Unsurprisingly, the stories keep coming. Of course they do. We all have one.
Here is the intro I wrote for Yes All Women, Part One.
I can’t share my stories, for many reasons. My stories are stories I cannot face, because the terror and the shame has not faded. My stories are stories that echo in the women around me.
So I opened up the blog in case there were people who did want to share, but who needed to be anonymous.
Here some more of the responses I got. Warning: these are more graphic than part one. They are fucking awful, every single one. You may want to take this in bits. You may decide you’re not in a space to cope with it right now, and that’s ok. No one will blame you.
But we will still say it. We refuse to be silenced. This is the reality. This is what we live with. This is the fear. This is the pain. This is not just rape culture. This is culture. This is what we accept every time someone says “not all men” and someone else agrees.
You might be able to walk away from reading this. We can’t walk away from living it.
I went to an out of state college right after I graduated high school. It was there that I first encountered the man who would rape me every night for two months. He was another student at the university, and shared a class with me. We began dating, and a week into our relationship was when he first raped me. He had gotten me so drunk that I couldn’t remember where I was. I woke up the next morning with bruises on the inside of my thighs, and sore arms.
*Editor’s insertion: At this point, the details of this story got so horrific, I asked the contributor if it was OK to edit them out, in the interests of protecting my readers. She agreed. The summary is: she was subjected to violent and psychological abuse over several months, and is physically scarred by the attacks.
When I finally managed to leave him, I tried telling people. I was afraid at first because I felt an intense amount of guilt and shame at what had happened. Only my two closest friends at the university believed me and even encouraged me to tell the police. I had tried telling a counselor, asking her to help me in reporting it to the police. The response I got was what sent me into a phase where I didn’t talk to anyone except my two friends. Her response was this: “Well, since you were drinking that first night, you’d be charged with an MIP. And you had plenty of chances to leave him and report him.”
When I returned home I became a recluse and it was hard for me to trust anyone. I was still stalked by my rapist, and I felt like I had nowhere to go. I eventually had moved to a different school, but attempted to take my own life and ended up in the ICU for nearly a week. I was diagnosed with clinical depression, and I still struggle with it even today. After coming home from the hospital, I moved out of my parents house to try and navigate my recovery on my own. I saw therapists and journaled so I could overcome my past. I eventually came to a place where I was starting to become more of myself again, and it was there that I felt an intense need and responsibility to speak out and help other women who suffered in silence like I once did. Because as I suffered I always wished that there was someone who knew what it was like to hurt like I was. And when I discovered my passions again, and when I discovered a want to help others, that’s when I began writing my own book.
I did eventually meet someone new, and he and I have been in a very loving, consensual relationship for over a year. He was the first man I had met since everything had happened that I trusted. And he was the first man to believe my story and to understand all my fears and quirks. He helped me rediscover that I wasn’t broken, just a little bent, and I could remold myself however I wanted.
But where #YesAllWomen came in, was a moment that finally made me feel like I wasn’t alone in my journey. I found so many other supporters of what #YesAllWomen meant, and supporters of the people posting their thought and personal stories. I found #YesAllWomen when I was reading about the shooting at Isla Vista in California, where women were targeted because the shooter was angry that he was denied sex and love. #YesAllWomen has inspired me to push forward in my journey and to finish writing and publishing my book. This movement that has started on a social media website has made an impact on not only the community, but on me. It’s made me realize how many people there are that are supportive of the cause and survivors. It’s given me hope that there is good somewhere. I know our work is far from over, but I know that I’m not alone. It’s incredible to see how many people post with that hashtag every SECOND. I can only hope that fire that’s there doesn’t die out.
The first time was when I was 7. I didn’t even know what sex was. I grew up knowing I was broken, but I didn’t understand why. A few friends that I opened up to betrayed my trust so I stopped sharing. It happened again when I was 17; he was my boyfriend.
I’ve read a lot of places that it makes you feel less than human. It did. It made me feel broken. There were nightmares and panic attacks. Nights when I felt overwhelmingly like I was going to get hurt again. I was so little the first time… it feels like I’ve been broken my whole life. Most of my life I’ve wanted to die.
It felt like that was who I was: broken. Nights spent hiding in the closet hoping no one would hurt me again and wanting to kill myself felt like all I was. It took me a really long time to see the panic attacks and depression as a symptom of something bad that had happened, instead of just proof I was broken.
I don’t watch tv shows until the season is over. That way I can have someone else google the tv show with keywords such as “rape” and “sexual assault”. If anything comes up, I don’t watch. But even that doesn’t always work. It’s not just showing someone getting raped that tears open my chest and makes it hard to close my eyes at night. Telling me someone had been raped or threatening to rape a character does the same thing. My husband googled everything he could think of to make sure “Falling Skies” was safe to watch. But still, in the premier (part 2) a character threatens to rape a teenage girl, and then we find out he’s already raped one of the other characters. Does every drama tv show have to do this at some point? It is required by law? Is there nothing else interesting to write about than women’s bodies being violated?
