Editor’s note: This post discusses rape, sexual assault, and abuse.
I am the sister of the girl from Steubenville. I am the sister of the girls from Maryville.
I never wanted to be.
In 1993, at the age of 13, I moved to a new town two months before I would start what I thought would be an exciting freshman year. There didn’t seem to be any kids my age in my subdivision, but a wandering group of boys soon showed up. They couldn’t find many their age either, so we became friends.
I want to tell you those boys’ names so much. I want to scream it. I want to chase down their family and friends online and tell them what these boys did. I want to seed Google so if anyone were to search for them, the first ten results would all be “[name], child rapist.” I want to give those guys such a reputation online that Reddit and 4chan won’t even allow them to join.
I can’t. My statute of limitations ran out ten years ago.
I thought they were my friends; we ended up doing everything together. I was a lonely kid who wasn’t pretty at all. I was socially awkward from a combination of being younger than everyone else, moving once a year, and being incredibly geeky and nerdy in an age where that was a neon sign on my forehead that read, “Please stuff into locker!” So when these boys sought ME out and called the four of us best friends, I was ecstatic. A friend was all I’d wanted, and getting to have three of them made me so happy.
They’d all lived in that town their whole lives, and it wasn’t that big at the time, so everyone knew everyone. The leader of the group, who we’ll call B, was already set as the new JV quarterback. He had been popular for ages. He promised me that I wouldn’t have to worry, that if I hung out with him, I’d be instantly cool. I wasn’t with those guys for that, but I’ll admit that their social standing made me breathe a lot easier. After six elementary schools, three middle schools, and ages of getting the crap beaten out of me literally and metaphorically, I thought I just might have the chance to be a normal kid for once.
Two weeks and a lot of, “Yay, cool friend that’s a girl!” talk later, I got a bang on my door. It was B, P, and G, and they were telling me to throw a suit on and come swim, so I did. Apparently, B’s aunt lived in the subdivision. She and her family left to take a vacation, tossed a house key to B, and told him that he could use their backyard pool as much as he wanted to while they were gone. We all got excited at the prospect of a pool we could use. Texas in summer can be hell. I noticed that B had a wrinkled paper bag with him, and I asked what it was. He told me it was food.
As soon as we got in the pool, everything changed.
They nodded to each other like they were trying to say, “Let’s do this.” Suddenly, P and G each took one of my legs and one of my arms and twisted them behind my back, putting me in a rather painful contortion that made any attempt to break out near impossible. As I struggled, B came over and put his hands around my throat. He, along with P and G, shoved me under the water, and they held me their up until the point that my lungs were burning from lack of oxygen. I got brought back up to see B’s leering face. He said, “Listen up. You will do exactly what you’re told, and we’ll do what we want to. If you try one thing, we’ll drown you.” He told me that it wouldn’t matter if I died, because it would look like I broke in to his aunt’s back yard to get in the pool and accidentally drowned. The paper bag was brought out, and it contained a giant pair of rusty shears. He opened them, set them around my neck threateningly for a second, and told me there would be no screaming or moving. He then cut my two-piece swimsuit off of me as best as he could without P and G having to release me.
I’d been embarrassed earlier, trying to find a usable swimsuit. Two were still dirty and waiting to be washed, so I had to go for the third, an embarrassing gift from a relative who didn’t quite get that 13-year-olds wouldn’t want something that made them look like a little kid.
So this all happened to me, at the age of 13, while in a blocky, uncomfortable Little Mermaid swimsuit.
Next time someone brings out the “look at what she was wearing, she was asking for it” fallacy, please, ask them for me — I was wearing a swimsuit with Ariel on it, something that was obviously designed for toddlers and not 13-year-olds. Was I “asking for it”?
After the cuts were made, the three boys I thought were my best friends all took turns doing whatever they wanted, while I quietly sobbed, my tears becoming just a few more drops in the pool. They dunked me between turns, just to make sure that I still got the point. It wouldn’t have mattered if I’d screamed anyway; nobody else was outside or walking around. I was on my own. I just cried and waited for all of it to be over. They let me go after using me every way possible and “getting bored.” I got one more threat — “Tell anyone about this, and we will make every aspect of your life a living hell. We’re popular, I’m a quarterback, I can do that.”
