*Trigger warning for sexual violence*
When I was 13, the summer after 8th grade, I was raped on a college campus by a 21-year-old college student. I was attending a summer camp and he was a camp counselor. A campus public safety officer interrupted the act – to admonish us for trespassing – and, by request of the rapist, drove us to the counselor’s car in the back of his patrol car.
The rapist told me not to say a word to the officer “or else.” I was scared and speechless. After the officer departed, to continue his rounds looking for trespassers, I assumed, the rapist took me first to a parking lot, then a field, to continue sexually assaulting me. I had no idea where we were and I was convinced he was going to kill me.
After several hours, he brought me back to the camp. The next day I went home and told no one what happened. I had no words to describe the evening. I fell into a deep depression and began to use whatever drugs I could find. A month later, I started high school.
Toward the end of my sophomore year, my second period math teacher pulled me out of the classroom to ask me if I was ok. I assured her I was fine, all the while in shock that someone had actually noticed that I wasn’t. My brother had left for college and my parents were always at work or drinking. Most of my friends only cared if I had a dime bag or a Marlboro to bum. Other teachers dismissed me as a “burnout.” I had spent the last year and a half trying to dim my flashbacks and hypervigilance with weed, alcohol and LSD.
I was suicidal and self-destructive. I blamed myself and felt very alone.
This teacher seemed genuinely concerned, and I immediately wanted to tell her everything. She was also my study hall teacher during seventh period. I decided I would tell her in study hall. Time passed slowly while I waited for seventh period. I felt sick. I wanted to leave school and get high. But I made it to seventh period, not wanting to miss this opportunity. I was bursting to tell my story. I sat down in the cafeteria and wrote my story, about the camp counselor, on several pages of notebook paper. I folded the note and placed it on her desk as I walked out of the room. I went directly to the bathroom, threw up then sobbed for the first time in almost two years. When I came back to study hall, she handed me an eleven word note: “Something similar happened to me, you are going to be ok.”
After school I told my best friend my story. She told me that something similar had happened to her mom and suggested I should talk to her about it.
Until this day, I had felt so isolated. I didn’t know that this kind of thing happened to other people… especially not people like my math teacher or my best friend’s mom. They were both so nice, and pretty and smart. Did this mean that I could be nice, pretty and smart one day too, I wondered? I talked to my friend’s mom. She encouraged me to press charges, because she never did and still regretted it.
To press charges, I needed my parents’ support. My parents didn’t (couldn’t?) believe me and discouraged further discussion of the subject. That was fine, I decided. If I pressed charges, I knew I’d have to see him again and he could hurt me for telling. But I had a fire inside me. I knew I had to act, somehow. I had to do something with my anger, my fear, my sadness… in order to heal… and to prevent others from experiencing sexual assault.
I decided I had to get out of my parents’ house. My brother was away at college and every time he called home I was jealous of his freedom. College was expected in my family, and there was no question of whether I would go. I was an avid reader, but until that day, I had been more interested in finishing books, not high school. My grades reflected this lack of higher education aspiration. At that moment, though, I realized that if I was going to do anything to help our world, I needed college more than I needed drugs or alcohol. So I quit getting high and drinking. I transformed all the energy I had put into self-destruction and devoted myself to homework and finding a positive outlet for my anger.
My English teacher had been encouraging me to join a club that educated about racism and prejudice and my friends had been encouraging me to join a poetry club. I decided that getting involved could help me keep my mind off my craving for a substance-induced escape.
So at age 15, I found an outlet in activism and writing. The math teacher and I kept in touch and talked every once in a while. To the shock of my parents and my guidance counselor, I got into a prestigious college on the east coast. In college, I found a community of activists and survivors who made me feel sane. I put all of my energy into my vision for a world without violence, a world without pain.
It’s been 22 years since that night. Telling my story saved my life and changed my trajectory.
Before I told my teacher, I did not want to live with the torment of the flashbacks or the self-blame. After I told my teacher, my eyes were opened that this issue was more than me being in the wrong place at the wrong time, it was a societal issue that must be addressed. Violence is preventable. The more we speak up and speak out, the sooner we will have a world without violence.
About the author: This #MyStory contributor chose to remain anonymous. She continues to use activism and writing as an outlet. In her day job, she works to create a world without violence.