by Marisa Peters
I was fifteen when I was raped.
But, it took me nearly a decade to trust that statement.
I drove to the house where it happened, last week. It’s a block away from the house where I grew up. I sat there, parked across the street, staring at the window to the bedroom. I do this more often than I like to admit.
I think about myself at fifteen and I still can’t help but hate that girl sometimes. I shouldn’t. She didn’t know any better, but affirming her was not what I’d been taught to do.
I separated myself from her because that’s what was expected of me, but smothering her into the past prevented me from understanding what happened. It hid all of the obvious trauma, but it buried the truth and protected my rapist.
Growing up, I’d been surrounded by religion. My family was religious, my school was religious and just so happened to be attached to a church. Sex was not a topic that was often on the table. Questions were always met with a tone of caution. There was a duty to protect our innocence. If our parents and our teachers were too uncomfortable to talk about sex—consent and sexual abuse were never going to be a part of the conversation.
When sex was discussed it was to scold young girls for “dressing to attract male attention.” Our choice of dress was either a means to prevent or draw attention. Our bodies were intended for the male gaze but only when it was appropriate for those men to see them.
We are responsible for the attention.
We are responsible for the consequences.
We were taught that sex was painful, that we wouldn’t enjoy it as much as men. If our sex drive happened to match that of a man, it was due to some sort of perversion.
We were set up to have incredibly low expectations, which, of course, would have a long-term effect on our desire to have sex. Rape and assault wouldn’t be far from the vision of sex we were taught to expect.
I believed that rapists were men who hid in parks and jumped out of the bushes at night.
So, I covered myself and I stayed out of parks at night but that couldn’t prevent my rape. It only made it harder to understand that I had been raped.
The boy who raped me was nice. He was quiet. He was older than me. I felt like I owed him some sort of attention because he was so kindly insistent on it.
So when he offered to walk me home from a friend’s house, I agreed regardless of my hesitations.
Then when he asked me if we could stop at his friend’s house on the way, I agreed as not to be impolite. After all, he was walking me home.
When we walked into the basement full of boys, I felt too awkward to say I needed to leave. So we sat on the couch and he got me a drink.
After that drink, I got tired. I sat on his lap and started to fall asleep on his shoulder. He carried me upstairs into a bedroom.
Looking back, I had always wondered why I had felt comfortable enough to sit on his lap after feeling so uncomfortable around him all night and why had I been so tired. Why my memory came in bits and pieces that didn’t seem like it had actually happened to me but more like in some old TV show I’d seen. But I didn’t question it. I thought that perhaps I’d just had too much to drink. Could one drink render a girl unconscious? I didn’t know at fifteen.
When somehow my clothes were off and he was putting his hands in my underwear, I remember feeling so confused and tired. Pushing his hands away and telling him “no” took extra effort. I was overwhelmed and exhausted. After that my memories are sparse. I remember him on top of me. Then I remember waking up, the alarm clock beside the bed reading 5:55 am, and panicking at the thought of my parents waking up and realizing that I wasn’t home. I had snuck out to go to the house party and I needed to get home before they noticed.
He insisted on walking me home. I don’t know, to protect me or something. Maybe to be polite.
I climbed in through my window. Walked into my parents ensuite, sat on the floor, and stared at my underwear for what seemed like hours.
I didn’t tell anyone that I thought I’d been raped. I didn’t know for sure that I had. I thought it was all a misunderstanding. Maybe I didn’t fight enough. Maybe he didn’t hear me say no. Maybe what he did was wrong but it was also wrong of me to have been alone with him.
Because the boys that were there that night knew my friends, word got around and eventually I just told everyone that we’d had sex.
I stuck with that for a few years until I felt comfortable telling a few friends that I’d been molested. Then eventually I told my husband that I’d been raped, but that it had been violent. I told him a story I thought would guarantee his unequivocal belief that it had been rape. I was afraid if I had explained the situation, there would be room for doubt, and I didn’t want to be called a liar. Too many women lied about being raped, or so I had been told. So, I lied to spare myself the accusation of being a liar.
After my son was born, I started seeing a therapist for postpartum depression. The topic came up and I decided to tell the truth. I explained everything that had happened, what didn’t, the lies I’d told over the years, the guilt. I explained how at fifteen I could barely finish a beer. It didn’t seem to make sense that I was drunk, and I’d always been confused why certain crucial pieces in my memory were missing.
My therapist suggested that I’d been roofied.
It was something I’d never considered, but the more open I was with him about the events of that night and the way it had affected me, the more obvious it became. The shame I felt over being with him that night, the perception of what rape was supposed to look like, the gaslighting, the fear of being called a liar, and all of that doubt had prevented me from realizing that it was rape. That he’d roofied me. It wasn’t a misunderstanding. It was calculated.
I wondered if his friends knew. If they helped, or if they just decided not to say anything.
I decided to talk about it. To tell my parents, to tell close friends, to share. There were a few great conversations, but on the whole the response resembled more of
“Are you sure you said no? Out loud?”
“Is that really rape?”
“Maybe you shouldn’t talk about it anymore. It will just upset you.”
But, I needed to talk about it. I needed understanding and, yes, sympathy and, yes, attention, because when someone hurts you, you want someone else to reassure you and tell you when it’s not your fault. Isn’t that how we deal with hurt?
I could ask for that with friendships and failed relationships, but when it came to sexual abuse, I was shamed for seeking that support.
I was supposed to be that strong, stoic victim who buried that part of them. That endearing heroine with the tortured past who doesn’t talk about it.
I had buried that part of me, but it hadn’t made me stronger. It made me naive. It made me cruel to other women who couldn’t bury it.
It wasn’t endearing.
The trauma finally turned up. That part that had finally been un-smothered by me, was being smothered by everyone else. I was so angry all of the time. I felt this unbearable rage that I couldn’t—and sometimes still—can’t let go of. It sparked this part of me that is sometimes too angry to speak, but sometimes so impassioned and bold that I refuse to keep quiet.
I see these holes in organized religion, in education, in parenting. We have silenced our children. We’ve taught our girls that they have to prevent their own abuse by following the very rules that perpetuate it. Rules for how to dress “modestly.” Rules for when not to go out, what places to avoid. Rules for shrinking themselves in front of men as not to be seen in the wrong way. We teach girls to prevent abuse instead of teaching our boys not to take advantage of others. We teach girls to avoid attention, instead of teaching our boys that they have no entitlement to our attention, our smiles, our bodies. We have used gaslighting to create naivety, to perpetuate violence, to silence the response, and protect the abusers.
Your sense of duty to protect your children’s innocence, will come at a cost.
I have written and rewritten this piece so many times trying to make sure I don’t come across as too self-pitying, or too removed because a rape victim is supposed to act a certain way, to feel a certain way. I still feel that pressure to keep quiet as not to be misunderstood.
But I won’t.
I won’t smother that girl anymore.
She fought too hard to survive, to tell her story.
So this is how she will be heard.