I ran home, clutching the ends of my swimsuit, trying to keep myself covered, crying and bloody. I went straight for my mom. My mom, who I have never gotten along with, the queen of twisted punishments, the woman whose number one concern was “looking good,”and the woman who abused me to the point that I had no developed backbone or ability to say “no” until after college. The backbone I did grow I had to painfully cultivate myself.
I say this so you’ll hopefully see what kind of mother would see her daughter in that state and respond, “You’re being dramatic, you staged this, you probably tripped on the sidewalk and are making a mountain out of a molehill, you’re having a really bad period and you’re looking for attention, you are NOT ALLOWED TO CALL THE POLICE.” She yanked me to a psychologist’s office, one she’d insisted we go to, and who always took her side. Even he told her, “I don’t and can’t know if she’s telling me the complete truth, but I can tell you that something traumatic just happened to your daughter.” I had an aunt and uncle living in the same subdivision, and even they ran into B’s family and would say, “Oh, God, we’re so sorry. She’s such a pain in the ass.”
Not too long ago, there was a news story from Spain. A woman’s teenaged daughter was raped, and when they got no help from the police or the court, the mother chased the girl’s rapist down. She doused him in gasoline and lit the man on fire. You know you’ve had a terrible home life and have been a victim of some awful stuff when your first reaction to that story is thinking, “Why couldn’t my mother love me that much?”
Outside of telling the therapist (who did not alert anyone as my mother asked), I was set to keep my mouth shut.
But, as they say, man plans and God laughs.
Two days before the start of the year, a girl I hadn’t known came to find me. She asked me if I was the girl that hung out with B, P, and G. I said, “Not anymore.” It turned out that she didn’t want to join that group — she wanted to know if B had ever done something bad to me. Like, say… grabbing my boobs and playing with them against my will.
I had to make a very important decision there. I was sure my school year was going to be shitty. There were just degrees of suck depending on whether I told anybody. I sat there, weighing my words and looking at her, and she started to cry. I knew I was in for hell when I spoke up and said, “Yeah, he did do something like that. So did P and G. Please, stay away from them. You don’t know how bad they are. Please, though, please don’t tell them I said this. They’ll make my life miserable.” I couldn’t be silent, not to another victim. Unfortunately, she decided to double-check my warning by talking to B.
Two hours later, B found out I was in in my house and began screaming and beating on the door. He actually said, “How could you do this to me?” Thankfully, I was at home; I shut myself in my closet and curled up into a ball until he left.
If I’d have known all this was going to happen, I’d easily assume that the rape would be the worst part. (If I’d have known what was going to happen, I can’t promise I’d be here to write this.) This is where the story becomes harder and harder for me to tell. I’ve sat here for two days or so with this OpenOffice window up, staring at the uncompleted story. This blinking cursor seems like an enemy of sorts, like it’s going to burn me when I touch it, but I have got to get this out. I never got any justice, but I can’t sit here while three barely teenaged girls (and the country) get told that their plight is rare, when I know better. Chances are, if you’ve actively gone looking for this, you know better, too. 1 in 4 women will get put through rape and/or sexual assault, and most of their rapists will be someone they know. But if that “1 in 4” statistic is based on cases reported to the police, those numbers are very wrong in a very horrible way. The epidemic gets so much worse if you only count cases where the rapist gets found guilty in court.
I usually say that rape is one of the only crimes where the victim gets prosecuted.
I started as a freshman in a brand-new school and in this new town that I’d only lived in for a summer, and when I got there, my reputation had preceded me.
