I am a Daughter, Sister, Aunt, Goddaughter, Friend, Law Student, Volunteer…

survivor

I am a rape survivor. NOT a victim, a survivor. This is my story.

It actually starts several years before I was raped, on March 7, 1997. On that day, I was called to the principal’s office. The usual chorus of “OOH!”s that can be expected from a group of third graders accompanied me as I left the classroom and walked the familiar path to the office of our school disciplinarian, wondering what I had done this time.

It was not the principal who awaited me, however. It was a stranger, who told me that she was a detective, and that everything was okay now, and that I had nothing to worry about as long as I told the truth. Then she told me that she knew I had been touched in an inappropriate way by a family friend and that as long as I did everything I could to help, I would be safe from that ever happening again.

My parents were not present. A lawyer was not present. The principal was not present. It was just me, the detective, and her tape recorder. I was 8 years old. Little did I know that my little sister, age 5, was in another chamber of the catacomb that encompassed the administrative suite of my elementary school. She was being asked the same uncomfortable and odd questions about a family friend we both loved.

The detective proceeded with a line of questioning that included everything from my usual activities with said family friend (let’s call him “Q”), which involved the types of innocent enjoyment a normal grown man can be expected to have with the daughters of two of his closest friends, to my vivid and unusual nightmares. Somehow, these two things were later combined and used against Q in the media.

Later that day, a female police officer picked my sister and me up from our after-school program and brought us home in a squad car. The police had already arrived at my home and discussed the situation with my parents, who allowed entry because the police officer who knocked on the door said simply, “Your children have been hurt.”

When we walked in, my mother called us to her room and asked whether there was any truth to the allegation that Q had ever touched either of us in a sexual way. The answer was a resounding “no.” When we emerged from the room, a man who I did not recognize proceeded to scream at my mother for allegedly “yelling at us” and “telling us what to say.” This upset me and my sister greatly.

Never once during the harrowing 6-month investigation was any evidence uncovered that Q had indeed abused us. We went through family therapy, individual therapy, physical examinations (this being a euphemism for having cameras and fingers shoved in our vaginas and anuses), repeated visits from a social worker and various police officers, and countless questions.

This man did not abuse us. This was an innocent man who ran afoul of some of his co-workers and whose life was destroyed because of it. He was described in the paper and on the news as a

Satanist and a child molester. He, along with unnamed others (including my parents), were supposedly part of a group engaging in Satanic ritual child abuse. I believe the lead detective wanted to make a name for herself with one or more convictions in a sensational case.

Despite the overwhelming lack of evidence, my parents were warned that my sister and I could be taken from them and that we were not to leave town. Q was forced to serve 30 days in jail on a trumped-up pornography charge for the heinous crime of having obscene pictures of an adult ex-girlfriend in a dusty old box his attic. He has never set foot in the state of North Carolina since he got out of jail, with one exception – my wedding day. This is a man who loved two little girls in every sweet way that an adult man can. His absence from our lives is deeply felt and incredibly unfair.

One good thing, if you can possibly stretch the meaning of “good” that exceedingly far, is that Q’s lawyer was able to keep his name off of the sex offender registry. Yes, you read that right. No evidence of any wrongdoing was ever found, yet the prosecutor was still aiming to put the name of an innocent man on a list that would act as a scarlet letter branded on his chest for the rest of his life. For no reason.

During the time that our local police department actively and tirelessly wasted taxpayer money pursuing this meritless case, there were undoubtedly an innumerable amount of girls and women actually being sexually abused and assaulted, women whose attackers were less visible and whose stories were less striking, and who therefore garnered significantly less attention (read: none.)

I know this because I was eventually one of those girls. And this is the part of the story where I tell you about my rape.

I have always been very open sexually and have never had any problem expressing my sexuality. It could be argued that this is the result of what happened to me at a young age, but I don’t really care what caused it because it is a part of who I am and I would never change it.

In the summer of 2003, I decided I was tired of being a virgin, so I offered myself to a friend, who I will call Larry. It was quick, painful, and entirely unremarkable in any way. It was all over in a matter of minutes, and I felt no different after it happened.

Why do I tell you this? Because this same man was to become an accomplice to my rape. Two days after I lost my virginity, I went swimming at an apartment complex where a friend of mine lived. I got tired of swimming and decided to head back to her apartment to change. This was in broad daylight, in the middle of the afternoon, on a path I had repeatedly walked.

I never made it to my friend’s apartment, however. On the way there, I was stopped by Larry and a friend of his, an attractive, tall, very skinny black boy with dreads, who Larry told me was named Mark. Apparently, Larry had made an arrangement with Mark for me to have sex with him for a bag of marijuana. I was not party to this conversation.

Larry said that since I was a “hoe” now, it should not bother me to have sex with Mark, especially since I was helping out a friend. He told me that I should go with Mark into an abandoned apartment in the middle of the row of townhomes in which my friend lived and have sex with him upstairs. Several people from the neighborhood had done drugs in the apartment so it was “safe.”

