It was a Friday night, and I was staying the night at my friend’s house. At some point (after her parents went to bed), she suggested we try her aunt’s vodka. I never had a drink before in my life. I do not know how much we had, but it was enough that I have only flashes of pictures from that night; the rest is a haze that I cannot seem to uncover. I was gang raped by 4 older guys at the age of 13. At the time I was dating a guy who showed up at my friend’s house with his brother and two friends. What I remember from that night: laying on the bathroom floor with a guy on top of me – my head beside the toilet; laying on the dining room floor with another guy on top of me; my “boyfriend” slapping me and calling me a bitch as he left. But it is the story of how my life unfolded from that night onward that has caused the most damage.
Ever since that summer night before 8th grade I crossed an invisible line. I became different. For the next 20 years, I viewed myself through the lens of my friend’s words as she told people the next day: “Julie had sex with 4 guys”. Those words shaped me (and others) into believing it was a choice I had made, that it was my fault, I was to blame. And nobody disagreed. After that night I was called a slut, a whore, easy. I was ostracized. Everybody in my grade and many others knew. And based on my southern Baptist upbringing, having sex with anyone was not something I was about to tell my family. I had committed one of the worst sins: unmarried, underage sex. I only now wonder how teachers did not hear of this. Or did they and just not know how to respond?
After that night, many guys felt they had some sort of privilege to touch or harass me. Two guys that were older and lived in the neighborhood would routinely touch and grab me as I was walking home. A loud-mouthed guy in my grade would not leave me alone; he wanted to have sex with me. I finally gave in to make him go away; it worked. During the school year I was befriended by a good-looking, “popular” guy. We talked on the phone about what happened and other things and he listened to me. I started to feel like maybe I was not this horrible person who did such an awful thing. He must have even felt some feeling of humanity towards me because he finally let me know that he started talking to me on a bet from someone else that he could have sex with me. I was deeply hurt because he was the only person that I thought viewed the true me. Perhaps he was not a bad guy for being honest, but that closed the only opportunity for understanding that I had for many years. Afterwards, I retreated inward because all I could ever be in other people’s eyes was a slut. I did not feel this way inside, but this was the message that I was told by everyone around me.
The night of being gang raped is still a haze to me. It is the events thereafter that have left the scars. Our society and culture allowed me to be the one responsible for what happened. People’s reactions taught me that I was bad, I was to blame, I was responsible, I must have deserved it, I was a whore, I was devalued. Everything bad fell to me. There were no negative repercussions for the guys. And I never questioned it because I didn’t know to. How many women feel this way today? It is still our culture to hear stories of rape and suggest that maybe a girl/woman deserved it because she was drunk or wearing something too slutty. We question every aspect and detail and if there is one part that is told differently, we instantly claim that women must be making it up or telling lies. The aftermath of my rape is a sign that we have a long way to go as a society in how we treat women who have been sexually abused. In a recent blog post, I read that 22.5% of undergraduate women at the University of Michigan reported nonconsensual touching, kissing, or sexual penetration in the past year. 9.7% of all women reported nonconsensual sexual penetration. And many of these women believe that they are at fault, that somehow they might have deserved this or at the least, caused it to happen.
My story after that night is filled with a lot of bad choices, but many good ones, too. I ended up getting arrested in 9th grade for possession of LSD at school. When my dad picked me up from school, I remember he held me and cried. It is only one of two times I ever saw my dad cry. But he didn’t know why his daughter started down this path. He never found out until a few years ago. None of my family did. In 10th grade I became pregnant. This was the first time I was scared out of my wits and told my parents that I was in trouble (although it was not well received as you can imagine). I remember riding home on the bus as I was beginning to have a miscarriage. By this point in my life I was pretty used to dealing with awful feelings and emotions in public. I quickly learned how to put on my mask of happiness when inside I was destroyed. Later I began to see it as a symbolic cleansing of body.
I wonder what that night was like from the guys’ perspective. How did they all watch what was happening and not think it was wrong? Did anyone feel that it was wrong? Or was I just this piece of flesh to give each of them a notch on their belt? Was this a bonding experience for brothers? I rarely saw the guys again since they were in high school (while I was in middle school). By the time I was in high school I started down another path of drugs that ended with me attending a different school and less chance of running into them. I did see a couple of the guys on occasion and I remember nothing but looks of contempt. I was a whore and deserved everything that happened. Sometime during my high school years, the two brothers committed suicide (at different times). I remember when the first brother killed himself, a good friend of mine was very sad. I could not fathom how she could be friends with a person who had done such an awful thing to me. I know now that in her eyes, I was at fault. I wonder now if she still feels that way. I wonder if having two little girls makes her view things differently. When I learned about both brothers killing themselves, I felt a small feeling of justice. At least there were two less rapists in this world.
As I write these words, I feel this strange sort of detachment from myself; this couldn’t possibly have happened to me. But it did. I was a child living in suburbia, going to church, getting good grades, and these things aren’t supposed to happen. I am sharing my story to tell everybody that rape is never the victim’s fault; our bodies belong only to us and to take without permission is a violation of our most basic rights. I want to tell parents that this can happen to their daughters and sons and the only way to stop it is to educate and not avoid it because it feels uncomfortable. I want to tell friends and family that when someone’s behavior changes so dramatically, it is a sign of serious hurt or damage – don’t place blame and don’t ignore the signs – offer love. But mostly I want other victims to know that they have been only momentarily devalued – that it is not a reflection of you at all. It is scary to accept being a victim, but once you can accept it, you become a survivor. It is okay to let it be someone else’s fault. We do not bear the burden of someone else’s actions. It is a very scary, lonely, isolated feeling. You question how you could have done things differently, but the truth is, you did nothing wrong. When I was finally told by my now husband that it was not my fault, it took me several years to believe those words.
By speaking out, I release myself from the wounds that were created by the actions of those 4 guys many years ago. Today I am a successful female scientist in plant ecology that has risen past the beliefs society tried to impose on me. I have freed myself from the people that told me I was nothing. I don’t need to prove myself to anyone. I know now that I was raped by 4 guys. They committed a terrible, atrocious act. I lived too many years not knowing that it wasn’t my fault. I no longer need to accept responsibility. By speaking out, I am crossing another invisible line. People now know who I am. At times, it feels scarier than accepting the blame and believing it was my fault. I have allowed myself to be a victim. Today I am more than a survivor. I am true to myself and I know that I can achieve anything.
Me at the age of 13 – a few months before crossing the invisible line.