Dedication: To all women and men that have fallen victim to any kind of assault.
Written by: Anne Albert
In my family, we are Christians and are taught you must be married to have sex. It is a sin otherwise. My vow to God was to wait until I was of age and readiness in the guidelines of our Christian faith. My idea of the first time was going to be with my husband, a man who loved me and loved God. My goal in life was to honor and please God throughout my daily living by obeying his Commandments, being respectful and kind to others and to love my neighbor as I loved myself. I grew up always being a kind person and treating others as I would want to be treated, I did not always get the same in return. At times it was hard for me, I felt lonely a lot and I didn’t have many friends; I was kind of an outcast. After years of bullying and never feeling like I belonged, even in my family, my faith began to dwindle. It became an internal battle to highest magnitude when my life was changed forever. When the vow I had made to God was taken from me without remorse. My faith in God changed but my beliefs never did because I knew he was still there guiding me to where he had planned.
When I got to high school, freshman year, things became drastically different for me. At the time I was struggling with an undiagnosed anxiety-depression disorder. I had bad self-esteem issues and no confidence in myself. I had developed acne, I wore glasses, I was considered a nerd. Which was probably why I only had two friends. Even with feelings of not belonging, I still wanted to be like the other girls my age, that included having a boyfriend. I would see all the pretty, popular girls with their perfect teeth, and beautiful hair and their cool clothes, wishing that I could be like them. I would think to myself “Well they must be happy” or “Life would be better if I was like them”, because they had a place that they belonged. They had all those things and more, especially boyfriends. Why did I care so much? I had God, He loved me, and I belonged with him, why wasn’t that enough?
One day when I was at my brothers wrestling practice, I caught the attention of Layne. He was popular and was co-captain of the varsity wrestling team, he was also my brother’s friend. He was taller than me, he had blue eyes, kind of a crooked smile, dirty blonde hair, and what I remember the most was, how muscular he was. Probably pushing 170 pounds, compared to my 120-pound self, he was much bigger and stronger. During the practice I was doing some of my work waiting for practice to be over, since my brother was my ride home. I noticed that when the team would take water breaks, Layne would look over at me periodically. I continued to do my work and wait. The practice finally came to an end and they were packing up to leave, again I noticed Layne looking at me. By this point I start thinking, “Maybe he’s interested in me, no he couldn’t be, he’s probably just staring at the ugly shoes I’m wearing.” I went over to my brother who was gathering his things and Layne was standing there talking to him. He turned to me and asked who I was, I introduced myself and immediately had this flushed feeling come over me. Maybe he was interested in me after all. I can tell you that I knew this to be true because eventually things turned in to us hanging out after practice. We would kiss and sometimes we would “fool around”, so naturally I started developing feelings for him.
My thought process was limited when it came to relationships so I assumed that this was the type of man God would want me to be looking for as a potential future husband: someone who can protect me and make me feel safe. Even though he and I had never discussed religion, being naïve and young, I thought that he would naturally have the same beliefs as me, in other words- the same moral compass. I hadn’t quite learned yet that not everyone has the same belief that I do. Soon after Layne and I started spending more time together I told my friend, Elizabeth, about him and she wasted no time in warning me, “Stay away from him, he’s bad news. I dated him a few years ago” she said. I want to say I tried to listen to what she told me, but I would be lying if I did. How in that moment would I be able to just shut down those feelings I had for Layne? I finally had someone interested in me, I wasn’t about to give that up. I began to rationalize my choice, “Maybe things will be different with me. Maybe their relationship didn’t work because of her.” But I knew there was a possibility I could be wrong or way off base with this assumption. However, I was someone who had only ever been kissed or had a boyfriend once before, so he seemed worth the risk.
Fast forward a few weeks, we still weren’t officially dating since we had never actually said that we were. I passed him in the hallway on the way to study hall and he asks me if I wanted to skip class and go for a drive to get coffee. I was a bit hesitant because I didn’t want to get into trouble for leaving school and it seemed random, we were going to be hanging out after school that day anyways. After a few minutes of thinking about it I decided of course I would because why not? I was fifteen, he was seventeen. He was so cool in my eyes, skipping class to go for a drive, in that moment I wasn’t thinking about God, I was thinking about experiencing something new and exciting. Being rebellious wasn’t in my nature because I was always trying to do what my parents and God wanted me to do. I thought to myself, “What could this hurt? It’s just coffee, and I don’t have any work I need to do in study hall.”