I protested that I was barefoot and that there was a briar patch in front of the apartment’s broken back door, so I would not be able to safely make it there without hurting my feet. I then proceeded to head to my friend’s home, thinking I was in the clear. At that point, Larry picked me up and carried me to the abandoned apartment, with Mark in tow.

Why didn’t I scream when my friends were very likely within hearing distance? Why didn’t I fight, kick, punch, scratch, tear, or otherwise try to escape? The answer is that I had been lead to believe that rape was a violent attack, one that happened in the deep of night, when a stranger dragged you into an alley. I knew to kick that stranger in the balls and run. I had no clue what to do in this situation.

Once in the apartment, Larry deposited me in the second floor bedroom and disappeared. At this point, Mark asked me if I wanted to have sex. I said no. He began to remove my bikini bottom. I said no. He put a condom on. I said no. He laid me on the floor. I said no. He raped me. I covered my face in my hands and sobbed, praying that it would just be over and I could leave unscathed.

All of the sudden, it stopped the same way it had started. A boy who was in my gym class at school was peering around the doorway from the stairs. I couldn’t tell you his name now, but he knew what was happening. Mark got up and bolted. I never saw him again.

I ran to the bathroom, which was completely dark. There was no power in the apartment and no toilet paper. I sat on the seat in my bikini top and I cried and cried and cried. Finally, I managed to grab my bikini bottom and walk down the stairs. The apartment was utterly filthy, filled with condom wrappers, cigarette butts, broken glass, and the insides of cigars that had long ago been filled with marijuana and smoked.

I sat down on the fireplace and cried. I did not move until my friend, whose home I had been intending to walk to, came in and asked me what had happened. I could not speak. I allowed her to help me up off the bricks and out of the house. Larry was standing outside when I walked out, along with a crowd of other friends and acquaintances who lived in the neighborhood or frequently came to visit.

“Fuck you, Larry!” was all I could get out through my tears. I walked to an A/C unit and sat down, feeling like the absolute worst bit of nothing that had ever existed. I felt dirty, I felt used, but oddly, I did not feel that I had been raped. As I said, rape was this thing where you were beaten and tied up, maybe tortured. It was certainly not something that happened in the

daylight hours in a familiar neighborhood at the behest of a friend to whom you had recently lost your virginity.

I don’t remember much of what happened next. I know that I jumped into the pool. I wanted to get the disgust off me. If I was just a hoe now, I could at least be a clean one. I know that eventually my parents picked me up and that when I wandered into the house, I told my mother that I needed to go back to see my therapist. I know that I was going to be leaving for Florida in two days so I was supposed to stay in that night to spend time with my family.

My best friend, Melinda, was not there when the events transpired, but she heard about them and she and her mother came to my house to get to the bottom of it. Melinda’s mother told mine that Melinda had just been dumped by a boyfriend and really needed her best friend, so we piled into the car and went to Melinda’s house.

Eventually, the story of what had happened came out. Melinda’s mother said to me, “Maria, you know that you were raped, right?” I was shocked. There was no way I had been the victim of such a crime. I honestly thought I had just engaged in sex that I didn’t want to have, sex that made me feel dirty and worthless, but not sex I was FORCED to have. There were no weapons or threats.

I think this is part of the problem in the United States. We don’t teach our girls that rape will most likely be perpetrated by someone who we know. The violent, savage attack by a stranger gets good ratings on TV and in movies and gets a lot of attention on the news, but it is not the typical case. Usually, the rapist starts out thinking you will consent to sex with him, and when you say no, he carries on anyway.

I wish I could say that the horror of my story ended here, but it was far from over. The next day, Melinda and her mother helped me tell my mother what had happened. The four of us decided to call the police. A squad car pulled up and a female police officer emerged and asked me what had happened. She then asked me to show her the scene of the crime.

The five of us piled into the cop car and rode the couple of miles to the apartment complex where my friend lived. We were able to get into the abandoned apartment easily through the broken back door. I walked up the stairs, irrationally terrified, and showed the officer where the rape had occurred. We found the condom wrapper that Mark had discarded on the ground.

Next, the officer took Melinda and her mother home, and took me and my mother to the hospital to have a rape kit done. For those who are unaware, this means I spent many hours in the ER getting blood drawn, giving urine samples, getting shots, undergoing an extremely painful pelvic exam, having fifty hairs plucked out of my head at the root, and being questioned again. And again. And again.

During my pelvic exam, the police officer on my case was in the room. There was a “privacy” curtain drawn around my bed and my mother stood beside me and held my hand. The pain was

excruciating due to the small tears that can often occur in the vagina when it is penetrated without sufficient lubrication.

The detective on my case was actually a woman who I knew from elementary school. She had been the DARE officer for my class. She was very upset by what had happened and very willing to do everything she could to prosecute the man who did this to me. Unfortunately, she ultimately had to drop my case because her husband was in a very serious motorcycle accident. Without her personal interest in my case, I went to the bottom of the list.

