Trigger warnings: sexual assault and rape.
The story started off normal enough. Man meets woman. Man is charming. Woman wants a friend. Man and woman set boundaries for their relationship, agree not to go too far.
Woman invites him over to hang out. Man starts to kiss her.
Woman says, “Stop. We both agreed to wait.”
Man keeps going. Puts his hands in her sweatpants.
Woman says, “Stop!”
Man keeps going. Sweatpants at her ankles. His pants completely off.
Woman yells, “STOP!”
Man KEEPS GOING. Held her down by her wrists. Used his knees to open her thighs.
Woman cries. Begs…
Man finally stops. Says, “Oh, you’re serious? I thought you were playing a game with me. I thought you liked it rough.”
Woman cries. Shakes uncontrollably. Struggles to breathe.
She finally musters the strength to say, “Get out.” Locks the door behind him. Cries alone for hours. Sees the bruises on her wrists and thighs. Showers in an attempt to wash them–and him–away.
She calls a friend, who stays with her until she cries herself to sleep.
After that night, man apologized. Said that he didn’t know she was serious. Claims he was a victim of sexual abuse himself, played the sympathy card.
Woman continued to talk to him, tried to forgive…forget…move on. Eventually, she couldn’t take it anymore. Hated to look at him. His touch. His presence. What he took from her.
She tried to talk to him several times about what happened. He told her she was making a big deal out of nothing.
Woman talked to her pastor and lawyer. Wanted to press charges on him because as a former youth leader, she felt she owed it to the girls she mentored, to show them what to do if they were ever in this type of situation.
Lawyer advises against it. Says it wasn’t rape anyway, only sexual battery. That in most rape cases, every aspect of the victim’s life is fully exposed. Woman drops the charges to avoid public humiliation.
Pastor explains how coming forward would have a negative impact on the church. Confronted the man, who called the woman a liar. Encouraged the woman to handle this without legal means, through prayer and forgiveness. Kept man out of the pulpit for about two months as “punishment.” Asked woman to take a break from being a youth leader, called it a “mental break.” She never went back to being a youth leader.
It’s easy to say, “Forgive. Forget. Move on.” Or, in the words of the pastor at her church, “Forgive him, just like Jesus forgives us.”
But how can you forgive when your rapist is in your church, dangerously close to other women and girls? How can you forget when he works at your job and your employers don’t know (or don’t care) that he’s a registered sex offender in another state? How can you move on when you have 61 mutual friends on Facebook?
She blames herself. Her past relationships. Her desire for a friend, not a relationship. That she didn’t research him before (so she’d be aware of his two other charges of sexual battery, one against a minor). Her mother’s rape, convincing herself that history repeats itself.
These events took place a year ago. She still feels ashamed. Embarrassed. Broken. Like she failed her girls. And herself.
And she’s not the only one. In the US, a sexual assault takes place every 107 seconds. 68% are never reported to police. Four out of five are committed by someone the victim knows.
So she keeps keeps quiet. Avoids him at church. Keeps her guard up at work. Watches poetry and yearns for the freedom to share her story.
Her story is the story of many of us. Too many women (and men) are forced to live in the shadows of their sexual abuse. Asked to do the impossible…
Forgive. Forget. Move on.
If you or someone you know has experienced sexual assault or rape, visit RAINN.org or call 1-800-656-4673.