It was the summer of 2003 and I was on a school trip studying art in Aix-en-Provence. I was 17 on my way to becoming a senior in high school and so happy to be in France for the first time, exploring the beauty with my classmates and professors.
I had been in the South of France for almost a month when the rape happened. We had an exhibition of our work in a three story building, my work was on the third floor, isolated from everyone else’s. Moments after the opening I had made new French friends that had happened to walk past the gallery. Never once while meeting these two men did it ever cross my mind that they would harm me in any way, especially not at the gallery where I was showing my work with all my classmates and professors around.
After speaking to them they asked to be given a tour of the space especially the floor my work was on. They seemed genuinely interested and I didn’t think twice about taking them up to the third floor by myself. Once we were up there one became the look out while the other one pinned me up against a corner and pulled my skirt up to rape me. I just froze, tears ran down my face and all that came out of my mouth was “please don’t, please don’t do this to me.”
I can’t tell you how long it lasted, it’s all a blur, it might have been just a couple of minutes, but nonetheless he had sex with me against my own will. At this point I slid down to the floor and tried to stop crying because his friend had signaled that someone was coming up. As soon as my friend showed up I pretended that I had gotten sick from the glass of wine I had drank and that I just needed to sit for a bit. I can’t tell if he believed me or not, but my dear friend took care of me and made sure to take me back to my dorm.
That night I snuck out of my dorm to make a phone call back home, I called my boyfriend at the time, because he was the only person I felt closest to that I could trust. I cried on the phone and told him what had happened and how I didn’t scream or cry out for help, that I just froze and allowed this to happen to me. My reason then and my reason now is I feared that I would ruin everyone else’s trip by creating a scene, that I would come back to the United States and be the girl that got raped on her class trip. I didn’t want to be shamed or pitied, I didn’t want my senior year to be marred by this incident, so instead I kept my mouth shut.
The next day I pretended to feel even more sick than the night before while my classmates went on a day trip to a town nearby. I made everyone believe that I had drank too much, but the reality was I had been raped by a stranger. A stranger who I befriended, one who’s photo and e-mail address I took down but threw out after the rape.
Never once in my life did I think something like this would happen to me, but it did. I made a decision when it was all happening that I would not allow this to shape or change me. That what was being done to me was not my fault, that I did not ask for this. I would not become a victim, I would not let anyone on that trip find out. I feared that I would ruin any future trips for the next group of classmates or as I mentioned that I would be shamed or pitied, I did not want a scandal.
When I came back to the U.S. I told my younger brother and sister what happened, my mother till this day does not know, she is very fragile and would not be able to handle news like this very well.
I am 28 years old now and have lived with this for over 10 years, I want to be involved and help other others that have not been able to overcome their traumas. But I don’t have the slightest clue how to, since I’ve only shared my rape in confidence with a few close friends and family.
The only reason I am able to live with this is by telling myself that it could have been much worse, but it doesn’t make what happened to me right or okay.
I believe that I am brave, I believe that I have overcome my trauma by not letting it overcome me or allowing it to shape who I am, because I will always be the strong woman that I have always wanted to be. But this isn’t always the case, sometimes I wish I had spoken up when it happened, that I had screamed and fought back. That I would have ignored any stares or gossip that would have been directed towards me if everyone had known.
I hope that sharing this story will enlighten many to speak up and not feel shame or worry about what others might say. I can’t turn back time and I can’t have any regrets, all I can do is share my story and hope that this will not happen to others.