I keep a pocket knife on or near me at all times. Even when I’m doing better, there are nights when I get that repeating thought stuck in my head about someone breaking in to my house to hurt me. The only thing that makes me feel better is clutching my pocket knife (sometimes my pistol) and imagining killing them before they touch me.
The hardest thing to deal with is trying to be close to someone who loves me. I know he wouldn’t hurt me, and sometimes I really am okay. But sometimes I’m not. Sometimes I want to feel close to him but the thought of being touched makes me physically hurt. The men who hurt me didn’t just inflict pain; they programmed my mind to associate sex with degrading torture.
I’ve heard it said before that women who are assaulted once are more likely to be assaulted again. I have no idea if it’s true or what the reasoning is but it’s true for me. I have struggled with guilt because after the first two assaults I developed a drinking problem and put myself in questionable situations. The 3rd time was one of the worst.
I was dating a fraternity brother at college and went to his house to meet him but he wasn’t there. The brothers were having a party and told me to have a drink while I waited. My inner alarms started going off but I stayed anyway. The whole thing, even him dating me, was a setup. They drugged me and took turns. I don’t remember much except the one I was dating taking his turn first since he had to put up with talking to me. When they were done they called the last number I had dialed, told him I had too much too drink, and left me on the concrete drive until my friend got there. He picked me up. I was barely conscious so he called an ambulance and I went to the hospital. No one asked me what happened. No one did a tox screen. No one asked if I was assaulted. They just treated me like a college kid binge drinker and pumped my stomach and sent me home the next day. I arrived home to an intervention. I figured if no one wondered how I got to that point or what happened that night I should just keep my mouth shut. I didn’t tell anyone what happened for months because I thought no one cared or would believe me.
As I binge drank for the next 4 years I put myself in some dangerous situations. Sometimes I was taken advantage of other times someone would help me. If I ever have a son I will teach him that if you haven’t slept with her the time to start isn’t when she is drunk. I don’t care to count how many guys slept with me while I was too drunk to consent or too drunk or depressed to fight back.
In the middle of that I met someone who saw past the drinking and self abuse. I drank less and we got engaged. We bartended together and spent a lot of time at bars after work but I wasn’t as self destructive.
Two months before we got married he was home and I was out. I don’t know if I was drugged or if I drank too much and basically drugged myself. A mutual friend of me and my then fiance attacked me. He put me up against a wall. Drug me out into the employee parking lot. I fought for awhile but eventually gave up and just cried. He kept telling me he knew I wanted it.
After he was done he walked me back in the front door like nothing happened. I told my friend what happened. She took me to a rape crisis center. They took my story down. Did a rape kit. Did an std screen and gave me antibiotics and a morning after pill. Told me if I wanted to report I could meet an officer there. I declined. I had never reported before and was afraid to. I knew him. He had worked with my fiance. I had convinced myself all the attacks after the first two were my fault because I had put myself in bad situations. I should know by now how to protect myself.
After a couple days of staying in bed I was ready to move on and try and forget like all the others. My then fiance asked me if I had cheated and made it all up. Said he didn’t know why the rapist would have done it, he could get any girl he wanted. Told me if I didn’t press charges it was because I was making it up. Told me he was questioning marrying me because he felt like I had cheated. I felt like I had been punched in the stomach. I called the center, met an officer, told my story again. He asked what I had done to lead him on. Had I flirted? Had I danced in front of him? Had I touched his arm? Had I been assaulted before? Why had I never reported? Told me my history will look bad to a jury. A detective called me to further investigate. I called her back and left a message and she never called again. I decided not to pursue and my fiance quit bringing it up. We are now married and never talk about it.
When I think about it my chest hurts. I almost didn’t get married because I was raped. I try not to hold it against my husband but it’s hard. I no longer drink and keep to myself because it is safer that way. I have not been assaulted in almost 3 years. I worry for my daughter and how I can protect her. I feel guilty that I let it happen again and again. I feel guilty for not reporting. I worry for the women I endangered by never reporting. I worry it will happen to me again. I worry that I’m not alone. I worry that we are all in danger and I don’t know how or when it will stop.
I’m for the #YesAllWomen campaign because as an 11 year old girl, I was raped by one of my older friend’s guy friends at our camp and he threatened to kill me if I spoke a word.
*editorial note – the woman who wrote this story to me included the details of this incident, which were horrific. I asked her if it was ok for me to to edit them out, because of the very graphic nature. She agreed to me doing so. I made this decision in order to protect her, myself, and my readers, and I did not make it lightly, because, in some ways, we should have to hear what really happened. The brutality is the reality.
Now, as an 18 year old, I still have nightmares of the incident every night, I have self-harmed since the incident, and am still terrified of anything sexual. I am still scared to inform anyone, and have only told four people, two of them being people I have met online, and the others one of my best friends and my ex-boyfriend. My parents still have no idea of the torture I have gone through, and he is still a free man. I shouldn’t have to be scared to be tell these people, because even seven years later I’m still scared he will kill me.
