It’s taken me years to work out what to call what happened that night. For the first five years it was “consensual”. I told myself that because I didn’t understand that sexual assault and sexual harrassment are nuanced. The first 25 years of my life I’d been taught that rape and sexual assault only happened to children who couldn’t legally consent OR it only happened violently or to people too drunk or drugged to consent.
That night wasn’t violent. And I know the other person involved will never see what happened as an assault. Because I didn’t scream, or push him away, or cry during it. I waited to cry until after it was over, less than five minutes after it started.
Everyone hated me back then. I lived in that small town, surrounded by those same people, for three years after that night. I made very few friends and also managed to make my family members my enemies. I was toxic. I was filled with rage. One day I texted a family member that they were a “cunt”, over and over again. I was so angry at everyone and everything. At one point my divorced parents, who hated each other equally, spoke on the phone about me, wondering if I had a personality disorder. I seemed fine before that night. In the eyes of those close to me, it was like an overnight change.
I attempted suicide twice within two years after that night. I was sexually promiscuous after it as well. Not because I was sexually liberated. I rarely had an orgasm with my sexual partners. I was looking for some form of validation. I needed someone to see my worth and value as a person and for some reason (I understand why now) I thought I could find that validation through sex.
Those involved or aware all have their own ideas because they all have their own biases and experiences with the concept of assault. I call what happened to me “sexual assault”, but we’ll explain why that is later on. For now, just the facts.
TRIGGER WARNING: I am describing my assault in great detail. This is lengthy. If this is not something you can read, I encourage you not to.
In February 2005 my grandfather suddenly passed away.
I was supposed to live with he and my grandmother before this. I’d moved my entire life to another state, thousands of miles away from my mother, my friends, my church, and my community to live with and care for my aging grandparents. Less than a week before my move date, Pawpaw was in a car accident that left him in a coma. Less than a week after I moved down, he died.
After his funeral I was told by my uncle that he and his family would be moving in with my grandmother instead and I could stay on if I paid a couple hundred dollars in rent for one room in their house and access to one bathroom, shared with six other family members, four of whom were male. I chose not to stay.
Suddenly, at 19, with no job, and no friends, I had nowhere to live.
So, I crashed on someone’s couch. I won’t say whose couch because these people don’t believe me about my assault and I am honestly terrified of them attempting to sue me. So, for now we’ll just refer to this other party with initial’s. I crashed on A’s couch, where A was married to B, and lived with C and D. C and D were my age, A and B were in their late 40’s.
A few nights after Pawpaw’s funeral I was asleep on the couch in A and B’s living room. I’d cried myself to sleep because I was essentially homeless, I was jobless, and I had no idea what I was going to do next. I was only 19. The plan back in January of 2005 was that I was going to move in with my grandparents, live rent free in exchange for assisting them, finally go to college, finally start my life. But Pawpaw’s car crash that February changed all of that. All my plans were ruined. My future permanently altered. And I missed my grandfather desperately.
I woke up hearing a male voice. “Tamara…Tamara…” C, my age, was whispering my name. As I came to be awake and my eyes adjusted in the dark, I realized C was leaning down toward me, slowly placing his body onto me. He was high, he reeked of alcohol and pot, and he was in just his boxers. I don’t remember how he said it. I don’t remember how it came up. I just remember suddenly he wanted to have sex with me.
I told C, “no.”
I didn’t want to have sex with C. But no one had ever taught me I could just say, “no” and not give an explanation. So, I looked for reasons. “No, A, B, and D might hear.” “No, I’m tired.” “No, I just…can’t.” I said no. But every “no” was met with a hushed, “Come on…” In the darkness his erection was clear in his loose boxers. I felt him nudging his erection against my thigh. His body was uncomfortably close to mine. I was afraid. I wanted to jump up and run out of the house. But, where would I go? My mind raced.
“I can stand up and just go to my car and sleep in my car. It’s February, I’ll bring some blankets. I’ll park at Walmart where there’s lots of light. Is that illegal? Maybe I’ll go to my grandmother’s house. Maybe they’ll let me sleep on the couch there for a few days. But, it’s the middle of the night. I can’t wake them up. What if they say no? What if they turn me away?”
