This isn’t a feel good blog, but it’s probably one of the most important ones I will ever write. It’s not a fun subject, but one I feel needs to be talked about– desperately. It’s hard to talk about, hard to listen about, hell, it’s hard to write about. But it’s time. It’s time our eyes are open to something that has devastating, long-lasting effects and is only getting worse. What I’m referring to is rape.
I recently read Jon Krakauer’s latest book, Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town. It was a tough read, but one I feel is required reading for all parents. As I made my way through the pages I was astounded. I couldn’t believe what I was reading. Over and over again I read my story. I wanted to believe that such a nightmare would only happen to me, and only happen once. Yet, it wasn’t. This nightmare is being lived over and over again in all of our college towns.
I went to one of the best colleges in the nation, Bowdoin College. It’s a very well respected college in a beautiful town. This was one of the main reasons I went there. I wanted to escape my hometown and run away from the challenges of my childhood. I thought in this perfect college I could do just that. It worked, for about six months.
I embraced college and all it had to offer. I quickly met amazing friends, loved my classes, and started playing women’s rugby. This was all new to me as I had spent my high school experience in a withdrawn depressive funk. I loved it all and started going out to parties quickly. This was also very new to me as I didn’t drink or date at all in high school. To say I was naive is beyond an understatement. I had no idea. One night, a group of my girlfriends and I headed to the rugby fraternity house. We walked in and as usual there were full kegs and tons of drinking. We all grabbed a glass of beer and stuck together. We stood along one of the walls and talked, laughed, drank, and enjoyed the party. We hadn’t been there too long when a group of guys walked in.
These guys were clearly not students at Bowdoin (with our class being about 300 students it wasn’t hard to tell). These guys were amazing. They were visiting from a nearby military academy and I think a lot of us quickly put them on a pedestal. They were just so cool. We pointed these guys out and talked about how hot they were, especially the one that seemed to be leading the pack. I continued to have fun with my friends, but every so often would glance at that one guy in particular, I loved his confidence, gregariousness, attractiveness, and popularity–everything I didn’t have. One time I looked over and he was looking straight at me.
“Sh@#!,” busted. I felt my heart rate increase and felt the nervousness and adrenaline course through me. It was like I was caught somewhere I didn’t belong. In my mind we were in such different leagues. I thought he would get mad at me for looking at him. I turned away embarrassed and flustered. A little while later I looked over again and he was staring at me. “Sh@#!” I wanted to disappear. Again, I quickly looked away promising myself not to look over there again.
Desperately I tried to divert my attention back to my friends. Within a few minutes I felt someone behind me. I turned around and he was right there. My heart felt like it was going to explode. I thought he was going to yell at me, instead he asked me if I wanted a sip of his beer. “Weird, I have my own beer right here in my hands,” I thought. “Don’t be an idiot! Just drink it!” I screamed at myself. I awkwardly smiled and took a sip. I was so confused. What did he want with me? I was the biggest loser here. Why was he talking to me? Why was he being so nice? None of it made sense. I just went along with. He continued to give me beers and as soon as mine was empty he had another one in my hand. I loved the attention. “Let’s go for a walk,” he said. Again, my heart rate took off. I didn’t know what to do. I felt so nervous and unsure of myself. Part of me was so excited for the attention he was giving me and wanted to go, yet there was a nagging feeling that this wasn’t a good idea. I overrode that part and agreed.
My friends encouraged me and were giving me thumbs ups and teasing me. “Go for it,” one whispered. This reassured my confidence and walked out of the fraternity with him. My confidence was escalating. Maybe I was beautiful. Maybe I did have something to offer. Maybe he saw something amazing in me. I felt amazing, until I didn’t.
We walked in the woods and he kept giving me beer. When we were far enough away from the fraternity he stopped and kissed me. It wasn’t anything like I had dreamed of. I thought I would feel special. I thought it would be soft and wonderful. It was forced and instantly I wanted out of there. He was aggressive with me and started kissing me really hard. This was the first time I had ever done anything more with a boy than kissing on the lips so I didn’t have a whole lot to compare it to. Again, I didn’t listen to that voice and stayed there. Honestly, I didn’t really know how to get out of this. I was shy, timid, and unsure of myself and didn’t have the confidence to speak up for myself. I just let it happen.
Before I knew it he took all my clothes off. I had the worst sense of dread. I knew what was happening. “Oh God no. Please no,” I remember thinking. I froze. I couldn’t move. He removed his clothes and got on top of me. I started crying and he pushed my face to the side. This was the worst moment of my life. I felt so stupid and ashamed. I was disgusted with myself. How could I be so stupid to think he actually liked me? I hated myself even more. I already felt so shitty about myself, I didn’t think it was possible to get worse. I had no idea just how much worse it would get.
