In the early hours of July 5th 1985, I was raped by a stranger. I was 17, dressed in a polo shirt and Bermuda shorts. Hours after the fireworks ended, I snuck out to meet a boy I liked. I waited at our appointed spot on a suburban street corner by a park. A skinny, skanky white guy got there first. He dragged me through poison ivy by my neck; told me he was coked up; said he had a knife (which I never saw). I used my considerable sarcasm, wit and humor to humanize myself. I told him I was 14. Eventually, he let me go. It was pretty unpleasant, to say the least.
My mom, having discovered that I was not in my bed, found me walking home. Truthfully, I only told her what happened in order to spare myself the inevitable punishment for having been out. I demanded we report it to the police immediately. She hesitated. She did not want to make a fuss. She did not believe me. Perhaps she did not want to believe that she had failed to protect me. Perhaps she was tired of my teenage wildness. Perhaps she just needed not to have a raped daughter. Perhaps.
We went to the police, who did virtually nothing. They showed me a binder full of photos of skanky white guys and asked if I recognized any. They drove me around the area to see if he was still there 3 hours later. They suggested I go to Planned Parenthood for a check up. A male officer asked if I had any marks on my breasts to prove I had been bitten (I did, but I was not about to show him). No rape kit; no follow up; no referrals to counseling.
If he is still alive, he may still be out there. We never crossed paths again.
Despite going back to the police several times to see if any progress had been made, it was clear I was not believed. By anyone. Not by my parents (“If that really did happen…”); not by the boy I was meeting (“shouldn’t you be crying or something?”); not by the cops (“look, there’s no way this would go to trial. They would just say, ‘The bitch is lying.’” I was 17). I was not hysterical. I was not ashamed. I was angry that I did not better defend myself, and itchy from a full-body exposure to poison ivy. I did not behave like a proper victim. Yes, someone said that to me.
This was maybe the most traumatic part of the whole experience. Actually being raped was gross and awful. But at 17, I was already sexually active, and I was aware that men were not to be trusted. I saw a strange guy on the street, and I knew I was in trouble. Bad fucking timing. The physical violation was not the worst part. It was the absolute lack of interest on the part of people and institutions who supposedly had a vested interest in protecting me that was the worst. It was their profound denial of my lived experience in order to protect their own self-images that still accompanies me everywhere.
Although I was not ashamed of what happened, I rarely talked about it. In high school in 1985 there was just so little opportunity to work your random, summer sexual assault into conversation. I remained the teenager I already was: funny, underachieving, angsty, worried about my weight, angry at my mom, looking forward to getting the hell out of my suburban home. I had a smart, understanding boyfriend who knew my story, though at our age had no real way to process it.
The next year I went away to a small, private liberal arts college that “possessed a rich fraternal history.” Let’s call it “Brett Kavanaugh’s Safety School.” This is where I came to understand the meaning of my rape. This is where my rape allowed me to understand the world as it is. It is where I learned that my rape connected me to the rich history of women who have been violated by men and still go on to live their lives as though they haven’t been. Globally, I think that’s most of us.
I bring this up now because of Brett Kavanaugh. I went to a school full of Brett Kavanaughs. The wealthier, whiter, and more entitled they were, the worse they behaved. They drank and screamed vile things to women walking across the Quad. They threw parties and slid their hands into underwear and laughed. They raped women when they were drunk and didn’t remember, so of course they claimed innocence. They assaulted drunk women who don’t remember, so why bring it up now? They pressured women with their bodies and words until these 17 or 18 or 19 or 20 year olds relented, uneasy and disgusted with themselves, but since it wasn’t rape it didn’t matter. The college’s “rich fraternal history” had their backs. They were just guys doing guy stuff. Women should not expect to be protected by the institution (although they could AND SHOULD ask to be escorted to their dorms by security at night).
Now these Boys Being Boys are out in the world as it is. They are your boss, your coworker, your wealth manager, your lawyer, your doctor, the COO, your golf buddy, your husband, your fiance, your smart, handsome, athletic son, your President and now your current Supreme Court nominee.
What’s obvious is that reporting rape doesn’t matter and not reporting rape doesn’t matter. Our legal and political systems do not care about the integrity of women’s bodies (unless of course they are white, Christian women’s bodies violated by brown or non-Christian men). My observation — which is not to be construed as advice: reporting rape to law enforcement does not, in most cases, get results. Happily, at least in big news cases, reporting ON rape does seem to be effective in derailing the lives of some rapists. That may be the only justice most of us see.