I couldn’t tell you what neighborhood the house was in or even what town. I know the date because it was a holiday. I remember who did it because Ford was right, trauma sears your memory like a hot iron.
The reason her story struck a nerve is because mine was eerily similar. I was corralled into a room by two male acquaintances and pinned to the floor by one while the other watched. They both laughed like we were all in on it. I tried to yell but it was like in a dream where it wasn’t loud enough. I’m not sure if the parents sleeping two floors above would have heard me in a locked room in the basement anyway.
The boy covered my mouth with his hand and I instinctively stuck my tongue out because my mother taught me that trick. I’m sure she never had that scenario in mind, but it worked and he withdrew his hand, repulsed, and laughed again. Look at how much fun we’re having! I remember these details but not why I didn’t scream louder or claw at his eyes or fight with everything I had. The truth is, after what felt like an hour of being pinned down (so much time had passed that the other boy had passed out on the floor beside us), I simply stopped fighting and went along with it. That has been the hardest thing to carry all these years.
The NIAA estimates alcohol is involved in at least 50% of sexual assaults. Since we know most sexual assaults go unreported, that number is probably low. Alcohol was definitely a factor in mine. If I could go back in time, the first thing I would do is not drink that night. Hell, I would have never started drinking in the first place since alcohol was involved in roughly 90% of the decisions I regret. Alcohol was enemy number two after the asshat who pinned me to the floor.
The other thing I wish I’d done differently is not worry about what other people thought of me. I didn’t call my parents to come get me when I found out my girlfriends were no longer staying the night. I worried I’d get into trouble for drinking and being at a party with just boys. Then, when things turned ugly, I was absurdly afraid to make a scene.
The other thing I should have done is tell the police or even a trusted adult. That somehow felt scarier than being pinned to the floor by someone I knew. I didn’t tell anyone except a couple of close friends shortly afterwards and a few more in college. If I wasn’t sure what to make of what happened and my own role in it, others were even more confused. It’s not that I blamed myself, exactly, but it felt personal and specific to me. Now I realize what a mistake I made thinking that way.
This week I got a flu shot after reading about how it’s our civic duty not to spread illness. If I’m worried about possibly passing on a case of the sniffles to a stranger, why wasn’t I gravely concerned about passing on a rapist to other young women? When we don’t report sexual assault, that person is pretty likely to do the same thing to someone else. The only thing special about me that night is I was the only drunk girl in a room with the wrong boys.
And if I thought it was easier to keep it to myself than risk short term and no doubt significant public humiliation and disbelief, I now know better. I paid plenty over the years for my shameful secret. It didn’t really change the way I looked at men because I knew there were plenty of guys who wouldn’t pin a girl to the floor, drunk or not. But it definitely changed the way I saw myself. Instead of dealing with what happened, I avoided and buried and blazed a path of self-destruction for years.
I hope my daughters and all young women make better choices than I did. I hope they understand binge drinking is a really bad idea on many levels and it doesn’t have to be part of growing up. I hope they listen to that little voice that tells them when something (or someone) doesn’t feel right. I hope they aren’t afraid to speak up (even scream) and do the right thing. Even if it feels like the hardest thing possible, they might be saving not only themselves but others just like them.