By Savannah Hattan
[Content Note: rape, sexual assault]
As I read the articles and commentary spattered across my newsfeed of Brock Turner, the rapist, I thought to myself, “Maybe it’s time to tell my story.” But I’ve always wondered what I have to say that no one else has said; probably nothing new. But as I did dishes, and cooked dinner, I couldn’t get it out of my head. Then it hit me: it might not be about saying something new, or enlightening anyone; it might just be about adding one more voice to the crowd. The crowd of us, rape victims, who are so often afraid to identify ourselves, or maybe we stand up with the pack, only afraid to share our voice.
A friend of mine shared an article and commented, “’What have we done as a society that women are ashamed to report rape & when they do (in the case of white men) the punishment is NEVER appropriate?!!?” Yes, what have we done? We all know the reported numbers of sexual assault victims are astronomical, yet we don’t look at those in our inner circle and imagine that it could be them. Being raped is wholly shameful, no matter the circumstances. And the only thing that makes you feel a little less ashamed is knowing that someone else understands. So for all of you who have made my shame a little lighter by sharing your stories, here is mine.
I was twenty-one years old, in an on-again off-again relationship with the person I thought I was in love with. He was the first person I had ever had sex with, and even though our relationship was rocky (and ultimately emotionally abusive), I was sure we’d be together forever. I almost instinctively offer up these details because it’s what I have assumed people would want to know about my life if I ever told my story, because everyone knows a rape victim’s dating and sex life will be overly examined and scrutinized to really be able to know how much was her fault.
I had been working overnights doing inventory in regional stores for the company I work with. It was the second week in with teams from different stores, and everyone was getting to know each other. A couple guys said they’d be hosting a party one day after we all got off (at 7am), and a friend from my store and I said we’d go. The day of, my friend couldn’t go, but since a couple other girls I’d been talking to at work were going, I decided to go anyway.
I really didn’t drink much at all, having really only started to that year. Knowing this, I nursed that first vodka + OJ for quite a while, before he offered to get me a second. He, was one of the guys who lived at the house, one of the guys I’d chatted with over the last couple of weeks at work. We were all, about seven or eight of us, hanging out in the living room on the couches talking. I was a couple sips in to that second drink he had made for me, and that’s all I remember.
I woke up naked a few hours later in a bedroom I don’t remember entering, up a flight of stairs I don’t remember climbing. The room was nearly empty: the mattress I was on, a tv on a stand, a couple items of his clothing on the floor, and the clothes I had been wearing, with the exception of my bra.
The house was quiet. I was so confused. This is where shame started. Questions flooded my mind as I hurried to get my clothes on. Did I get drunk? Did I sleep with someone? Who? Why? It’s not first nature to assume you’ve been raped when the last thing you remember is having fun talking with a small group of people you’ve been working with for two weeks.
I heard him coming up the stairs and felt red with embarrassment. Is this the person I slept with? He saw me naked, and I don’t remember. I realized it was almost time to get ready for work, and I didn’t have time to go home.
Standing there dizzy, my mind muddled and not knowing what to do, I asked if I could take a quick shower. He gave me a towel. There wasn’t conversation, just limited exchanges. As I got into the shower, I realized I was bleeding. This was the first time I felt something more than shame, I felt fear. I rinsed off quickly, got my clothes back on, and ran into that room again to find my bra. Despite there being only a handful of items in that room, I never found it.
I hurried down the stairs to see the kitchen-living room we’d been hanging out in that morning. The counter that was earlier filled with many liquor bottles and a few kinds of beers was strangely immaculate considering the bachelor-pad feel to the rest of the house. I paused for just a moment, scanning the room hoping to remember getting up from the seat on the couch I’d been on, or finishing that second drink, or walking up the stairs.
I grabbed my shoes and hopped in the car, then drove to work. All night as I worked I went over the details over and over again, hoping I would remember something that would make me feel better. I couldn’t focus, I was lethargic and sick to my stomach. I got off work the next morning and drove to see my boyfriend, knowing I had to tell him what happened. He sat across from me and listened as I told him a jumbled story of the previous morning, trying to account the missing pieces. He asked me if I had cheated on him or was raped, and I was so ashamed that in that moment I didn’t know which was worse.
He took me to the hospital, telling me they would know. When I recounted the events, to the nurses and then to the police, I was looked on with pity. A pity that didn’t make me feel comforted or protected, but weak and helpless. As I was questioned I came to realize that I didn’t know his last name or the address this had taken place. I had followed someone to the party, and was too confused when I left to remember where I had come from. The officer offered me a seemingly sincere warning to be careful next time, and wished me well.
I barely remember all the tests I was told I needed, I just nodded and got through it. A nurse told me that because it had been more than 24 hours, and because I had showered, it would be nearly impossible to document any evidence of rape. When I relayed this information to my boyfriend, he became angry and left.
I laid in that hospital bed alone and afraid waiting to be discharged. A couple more hours went by, and I couldn’t stay there anymore. I pulled the IV from my arm and told the lady at the desk I was leaving. I signed a paper and took my prescriptions, and the handful of counseling information I was given and started walking. I called a friend who picked me up and gave me a ride home.
Over the next couple months I contacted and was counseled at a local rape assistance program. This was where I was able to finally accept that I was raped, and most likely drugged. The slight solace of this acceptance did not release any of my shame. For years I wondered why I didn’t know better, why I went to a party alone, why I let someone else make me a drink out of my sight. Why I showered, why I didn’t go to the hospital right away. The answer is that the stigma of being raped prevents the knowledge and awareness that arises from being able to speak about it.
For eight years I have thought about my rapist, and how my silence may have allowed him more victims. And my shame and anxiety multiplied. Finally last year I searched his name online and found out he died four years after he raped me. Intense relief came over me and I cried the whole day. I told only 3 people my revelation, and was terrified that they might think me a bad person for being relieved, or ask me if I wondered if he had done it again, or my worst fear: question the fact that it was assault.
But today, as I read that brave and traumatic statement written by this “Emily Doe,” I understood something I hadn’t before, that the shame we feel can only be lifted when we lift our voices. That each time one of us that can find the words, and the strength to offer them up, a thin layer of disgrace is lifted from us all. Here I am, nine years later, finally telling my story, hoping that someone might find support and comfort in it.
You don’t need anyone to validate your story before you can relinquish the shame, let go of it moment by moment, and if you feel compelled to tell your story, find somewhere or someone safe.
They are out there.
Savannah Hattan is a professional mixologist, aspiring cocktail blogger and certified herbalist currently living in Peoria, IL. She is passionate about equal rights, good food and the perfectly fitted bra. If you want to see pictures of her cocktails or find out where to try them, follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/jiggersandjuleps.