I Still Think It's My Fault That I Was Raped
I was 19 years old when I was raped by a stranger at a party.
On my way home from seeing a movie with my family, I stopped to talk to some guys sitting on the stoop down the block from my apartment. They invited me to come up and have a drink, and being young, naïve and in the throes of a breakup, I did.
I hadn't been there long before the room emptied out and I was left alone with one of them. He kissed me, and I started to feel scared; I wanted to leave.
But the drink must have been stronger than I thought — my legs weren't working and my head was spinning. He leaned close, sealed his mouth over mine and exhaled a cloud of marijuana smoke into my lungs.
While I was choking, he pinned me to the floor and yanked my jeans down. I tried to scream, but I could hardly even breathe.
Afterward, he told me he knew where I lived, and he'd see me again soon.
I went home, terrified, and realized I was bruised and bleeding. The next day he came to my apartment, and I was too scared to call the police, so he did it again.
That's one way I can tell that story. Here's another:
The summer I was 19, I was desperately lonely. My on-again, off-again boyfriend seemed to be breaking things off for good, and I spent most nights alone, riddled with depression and anxiety. So when some cute guys called out to me from their stoop, I stopped and flirted with them.
When they invited me upstairs to a party, I thought, “Why not?” I blithely went into a strange apartment with strange men and accepted a drink in one of those red Solo cups without asking what it was.
I didn't notice when everyone left except for one guy, and when he kissed me, I didn't say no or pull away.
Afterward, he said he thought I wanted it, so I must have seemed into it. He apologized for hurting me and told me how much he liked me. The next day when he showed up at my door, I let him in, confused about what had happened and scared to say no when, apparently, I said yes the night before.
I've always been bad at letting people know what I want — it's one of my worst faults. That, and I make reckless decisions.
Which one is the real story?
It took me several months to realize I'd been raped. It was too late to report it to the police, but I did go to the local rape crisis center and join a group therapy program where we went on Outward Bound and wrote in journals and shared our stories.
I saw a therapist for years, although we didn't talk about that night very often. I assured my therapist I was over it.
For the most part, I think I am over it. I've learned to say I was raped without feeling like a liar.
That twinge of doubt — that feeling that I'm not telling the whole truth — doesn't bother me so much anymore. It's become part of my identity: Whether I like it or not, I'm a rape survivor.
But the truth is, way deep down, I still blame myself because I know I could have prevented it from happening. I should never have talked to those guys. I should never have gone to a stranger's party alone. What was I thinking?
I know what I was thinking, though. I was lonely and vulnerable, the product of a broken home and a difficult childhood, with a track record of promiscuity.
I felt powerful when I flirted with men; I wanted them to want me. I just wanted to have a good time. I wasn't smart enough to think about what could happen.
If that's not asking for it, what is?
When I told a friend what this article was going to be about, he seemed surprised: “That's not really true, is it? You know it wasn't your fault.”
As a rape survivor, I feel like it's my duty to say, "Of course, I know it wasn't my fault. Of course, I don't blame myself."
The onus shouldn't be on women to avoid being raped; it should be on men to not rape women. I believe that with my whole heart.
But part of me also knows my own bad decisions contributed to what happened that night. I can say I didn't deserve what happened to me, but I can't quite say I didn't do anything wrong.
Part of me bristles at the term “rape survivor” because it feels a little bit self-righteous and a little bit dishonest. Part of me will always feel guilty, damaged and ashamed.
Part of me knows there are two stories that can be told, and both are true.