I did end up going to Florida and I was fine until I received a teddy bear that said something like “We care!” in multiple colors and fonts from a family friend. I dissolved into tears. I begged my mother to come and the next day, she and my little sister arrived. There are times in your life when you need your mother. It’s not something that is easy to explain but you know when it happens.

In the ensuing weeks, I cooperated with the investigating officers as much as I possibly could. I gave them Larry’s full name and picture, as well as where I thought he lived. I recounted my story over and over again. The cold, detached way that the questions were phrased was excruciating. I was forced to relive the most awful moments of my life alone in a room with a strange grown man. I often felt as though no one at the police department believed me and if they did, they didn’t care.

At one point, an officer came to my home and showed me a line-up of photographs. He also played me a voice recording. The person who the local police thought might be responsible for my rape was at the time in jail for another sex crime. Mark’s face did not peer out at me from any of the pictures, however, and I couldn’t have remembered his voice if I tried. This was their final attempt at solving my case.

In a way, I believe both Larry and Mark were brought to some kind of justice, although I couldn’t tell you exactly what it was. I was very close with Melinda’s uncle Jared. He was reasonably active in the apartment complex where my rape occurred and he said that he would “handle” Mark. I’m not sure what happened between them but certainly no one I knew ever heard from him again.

Larry is active on Facebook; we currently have 13 mutual friends. The first time I saw him after my rape, I was in the mall food court with my mother and a friend. My immediate reaction was to jump under the table, hide, and burst into tears. I have since seen him around town a few times but I never let anyone know until he is so far away that they couldn’t get into trouble for attacking him. I heard that when the police came to his house, his father beat the ever-living shit out of him. I can only hope it is true.

Remember Melinda? My now former best friend? Supposedly, she smoked crack with Larry some time after the events occurred and he tearfully informed her that he thought I would say

yes, that he didn’t believe I was a virgin when he and I had had sex, and that he never thought Mark would actually rape me if I said no. Recounting that information makes me feel nothing.

When I returned home from Florida, my mother and I went to the Rape Crisis Center on the advice of the initial officer on my case. The volunteer, bless her heart, started the conversation with, “As a victim –“ I interrupted her, “I’m sorry, ma’am, but I am not a victim.” I have never been a victim and will never be one. I understand that rape derails the lives of many women and I understand why that is the case. But that’s not me.

Often when prosecutors put rape survivors on the witness stand, the jury is unmoved without some grandiose show of emotion. This highlights the tendency that our culture has to make excuses for the men who rape and place blame on the women they attack. There is no specific way that a rape survivor “should” act. Each of our experiences is unique and each of us expresses the feelings it has caused in different ways. Most of us would not be willing to share our true feelings in a courtroom filled with strangers about something so personal that it is often difficult to talk about to even our closest confidants.

At least in my situation, I found that it was helpful to word vomit as much as humanly possible. I proceeded to talk about my rape to anyone and everyone who would listen. I still do. Call it attention seeking, hell, you may think this essay was written merely to garner sympathy or attention. But if that is the case, you are missing the greater point – that survivors of rape should not be silenced or shamed when they choose to speak. We have done nothing wrong. If, when, and how we choose to share our stories should be our right and ours alone.

I was raped nearly ten years ago. I have no foolish ideas that this essay will affect my long-dead case or the cold hearts of the police department in my hometown. That is not why I have shared my experience with you. I have chosen to tell my story because I am tired of the ignorant statements about rape that even well-meaning people espouse in front of me on a regular basis. I’m tired of the rape jokes, the snide comments, and the ludicrous notion that somehow a woman is ever “asking for” rape.

Was I wrong to have sex at the age of fifteen? Was I wrong to lose my virginity to someone random and ultimately awful? Was I wrong to walk alone, regardless of the fact that it was broad daylight, and I had made this walk on countless occasions for years? Maybe. Am I wrong now that I sometimes go out in skimpy outfits or actually enjoy having sex with someone I have no emotional connection to? Perhaps. Does any of that make me culpable in my own rape? Absolutely not.

I am not scared. I am not ashamed. I will not be silenced. If you or anyone you know has experienced something like this and you have no one else to turn to, I am here. I will not demand that you tell someone. I will not demand that you seek help from the police because let’s be serious – what help are they really going to be? I will simply sit there and listen. I will let you cry on my shoulder. I will hug you and tell you that most of the men in this world are not

monsters. That there are men who will touch your body in ways that make you feel good and make you feel proud and make you feel loved.

If you are simply curious, feel free to ask away. I have been a survivor of this awful and violent incident for almost ten years. I am no longer living with it every day. I have moved on to bigger and better things. I think it is a cultural imperative for us to understand the experience of being a rape survivor so that it is understood how truly sensitive you must be when discussing this touchy subject.

My name is Maria. I am a daughter, sister, aunt, goddaughter, friend, law student, volunteer, and much more. I am also a survivor of rape, and I am not afraid to say so.

Some names and other identifying information have been changed for legal reasons.