He forced himself inside of me and it hurt so badly. It felt rough and I felt searing pain inside and up into my abdomen. I couldn’t believe what was happening. I couldn’t believe this was happening to me. It was over quickly and I just lay there. I couldn’t move. I was so frozen. He put all my clothes back on and grabbed my arm hard. He pulled me up and said very forcefully, “Don’t you dare tell anyone what happened.” I remember thinking how absurd that sounded. Why on earth would I tell anyone? I felt guilty, ashamed, responsible, and that I deserved it.
I walked back to my dorm in a stupor and with one look from my RA he just knew. He took me to the ER and they did a rape kit. I felt like I was being raped all over again. I felt like everyone was staring at me. I felt exposed, violated, scared, and again, so stupid. I wanted to retreat and hide. Why couldn’t I get out of here? When that examine was finally over, which felt like forever, they asked if I wanted to press charges. “No f-ing way,” I thought. I wanted to run away from this thing as fast as possible. I had the RA drive me back to my dorm and I didn’t utter another word about what happened until 15 years later. I can’t begin to describe how devastating this was to my confidence, sense of self, and spirit. I tanked so low. I felt like how he treated me, like trash. I felt I was a piece of trash and needed to be discarded like all the other trash. I constantly thought of killing myself.
This has been one of the most challenging things to recover from and heal. I still, over 20 years later, feel my body tense up with intimacy, struggle to trust, and fight old patterns of feeling disgusting and ugly. I’ve dealt with loss, trauma, depression, and tragedy and nothing came close to the grip this thing had on me. It’s one of the worst things I think someone can experience. It’s a violation that runs to the core. And this is happening to 1 out of every 5 women in college. Rape is now a common experience among college-age women, reports the Huffington Post. A COMMON EXPERIENCE?? You’ve got to be kidding me.
As I’ve finally found the inner peace to be able to look at this issue in our country, especially on college campuses, I’m astounded at how many incidents seem so similar to mine. The fraternity parties, the encouragement to drink, the isolating from friends, the being so nice at first, all are familiar. This is happening over and over and I think there is something we can do about it–educate. Here are a few things I would like all girls going into college to know (from rain.org):
- Make a plan. If you’re going to a party, go with people you trust. Agree to watch out for each other and plan to leave together. If your plans change, make sure to touch base with the other people in your group. Don’t leave someone stranded in an unfamiliar or unsafe situation.
- Protect your drink. Don’t leave your drink unattended, and watch out for your friends’ drinks if you can. If you go to the bathroom or step outside, take the drink with you or toss it out. Drink from unopened containers or drinks you watched being made and poured. It’s not always possible to know if something has been added to someone’s drink. A perpetrator could use a substance that has no color, taste, or odor.
- Know your limits. Keep track of how many drinks you’ve had, and be aware of your friends’ behavior. If one of you feels extremely tired or more drunk than you should, you may have been drugged. Leave the party or situation and find help immediately.
- It’s okay to lie. If you want to exit a situation immediately and are concerned about frightening or upsetting someone, it’s okay to lie. You are never obligated to remain in a situation that makes you feel uncomfortable, pressured, or threatened. You can also lie to help a friend leave a situation that you think maybe dangerous. Some excuses you could use are needing to take care of another friend or family member, an urgent phone call, not feeling well, and having to be somewhere else by a certain time.
- Be a good friend. Trust your instincts. If you notice something that doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. I always thought I would know danger when I saw it. I thought it would be a creepy dude in a white van. This wasn’t the case at all. For me, it was the popular, good looking, kind, funny guy that was the life of the party. We don’t always know who is safe and who we can trust. With this said, college is a fun time. It can remain fun by staying with a group at parties, looking out for your friends, and trusting your instincts.
I’ve grown and healed in tremendous ways since being raped. Again, this isn’t something I talk about often and the only reason I share this story is to keep our kids safe. What we talk we can learn from and this certainly is not a lesson to be learned the hard way. The preventative conversation is exponentially easier than one after a sexual assault, trust me… it took me 15 years to get the courage to have it.
Molly Fiore works as a life coach, speaker and workshop facilitator. She is also the author of the 1st Place EVVY Award winning book, Opting In and soon to be released second book, All In! Molly devotes much of her time as an advocate for suicide prevention. She is a certified QPR trainer, ASIST Trainer, S.O.S. trainer, and teaches schools, clubs, businesses, and organizations about the signs of suicide and how to link someone to help and save a life. One of the hallmarks of Molly’s work is supporting people in discovering how to turn life’s obstacles into stepping-stones of learning, meaning, and growth.