(Trigger warning for sexual assault.)
My father once told a less than suitably deferential Homecoming date, “Bring her home safe, early, and happy, and you’ll stay in one piece.”
I was mortified. I was also home safe and right on time.
I went to college thousands of miles from home. The freedom was intoxicating. I wasn’t a drinker, but I stayed out late, hung out in guys’ dorm rooms, and went to bars and parties. I went on plenty of dates. I didn’t feel threatened, probably because in addition to being naive as fuck, I was a strapping, weight-lifting young woman. I also knew how to fight dirty (a legacy of having many siblings and not enough food).
As often happens, I wasn’t into some of the dudes I dated. I let them know we’d never be a thing. No big deal, one said. We can be friends.
Mr. Just Friends called on a Friday night, right after I’d gotten some very upsetting news from my younger sister, a high school senior back home. There was a court case involving the death of my mother, which had happened years before. We thought a deal had been reached, and the case would never go to court. That night, my younger sister called me, sobbing that the deal had fallen through. Because my older sister and I were away at college on scholarships, with no money for extras like plane tickets back to DC, she would have to be the one to testify.
All the awful memories, the tragic loss — all that pain was back. I was helpless to do anything for my little sister other than listen to her cry and rage.
My roommate was away at a Baptist retreat. M, my new BFF, was away dealing with her father’s terminal illness. It was me and the tissue box when Mr. Just Friends called to say there was a party in the suite next to his.
I sniffled that I wasn’t up for a party.
“Hey, what’s wrong?” he asked. “You sound terrible.”
“Bad news from home,” I said.
“Well, come one over and tell me about it. We don’t have to go to the party.”
Since it was clear we were just friends, I went. I sobbed all over Mr. Just Friends, told him how much I wished I could testify for my younger sister, because that was my job as the older sister, especially since our mom was gone.
He listened. Hugged me. Told me it wasn’t my fault, even. He was a good friend.
Up until the point where I dozed off in his arms and woke up to Mr. Just Friends trying to take off my bra.
I struggled. “Hey! Let go!”
Behind me, he tightened his grip, pinning my arms at my sides. “No.”
“Let go, now!”
I will never forget the tone of his response. It was that of a spoiled toddler — and I babysat A LOT of toddlers — refusing to give up a toy. “No,” he said, again. All that was missing was the petulant toddler refrain, “Mine!”
But this guy wasn’t a toddler. He was an upperclassman in ROTC, fresh out of a summer filled with PT. I couldn’t break his grip, and his arms were too low for me to bite.
I was trapped. Panicky, like a wild animal.
I threw my weight forward, catching him by surprise. Our combined weight smashed my own orbital socket into the bed post.
(Author’s aside: Yes, we were sitting on the bed, where everyone sits in small dorm rooms and if you’re rape-apologist thinking, “well, sitting on a guy’s bed is an invitation, what did you expect?” then get the fuck off my blog and go hang with your people and for God’s sake, question your life choices.)
Rapist Man was so shocked that I’d rather bash myself to pieces than endure his embrace that his grip loosened. I fought free and fled over to the window.
Rapist Man was still between me and the door. Between me and my key card. Between me and the college ID I needed in order to eat.
I wish I could tell you I picked up his desk chair and beat Rapist Man with it, then grabbed my stuff and walked out.
Instead, I said, all wobbly-voiced, “I came over because I needed a friend.”
He said, “I’m sorry, hey, just come over, and get some sleep, I won’t do anything, I promise.”
I stayed where I was for a few minutes. He stayed between me and freedom. It never occurred to me to scream bloody murder. Maybe because no one would hear me over the music next door. Maybe because I’ve always had a hard time asking for help. Maybe because I didn’t think his ROTC suite-mates WOULD help, even if they did hear me.
Instead, I warily crept back to the bed. I stiffly endured an apologetic hug and counted the seconds until he fell asleep. Then I slid out of the bed. He woke up briefly.
I gave him a quick smile, like everything was fine. Because that’s what we’re trained to do. To pretend everything is fine, so we don’t make the beast madder.
And then I grabbed my stuff and ran.
I told my roommate. For two years, her hulking boyfriend stayed between me and Rapist Man at any event we both attended.
I told my friend M. The next time she saw Rapist Man, she dressed him down in front of all his friends.
Rapist Man put on his best confused face and said, “I’m sorry, who are you talking about?”
For over a week, I wore my hair down over the bruised half of my face.