Carrying my backpack and sweater in hand, I walked outside to the front parking lot where he had pulled his car up and was waiting for me. The car was a grass-green color with a hint of lime in it, I remember that it was a nice sunny day for being October. I got in his car after putting my bag and sweater in the back seat and got in the front passenger seat. As we drove down the hill, off school property, I was taking in all the smells and sounds of his car. It smelled like a sweaty gym locker and corn chips, not a pleasant smell so I rolled the window down just a bit for some fresh air.
Since our school was two different towns combined for high school this area was unfamiliar to me, so I watched out the window, feeling the warm sun on my face and arm. I was enjoying that cozy, comfortable feeling until the sudden moment of when I felt his hand grasp my leg. I glanced over at him thinking, “What amazing thing is he going to say to me? Is he going to finally as me to be his girlfriend?!” and the words that left his mouth left me confused: “You’re such a bitch.” Stunned and confused by this I kind of laughed it off and asked him why. He grabbed my leg hard with his hand, squeezing it to the point it was almost hurting. In that moment I realized just how large, strong, and rough his hands were. He then replied with his crooked grin saying “Because you’re such a tease. Always staring at me and wearing those tight jeans. You have a hot ass.” I started to blush because I hadn’t had someone say anything like that to me before.
I realize then that he isn’t taking me to get coffee. “Where are we going?” I asked, a little scared but trying to play it cool. He didn’t answer until after he had pulled off onto some dirt road- I had no idea where we were. He tells me, “I know a spot where we can go that’s quiet.” Without any hesitation he continued driving until we arrived at the end of the empty wooded road overlooking farmland. The spot where he stopped was shaded, not even the sun or sky could be seen. I looked out the front windshield and saw a farmhouse in the distance and a barn, a rock wall marking the land, and a large open field where the grass was still green but was starting to turn color. There were no cars, no people, nothing in site but trees and rocks and him. Looking over at me, he grabbed the back of my head and pulled my face into his to kiss me. I didn’t fight it. His lips felt nice on mine. I was thinking about how nice it was, how he was forever going to be my second kiss and that I had made a connection with someone. I had almost forgotten that he lied to me, because this definitely wasn’t coffee.
My thoughts focused back on him when he let me go and told me to get in the back seat and take my pants off. I wasn’t sure why I needed to take my pants off, we were in the car. Were we going to go skinny dipping somewhere near by? I felt very uncomfortable with his request, if we were going swimming it was going to be cold and I was on my period. Regardless if he was planning on going to the water or not, I didn’t want to and that was not my idea of a good time. He told me to do it anyway, not in a way that I felt something was about to happen. I got into the back, but I didn’t take my pants off, I was still confused by his request. He gets into the back with me, sits next to me and pulls me into his body. By this point I think, okay maybe he did want more than just to make out and fool around. He then flips me over and rips my pants off. I immediately said “No, what are you doing?” Unphased by what I said he didn’t care to answer, he continues to position himself behind me, I became afraid, even to fight him off. He was bigger and stronger than me. I feared if I tried to push him off or run away that he would hurt me. I kept saying “No,” in hopes that he would stop. Every time I moved, he pushed me down again, each time his hands touched me I felt like my skin was bruising and tearing. He didn’t stop till he wanted to, when he was done with me. During those minutes that seemed to last for hours, I went numb. I remember saying “No, please stop, it hurts” repeatedly. He didn’t. It was like he didn’t hear me.
When he finally stopped, I asked him to take me back to school. He didn’t say anything, he just got back in the front seat and started driving back to the school. That drive seemed like the longest drive of my life. I was silent the whole time. I sat there trying not to cry while putting my clothes back on. Trying to clean myself up as much as possible before returning to school. I wouldn’t be able to go to class; I was too upset, and people would ask questions. Why I wasn’t in study hall, why was I upset, where had I been. I started asking myself, “Where was God, why had this happened?” I would answer my questions without hesitation. “He was there the whole time, this happened because you did not obey.” When we reached the school, he parked in the side parking lot where the entrance to the school was less monitored during class times. I grabbed my things and went right inside to the bathroom. I sat there in the stall crying. I was so ashamed of what had just happened. I was mad at myself for being so scared and not fighting him off or trying to get away from him. I didn’t want anyone to find out about this. No one could know of my sin and that I was not longer a virgin, especially my family and Elizabeth. My family would be disappointed, and Elizabeth had warned me not to hang out with him and she was right. It was all my fault and now I was all alone.
