There were things I was taught in college about sexual assault. I knew that one in four college women was raped. I didn’t know that I’d end up being one of them.
There were things I knew about being raped. I knew not to shower afterwards or brush my teeth. I didn’t know it would be okay to throw something on over the nightie that I was wearing (because the rapist had demanded I put on “something sexy” and dance for him.) The police officers told me to go ahead and put something on; the old ladies at the Crisis Center put socks on my cold feet for me.
There were things I could have figured about my family and friends’ reactions. I could have guessed that they would want to do something for me. I couldn’t have guessed that I’d get teddy bears. Saying that out loud makes it seem strange--get violated by a stranger, get a stuffed animal! Winner every time! I couldn’t have known how much I’d appreciate the gesture anyway; or how much I’d be really touched by the gift of a dream catcher from a woman that I never met before.
There were things I knew about one of my relatives. I knew he was an asshole. I didn’t know he’d ask me, “Was he black?” and never ask me, “Are you okay?”
There were things I knew about my sister’s mother-in-law. I knew she was an insensitive loud mouth. I didn’t know she’d say, “Bad enough what happened to you but that it was done by someone of a different race!” I probably could have figured I would have the wherewithal to reply to her, “Yeah I sure wish it was a white asshole that did it to me.”
There were things I knew about racism. I knew it existed even though I didn’t see it first hand. I didn’t know how much of it I’d encounter after I was raped. I didn’t know that that exposure would result in me getting mad at the rapist for an entirely new reason: for dragging me into perpetuating the stereotype of black men raping white women.
There were things I knew about what to do if I was to ever see the rapist out in public. But I didn’t know I would ever actually see him. I didn’t know so many police would arrive so quickly. I didn’t know so many people at the bar would get mad that the music had been turned off and the lights had been turned on when obviously there was something big going on. I didn’t know that when I stood up on the bar to try to get a good look around the crowded room the bartender would tell me to get down the hell down. I might have figured he’d shut up when I told him, “the motherfucker that raped me last summer was here tonight.”
I didn’t know where the rapist was anyway. But I knew he was gone. I knew when our eyes met and he turned his head away he was looking for an escape route. I didn’t know there was exactly one other brown face in the crowd that night. I didn’t know that in the confusion and with the high number of police officers there so many of them would lead me back to that same young man asking me, “Is this him?” “Is THIS him?” “Is this HIM?” I didn’t know the phrase “racial profiling” then…but I knew I was, in a way, a party to it that night. I knew I felt awful.
There were things I knew about how I felt as opposed to how other people seemed to feel. I knew the cops thought they were making me feel better when they said things like, “When we catch him, we are going to rough him up” and “when he’s in jail he’s going to be beaten up a lot. Prisoners don’t like rapists.” I knew friends were trying to be helpful when they said, “I’d love to beat the shit outta that guy.” They didn’t know that I don’t like violence in any form, whether it be the rape of an innocent young woman like myself or the beating of a guilty man like the rapist.
There were things I knew about how I was treated by the police that night and throughout my entire ordeal. I knew they were kind and sympathetic to me. I knew they were taking my case seriously. I didn’t know they’d catch him later that night, not far from the bar where I spotted him. I’ll never know if they beat him up that night or not, but I can guess it was pretty likely. I’ll never know if the police would have treated me differently if I was poor…if I was a woman of color…if I was a lesbian… I didn’t know the phrase “white privilege” then but I’m certain I benefitted from it.
There were things I knew about how the court system worked. I knew the Judge would ask me for a statement before the sentencing. I didn’t know how to sum up my experience in a paragraph. I didn’t know if the Judge would accept a copy of my journal entries as my statement instead. I know now that he accepted it, read it and later asked my permission to give it to the rapist, which is exactly what I wanted. I know the Judge also treated me with kindness, sympathy and respect. I don’t know if he treats every victim that way but I hope he does.
There were things I knew about the rapist’s sentence. I knew he was NOT sent to the prison specifically for sex offenders, but that in regular prison he’d still have opportunities for personal growth. I knew that he was sentenced for up to twenty years but that he’d have chances to be paroled. I knew the prosecutor took my contact information with the promise of contacting me for a statement each time he was up for parole.
There were things I knew I’d want to say to the parole board and I have several times now. I tell them that I know that one day the man that raped me will be released and that my biggest hope is that he’s changed while he’s been imprisoned; that he’s been in a support group, therapy, a religious group, maybe he’s learned a trade. The last time I checked, he had done none of this. I know I was not the first person he assaulted in his lifetime but I sincerely hope to be the last.
There were things I knew about my story. I used to think it had a beginning and an end. I used to think it would be a book and it would be called “Hello my name is Rape Victim.” But now I know that there is no end, because there are always new ways it affects me and even occasionally more tears to be shed. And I know now that my name isn’t Rape Victim. I’m a survivor and my name is Victorious.