Cross-posted from here. Tinesha is a 22 yr old BYU student studying sociology and French. She directs a nonprofit.
It happened so fast I wasn’t even certain it was really happening. I knew it had happened and yet somehow I couldn’t fully grasp if it was actually real. I kept asking myself did that just happen to me? I drove around. I listened to Taylor Swift’s Innocent. I cried and I cried and I cried and I pounded my palms against the steering wheel so hard I thought I was going to lose control and crash into the median on I-5.
It was not the first time something like this had happened. I had been assaulted by various people previously, various times. My early childhood, my high school, and college years were sprinkled with instances of sexual violence, all by different men that hurt me and then vanished. Each instance hurt so much at the time—and, of course, years later. Some of them were so painful I couldn’t speak of them to anyone.
I spent my early college years speaking out against sexual assault. I knew what it was like to be violated in ways that I could never explain. Preventing sexual assault was important to me for obvious reasons—everyone should want to prevent sexual assault—but it went beyond that. It was personal.
Amidst my activism, I tried my best to move past most of the incidents. I did so. Finally. So when I was raped, everything I had worked so hard to heal ripped back up again, along with a new, fresh wound.
After I was raped in December, I cried while driving on the freeway. I drove to a friend’s home. “I don’t know what just happened,” I said, choking back tears. I couldn’t say the r–word out loud to myself, because that would make it real. I drove home and sat in the bathtub and ran the water with all my same clothes still on. The next morning, I woke up and I cut my hair to my shoulder with dull baby scissors. I wanted to cut off all the hair he had grabbed.
I was not raped by someone I didn’t know. I was not walking down the street alone at night, not “looking passive,” not wearing a ponytail. None of the things women have been told not to do to not get raped. I was not raped by someone hiding underneath my car or leaping out from behind a bush. We had mutual friends. We had gone to neighboring high schools.
I was assertive that night. I was wearing my favorite outfit from Paris.He listened while I told him about my research. I brought a sharp object in my bag —my past has made me hypervigilant considering my past—and he moved and hid my bag before he raped me. He was not the scraggly-bearded guy who people instinctively walk away from and often mislabel as rapists. He was charming and good-looking and young. He was not that guy the rapist. They almost never are.
I tried to move on. It’s what I’d wanted to do right away. Flashes of that night ran back through my head: a date with a man that seemed so normal, gone horribly wrong. I was angry with myself. How could I have been so reckless? How could I have let this happen to me? I knew it was never the victim’s fault, but it was different when it was me. Kindness to others was easy. Kindness to myself was completely different, especially when I relived it involuntarily in my head over and over again, wishing I could have done something different. Wishing I had never shown up that day.
I didn’t report. People I told first accepted that. A few people I told were deeply upset with me. You think you know how to handle trauma. You do not. What it is like to live through it? Can you answer? My life and my body had already been violated so extremely. Reporting would have changed absolutely nothing. I was not willing to risk uprooting my life. And I couldn’t bear to recount every single very personal, painful detail over the telephone to a stranger whom I did not know.
Rape came with new issues, old issues made worse, and deep wounds. I didn’t shower with the lights on for a month. I spent days coming home from work to my room, closing the door, speaking to almost no one. I went from blaming myself and hating myself to trying to understand how someone could decide that saying “no” actually meant “yes,” that uncontrollable sobbing was a turn-on, to being so angry at him for suffering no consequences to feeling completely empty. And back again. And again.
I still am.
It’s been 9 months. I pushed it down for a little, but it all came back up. I’ve spent the past week wondering if I should be completely better, being angry that I feel mostly nothing half of the day, then absolutely everything. Aren’t I supposed to be over this? Do I even deserve to feel this raw? Are these feelings legitimate? I know the answers to all this. Somehow those answers don’t feel easy when I apply them to myself. I want to be Superwoman, and my brain won’t let me.
I still wake up screaming in the middle of the night. Sometimes I call my boyfriend to calm me down. Sometimes I don’t want to call and bother him at 4 AM, so I just stay in my bed awake and terrified, knowing I have work or school in the morning. Sometimes I don’t sleep at all— it is easier. I relive the event over and over again. I try to focus on other things, but even when I do, there is a part of me that is so shattered, I can’t always piece myself back together quickly enough to stop the nightmares from flooding in again. I can’t have my boyfriend touch me sometimes, so he sits off to the side as I breathe heavily and sob, as I wish silently that I could be okay again.
X, my rapist, will never face any consequences. Reporting would not have changed that; rapists rarely serve time since our justice system does not adequately punish perpetrators. It would have become he-said-she-said. X’s life will continue on, as I’m sure it has. He probably does not remember me, probably couldn’t even recall my name.
