Can You Keep A Secret?
Photo by Ester Alegria
Editor's note: this story depicts the graphic nature of rape and sexual assault. Please consider this a trigger warning in regards to these subjects.
We’d like to think we have charge over what happens to our bodies—the one thing in this world that we ourselves control. But what happens when that power is snatched away from us? It’s an unfair test of strength and character that no one should have to endure. So many people are watching as the #YesAllWomen campaign is educating and showing the world that we each own the rights to our minds and bodies.
There is no perfect way to approach this subject, this searing, festering disease that predates Feminism, Humanism, or the controversial Men’s Right’s Movement. Rape. Someone is crying out in pain, being attacked right now. And somewhere, there is an abuse victim being dismissed, shamed, ignored, or even taunted for something had no control over.
I hope that this discussion becomes something that we can all embrace, and teach our children so that instances of abuse lessen. And those of us who participated in giving #TheSilentTreatment on June 4th took a day off from the stressful headlines on our feeds, and circular arguments with people whom we just want so desperately to understand why all women deserve respect. Then, we broke our silence on June 5th by telling the world how our lives have been affected by abuse.
And I am not very proud to say that mostly every woman and many men I have been touched by some kind of abuse. This story in particular is one that I could have written from my own dark memories. But still, I sat with this brave, powerful woman in my messy room, laughing about our daughters—also best friends—talking about absolutely nothing, and getting exact details on the incidents.
I’ll call her ‘Flower’ because she always gets cold and retreats in the winter months, then blooms forth when the warmth comes. ‘Friends’ truly can’t define our relationship; ‘sisters’ is a more accurate term.
This is the story as Flower told it:
“The first one doesn’t exist. I put it away. If I bring it back then it’ll turn bad. I can talk about the second one. I knew the boy. He seemed nice. He lived across the street from me and my roommate in Tallahassee. I’d just gotten home and five minutes before I heard a knock at the door. He asked to use my phone. I let him in, and left the door open behind me, and I sat on the couch. I saw him lock the door, and before I got a chance to ask what he was doing, he jumped on me.
There was a struggle, and I began to scream, “This is rape! You’re raping me!” I yelled. I saw a shadowy figure walking past my window; I knew it was my neighbor. “Help me! Help me!” He told me afterward that he thought my screams were the result of a dispute between myself and my roommate. He didn’t want to be bothered with a ‘catfight.’
The Boy strangled me as he breathed heavily on my skin. He wouldn’t have hit me if I lay still, but I chose to fight.
When he finished, he forced me into the bathroom and told me to take a shower. I turned on the water, and waited until he left. In a daze, I washed my hands, erasing his DNA, which may or may not have helped my case. When I came out, I found he’d taken my clothes, underwear, and my phones. I found a dress and sandals, and ran across the courtyard to a neighbor’s house. “I was raped,” I whispered. She let out a resounding wail and ran for her phone.
The police were notified. We waited. We cried and we waited. We soon got angry and searched the neighborhood for the Boy. I didn’t want to hide at home. I wanted him to be found and punished. I wanted him to pay for taking sex from me.
When my roommate got off work, she told me that he’d been coming by the apartment all day and had been calling for me all morning. He had his own phone all along. After our futile efforts, we returned.
Two hours later, the police came.
I was placed in the back of the squad car on a hard plastic seat, my vaginal area still sore from the violation. I tried to distract myself with other thoughts, but each bump in the road —a stinging reminder that I was stolen.
When the cops put his name into the database, his picture came up instantly. A sigh of relief exited my sore rib cage. I knew I was safe now. I knew he’d go to jail where he’d rot alone. Away from his loved ones. Not able to do the things he loved to do —things like taking vibrancy from women.
I’d love to tell you that justice was served. I’d love to give you his full name so you can sneer at his mug shot on Florida’s Department of Corrections’ website. But, the truth is, he didn’t even do the mandatory 30 days of probation.
The case took 2 years to go to trial. He was supposed to stay 100 feet away, but he lived across the street from me.
None of the evidence mattered. They even tried to shame me, saying it was consensual; two years later, I moved to Chicago and got pregnant. They said the rape was fabricated to trick my then boyfriend so he wouldn’t break up with me. I’m guessing those lawyers skipped basic math.
When everything was over. He was allowed to move out of state, I felt a bit safer.
Until one day while on the bus to work at a daycare center,
I saw him standing out front. I couldn’t move. I called my boss and told her that my rapist is standing outside waiting for me. She said, “Yeah he’s been looking for you for a while. People get raped every day. You need to learn how to woman up and deal with it. If you don’t come to work, you won’t have a job anymore.”
Needless to say, I’m no longer in Tallahassee.
I’m in Chicago, and living a new life with my child. But I would never have guessed that one day I’d be in Chicago, standing once more in front of police officers, explaining an abusive situation.
“You should just sell your food stamps, and run away with your child. If my husband were raping me I’d just pack up and leave,” A woman officer said, callously.
Abuse, however, is not that simple. Living with recurring images of abuse in the mind is not simple. It’s easier to look into someone else’s hell and say it’s not that hot. I don’t know if women are cursed to bear the majority of sexual abuse, or not.
But I can see a bright future for my daughter. I am raising her to love herself and others. That respect is a kindness that everyone deserves, and to always respect herself enough to say no and mean it.
Sometimes mental abuse leaves permanent scaring. Physical wounds can heal but words can be repeated over and over in the mind.”
Photo by Ester Alegria
Those are the words of Flower.
My sister. My confidant. My dearest friend. A mother, and a force. We share so many things, these deep ties between us. These things that we can always relate to, with a touch, a look, or the lack thereof. This is what brings many of us humans together.
No matter how we choose to identify ourselves, rape changes us. From our choice in clothing, to our relationships, to our political stance. It causes nightmares, loss of libido, fear of others, and many other crippling effects. But, still, I’d never wish sexual assault on anyone. Not even my own two rapists.
Rape is perpetrated by broken people who want to break other people. we don’t have to remain in pieces. Let’s stitch each other together. Starting first, with ourselves.
By: Ester Alegria
For Chicago and Illinois Domestic Violence agencies and organizations, please consult the website of the National Center on Domestic Violence, Trauma & Mental Health. Click here for the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network's (RAINN) sexual assault hotline.