It raced and raced as I said, “no” and C persisted. I ran through all my options and at just 19 years old, I settled on the only one that I thought made sense: let him do it.
So, after saying, “no” repeatedly, I finally whispered, “fine“.
C peeled my blankets away and pulled down my underwear. C spread my legs and had sex with me. It took less than five minutes. I turned my head away from them so I couldn’t see their face. I’d had sex before so I knew what was happening. I closed my eyes and completely shut down.
C wore a condom, something I am very grateful for. In less than five minutes C orgasmed, pulled out, pulled his boxers up, and weakly mumbled, “So, uh, thanks.” And then loped back to his room.
I pulled my panties back up and sobbed into my pillows.
This happened two more times on the same couch that same week. Each began and ended the same. I was asleep. C woke me up. C begged, I said no, and after the pressure from C I finally relented. By the third time I convinced myself that because C was attractive I should be enjoying myself. I tried to. I tried to orgasm, but any time I moved C told me to lay still. C didn’t want me to kiss them, C didn’t want me to touch them, C didn’t want me to move. So, I laid there, very still, and waited for C to orgasm and leave me alone.
After those three times C finally did leave me alone. I stopped sleeping peacefully however. For the next decade I had horrible nightmares and I woke up in the middle of the night thrashing because I repeatedly dreamt that someone was laying on top of me, trying to suffocate me. I thought I saw demons in my room. I went on anti-depressants. I lost 20 lbs.
I began having severe panic attacks. I threw myself into a pentacostal church and into Christianity so much more than I ever had before because nothing felt good anymore, but the music and the emotional high from the holiness branch of Christianity made me feel something other than depression and emptiness.
I dated an alcoholic. I then dated someone who threatened to kill me and who stalked me for over a year after we broke up. I dated a guy who was ashamed to introduce me to his parents and ashamed to refer to me as his girlfriend because I wasn’t a virgin. I had casual sex with guys I met on Myspace. I made out and fooled around with strangers at parties.
I started smoking. I smoked two packs a day, sometimes more. College was no longer an option so I worked at a bank and did the bare minimum I could get away with. I quit jobs suddenly. I had disciplinary issues. Right before I turned 20 my OBGYN told me I had ovarian cysts and a tilted cervix, so having children would likely be difficult for me. In 2006 I had a miscarriage.
In 2007, exactly two years after my assault, I met my husband. Turns out he was a decent human. We fell in love. I married him. Five years into our marriage I finally told him what happened to me.
“Tamara…that’s rape. That’s like…okay, wait…are you telling me that C pressured you into having sex with him after you said no?? Tamara, that’s sexual assault! That’s rape!”
I didn’t believe them. I told my husband that no, it wasn’t because it wasn’t violent, C didn’t hurt me, C didn’t force me. I didn’t know what to call it so I just blamed myself for it.
My husband wanted me to go to therapy. We had problems early in our marriage, but my contributions were my rage induced attacks. I physically assaulted my husband twice. I broke things in our home. I flipped our dining room table once. My husband had his share of issues and contributions as well, but my rage was unbridled and unhinged. Both my husband and I sought out individual therapy and marriage counseling.
During this time, A, B, C, and D were still in my life. To protect their identities (and protect myself from being sued) I will simply say that these people being in my life was considered socially and culturally normal and it would have been seen as abnormal if they hadn’t been in my life. They’d all met my child. We spent several holidays together. I thought I’d put what C did to me behind me. I told myself it was just stupid things stupid young people do when they’re young.
Eventually I told my therapist about C. About my suicide attempts. My promiscuity. My rage. My depression. My problems with intimacy. My loneliness. My nightmares. My insomnia.
My therapist leaned in and handed me a pamphlet. “Symptoms of PTSD and Sexual Assault”. She gently guided me through each section. Gingerly and with kind eyes she helped me say what I knew deep down. “I…I was sexually assaulted.”
That changed everything. Finally all the pieces of the puzzle that made up my mental health and my behavioral issues came together. I knew I hadn’t been like this before that night. I was never angry like this. Never cruel. Never suicidal. Never so broken. My therapist, my husband, and eventually when I told her, my mother, all helped me start putting the pieces of my broken psyche back together.