It never occurred to me to report him. Maybe because he never technically hit me. Maybe because I was so grateful to get away and counted myself lucky that it wasn’t worse.
Maybe because I figured the cops would be like the his fellow ROTC friend who went out of his way to tell me, “you were asking for it, you went to his room.”
Or maybe I figured they’d be like my Ex-Stepfather’s wife, the one parental unit I confided in. She said, “Oh, you should never go to a guy for comfort. Of course they’ll think you want sex,” like I deserved to be raped for my shocking ignorance of this standard tenet from The Patriarchal Canon.
I heard rumors of women attacked — and not so lucky as to escape — after me. In fact, the entire ROTC unit developed such a rapey reputation that one furious father, an officer himself, wrote a letter demanding an investigation.
The investigation never happened. The only consequences were women like me, telling our stories to our friends, and those friends repeating our stories, hoping that word would get out and other women would at least avoid the rapist ROTC.
Decades later, nothing has changed.
42 thoughts on “A College Story (#233)”
Oh this just sucks. Thank you for sharing it. There used to be a saying – I don’t hear it much anymore – that if you came out alive and (relatively) unharmed then you did the right thing, whatever it was. “Playing nice” allowed you to get the hell out of there.
Yeah, I lived to fight another day, right? In retrospect, if I’d hit him, instead of myself, he might have gone berserk and beaten the crap out of me.
Of course, it also means he lived to rape another day. There’s no escaping the guilt that comes with that knowledge.
Yes he might have. Fighting back is no guarantee. There’s also no guarantee had you pursued it that anything (much) would have happened to him. You aren’t the guilty one.
All the things you say are true. And yet, glad as I was to escape relatively unscathed, I also wish I’d hit him with the chair.
We save these ideas for the next time while praying there never is a next time.
Yes. Yes, we do.
All my love and sorrow. Thank you for being brave enough to share the story, and I wish you hadn’t had to go through it. Someday soon, maybe, after we fight back the forces of darkness and reaction, that wish will become more than helpless acknowledgement.
Yet another story yet many people don’t believe it happens. Hugs to you. My friend who was date raped by a “friend” got a rottweiler to run with her. She took self defense and now teaches it. You don’t want to meet her in a dark alley. Why do we have to do this?
Because some parents said, “Boys will be boys” and never taught their sons that they weren’t entitled to women. Wait, was that a rhetorical question?
Yeah, that’s the great thing about my big dogs. I can walk around Los Angeles pretty late at night and most people will cross the street to avoid me.
Cats don’t have that same power although I did have an attack cat that chased a Great Dane off the property.
I believe you! Did you see the California cat that attacked a pit bull when the pit bit the cat’s little boy?!
No I didn’t but I believe that. My Lacey was 12 lbs. of shear terror. Even I was cautious not to get on her bad side.
I’ll have to look up the link. Or you could google for “hero cat.” I think he got an award for “man’s Best Friend” that usually goes to a dog. My Bossy Cat has smacked multiple dogs in the face and fought off a coyote.
My old arthritic, diabetic cat challenged a coyote in our yard once. I opted to intercede because…well…vet bills.
I am sure Jake could have taken that coyote.
Thank you for sharing this terrible experience, and raising awareness. It’s very distressing how so much of society still won’t admit what a huge problem and sadly how common these kinds of attacks are…
Thanks for the support, Ray. Yes, it’s an epidemic. And since it’s not often spoken of, I wonder how common it is in other countries. In the U.S., I can maybe think of a handful of friends/ sisters who’ve never been assaulted.
I liked your description of him as sounding like a spoiled toddler. I suspect the “Who me?” “What are you talking about” attitude of these guys is truthful in a sense. It didn’t hurt them, so why should they remember or care? There was a lot of not-caring in the Senate yesterday.
Wasn’t there? And the photos of Lindsey Graham and Grassley and others laughing afterwards were rage inducing.
There was a survey of men – I think I saw it in Esquire but not certain – where they found that if they altered the wording (i.e. instead of asking “Have you raped anyone?” they asked, paraphrasing, things like “Have you ever kept going sexually after a woman said no?”) many men had committed sexual assaults but simply didn’t call them that. Disturbing.
Really disturbing. And disturbingly unsurprising.