‘Remember that we had no choice, and that nothing we ate, drank, or wore that night had any factual bearing on what was done to us; what was taken from us.’ – Chelsea Levinson, ‘An Open Letter to Poppy Harlow and all Steubenville Rapist Sympathizers’
Chelsea is Jane Doe. But for a passing taxi, I might have been, too. Most women know their assailants, but I was the girl alone on a quiet street, the strange men in a dark alley. Just another silent statistic. We’re all potential Jane Does, and unless we join Chelsea and speak up, nothing will change.
It was winter in Jordan, my last year of university. I remember the timeline vividly because, at 21, I’d just had my first snow day, and the irony of having to move all the way to a Middle Eastern desert for it amused me. The snow was still falling when I left my flat just after sunset to catch a cab to meet the boys for dinner. Walking down the unusually deserted main road of my neighborhood, I texted M to tell him I would be late trying to find a taxi as I set off for the major thoroughfare four blocks away.
A block or so down the road, as I passed the alley between two closed cafes, two men emerged and surrounded me. I think we made polite conversation for a second but the wave of adrenalin later drowned the memory. Next thing I knew, I was pinned against a wall and one of them was kissing me.
You always tell yourself that if it happens, you’ll kick them in the balls, gouge their eyes, run like hell. In the moment, I panicked and froze as his hands fumbled under my coat. I said no, tried to turn away.
A taxi materialized on the empty street, full of four women who shouted something at the men. I didn’t understand it all, but I caught an ‘aar (shame) and allah (god) and could infer the rest. They ran and the women urged me to cram into the back of their cab. They were clearly a family – grandma, mother, aunt, and daughter, all with the same eyes, and I was squished in next to the youngest, a woman about my age.
She asked me where I was going and told the driver to detour past Abdoun to drop me off. Then she turned to me and said it wouldn’t have happened if I wore the veil, gesturing to her own hijab and those of her relatives. Still in shock, I couldn’t formulate an argument, but I wanted to point to my scarf and gloves and hat and coat and boots and insist that it amounted to the same.
The details are irrelevant. But I still include them because, deep down, I want to prove I didn’t ask for it, that I did my best to be invisible. I was sober, it was dinnertime, I was covered, I lived in a relatively safe and wealthy neighborhood with street lights and neighbors who knew me.
Telling the story at the restaurant, it was M and Fwho pointed out that none of that mattered, that a crime is a crime. I could have been stumbling drunk at 3 AM, on my way home from a bikini jello wrestling competition after losing my top in the fight, and it still wouldn’t be okay. My right not to be violated rests in being a human, not in what I was or was not wearing, what I drank, or what god I worshipped.
I was lucky. I am lucky. I was rescued before something worse could happen, and my life is filled with men who know that bare skin or a couple of drinks are not an invitation and who are disgusted by their brethren who don’t agree. I love them for it. I love that their outrage prompts me to examine my own internalized guilt.
Millions aren’t so lucky, and they bear far more terrible wounds than I do. I don’t pretend to be able to imagine what Chelsea and Jane Doe have to live with every day. But it’s that self-betrayal, the feeling that I asked for it, that hurts more than the memory of an unwelcome tongue in my mouth, of my back pressed against a cinderblock alley. It’s the fact that we still discuss a victim’s dress or sobriety or past behavior as if it changes the severity of the violation.
I won’t live in fear of being a temptation to some passing stranger, friend, or date. I think more of men than that. I still live abroad. I still travel alone, meet my friends for dinner, show off my cleavage, and sometimes even drink more than I should. But every so often, that moment comes back.
A few weeks ago, I got a flat tire on the way home from a friend’s house. As I stood there, laughing at the absurdity of two grown adults believing they could share a tiny scooter, two men wandered over and stood staring. It was dark on a Sunday night, only a few passing cars, and that tingle of unease returned. They were probably harmless and may have even wanted to help. But I couldn’t shake that gut feeling, that memory of losing control of my own agency, even if only for a passing minute. I yelled at them to go away, perhaps rudely.
I should have felt safe because I was with a 6’2” man, but instead I just felt reminded that I’m not free to feel safe alone, to come home late, to drink until I giggle incessantly, to wear a short dress and cute heels without judgement. That despite our best efforts, the presence of a man can still determine whether or not I deserve respect.
I try to lighten up, to forget about it, and most of the time I can. But then I remember people like Chelsea and Jane Doe, who will never be able to forget, and who could be anyone I know. Anyone you know.
For every person sick of hearing about rape culture, there’s a victim equally sick of being told he or she deserved it or could have prevented it by acting differently. We should teach our children how not to be sex offenders rather than how not to be a victim. Stop treating sexual assault as an inevitability that victims can only try to avoid inviting and start treating it as the deplorable crime it is.
We are all Jane Doe.
Yes All Women (part one) – the first post of the #yesallwomen stories
The language of rape – a post I wrote a couple months ago about rape culture – includes some very important statistics
Rape culture and me – a post I wrote about times I felt guilty and ashamed because of some of my experiences
Not all men, but yes all women – Katie Johnston’s post on her experiences