Remembering a rape | Leaving the Deserted Alley
“There have been a lot of responses to the Cosby “Rape” Allegations but I think this one speak so succinctly to the mind of the rape “victim” and how it’s possible to keep it unreported for years.” NB
Remembering a rape/Leaving the deserted alley
by Wendy Rosenfield
Fiorillo, discussing the accusations on WHYY’s Radio Times, mentioned Judy Huth, who filed suit against Cosby in California for an alleged molestation that occurred when she was 15. In Pennsylvania, Fiorillo said, the statute of limitations for statutory sexual assault, a second-degree felony, doesn’t run out until the victim turns 50. I’m 45. I never knew.
With each new woman who stepped forward to accuse Cosby, with Rolling Stone’s UVA story falling to pieces and potentially damaging the credibility of a new generation of victims, my own story felt perpetually pressed against my throat,forcing its way out. Though more than 20 women have now come forward,
when my husband, an attorney with an almost unfailingly steady moral compass, watched a CNN special
with me about the case, he said, “I didn’t know what to believe until I saw their faces and heard them speak.” I was shocked. To me, from the first, their accounts held ironclad key words and themes. I knew
implicitly why regular women held back for decades, even when reporting the incident wouldn’t result in bringing down any institutions, academic or cultural. I knew I was obligated to tell my story, one that also
A high-school sleepover
The night I was raped, a friend whose parents were out of town hosted a sleepover. It wasn’t much as far as high school parties go — just a few girls, even fewer guys, and later, someone’s older brother and his
friend, both men in their mid-20s. There was white wine, which we drank, and much discussion of the older brother, whom the girls all liked, but who wasn’t really my type — bulldog body, cheesy mustache, slicked-back hair, his friend a shorter, stockier version pulled from the same mold.
Still, I was enough of an alpha girl to feel flattered when the older brother asked me to go upstairs with him, and insecure enough to follow. He led me into a bedroom, and whatever I imagined, a makeout session, some conversation, dissipated when he asked what I was waiting for, and roughly told me to get on the bed. Again, I did what he asked. Though it wasn’t my first time, I was disgusted, not with him, a grown man who should have known better, but with myself, for letting it happen, for being so needy, so slutty.
Afterward, I told my friends I felt sick and went to bed. I awoke to find a man on top of me. The room was dark, and, confused, I asked if it was the older brother. He answered, “Yeah, that’s who it is. Go back to
sleep.” It wasn’t; it was his friend. I didn’t fight back, because if my own friends hadn’t protected me, hadn’t told him to leave me alone, what was the point? Instead, I waited for it to end, and when it did, he
left and again, I listened; I went back to sleep.
What could they do?
In the morning, furious, I asked my friends why they let him come upstairs. They said they didn’t know what was happening, but even if they did, what could they have done? These were men; we were girls. We
let them in and flirted with them and got what we deserved. I called my mother to pick me up. Later, rumors spread throughout our school about what I did that night. I told some of the girls I was talking to a lawyer about pressing charges, but I wasn’t. I just wanted them to know that what happened was wrong.
I got on with my life, and the decades slid past. Occasionally, some news story or Facebook post would trigger my memories, and I’d be right back in that room, waiting for it to end, but mostly, I shoved them
away. Except now, the memories shoved back. I frightened my teen daughter with warnings about serial killers, drugged drinks at parties, and the importance of traveling in groups. I indoctrinated my teen son
about rape culture and the necessity of stepping forward if he saw intoxicated friends or strangers at a party and the situation didn’t look or feel right. It was all good advice, but delivered with a shrill sense of panic. My internal struggles were leaking into my parenting, and for the first time, I told my husband of 20 years what happened, in detail.
Saying nothing then . . .
I didn’t report my rape when it happened 30 years ago, and here’s why: I was embarrassed. The rapist was connected to friends. I was certain my own friends knew what was happening, and no one stopped it. I was so young. I didn’t know his last name. I didn’t want my friend to get in trouble for hosting the party. Within the course of that year, both of my grandmothers passed away, my parents separated, and a classmate who was there that evening was killed in a car crash. I was dealing with enough. I thought I brought it on myself. I thought it would be expensive and difficult. I was afraid my dad and brother might try to settle the issue on their own. I wanted to forget it happened. I thought I was fine.
A few years ago, I visited a therapist and mentioned the incident in a cavalier manner. “But,” she said, “you know that was rape.”
“Yeah, I know,” I answered, “but I’m fine. I’m over it.” I’m not.
If I was unwilling to report the nobody who raped me, when I had a supportive family, access to an attorney, witnesses, proof, and people who could find him, why would anyone imagine that these women, with their own lives and struggles, would report Bill Cosby at the height of his powers? Sometimes it takes a while to gain back that inner fortitude. Sometimes it takes 30 years.
. . . but now?
I’m now faced with a dilemma. Learning there are five years left on the statute of limitations is a gift because it puts power I never knew I had squarely into my hands. Recently, my daughter and I watched an episode of The Sopranos in which Dr. Melfi, Tony’s therapist, holds onto the knowledge that if she wanted, she could ask Tony to do away with her rapist at any time. Just owning that knowledge was enough power for her. My daughter couldn’t understand why she didn’t use it, but I could.
The night after learning I could still press charges, I lay in bed, thrilled and terrified. I kept second-guessing my age at the time, until I remembered a box in our basement that held all my old diaries. I rummaged around until I found an electric blue one decorated with hearts and song lyrics and boyfriends’ names. Sure enough, there was a dated entry referring specifically to the men involved and what they did.
“Well, anyway,” I concluded, “that happened.” Even then, in my own diary, I tried to erase it away, and yet it remains all these years later, tangible evidence that rape refuses to disappear, no matter how hard you try to suppress it. Khaled Hosseini wrote in The Kite Runner, “The past claws its way out. Looking back now, I realize I have been peeking into that deserted alley for the last 26 years.”
Where is he now?
Still, I wonder if the man who raped me cleaned up his act. Maybe he has a wife and children and a job, and I feel protective of them, even as I try to protect myself. Statutory sexual assault is a second-degree felony and can carry with it a ten-year sentence. Maybe I should leave him alone and assume karma had its way with him. After all, he didn’t seem to be headed for greatness. And then I read the statistics: nine out of ten campus rapes are committed by serial rapists. My circumstances were different, but I wonder if I’m his only victim, who else he attacked after I didn’t report him, or if he’s still attacking.
I still don’t know what I’ll do with this new information, but I’m grateful to the brave women who came forward en masse to hold Bill Cosby accountable for his alleged crimes. I know why they waited so long and why they stopped waiting, and I also know that if it weren’t for their strength, I might never have found mine.
Re-printed from: Remembering a rape | Broad Street Review