Why do I write these words? Pry up old scabs that ooze dark memories? I needed to write this article as a declaration of self; I refuse to be boxed into the black and white caricature that we depict rape and its victims with.
There are an infinite amount of responses that one can take after being assaulted. My response to a night that was filled with smoke, beer, and a boy much too old for me was–if I’m being honest– to deny and bury the night under my thick skin. But I am revisiting that night not to preach to you all but for myself. It is time that I recognize the significance of this event, for recognition is my first step towards true growth. Along with self-recognition I hope my story and thoughts allow for others to have the courage to search for an identity beyond the role of the helpless victim many of us feel compacted into after assault.
Far too often, I believe we read statistics in newspapers, blogs, and pamphlets and think these numbers are not applicable to our own lives. I fear that we have confined rape to the image of a helpless girl, a dark alley, and a hooded stranger. But we forget that incidents of assault, such as mine, are often committed in far more complex and challenging moments. These moments are committed in what I call the gray zone.
Let’s define the gray zone: it is anything and everything. It is an intimidating abyss that houses everything from glances on the subway, touches that make your shoulders tense, to sex that you don’t think should have happened. The gray zone is not talked about on the news when they display wanted posters and warn women not to walk alone– but the gray zone is the face of rape that many of us have experienced. These incidents haunt us in our homes, soon-to-be colleges, and should be safe havens. Far too often people we believed trustworthy commit these gray zone incidents. In this territory men and women, including myself, have found ourselves trying to navigate through an experience that we cringe at but don’t know how to label. Let me be clear I now recognize that these “incidents” are and must be deemed rapes and assaults. But, our society has so tweaked the words “rape and assault” that I didn’t know how to fit such heavy words into my life’s narrative. I knew something was wrong but didn’t know how to speak of it. I ultimately tried to suppress the incidents only succeeding in feeling unable to breathe. I felt trapped by my moment but could not find the support to feel safe and secure while adding victim to my life’s vocabulary.
My gray zone rape occurred at a party. I remember the smell of minty hookah and the sweat of the dancers that swarmed on the floor. The man, let’s call him X, was friendly and mysterious. We danced but I was not necessarily looking to hookup that night. When I blew smoke into his face I found my lips covered by his. We made our way to a wall and his hands found his way into my underwear. He suggested we find a room, I won’t deny that I was excited by this older prospect and led him to the adjoining room. The details you need to know next are that:
1) I was much younger than him.
2) Being a virgin, I told him at the beginning of the hookup I did not want to have sex.
3) When he went inside me I did not say stop and this makes me cringe to this day. I, outspoken, confident, secure girl could not find the breath to form the word “No”.
Today I am left thinking that my silence permitted a moment that has stained the quilt of my life. Can you understand how this feels? To have a moment that took no longer than 15 minutes leave an impact so strong that you cannot bear to bring it up to your mother for fear that it would break her heart? To have one moment make you feel for the first time helpless and out of control? This is the first time I have been able to speak about this incident since its occurrence a year ago and now I stand on the street unable to breathe.
One moment, one night overwhelmed me with a pity for my own victimized self and I felt disgusted. Do you know what it is like to feel self-disgust and blame yourself despite knowing that he is the one to blame? He was the one that did not listen to my words. He was the one that had sex with a minor. He was the one that neglected to use a condom. He left me alone to spend my hard-earned money on a $50 dollar Plan B pill. His actions caused me to go to the clinic where I had to endure test after test and sequentially treatment after treatment. He will forever remain the man that caused my best friends to look at me with pity; the label “victim” slapped on me like a sticker. I am blameless yet I live with the consequences. When we hear stories like mine we forgot one thing, these moments of violence last only minutes, but it is the aftermath that changes our lives.
I still fear that the rest of my life will be tainted with this one moment. That one day I will sit in a therapist’s office and learn that the root of all my problems can be traced back to this one moment in a dark room. I myself do not yet know how much this moment will affect my future; and I doubt that I will ever learn. Do I judge this gray zone assault as life changing or simply a significant part of my story? Did this one night change my identity or is it possible to simply forget? Readers please try to share my pain. I need someone to recognize that this man was able, in the course of one night, to make me doubt myself so incredibly as I suddenly became the victim that I read about in statistics.
Yesterday as I was trying to write this post, I realized that I was a victim. I wept openly on the shoulder of my best friend. I mourned for my younger self. I cried, shook and grieved as I recognized that I must acknowledge that I was violated and thus a victim. It took– and still takes– so much pain to admit this, to admit that I was one of “those girls” because I just want to be myself. But I am gradually reckoning that being one of “those girls” is the last thing I should be ashamed of. We are girls (and boys) that have surmounted and are continuing to survive a moment that capsized the boats of our identities. I cannot stress enough to you all the self doubt and insecurity this incident provoked within me– a girl so normally sure of herself. But a year later I am realizing that I am still my confident, self-loving, and life-loving self. That night surely shook but eventually strengthened my security in my community and myself.
I still refuse to be the victim. I personally cannot adhere to the label– it does not fit within my life. I hope that it gives warmth and safety to others but it makes me feel like someone other than who I know myself to be. I hope you do not finish reading this account pitying the fact that I became “that girl”. Recognizing that I became “that girl” was the hardest part of this experience. But I ultimately realized that “that girl” encompasses so many other experiences besides the pitied victim. The gray zone makes us all into “that girl” but in varying shades and tones. I refuse to be tiptoed around and viewed as helpless prey. I am strong. I survived a situation that no one should endure but I grew from it until I became the woman who now writes these words with the hope of offering an alternative to those feeling helpless and isolated. While we might encounter an experience that changes our lives, we cannot feel as if there is only one character to become after an incident of rape and assault. There are so many different paths we can take after the worst occurs. I now declare myself to be a survivor, and I survived so you and I can grow together from my truth.