege and promoting justice. At the time I’m writing this I am currently attending a support group at the YWCA run through Stepping Stones.
The leaders are both warm and affirming. They are knowledgeable about psychological aspects of rape on individuals such as the characteristics of Rape Trauma Syndrome, which is very much like PTSD, as well as sociological aspects of living in a rape culture (Rape culture is a sociological concept for a setting in which rape is pervasive and normalized due to societal attitudes about gender and sexuality. Behaviors commonly associated with rape culture include victim blaming, slut-shaming, sexual objectification, trivializing rape, denial of widespread rape, refusing to acknowledge the harm caused by some forms of sexual violence, or some combination of these.) Each week there is a general topic, often with a short video to support the point and related activities. The leaders try to instill in us a sense of confidence and strength. Also each member of the groups is free to share their stories, thoughts and observations or not as every person is in a different place in their healing process.
I am not over my rapes yet. I never will be, but I go to counseling and try to participate in activities that are positive and make me feel good about myself, which can sometimes lessen the symptoms of my PTSD, like exercise, art, and writing, which I mentioned earlier. Because writing has been a method I have used to exercise my voice in the past, giving me a sense of strength and peace, it is something I am looking to pursue in the near future; possibly after I get enough confidence to send any of my writing into a newspaper, magazine, or blog. I write about social justice issues. Thank you for reading my survival story which has been a great opportunity to use my Voice.