So sorry to hear about this. Anything could have happened to you in that room. With a single move you could have been down and on the floor. Some people just don’t understand what ‘friend’ is, or see it as an opportunity to take advantage. ‘Maybe because I’ve always had a hard time asking for help.’ I don’t blame you, and that is exactly me as well. As a woman, and really just someone who prides to be independent, asking for help is something I rather not do because you think you’d figure things out. Sometimes you just get lucky.
You’re so right. Sometimes I think women — people — spend a lot of time trying to figure out why something traumatic happens to someone else, probably so they can go, “Whew! That’ll never happen to me because of X reason,” and sleep at night. But what that turns into is victim shaming/ blaming, instead of the empathy we feel when we realize, “Oh my God, that could have been me” or “Yes, that’s exactly what happened to me.”
Yes, yes. I have caught myself doing that (as if one could “do all the right things and magically become exempt”) but now can look back at times I may have just missed being a victim or having something worse happen to me, especially when I was young.
Oh, me, too. And then one day, when discussing a problematic male, a woman said, “Well, he never tried that with ME, probably because I have such a ‘touch me and die’ attitude.” And it just made me furious, because I felt like she was patting herself on the back for her own smart bitchiness, rather than saying, “It’s really problematic that men can take being kind/ nice/ professionally helpful as a license to harass/ molest/ assault.”
I realized that I congratulate myself on escaping bad stuff far too often. As if it’s my own doing when it’s often just luck, or privilege, or even good health from positive epigenetics (i.e., white grandparents who didn’t suffer the trauma of the holocaust, slavery, Jim Crow, or Native American genocide).
I’d be really pissed off with that woman too. When I think another woman is being harassed I want to come to her rescue, be protective, etc. We need to look out for each other not just be self-congratulatory it’s not us (this time).
Autumn, thanks for sharing this story. I’m sorry something this horrible had to happen to you, and I’m so grateful you’re a tough cookie and were able to escape. I don’t even want to think about what would have happened if you didn’t throw your weight forward and slam your eye…. I know so many women that have similar stories and have also stayed silent.
It’s important to share stories like this. I think many women have normalized this behavior from men–and that’s dangerous. The #metoo movement and this Kavanaugh case has been an eye-opening and empowering experience to women everywhere. It’s helping more women recognize that the assault they experienced in the past WAS abuse. I hope this whole movement will impact the next generation of men to be better people.
But still, jesus, I can’t believe the Republicans still voted that nasty ass through…. So disgusting. If he becomes a supreme court justice I will take to the streets.
I believe it. White men look after themselves and their power. They used to feel like they had to at least pretend to have feelings and morals, but since Obama, it’s all a naked power grab and they will stop at nothing.
Also, thanks for the kind words and support. It is important to share stories, but at the same time, how many have to bleed publicly before men believe us?
I watched Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony on Thursday and cried on and off throughout.
I kept thinking to myself: “I’ve never been sexually assaulted and yet I can’t stop crying while watching this. I can’t imagine what it must be like for all the women who have gone through it.”
Ah, but you can actually imagine it. That puts you way ahead of half our population. If only all men had such empathy. Instead, the white males tend to empathize with Kavanaugh: “Oh, poor thing, it’s horrible that he might be held accountable for something that happened a long time ago, and just to a woman.”
What to say about such terrible experience. I don’t get it how such people can continue like that without getting into any troubles.
My mother told me how she barely escaped such situation back many decades ago. She could fight off her attacker and neighbours came to help so he ran away. Of course everyone knew who he was but police would never investigate as he was a respectabel man of the city with much influence…
I could bring more stories from the childhood of my mother involving men with influence getting away even with attempted manslaughter.
What sickens me now when it comes to this prime example in the USA that he was too young and blah blah blah but when a 17-18 year old person is speaking against gun violence and stricter laws these young people are undermining the law and society in the eyes of many.
Reminds me also on this Brock Turner guy now and how he was procteced…
Absolutely. The system protects white men, whether here, or in Germany, because mostly it’s white men in power and they want to stay there.
I think it is prevalent in all societies. And inside each society, there is a tendency to protect the men. Asia has its own problems (see the “women-only” subway cars in Japan), Africa as well. That’s almost like an assumption that a man’s needs approach that of an animal in heat who will mount anything in sight. “Boys are boys.” I’ve heard this from the mother of an assaulted daughter. “I wish you didn’t tell me.” – the words of a father to his daughter, because he didn’t know how to deal with the situation.
Yesterday, I was listening to a documentary on NPR about research on pathological liars. The research results: “Liars showed a 22-26% increase in prefrontal white matter and a 36-42% reduction in prefrontal grey/white ratios compared with both antisocial controls and normal controls.”
