In 2001 I dated a man who was studying to be a pastor at Dallas Baptist University. I felt good about myself, had been working out, building myself up to be a stronger me, and wanted to date a good guy for a change. Four months into our relationship I went to his place for a dinner of Chinese food and maybe a PG-rated make-out session, and that night he raped me. It’s been eighteen years since that night, and I still remember every single detail as vividly as if it had just happened. Eighteen years, so much therapy, my entire life flipped upside down, life on strong anti-depressants, more suicidal thoughts than I can count, and still spending several days a week trying to come to terms with what happened to me.
One of the most striking things about surviving that sexual assault wasn’t everything it took to make it day to day, but rather how other people responded. My family had no idea what to say or do. Co-workers avoided eye contact until I left that job. Life at the gym that I’d loved stopped because suddenly being in rooms alone with strange men terrified the shit out of me. But most striking was how a friend I had once considered family thought that the depression and anger I felt after being raped was stealing her new marriage buzz.
It seems almost daily I see news stories about women who were raped and the court system treated the perpetrator like a ‘good man’ and her like a whore for daring to seek justice for her assault. All of this is so ugly, and so understandably heartbreaking for those of us watching from the outside, but what a lot of people don’t see are the things likely happening to this woman from within her own circle of family and friends.
People don’t know how to deal with rape. They don’t know how to talk about it, how to help the survivor. People expect survivors to be able to move on, or at very least not to dwell, and that’s not fair.
During the heat of the #MeToo movement, AVclub put out what they called, “An incomplete, depressingly long list of celebrities’ sexual assault and harassment stories” which included stories from over 30 actors and actresses who spoke out shortly after the movement began. Thirty. They also talked about the over 60 women who accused actor Bill Cosby of sexual assault. These celebrities helped break ground for people across the world to finally speak up about their experience with assault. For a while, it seemed the world was finally fed-up with rape-culture and the Brock Turner’s of the world and judges like the one who gave a man a 60-day sentence after raping his 12-year-old daughter because he was a “good man.”
But just as quickly as the movement came to the forefront, it was relegated to memes and jokes. People still remember #MeToo, but they also think that it’s too much, and maybe everyone should just move on.
Just like that, sexual assault became a joke again.
For me, it was that close friend. I’d once considered her a sister, and after being raped our entire relationship changed. I remember being at work one day and having just one of those days where it was so difficult to breathe and where every single thing set me on edge. I messaged my friend because I needed a soft place to land amongst all the pain, and instead was told to ‘get a dog’ because she didn’t want to hear about it anymore. She was newly married and felt my pain took away from her joy.
I learned two lessons that day: sometimes the people you love most can’t be there when you most need them, and trauma can destroy friendships.
My rape wasn’t about her. My grief wasn’t intended to make her life smaller, or take away from her joy, but it did.
I feel bad about that.
I don’t feel bad for reaching out to a friend when I was grieving and in pain and confused about my world. My rape wasn’t about her, and it wasn’t her responsibility to help me heal, either.
It took years for me to come to terms with what happened, to find a place of acceptance and take steps to move forward in my life. So much therapy. So many tears, so much time. I’m in a good place now. I’m happy, back to building my confidence up. I even have a boyfriend who’s pretty swell. I’m moving forward.
But for the record, moving forward doesn’t mean moving on. None of us will ever move on. Or forget. Or just ‘get over it already’ because we can’t. My rape – our assaults – they’re not about you. And just as it isn’t your job to make us feel better, it isn’t ours to apologize for how our grief and pain makes you feel.