Last night I was triggered. It wasn’t the first and it won’ be the last time it will happen. I never know when it’s going to happen or what will cause it: A song, a smell, or in this case an episode of “The Good Wife.”
The episode was about a young girl trying to sue the boy who raped her because he got away with it in the first trial, and he was about to start Princeton University with no consequences. It started playing out as usual, no evidence that the prosecution could use, although all roads lead to guilty. Then the hacker group Anonymous came into the picture and saved the day by hacking the rapist’s server and exposing all the images he thought he had deleted.
Simple enough. I see it every day in the news happening over and over again, yet it was this show that triggered me. I thought about my own rape, and as I lay there I let the anger wash over me—again. I relived every moment and once again endured the guilt my ego-mind rambled. Questioning things like what, “I should have done” or what “I should have said,” or if I could go back, “Would I tell?”
The answer was simple. It was, “No!”
I got out of bed and walked to the end of the hall where my boyfriend was gaming. We began talking, and for the first time I told him everything that happened and how angry it still made me 20 years later.
I wrote it about it in my book, Dear Cole, Never Say Never, but I really grazed the surface and didn’t tell the whole story. I didn’t mention that the rapist did not graduate and returned to grade twelve with me, where I had to sit next to him in my biology class.
These little facts came up recently when one of my friends was trying to wrap his brain around a sexual assault “accusation” that had come out involving someone we knew. He said, “If our friend did this, why did the girl continue to act normal? Why did she still hang out with him? Why is she coming out about it now years later?”
It was then that I revealed my own personal experience, and the conversation, I believe, was an eye opener for my friend and how he perceived sexual assault.
I told him that after I was raped I knew that if I came forward in our small town my life would be turned upside down. I would lose friends, people wouldn’t believe me, and my sexual history would be on trial as I had slept with a lot of people right after my brain surgery, driven bya lack of confidence from the depression the plagued me.
In fact, when I did find the courage to come out to my peers about what had occurred they didn’t take me seriously, and even set my rapist up on a date with our mutual friend weeks later. Not only was it a slap in the face, but also an indication of what my future looked like if I came forward, and it was not pretty.
At the time, all the things I knew that could happen was too much after the experience itself. I hated that I was raped. My brain did not know how to deal with it so I pretended like it didn’t happen. It was how I coped, and how many women cope.
I smiled, kept walking with my head held high, listened to a lot of Ani Difranco when searching for my inner strength, and I vowed he would never get the best of me, and he didn’t.
But still, no matter how much time passed, every time I saw him, which was more than I cared for as he was friends with a lot of my friends, I felt sick. I relived the moment over and over, yet could not seem to find my voice when it came to confronting him. I continued to pretend like it never happened–but it did.
Sitting there in my living room revealing these moments to my friend, I continued to tell him how the saga did not stop there.
Two years had gone by after the “incident” and I was in a healthy relationship with an amazing man. I was in my second year of university and things were going great. For the first time I was being treated with the respect I deserved. I was in love.
I went home for Christmas that year and decided to accompany my friends to a party out in the countryside. I walked into the kitchen and there he was. I froze. Hadn’t I changed? Wasn’t I stronger now? But, like the old expression, “A deer caught in headlights” I lost all feeling of control. My nerves got the better of me, and all of a sudden the beer I was nursing turned into eight. I was a light weight when it came to drinking and soon the room began to spin. I ran to the toilet where a friend comforted me while I vomited.
One of my good friends set me up in the bedroom next to the washroom and he offered to stay with me. Being the people pleaser I was at the time, I didn’t want him to miss out on the fun evening because of me, and convinced him to go to the bar with everyone. Before he left he sat by my bed and told me, “Don’t worry, you are all alone here. Everyone is gone. You are safe and I will be back soon.”
I was so sick I just couldn’t wait to pass out. I woke up shortly after to a body behind me and a hand on my breast. Half asleep and drunk I forgot where I was and spoke to the person thinking it was my boyfriend, but the reality of where I was hit me hard. I could feel him grinding into me from behind and although I mumbled, “Stop” he did not. I tried to muster up sober energy to leave and somehow managed to stumble to my feet. I looked behind me to see who decided to use my body as a buffet for their sexual gluttony. It was the best friend of my rapist.
The door was locked and for the first time in a long time I found my voice. I began hollering, then screaming, to let me the hell out of there. It startled him enough to comply. It was minus 30 degrees Celsius outside andI was wearing a skirt. I could not get a taxi to answer on one of the busiest nights of the year, so I walked.
The freezing air sobered me up and my anger grew. “How could I be so stupid to let myself fall into that situation again?” I thought. The victim-blaming was so conditioned in my experience that those thoughts had become second nature.
Feeling violated all over again this time I told people, my friends and my family. When I told my family their reaction was also a generationally conditioned response to the situation. “Were you drinking?” they asked. “Yes,” I answered “but so was everyone else, and I don’t see how is that an invitation to violate me?”
My peers responded the way I expected, with most of them thinking I was over reacting, and most men not wanting to hear me speak of it because they didn’t want to see their friend as the villain I was making him out to be. My boyfriend was furious, not only at the person who violated me but at my “backwards town” that responded to sexual assault the way it did.
When my assaulter approached me at the bar a couple of weeks later this time I responded, and loudly. I aggressively shouted, “I swear to God if you ever speak to me again, or come near me again, the next time I will call the cops.” I watched all his friend laugh at me like the “hysterical” female I was, but this time I didn’t care. This time I found my voice.
When I finished my story I could tell that my friend was shocked. I concluded our conversation by telling him that I wish that was the last time I was assaulted, but it was not.
I believe the conversations we have with each other are often the key to creating an empathy for each other’s experience; that the issues are multi-dimensional, and that everyone’s experience is influenced on many factors including their socio economic, cultural, and religious backgrounds, to name a few.
Over the past five years I have made it a mission in my life to include men and boys in these conversations, because just like us females they have been conditioned to act and respond in certain ways. Women have often been silenced, and because of this their male allies are unaware of their struggles and the realities that they face daily. Men are also conditioned to remain emotionless, distant, and uninvolved, fearing peer ridicule, especially if it involved their own stories of being assaulted. It is a vicious cycle; a cycle that needs to end.
My answer is, I don’t know, but for me it starts with finding my truth and helping support others who are finding theirs. Support for all genders.
In closing, to all of those survivors out there, remember that you are doing the best you can. Sometimes the memories will flood back at any given time, and you will feel like you are living it all over again, but just know that you are not alone. Breathe. Feel angry if that is what you are feeling, cry if you need to, be gentle on yourself, because it was not your fault. Reach out, share your story, and connect with those who can empathize with your feelings. If you can’t find anyone, feel free to reach out to me, and I’ll do the best I can.
If you are a youth in Canada who has experienced sexual assault, please call Kids Help Phone or live chat with them. They are an amazing resource www.kidshelpphone.ca
If you are a woman in Canada and you are a sexual assault survivor who needs assistance, please call Toll Free 1.866.863.7868
For men who would like someone to talk to please contact The 1 in 6 organization by clicking here.
For a list of LGBTQ+ help lines and chat support please click here.