As published in the Cincinnati Enquirer on 1/31/16 – http://www.cincinnati.com/story/opinion/contributors/2016/01/29/breaking-silence-rape-survivors-story/79525890/
So many people are doubting Bill Cosby’s accusers’ because they waited so long to tell their stories. And in reading those, I can’t help but look back to the five years I waited to speak up about my rape.
I was 20 years old. I was home for a year on a break from college and went on a date with a man I had just met. We went to the movies and then went for a drive afterward to get some coffee. We ended up in a secluded place and before I knew what was happening and despite my insistence that this was not what I wanted, he overpowered me. He took something very precious to me, something I intended to save for marriage.
This man raped me.
I was numb. I don’t remember how I got home. I sat in my driveway in a fog, wondering what I did to cause this. Thinking back to the night, and replaying every word of our conversation. I was intent on figuring out how I caused this to happen. I wasn’t dressed inappropriately. I wasn’t flirty. I didn’t “entice” him. But yet, I was focused on how this was my fault.
I grew up in a very religious home. We started attending church when I was 2 years old, and we attended three to four times a week. My sister and I attended the Christian school at the church. As a strict Bible-believing congregation and family, abstinence was preached from the pulpit quite regularly. Sex before marriage was a disgrace in the eyes of the Lord.
As teenage girls growing up in the church and youth group, we were reminded consistently that we as females had to guard ourselves. That we had to not cause the young men around us to stumble and fall into sin. We are responsible for our attire and actions, lest what we wear on a given day or say in a certain conversation would be the reason a boy had impure thoughts.
That’s a lot to take on as a prepubescent teenage girl. That’s a lot of responsibility to take on for someone that was in such a sheltered atmosphere. If a male sinned in a sexual manner, much of the blame was put upon the girls.
After my rape, all those church lessons flooded back to me. I believed that I somehow was the cause of this, and I couldn’t tell anyone. I had seen how my church had handled previous sexual attacks and turned the blame to the female. I saw how the church disciplined their members when this happened, and I was not about to let that happen to me. I would bury this deep inside. I would pretend that none of this happened. I would never speak of this to anyone, and keep living my life.
But, unfortunately, something this tragic and painful is not easy to keep silent. I was not only physically harmed, but my psyche was destroyed. I began to withdraw. I doubted all good intentions from anyone. I was angry. A lot. Everyone thought I was just being rebellious and running from my church upbringing. And in reality, I was trying to hide from it all.
I was ashamed of what happened to me. I was afraid of what others would say. I was sure that my family and friends would stonewall me. I distanced myself from my strict upbringing because I thought there would be no support. When I needed it most, I was sure it would fail me as it had others before.
I lived my life for five years. I attended a Christian college and started to become the “super” Christian. I thought that by doing this, I would somehow feel a weight lifted, that I would feel whole again.
I just became more and more guilty. So, I buried my secret deeper and became someone I didn’t even recognize. This secret was eating me alive, and eventually I knew that I had to say something. I had to break my silence, before my silence broke me.
I apprehensively told some counselors at the Christian college that I was attending about my rape. The reaction was mixed. Some sympathized with me, some questioned how I let that happen. I decided then that I had to leave that school.
It wasn’t until I was gone, far from the religious atmosphere, that I began to question everything I was once taught. I learned the difference between being religious and having a relationship with God. It was then that I started to feel the proverbial weight being lifted.
I finally told my family, slowly. It was hard, it was painful, but I gradually began to experience true freedom. The pain that ate at me for years was starting to heal.
My attacker was never charged or convicted. I didn’t even know his last name. It was my first date with him, and I never saw him again. But even so, I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if I spoken up sooner. If I had the support that I needed to get through this awful situation, would I have been in a different place in my life? Would I have been a different person than I am now?
I eventually went through counseling and saw a therapist for a while to help guide me through the journey ahead. I still have trust issues. I still have flashbacks to that night. I have lost a lot of memories from my childhood and much of my adulthood, but that one memory is still as vivid as it is painful.
I can fully understand why some of Cosby’s accusers took years to speak up. Maybe all these women finally found a support system that builds them up and embraces them, instead of tearing them down and belittling them regardless of what may have occurred. Maybe these women have finally found their strength to come forward, because they now have an avenue to voice their secret. Regardless of their reasoning, their silence does not in any way negate the circumstances or their story.
I can only speak for myself and what I know without a doubt, that in the midst of the pain and awful turmoil and the hurt, I found a voice that I didn’t know existed. I found the strength and courage to speak out against this depraved act that was carried out against me. I discovered that I was not alone and that there were others out there that could relate to and support me.
No amount of time or silence could change what happened to me. I pray that no one ever has to go through what I went through – what many millions of others have gone through. I can only hope that the women who have been unable to speak of these actions will finally find their voice and and the healing that comes from breaking the silence.
Assistance after rape
After a sexual assault, those who have been attacked have a number of options:
• Anyone in immediate danger should call 911
• Local 24-hour hotline: 513-381-5610
• Toll-free hotline: 877-889-5610
Hotline counselors can provide information about a range of assistance options.
If a friend or relative confides having been attacked, the first, most important thing for them to hear is: “I believe you, and it’s not your fault,” according to Women Helping Women’s Kristin Shrimplin.