There are two things you need to understand here. If I say “bully,” you might think of some burly dude whose IQ is barely bigger than his shoe size, who just seems to get off by making others miserable, but that’s not quite right. I was bullied until my senior year in high school, and I can tell you that the worst bullies are very, very smart. Just toss that stereotype right out the window. A smart bully kicks your ass in front of ten other kids while their posse hangs out with them, and when it’s over, you’re left trying to pull yourself together while your bully and friends hightail it to the principal’s office crying crocodile tears and saying, “[Victim] just tried to beat me up! My friends saw it too!” By the time you get to an adult and report it, the adult doesn’t believe you. In one case, I even got detention for “making false accusations against other students.” So by the time this happened, I already knew that I’d have no true safe place within the school. I was already well-programmed to give up the idea of help.
The other thing overlaps the first. Earlier, I talked about my mother and family’s reaction to my rape and the aftermath. My mother refused to believe me, and unfortunately, it wasn’t that she’d had a Blue Screen of Death moment and had gone, “No, no, this can’t be happening, not my daughter!” She truly did not believe me, and she still does not to this day. I was the baby she wanted to have when my dad didn’t, so she flushed her birth control pill every day. My parents had an explosive divorce shortly after she had my brother under the same circumstances. My brother, though, was born with an illness, and gained autism on top of it. He’s always been her baby and because of his illnesses, she’s used his simple nature to manipulate him into being the child she actually wanted — hanging on her every word, never trying to believe anything other than what he’s told, and never attempting to leave the house. He got away with everything, including beating the crap out of me regularly and stealing things and blaming it on me. I’ve been disliked and painted as something awful that happened to my mother for my whole life. When she had me, she got a little girl who looked and sounded like the man she’d thrown out of her home. We’ve never had a good relationship no matter how hard I’ve tried, and we probably never will.
So, basically, I had no safe place at home, physically or mentally, if you don’t count me locking myself in the closet when my brother was on the warpath. And I didn’t have a safe place at school, either, and I’d never found one, no matter where we moved. When I finally found myself free of all that my senior year of high school, it threw me, because all I knew how to do was run from the attackers, improvise weapons and shields whenever possible, and always be on guard. I often liken it to putting a lone soldier in the trenches against another army for a year, and then picking that soldier up and putting him in a peaceful home without warning. He’d have no idea how to relax and live like everyone else.
So as I said, I started as a freshman in this brand-new school, and my “reputation” had preceded me.
B was the ringleader. He handled most of it while P and G sat back and laughed. B had thrown two parties — one for the football players alone (and even though he was an incoming freshman, a lot of the older varsity players came too.) His parents were very well-known and well-off pillars of the community, and he was already one of the most popular kids in town. He told them about how freaky I was, that I’d begged for a foursome all summer, and described the exact details of my still partially childlike body. He told them that he’d asked me if I could truly handle what he was packing, and that it was tough. He said that I was so small and tight, but that after the gangbang he said I’d begged for, anyone else coming in after them would be throwing a hotdog down a hallway. I remember hearing that he’d happily said, “I wrecked her.”
Yes… Yes, you did, B. Congrats.
[sws_pullquote_right] I’m not going to sit here and say, “You’ll be fine,” because that’s a weak platitude. The reality, one you all likely know by now, is that you’ll be different. Time doesn’t heal all, but it does allow wounds to become scars, and scars don’t hurt all the time. But having had that hurt, you will understand the hurt of others, and in time, you’ll be able to wrap your arms around another person and say, “I know.” [/sws_pullquote_right] So he and his pals said that I’d done every single dirty, disgusting, dehumanizing act they could think of from their short careers as late-night Skinemax porn connoisseurs. Finding out in the middle of school that you apparently really love double penetration is a hell of an experience. Finding out that you begged for it until three boys sighed and said, “Well, I guess we’ll do it, since you asked so nicely,” is another. In second place for worst, though, was finding out that they’d told most of the guys that I was trying to make their lives miserable by falsely accusing them of rape. The worst was that they’d gathered a small group of guy friends who were as twisted and violent as them, among whom they dropped all pretensions, telling them exactly what really happened. “Yeah, we did it. We told her we’d drown her if she made so much as a peep.”
