Yesterday I sent this letter to the guy who raped me 33 years ago.
I never imagined writing this letter. I am sure it will surprise you to receive it. It is a letter long overdue.
Maybe you already know this, but in the past few years, more and more women have been courageously coming forward to share their rape stories. I am inspired by their bravery. But when I read the words of the woman in the Stanford rape case, something inside me broke open. I was completely outraged and upset by what happened to her. But really her words made me feel less lonely. She made me feel like I could and should finally tell my story.
And you and I, we have a rape story.
Saying the word rape is hard. I imagine you haven’t gone through your life thinking, “I raped someone in high school.” For my part, I have gone through my life not wanting to think about what happened between us, not wanting to think of myself as someone who was raped. The truth is that admitting to being raped is often a matter of deep shame. It’s boggling how the rape victim feels the shame, isn’t it? It’s not right. Of course it is the rapist who should be full of burning shame.
The thing is we now live in a time where we can use the term “rape culture” and that helps us to understand that rape happens because of so many circumstances within our environment, including between friends, like what happened with us.
I will recount what I remember. I want you to know that what I do remember, I remember vividly. Even though this happened 33 years ago.
I wonder if you will remember as well. I wonder if —–remembers. He was there.
It was spring 1983. Our high school was going to a afternoon, televised dance party thing on local TV. Everyone was pretty excited about it. I know I was. You, —-, and I decided to cut school early, go to my house because my mom was at work, and party before getting on the bus to go to the dance party. My house was a few blocks from school. I don’t think you had ever been to my house before. —- was my neighbor; he’d been over a lot. I don’t think you two were very good friends. Now that I think of it, we three seemed like an oddball trio. Why did the three of us do this together? Where were our other mutual friends?
We went to my house and got a huge bottle of wine out of the refrigerator. We went into the enclosed porch, sat around a low coffee table, and began playing strip poker. The loser took off an item of clothing. We all drank a lot. Who knows if you and —- rigged the game, but I know I was down to my underwear fast and was getting very wasted. I remember laughing. I remember lying back on the green rug, and I remember you starting to kiss me.
The next memory I have is this: I am standing under hot running water. I am confused and unsteady on my feet. Someone is there with me, holding me up in the shower, trying to wash me off.
The next memory I have is of my mom standing in my bedroom doorway. She had just come home from work, so it was probably 6:30. She is crying. She asks me what happened. I can barely lift my head off my pillow. I have on an old pair of underpants, really ugly ones that I never wore, and a t-shirt. Both are both on backwards and inside-out. I had never, nor have I ever since, had such a terrible, blinding headache. I slept until the next morning. I don’t know what my mom found around the house when she came home that evening, because she and I never spoke about that day again.
In the morning, I went to school. I walked onto the front grassy area where everyone hung out between classes. —– approached me, walking fast. In the distance behind him, I could see you standing around with your group of friends. —– asked me if I was ok. I was confused and embarrassed by his concern. Of course I knew something had happened, but I didn’t know exactly what. Had I thrown up on myself? He looked genuinely worried, and he was awkward as hell. He mumbled something about being sure I didn’t get pregnant then he rushed off as quickly as he had walked toward me.
My stomach dropped. Pregnant? Wait, what the fuck? Didn’t I just throw up yesterday, and you guys cleaned me up and put me in bed?
The next month was like this: I spent a lot of time imagining what I would have to do if I were pregnant and trying to figure out what had happened that day. I felt very alone. I told no one. I was full of shame. I was full of guilt. I was sure that whatever happened was my fault. I was horrified that you two had gone through my underwear drawer. I was mortified that you two had showered me and seen me naked like that. I felt embarrassed in the extreme. I kept wondering who you would tell about it. Who knew? Who was looking at me and laughing?
At the time, I decided that I must have asked for it. After all, I was not a virgin, and I was a partier. I brought two guys to my house and played strip poker and a drinking game with them. So, yes, I must have been asking for whatever happened. Which I did not remember happening.
I wracked my brain, and then I did remember one more moment, a moment in which you were mounting me. So then I knew for sure we had had sex.
But, here’s what actually happened: I got drunk, and you had sex with me without my conscious consent. That is the definition of rape. It was then, and it is now. And then, after you raped me, you guys tried to clean up the mess. Maybe you two thought you were being nice by showering me and putting me to bed. Or maybe you felt guilty as fuck.
It doesn’t matter that I was a partier or that I had a reputation, of any kind.
