As I read the articles surrounding the Stanford University rape case, I am taken back to a dark time in my life. Years ago I was the victim of an assault, yet I vaguely remembered the details due to intoxication. I endured secondary victimization by a system designed to prosecute criminals. Shame cast a shadow over my life for years due to the stigma that society places on these kinds of cases.
It was the early 1990’s. I lived on an army post in Alaska with my husband, a soldier at the time, and our two year old daughter. I had just turned 21. Summertime in Alaska was not cold and dreary like some people in the lower 48 envision. Quite the contrary; summers were full of cookouts, volleyball and long lasting daylight. We were a close knit community. We trusted our neighbors and looked out for each other.
Summer solstice landed on a Saturday this particular year. This is when there is approximately 22 hours of daylight and most of our neighbors were partying. We dropped our daughter off at our close neighbor’s house and ventured out for some adult fun. Drinking wasn’t something I did very often as I had a young child to raise, but this night I decided to cut loose. We drank several mixed drinks, numerous beers and enjoyed the company of our friends. As the morning hours approached my husband and I both had too much to drink. He stumbled into the house, vomited on the living room floor and passed out on the couch.
I was sitting on our porch when I saw a neighbor from our building. I asked if I could borrow carpet cleaner. While she was running home to grab it another neighbor overheard and he sat down and started talking to me on the porch. I offered him a drink and he followed me into the house. He and his wife lived a few doors down. We would greet in passing but we didn’t know them very well. He mentioned that his wife and daughter had already flown back to their home state and he was waiting behind to finalize paperwork. He was getting out of the Army.
I noticed that my husband had already found his way to our bedroom upstairs. Our neighbor returned with the cleaner I requested. She stayed for a drink and then left again, leaving the two of us alone. He asked if he could play on our video game console. We chatted as he played. I was sitting next to him on the couch when he started rubbing my back. Even in my intoxicated state this made me uncomfortable. I told him I should go to bed and led him to the door. I made my way to my bedroom and passed out next to my husband on our bed.
The thing about summertime in Alaska is that the nights are not dark so we used aluminum over our bedroom window. In the pitch dark I was jostled awake. I felt the weight of a body on me as I slept on my stomach. I then realized there was thrusting. I was being sexually penetrated. I felt warm breath on the back of my head and muffled grunts in my ear. In my state of confusion I assumed it was my husband but this was not a normal occurrence. I spread my arm out and felt my husband’s sleeping body next to mine. Who is on me?
An involuntary scream escaped my mouth. The body lifted from me and I heard a thump on the floor next to my side of the bed. My scream woke up my husband. Hysterically, I yelled that someone was in our room. My husband turned on our bedroom light to find the neighbor lying next to our bed. His pants still hanging at his ankles.
Jumping out of bed I ran down the stairs, closely followed by my husband dragging the intruder. I heard grunts and more thumping sounds trailing behind me. By the time they made it to the front door the MPs (military police) had already arrived. Our neighbors heard the commotion and called the police. As I stood stunned, they tried to arrest my husband for assault. I tried to comprehend what was happening and convey this to the MPs. Admittedly I was still intoxicated, lacking sleep and in a state of shock.
The next few hours were a whirlwind of confusion and the shame started to settle on my soul. I was taken to the hospital and examined. A camera was used to take pictures of my most personal parts. My body was placed on an exam table, swabbed and left powerless by the probing. Investigators questioned me, hurriedly writing notes. I sensed skepticism as I stumbled to recall the details of the last 12 hours. The doctor gave me a pill to ensure that I would not bear the child of the rapist, vomiting and cramping ensued for two days as a result.
Investigators came into our home to assess the crime scene and take evidence. Evidence apparently is anything that makes the person who was assaulted look like they deserved it. My private journal was taken from my nightstand. The silky night gown I was wearing that night, given to me as a bridal shower gift, confiscated. Grandma’s handmade quilt which we slept under was stripped from our bed and taken from our home. All of this was submitted as evidence with the case number written across it with a bold sharpie. These personal items were given back to me after the trial as if they weren’t tainted. As if they would serve a purpose in my life ever again. As if the numbers didn’t read SHAME when I saw them. I threw it all away, wishing I could discard with them the events of that early morning.
I didn’t want to call it rape. I was drunk and so was he. I didn’t have vivid memories of the actual act. Doesn’t it have to be brutal to be called something as vile as rape? Why don’t I have scars and bruises? My suffering is on the inside, how can I call this rape? He was nice when I met him. I was friendly, did I deserve it? Did I lead him on in some way? Even if I did, he did not have the right to enter my room uninvited and do what he did. Did he? I had so many thoughts swarming my head.