I wonder if a similar research on sexual assault would show that the grey matter was very thin which may explain their lack of selfcontrol. It must be more complex, because the vast majority know it’s wrong and don’t act when they could be caught, so they could control themselves to some degree.
It’s good that society takes a stronger stance against the predators and even more so that it is easier for victims to come forward, although the vast majority are too ashamed to do so, or would rather move on than make a big deal out of it. Trying to instill better values in young boys is without doubt a must. But I think there is some benefit in teaching girls that unfortunately there are still some men out there who will act inappropriately and it’s better to avoid those situations. We teach them not to look for shelter under a tall tree during a lightning storm. We have to teach them that some men do have problems. That’s not to say that if something happens, the blame would then be put on the victim, but it’s another measure among many.
We still have a long way to climb the ladder of the superior species. At least we don’t see each other as a source of food. That’s a huge step.
Oh, man, the bar is low if we’re starting with, “yay! at least we aren’t cannibals!” Well, I’d agree that warning young women about problematic women is realistic. But I’d like to see more classroom conversations about consent, too. Especially for boys.
I have yet to master the art of expressing sarcasm in writing :).
But one other reason I wrote that is because I think not eating each other is the only moral achievement we have reached as a species so far. We lie, we steal, we molest, we discriminate based on race, on cast, on wealth, on first born, on intellectual capacity, on appearance… We kill each other. And we know it’s wrong, countless religions tell us is wrong (to a certain extent), and yet, we don’t have enough critical mass to make a change worthy of a so-called superior species. A gut-level change. Where a parent doesn’t have to teach a child “don’t hit your sibling!” Just as a parent doesn’t teach a child “don’t eat your sibling, eat an apple instead!”
And we are far from getting there, when a country’s president makes fun of a potential abuse victim and large audiences don’t walk away in disgust, instead they clap.
I think evolution works against selfless behavior, unfortunately. But social species often manage enough altruism to become civilized, though sometimes I look at Trump and howl, “No hope for humanity!” or “We don’t deserve to survive as a species!” The Atlantic had an article this week pointing out that Trump supporters find his cruelty a feature, not a bug. They love his awfulness. Still less than a quarter of the country, though. Should we give up on the other three-fourths?
Ugh. Stories like this makes me so angry and sad at the same time. I’m so sorry. Just read this after seeing Kavanaugh essentially get confirmed. It almost feels as tragic and unjust as 11/9/2016. The level of despair and hopelessness is astounding. I don’t even think November will do anything or turn this ship around. But all of this is miniscule in comparison to the pain and suffering that victims of sexual assault have been through and continue to endure with this abomination on the SC.
I know, I know. But the GOP wants you to be hopeless. They want you to give up. They had a sound, evil strategy to get the court, and they got it. But it’s not permanent. There is an impeachment process, and if anyone deserves it, it’s Kavanaugh.
I don’t know what November will bring. Maybe triumph, or maybe just enough hope to keep us going. But we will get neither of those things if we give up.
Like Dr. Ford, I think about moving to New Zealand. Or Canada. And then I mentally smack my privileged white self and remember that those currently suffering the most can’t leave. So once more into the fray — and once we wrest control of the country back, there will be no quarter for those fuckers.
Ugh, He got confirmed. I’m devastated, Autumn. I just don’t know what to do with myself. I feel like Trump got elected all over again–except this asshole is going to be on the supreme court for life. I’m so disappointed I just don’t know what to do with my grief.
I know. We are all bundles of rage and despair. He’s on the court…for now. Impeachment is not impossible, though, not if we flip the House. And enough has come to light during this investigation that there is already an ethics complaint against him in the DC Circuit Court (Merrick Garland would have been the presiding judge, but recused himself, how ironic is that). So hang in there. The one thing you can do, especially now that you are in a purple state, is to volunteer, canvass, knock on doors, and support progressive candidates. You also speak Japanese and Mandarin, and there are plenty of newer citizen that would love some guidance, or might need help getting to the polls. Follow Celeste Pewter on Twitter and she gives scripts and advice. There’s also ShareBlue and SwingLeft and Indivisible. Do not underestimate the impact you, and hundreds of thousands of other galvanized voters will have. Drink and despair tonight, but dust yourself off tomorrow and fight. Because while heteronormative white Patriarchy wants you to think its game over, it’s not. We’re just getting started.
And we will win.