B was a smart bully, so he didn’t stop there. He threw another party, this time for a handful of his best friends, most of the very popular girls, and everyone he could get from the Fellowship of Christian Athletes group. B, P, and G all broke down at that party during a prayer session and “confessed” that I’d tried to get them all to sleep with me all summer long, that the barrage was constant, and that they’d felt like Jesus getting tempted by the devil. They claimed they’d held on and gotten through it by praying. Now, they told everyone, since I couldn’t get the sex I wanted, I was falsely accusing them of rape. The girls were horrified.
There was no angle from which I did not look horrible. I was a terrible slut, a temptress, a life-wrecking liar, a fake rape victim, an extremely kinky whore, weak, able to be used and discarded like Kleenex, the punchline to an awful joke, a social climber willing to ruin lives to get further up the ladder, insane, ugly, full of STDs, and a girl who had experienced three or four pregnancy scares. I was tripped and spit on in the halls, beat up by kids I didn’t even know, and sometimes my teachers, some of whom had heard the gossip, disliked my presence in their class. I had to sit next to P the entire year in Biology. I asked my teacher if I could move, just move seats, and was told no. I tried to go to the principal and ask if I could just switch classes, begged with my eyes, did everything I could to pass “there is something very wrong here” on. I was denied. He said, “If you’re not going to tell me if anything wrong is going on, I can’t help you.”
This went on for the two years I lived in that town. I was constantly in a horrible mental place. Adults whispered about me; I flunked my freshman year and had to repeat it; the only reason that my mother and stepfather didn’t lose what they had is that they apologized for their “insane daughter.” My mother taught me that everything I felt and my expressions of it were simply wrong. Abnormal. Diseased. Now? Hindsight is 20/20. Of course I was not “normal” from the outside. It doesn’t matter how wonderful someone’s life has been — if you put them into this situation, they’d have trouble, too. I try to tell my younger self that simply making it out to adulthood alive is an amazing achievement, one I should be proud of. I cannot change what happened, but because I had to go through it, I do my best to be a shoulder for others with the same experience. I try to use my voice to politically support people who get that this happens. I try to talk about the sick cult of hero worship we have for male athletes at any age, about how very much it hurts girls like me, how it furthers the idea that they can do anything they want without cost, and I even discuss how this culture hurts the guys themselves. We are creating a new generation of sociopaths, and then we’re surprised when they do bad things for about two minutes. Because what matters is that little Johnny beats the other team.
As long as I can still feel, as long as I can still be a literal and metaphorical place of safety for other victims, as long as my heart does not become stone — those boys will never win. You’ll never hear me say that it was worth it, but if I can do something to make my 13-year-old self proud, I will. It’s her that I have to answer to.
I still don’t have it all together, and I wonder if the day I do is the day I become hardened. I know what happened to me is not my fault, but I will live the rest of my life in fear and guilt that my silence means that there are three rapists roaming free. I accidentally ran across B’s name one day. He has a wife and three daughters, which I found out on the most ill-advised trip through Facebook ever. I fear for them. If I ever hear of another girl that was hurt by the three of them, there will be no apology great enough. I know how simultaneously wrong and understandable that is.
For the girls in Steubenville and Maryville, though, I must say something. That little 13-year-old inside me won’t let me stay seated. I can’t do much, but I have my words.
I am so sorry. I know. A lot of us know, more than you might think. You are thought of and loved and part of a sisterhood now, and we do what we can for each other. I am amazed by your bravery and so glad that you have family that cares. I’ve been through this, too, and I cannot begin to imagine what it would have been like with camera phones and the Internet added to the mix. You have so much more strength than you know. I’m not going to sit here and say, “You’ll be fine,” because that’s a weak platitude. The reality, one you all likely know by now, is that you’ll be different. Time doesn’t heal all, but it does allow wounds to become scars, and scars don’t hurt all the time. But having had that hurt, you will understand the hurt of others, and in time, you’ll be able to wrap your arms around another person and say, “I know.”
The most important four words I can say: You are not alone.
And, Reader, even if your case was not mine and didn’t mirror what has been going on, it makes it no less hurtful and hard. I might not be able to sign my name to this, which is something I wish I could do, but I am thinking of you, too. I am here. You are not alone, either.