The date X raped me is not seared into his brain. Society will not beat him down with unrealistic expectations of moving on from this event—no one will be telling him to get over it, as if it is just that simple, and as if I enjoy feeling this way; no one will be telling him you should have reported, you let him go free, as if they never read the news and don’t understand what a painful experience that would be: no one will be telling him don’t air your dirty laundry. Society is not projecting shame onto rapists. Only onto rape victims who didn’t ever ask for it.
Whether X is smart enough to know he can get away with raping women is not really something I focus on. I can’t help but suspect that he does, though. Along with all the other men who say “Women always say no, but they don’t really mean it.” X said so that night, after he raped me, and then later asked me why I cried the entire time.
A month or two ago, in my writing class, I presented about increasing resources for sexual assault victims on campus. 1 out of every 6 American women has been the victim of a rape attempt. When we received feedback at the end of the presentation, one man wrote essentially “I just feel like there are not enough sexual assault victims to justify this”. Intriguing— how would he know? How would he know that about the women sitting around him, at BYU or not? Another woman expressed shock when she found out I was an assault victim.
Exactly— there are thousands and thousands of women who don’t tell their stories. And yet they are in everyone’s life. I do not blame them for their silence. There are thousands of legitimate reasons not to share your assault story .
X distorted my life, as did A and B and C and D and E. All the men who touched me without my consent, who covered my mouth to muffle my screams, distorted the life that I was trying to create for myself. None of them were ever there to watch the fallout. They stepped away just as quickly as they hurt me.
They left me to deal with what were you wearing? What were you doing? What were you thinking? How could you go out with him? Are you sure you don’t just regret it? Why didn’t you tell anyone sooner? Why are you talking about it so much now? Why did this happen to you multiple times? Are you sure you’re not provoking them? Why are you still upset about this? Why do you care since he’s not here? Why do you still feel this way? You’re just holding yourself back—if you moved on and worked harder, you’d be fine. Stop dwelling on the past. Think about something else and you’ll be fine. Focus on work and school and move on. Why didn’t you [hit, run away, scream, etc.] during it?
They walked away as I struggled to exist in a society that expects me to give a very specific performance after trauma— and only after that performance can you be believed. I was never given a script. I don’t want one. I should not need one to prove I was affected. They went off to live their lives, unaffected. People share with good intent “real men don’t assault women”— as if the men who shattered my reality somehow were not real, were not functioning members of society with friends and families and lives. This is a society that teaches women they are “licked cupcakes” if they are assaulted.
They walked away and left me to deal with a society where we give rapists short sentences and probations and slap their wrists, where misogyny prevails, and people deny rape culture while perpetuating it. They left me with—they rejoined—a culture that raises men to call women sluts and whores, to oversexualize women and then shame them for their sexuality, who preach statistically insignificant and usually false stories about women who lied about being raped, who claim that “none of their friends would ever do that” but nod along when their friend talks about hooking up with a really drunk, incapacitated girl at a party. They are part of a society that mocks anyone who knows rape culture exists everywhere and points to developing countries as examples of it without realizing it that as they mock it they are directly contributing to it. They are part of a culture that stands still and screams “WHAT ABOUT MEN THAT WERE RAPED” while also mocking male rape victims, asking why a 13-year-old boy raped by his teacher wouldn’t feel “lucky”. They are part of a culture that acknowledges that these are problems, but sits quietly, waiting for someone else to get harmed before they speak up; that screams about pornography but stays silent on assault.
People are surprised to learn that those around them have been victims of rape and assault and that the “stories” they hear are attached to real women who sit next to them at work or at school or on the bus. To those people: I know you. I’ve noticed you. I see you. I do not trust you.
I tell a piece of my story because I want to openly stand in solidarity with other victims. And for me, this is part of my healing. I am not ashamed about what happened to me. I did nothing wrong that night. I know I will get better. I have gotten better from pain like this before. I survived. I know that in my own way I can be Superwoman, even if I don’t take 16 credits and drown myself in work like I’d like to. I know it even if I am not always sure how to get there from here.
This isn’t me telling victims they will be fine and that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. I believe that. It feels disingenuous though to preach about a light I have not yet reached.
I do want to say this: you do not owe anyone sex. Even if they paid for dinner or drove you somewhere, if they have been dating you for weeks or months or years—you owe them nothing. Your body is your body. Anyone who has treated you or taught you differently is wrong. Being coerced or manipulated into sex is rape. There is no such thing as consensual sex. There is sex, and there is rape. And I know it is hard. I know. But you are strong and brave and courageous.
I know how much it hurts. I don’t know how long it will be before I reach the light, and the end or at least the quelling of pain. I feel it in the distance, but I can’t figure when I’ll reach it. I do not see it tunnel yet. But I have my own light inside of me, and I will reach it. Maybe it will be months. Maybe years.
To other victims, I want you to know: I see you. I hear you. I believe you. I stand with you. Always.
May we all reach the light.