You should have stopped kissing me when it became clear that I was too drunk to have sex. No matter what.
If you were partying with a guy friend who got that drunk, what would you have done? I know if two of my girl friends had partied with me until I couldn’t stand or see straight, they would have cared for me and not raped me. I know for sure that if a girl friend and I were partying with a guy who got super drunk, we would have helped him to bed. We would not have forced him to have sex with either of us and then cleaned him up afterward.
Here’s what I have learned about myself and sex. I like eye contact and I like orgasm. I am certain that neither happened when you raped me. I have to wonder: Were my eyes even open? Were they a blank, drunken stare? Did it matter to you that I didn’t enjoy what you were doing to me, because I can’t imagine that anyone that drunk could express pleasure. I wasn’t even conscious.
That afternoon our peers were in on TV dancing. I can picture them: 1980s white girls in cropped pants and t-shirts with sweater vests. Keds. Lots of girls drunk and high.
You were the hottest guy in our class, except maybe for Matt. I had known you for five years, going back to sixth grade. The first vivid memory I have of you is when you totally owned the talent show with a disco routine. Do you remember that? You looked so cool in a green sweat outfit. You reminded everyone of Peter Frampton with your blonde, wavy hair. Over the years, you were always nice to me. But there was never any romantic thing—no crushes. You had a beautiful girlfriend; in fact, weren’t you already with —– by that spring of 1983? Eventually, I had a great boyfriend. In any event, we always got along as friends, before and after the rape. That’s because we had a lot of friends in common, so we saw each other a lot. Perhaps ironically, we ended up being paired for Homecoming; there is an awkward photo of us together in our yearbook. By that time in our senior year, I had put what happened behind me. I had decided that it was my fault, and I was mos tly just hoping you would forget how horrible I must have looked while you were fucking me and then showering me. There was no chance I would have told anyone what happened, because you were so popular and cool. You definitely never apologized, or even spoke to me about that afternoon. My mom didn’t have the ability or strength to insist on asking me about what happened until she discovered the truth, so she could take action to help me confront you.
It wasn’t until years later that someone used the expression “date rape” to explain what had happened to me. That was somehow both a relief to hear and also devastatingly sad. It took me more time to actually accept that that is what happened. For so long, I didn’t want to think of myself as a victim. Finally, last year, I told —- what happened. The entire time I told her my story, I was worrying that she wouldn’t believe me. But she listened, and when I finished talking, she told me about the time when she had to fight off a potential date rapist in college. It was her way of saying, “I believe you. This shit happens.” And so it does. All the time. Because men, average, normal guys like you, think it is ok.
Last week, I was reading about a young woman who was raped at Stanford. Maybe you have heard about the case. Her rapist is going to jail for six months, found guilty of all charges against him. You don’t have to worry about jail time. The statute of limitations expired for you in 1990.
But I want you to consider this: What you did hurt me. You made me feel cheap, disposable, and unworthy of better treatment. You embarrassed me and shamed me. You violated my privacy and my body. Even if things started out “ok,” and I was kissing you in a way that made it seem to you that I was “into it,” I was too drunk. In fact, I became unconscious. What you did was wrong. What you did should never happen to any young woman, anywhere.
And that is why I am writing to you now, all these years later. Sure, I would be profoundly grateful if you acknowledged what happened and apologized. But really, I am writing to ask you for one thing, one very important thing.
I am asking you to do this: if you are raising boys, as a dad, or an uncle, or just in the lives of your friends’ sons, I ask you to teach them to treat all women with respect. Real respect. If a young guy you know is partying with a young woman, and she gets really, really drunk, he has learned from you that he should be kind to her and not rape her. Instead, he should make sure she gets safely into her bed without being raped. He should be able to talk to her the next day and say, “Hey, are you ok? I was so worried about you.”
And if you are raising girls, teach them in every way you can that they are worthy and deserve to be treated with respect, that no matter how much they drink and no matter what their reputation is, they never deserve to be raped. They never are asking for it. No matter what.
I admit that I have been scared to send this letter to you. Writing it hasn’t given me some sudden level of inner peace. This letter is my effort to finally call you out on what you did and ask you to teach the next generation to be better humans, to be more kind, more loving, and more respectful. It is my effort to bravely confront rape and try to end it.
I’m also hoping more people who have been raped will come forward to tell their stories, until we create a truth avalanche, and no one has anywhere to run and hide from it anymore.
— I am another survivor, but I am not your victim.
— Survivor, age 48