I cringed when well intended neighbors asked if everything was okay. Why the MPs were at our house that morning. Explaining it was too hard and embarrassing. I had lost control over my life. I started pulling away from people, including my husband.
The months that followed leading up to the trial were emotionally draining. I endured numerous interviews with JAG (judge advocate general) probing into my personal life, my sexual past, the state of my marriage. I worked in a public place on post and I had to request a restraining order as the perpetrator would show up at my work and leer at me as a form of intimidation.
I received a phone call from his wife. Another victim left in the path of his choices. She found my number and in a fit of desperation she begged me to change my testimony. He told her that I had invited him into our room. That I was angry at my husband for drinking so much. I ached as I listened to her pleas. Her mournful sobs. I understood her denial. Her mind trying to protect you from what her heart couldn’t bare. I told her that I was sorry that the truth was hurting her but I couldn’t change it. I then realized how manipulative he really was and it made me stronger to be bold in my testimony.
All of this put a strain on our young marriage. My husband lived with the guilt of not protecting me. I lived with the shame of not being in control that night. We stopped talking about our feelings. During all this he was called up for five months of training which was really important for advancing in his career. I did not ask him to stay and I felt abandoned that he chose to leave during this vulnerable time. This was the beginning of the end for our marriage.
The day of the trial finally arrives. I don’t recall how long this process took. I remember feeling like I was having an out-of-body experience. Details of how the perpetrator was uncircumcised came up in court; I had to hear how forensic evidence was found in his skin folds proving that sexual contact did happen even though my brain tried to deny it. I had to fight back tears as they read excerpts from my journal. My feelings about my marriage and some of the typical fights that young couples have that I had chronicled. I felt betrayed by my own words.
Physical evidence showed his boot marks on the siding of our duplex where he entered through the kitchen window. This contradicted his testimony that I left the front door unlocked for him. I gave my testimony and listened in disbelief and anger to his lies on the stand about how I wanted him to join me in my marital bed. Anyone that knew my husband at the time would know how ridiculous that sounds. That would be like throwing someone into a lion’s den.
As the judge read the verdict and sentenced him to 7 years at Ft. Leavenworth all I felt was relief. Relief that this was over. It wasn’t until years later that the justice of it all really hit me. I still felt so much shame and guilt that my choices that night left me vulnerable to the events that transpired. I felt responsible for my part and the shame became a part of me.
When I would hear news stories of brutal rapes through the years, my shame would return. A man is behind bars for a crime that I can barely remember. I felt I didn’t have the right to my bad feelings when there are others that had much more traumatic experiences. Depression and anxiety became my companions as I denied my feelings. It took years of therapy to start the process of letting go of my guilt and to face that what he did was a crime. I may have been barely conscious, but anyone capable of doing this to someone without consent is not a good person. They are a criminal. If this had happened to my daughter, I would want justice.
I went on the stand mostly to defend myself from his lies and tell the truth. I wasn’t given the choice not to take the stand. I was called as a witness for the prosecution. He committed his crime on government property and as a soldier in the armed forces, he was being court-martialed. His sentencing was secondary to me. If I hadn’t been forced into trial I don’t know if I would have pursued prosecution. I would have dealt with the pain privately. He would have gotten away with it. But I am grateful that there was judicial justice in all this. My wounds may not be visible to those that see me, but they are there and run deep. They had a part in destroying my first marriage. My openness and trust were marred and I still struggle with trusting my instincts.
It has taken me over 20 years to tell my story in a public capacity. I am ready to finally lay my shame to rest and to help others do the same. As uncomfortable as it is for me to share something so personal, I am encouraged to help someone else suffering from the same negative feelings I have endured.
Please hear me; you did nothing to deserve this. It wasn’t about what you wore, what you said, how you acted or your sexual past. Someone took advantage of you. If you have inflicted this kind of pain on another soul, take responsibility for your actions. If someone is unable to respond, then you do not have sexual consent. If someone gets you revved up but then changes their mind, you still do not have sexual consent.
Anyone that thinks that “20 minutes of action” is not worthy of a criminal conviction (as quoted by the father of the man on trial for the Stanford rape) then you have no moral compass. It takes someone who is already mentally unstable and/or morally corrupt to commit an act of violence like this. Intoxication does not dismiss you from responsibility. Another person’s intoxication does not lend them to your impulses. Stop making excuses for those that need to be accountable for their actions. Stop turning the tables on people who have been sexually assaulted and looking for how they “asked” for it. Stop this rape culture and teach our young people that intoxication is not an excuse for abhorrent behavior.