I didn’t tell anyone for over three months because I was too scared. I was afraid of what people would say, what they would think about me. I irrationally felt that no one would believe it happened, or if they did believe me, then they would blame me because I skipped class and I went against my beliefs. I wished over and over again that this was all just a terrible dream, but every day I kept this horrible secret because keeping it made me feel like everything was normal and nothing had changed. But I had a little voice would tell me that I needed to, it was all going to be okay if I just told someone. God already knew my secret and I believed that the little voice was him.
I had lived a pretty sheltered life, so I didn’t know that there were such things as rape kits that do DNA tests. It could have backed me up and proved that I was telling the truth, but I didn’t know it existed. Looking back at this, my DNA would have still been in his car, even though his DNA would have been gone from my body by the time I went home and showered that day. I wish I had known more about how to deal with something of this magnitude because if I had, I would have voiced what happened sooner. If I had then everything would have turned out differently. I could have got help sooner, and I wouldn’t have been so depressed to the point that I no longer wanted to live. I was fifteen and I didn’t know how these things worked. All I knew was that I was scared and hurting.
The only thing left was the trauma replaying in my head every day, internalizing it all. My depression began to take over. I stopped caring about the things that used to be important to me. I didn’t care about my grades, I stopped hanging out with my friends in school, and I never went anywhere afterschool. I even stopped playing sports and singing. I felt completely alone because I couldn’t put this horrendous event into words. I couldn’t even form the words to say how I felt. I feared if I did then it would make it real and I didn’t want it to be real. I was afraid that my friend would be mad at me, I knew eventually I had to tell someone.
Elizabeth started noticing that I wasn’t around as much and that I had become very quiet and withdrawn. She pulled me aside one day in the cafeteria and asked me what was going on and why I had been acting so strange. I didn’t want to tell her with all the other students sitting so close by eating their lunches. So, we went into the atrium where I told her what had happened with Layne all those months ago. She didn’t turn her back on me or even judge me, she actually cried with me. She urged me to tell the police and finally did convince me that I needed to come forward and tell the authorities what had happened. She told me that what he did was rape because he did not have my consent to have sex. After that conversation with her it felt like a huge weight had been lifted off my chest and I could breathe again. Someone knew my secret and it wasn’t just a replaying torturous thought in my head anymore. With Elizabeth by my side, I went right over to our school resource officer and told him that I had been hurt by another student in a sexual manner. I didn’t even like saying the word; rape.
Going through that whole process of telling the police was very scary and hard. I was so nervous and shaking when the officer took me to the principal’s office and made a few phone calls. The officer hadn’t said much to me in regard to what I had just told him. I was sweaty and cold all at the same time, thinking “What are my parents going to say? Are they going to be mad at me? I’m for sure going to be grounded.” I don’t really remember a lot of what happened from the time I finally had spoken it into words to arriving at the police station. I do remember being brought out to the officer’s cruiser that was in the same parking lot where I had got into Layne’s car. The officer was talking over the radio “ETA, T minus ten, Over.” After getting in the front passenger seat of the cruiser, just like I had when I got into Layne’s, we drove to the local police station. The drive may have only been ten minutes, but it was the quickest ten-minute drive of my life. I remember sitting there in the interview room telling the two officers what happened to me, when it happened, what specific details I could remember about the incident. I had remembered everything. The hardest part was telling them everything while simultaneously fighting back tears and breaking down with each detail I gave, but I managed to get it all out.
Once the officers had finished asking all their questions and listening to me explain all the intricate details of the whole event, they left me waiting in the room. Waiting there for only a few minutes the officer returns with a bottle of water for me and tells me that he had to call my parents and that my Dad was coming to get me. I instantly felt sad all over, wondering what his reaction was going to be. The officer informed me that my Dad needed to know what happened because I was a minor, but they gave me the option to have them tell him or have me tell my Dad. I opted for them to tell him. I couldn’t say it all over again, especially not to my Dad.
When my Dad came to get me, he was brought into the interview room where I was, his face was sad. His eyes were filled with tears, and I could tell he had been crying. I ran over to him and he hugged me so tight and held me close as we stood there crying together. Neither of us could get a word out, he helped get my backpack and walked me out to our van. It was a 20-minute ride home, the only sounds were of soft sobs from us both. He appeared to be upset by what he had been told and was not angry with me. When we got home, my brothers hadn’t yet returned from school, the house was the quietest I’d ever heard it. I went to my room to change into comfy clothes and laid down in my bed. After laying there for about an hour, not being to sleep like I had wanted to, my dad came in. He started off with a very soft tone which turned into a frustrated tone when I would answer. I wanted to shut down, but I didn’t want to be disrespectful to my dad either. He wanted to know everything that happened, he wanted to get every detail of the incident, but I couldn’t tell him. I couldn’t tell him that his perfect, virgin daughter wasn’t so perfect anymore.