It turns out, most victims of sexual assault begin displaying varying symptoms of PTSD after their encounter. When we’re assaulted, (and yes, shutting your body and mind down after being repeatedly bullied into having sex and finally giving in IS SEXUAL ASSAULT), we enter the classic “fight or flight” mode. Most sexual assault victims are in shock while it’s happening, they can’t believe that it’s happening, and so they shut down. This is the “flight” response. We can’t fight back so we try to shut it out and let our minds escape the situation. This is what I did.
When this manifests itself in PTSD, many of us lapse into a constant state of hyperarousal. An article on Brit + Co explained this succinctly so I’ll let them take it from here:
I was terrified all the time after my assault. I didn’t trust anyone. I couldn’t keep any long-term friendships or relationships because I didn’t trust people and didn’t feel safe around them. I was drawn towards men who treated me badly because I felt like that’s all I deserved, but at the same time I was at a constant state of “high alert” waiting for someone, ANYONE, to betray me or hurt me.
I couldn’t be in large crowds and lapsed into severe agoraphobia. I didn’t leave my apartment except to go to work. If I had friends or boyfriends, I only wanted them to come to my apartment because at my apartment I was safe. When I had to socialize away from my apartment, I was like a cornered cat. I willed myself to be promiscuous because I inherently needed to reclaim my sexuality, but I didn’t understand what I felt I’d lost was myself.
It took me over a decade to realize that C hurt me so much because they used me. They saw a homeless 19 year old, mourning the death of a loved one, and they recognized I was an easy target. C preyed upon me that week and I watched them prey upon others in the years that followed. C used my body. My body was just a warm hole to put their dick. I wasn’t a person. I wasn’t a friend. I had no value to them. That week C robbed me of my value and autonomy. And I spent years trying to figure out why I no longer knew who I was and why I no longer wanted to be alive.
A few years after my assault but before I went to therapy and realized I had been assaulted, I confided to B and D about the situation, implying it was consensual, and asking them not to bring it up to C. Both B and D immediately contacted C, who denied the entire thing and said I was crazy. A, B, and D believed them over me.
Together, A, B, C, and D have spent the last 13 years attempting to destroy my character, claiming I’m a liar and I’m mentally ill, refusing to accept that C, who is now in their 30’s, who was court ordered into boot camp and has a history of criminal activity, who is currently a shiftless druggie in his 30’s who can barely hold down a job, could possibly have sexually assaulted me. Even after other victims of C’s sexual assaults contacted ME about C and then confronted A and B about C, no one believes us. I have now learned that there is at least 1 other victim of C’s.
So, what keeps us quiet? Why haven’t we reported what C has done to us?
Power and fear. We are afraid that we will have to drag all of this up in front of lawyers and strangers and a court system only to watch C walk free because C is a white man with “good, Christian” white family members to back him up. We are terrified that we will not receive justice. We are terrified that what happened to Brock Turner will happen to C. We are fairly certain C will just get away with it again, only now with the courts on his side.
So, now you know. Now everyone knows. Now you know why we haven’t yet reported. Now you know the whole truth and how sexual assault/rape doesn’t look JUST like bruised thighs and broken ribs. It looks like a lot of things and it affects billions of people every year who are too afraid to report because they’ve seen what happens to victims who do.
One day we might report. If, for example, I knew C was running for political office or was to work for a school, or have any form of power over the lives of people, you bet your ass I would report. If today I found out C was running for Mayor, I would rally the other victim(s) and get as many of us to report C together. Because people like C who have done what C does should not be in power of any kind.
Any person, regardless of gender, who does not recognize the value of another’s identity and wields their sexuality like a weapon, should not be allowed to make laws or decide what the law is. How can we begin to trust someone to be fair and care about the lives of strangers, when they don’t even care about the experiences of the people they’re having sex with, especially if that sex is non-consensual?
So, now you know the truth. The facts. The reality I live with every single day and the reason I talk about the #MeToo movement and the reason I will never support men or women who sexually assault others, and why I will always support due process and investigations into claims of sexual assault.
I was sexually assaulted. And I didn’t report. We didn’t report.
And that is the truth.