Not only was I afraid of what my dad was going to say but I also feared that my peers and classmates would find out; I was even more scared about the rest of my family finding out. I was embarrassed and ashamed. My family was there for me though. Not in the way I had originally thought. I thought my Dad was going to be mad at me, that he wasn’t going to love me the same way or that he would think I was a tarnished, broken flower that he couldn’t look at the same way now. I was wrong. He had a hard time accepting that I wasn’t ready to tell him everything. There were a few times when I answered him that my response was to scream it because it was so hard to tell him, like ripping off a band aid.
Weeks later, the whole student body had found out what happened. I was ridiculed, I was made fun of, I even had developed a nickname that was so hurtful it still makes me cringe when I hear it or think about it. All the things I feared, were coming true. I couldn’t begin to understand why this was happening, even though I already had the feeling that it would. My self-esteem was the lowest it had ever been at this point, anything else was going to set me over the edge. I can remember running out of school in the middle of the day because of the constant mocking I had been subjected to. People staring at me and pointing as I walked through the halls, whispering to each other. “She’s a slut, she’s just pretending to get attention.” Elizabeth was there to defend me, to fight off all the negative things I knew people were saying about me, but it still didn’t stop, day after day it was hell going to school. Seeing him in the hallway and running the opposite direction just to avoid being anywhere near him. How was I ever going to feel comfortable in school again? How was I going to make it through another year of school with him there?
Thankfully by the time court rolled around it was close to the end of the school year. That meant I wouldn’t need to worry about seeing him anymore or dodge around corners if I saw him. I remember walking into the court room with my dad, it was the first time I had ever been to a courthouse. There were people sitting scattered throughout the benches waiting for their case to be called. I didn’t have to wait long before the judge called my name. I let the judge know I was there, he told me to come stand in front of his podium. I was so nervous because as I stood, I saw Layne, sitting there to the right of where the judge pointed to have me to stand. Standing there in the court room in front of the Judge was nerve racking. I couldn’t stop shaking, “Do you swear to speak the truth and nothing but the truth, so help you God?” I couldn’t form more than two-word answers when the Judge addressed me. “Yes, sir” I replied. I couldn’t understand any of the legal jargon I was hearing. By the end all I knew was that he was not being arrested, and he was being charged with simple assault on a minor, statutory rape, and was put on probation for two years. If he got into any trouble, even a j-walking ticket, he would be arrested and go to jail for six months. You may be wondering, was this satisfactory or enough punishment for the lifetime of trauma I would be dealing with, well at the time it was more than I expected.
I didn’t expect him to be in any kind of trouble because it had been so long since it happened. I didn’t expect to feel some comfort in knowing that it was now summertime and I didn’t have to see him or think about him for a long while. It was nice while it lasted, although when school started back up that fall, I was not thrilled one bit. I was dreading going to school, I had just had a great summer, I went on a musical weekend retreat, went to camp, and made some new friends. There was healing in that, so I didn’t want to bring all those feelings and emotions back up. I had worked really hard on moving past it.
That first day back to school was a lot better than I had been anticipating it would be. Seeing Elizabeth made it easier to handle. We were taking new classes so our schedules would be different than the year before. Throughout the whole year we made sure that we sat next to each other in every class. She was such a great support for me, she made that year a lot better, she helped me to heal in her own way. Making sure that he wasn’t around, she would talk me down if I did see him, she would guide me the other way. A true best friend is what she was. Even with all her help and support, I still struggled with depression and self-esteem. There were days I was really down, not only about the normal things that girls in high school worry about, but about what had happened with Layne. Constantly asking God if I was ever going to feel normal again.
How did I get through this you ask? It wasn’t just one thing that helped me recover, there were many. My family, for not blaming me for it, Elizabeth, for being the confidant and encourager that I needed, and my therapist. It took me a while to find one than I felt comfortable with. When I eventually did, I didn’t feel like I needed to hide my real feelings, that’s when the healing began. Last but definitely not least, God, the one constant thing for me was knowing I had him and that when I struggled, I could turn to him. With all of these combined, over time it became easier to process, the memories of what happened and how they made me feel, were becoming distant. I wasn’t as distraught when it was brought up, even my depression began to improve. I began to realize things that I hadn’t before, especially when it came to blaming myself for what had happened with Layne.
Out of all the many things I learned through this, the one thing that remains and was told to me the most is, “You are not the reason this happened to you. The person who did it is to blame. It was their choice, not yours. The reason it happened to you is by circumstance only.” Was it in fact a matter of wrong place, wrong time, wrong person? I’ve heard people say, “Well if you didn’t dress like that then you wouldn’t have been a target for rape.” That is so far from the truth. No one forced that person who hurt you, to do what they did. They chose to do something wrong; they chose to hurt you. They justify their actions by saying “She was asking for it, just look how she was dressed.” No means no! There is no way around that.
An encouraging lesson I learned throughout my recovery was to be careful of my choices moving forward. To learn from my mistakes, and not let myself be put into situations like this again. My hope for others that may have gone through something like I did is that they make sure that they protect themselves. I stress this because these things can happen by random circumstances and/or they can happen from the choices we make. If I had been more protective of myself and if I had listened to my friend, I wouldn’t have given him the opportunity to take advantage of me. It still wasn’t my fault that he did that, but I should have heeded the warnings from my friend regardless of how I felt about him. I know I am not the only person who has been through something like this or has had it happen to them more than once. I know that the pain of this doesn’t just go away.
Another key point I remember when I was on the road to recovery is that there are so many people out there that can help you. Victim advocates, therapists, friends, family and if need be, doctors. I know for myself personally, therapy and God was my saving grace. If I hadn’t gone to therapy, I don’t think I would be where I am today. Therapy was my outlet; I could say what I needed to and express my emotions in a way that I was never able to before. My therapist didn’t just ask “And how does that make you feel?” She would ask me what was on my mind the most, and she would validate my thoughts and feelings. “Wow, that must have been really hard for you, because a lot of rapes go unreported all the time.” “You are so strong to be this open about what you experienced; this can be really hard for others who have similar stories too.” “Thank you for feeling comfortable with me to share this.” She encouraged me to journal about my thoughts in between sessions and discuss them during the following session. It was helpful for me to write it down, no matter what it was that I was feeling in that moment.
Even though therapy was a great outlet and a non-judgmental environment, God was the one who truly helped me through the roughest parts of my recovery. If I hadn’t had God in my corner, I wouldn’t be able to share my experience like I can now. God gave me the strength to move forward, to be at peace with what I had gone through. In the Bible, John 16:33 says:
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have tribulation: but be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world.”
I love this verse because it really does show me that all can be overcome with his help and guidance. God helped me to realize where I made a not-so-wise choice and at the same time to not blame myself. I can talk about my assault and not become traumatized all over again. I want to discuss what worked for me, in hopes that it would change someone else’s life, possibly even change their perspective, and help them through their hardest parts.
One last point for you to remember is you are not alone. There are so many people who have gone through the same thing. Yes, each story is different, and the details are different, but the trauma from it is universal. The pain from it never goes away completely, but you can heal from it. The scars will remain, but that just makes you who you are. I have always urged the women and young girls I have spoken to about their stories, to talk about it. Whether that means writing it down, typing it, talking to a therapist, talking to a friend or family member, or even just taking the first step and talking to the police.
In the end, I am so much better for taking these steps to mend my heart, my emotions, and my outlook on life. According to National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), on average, there are 321,500 victims, age 12 or older, of rape and sexual assault each year in the United States. 82% of all juvenile victims are female although roughly 54% of rapes go unreported. I am one of those statistics. The person reading this could be one of those statistics, if you are don’t be afraid of what people will think, or what they will say. You may get disrespect, judgment, and ridicule, however, don’t let that hold you back. No one who is trying to help you is going to purposely make it worse for you. You know your own truth and you know what you must do. To the person reading this, I urge you, don’t hesitate. If you are the victim or if you know someone who has fallen victim, but are too afraid to come forward, the sooner you report it or make this injustice known, the sooner your grieving process and healing will start. Don’t hold back. Fight! Even if you think the worst about your situation, you can fight back. It may be scary, and you may be unsure. Unsure of whether you will be hurt more from it or not, just try your hardest and don’t give up. Be your own advocate and protect yourself from the internal damage that hiding it will do to you, ask for help from the people that are trained to. You are not alone, and you will be heard, not just by the people in your life but God is always there. He sees your heart, your pain, your grief, and your struggles that are sure to come. Don’t lose faith or hope because you can overcome anything with these tools and services. It’s important to know the limits that can and will be taken for you if you are ever so unfortunate to come across a situation like I did. You are not just a statistic; I am not just a statistic. We are survivors, better yet; we are overcomers!