Two-and-a-half years ago, I was raped by my upstairs neighbor. It was my first day moving into a new apartment, and he came downstairs on my request to fix my computer, then had sex with me while I was incapacitated and unable to consent due to a new prescription medication (Ativan) making me incoherent and incapable of action.
I remember this vividly, remember that the condom was yellow. I woke up the next day alone in my bed, yogurt thrown against the wall (why?) listening to his heavy-falling footsteps upstairs, and didn’t care. In fact, it took me two months to care, for his footfalls to feel like fistfalls, for his increasingly violent interactions with me to cause real distress. I reported it to the police, who didn’t take my claim seriously because why did it take me that long, and why did I let him into my house, and what’s this about Ativan? Clearly, according to their investigation, if sex had occurred at all, it was consensual. And as for his supposed violence toward me, as for the times he’d been risky with my life, attempted to hurt me, to make me feel intimidated – well, that was all in my head.
This may have been a different story if I hadn’t known my rapist, if he hadn’t been my colleague at my university, if he hadn’t been in my MFA program, if he hadn’t been in over half my classes, hadn’t been the eternal presence in the back of every MFA party, every symposium, every reading. If his voice didn’t trigger a sickness in my stomach, cause the hair on the back of my neck to stand up, make me feel paralytic with a rage so blinding white as to feel incomprehensible. Because following that October when the police officers and university decided I was some kind of deluded female crying rape like a little boy cries wolf, nowhere on campus was safe for me. I could not use the private restroom on campus knowing he may exit it, couldn’t touch the sink at an MFA party where he’d washed his hands. I couldn’t attend the symposium of my friends if he would be there, handlebar mustache and tall and stiff, his whole body aware of my presence.
Indeed, though one would think with time this would de-escalate, it was not so. In fact, as months passed, I grew sensitized to him, and perhaps he to me. I could no longer be in a classroom with him. I couldn’t use my office in the TA hall, knowing he may walk by at any moment. And finally, this year, I couldn’t even talk to a mutual friend outside a workshop, because there he was, stiff-bodied, leering at me, and using the weight of his heavy physical presence to intimidate me into leaving his friend alone.
And yet, that was my friend, too. That was my close friend, who exited his own workshop with my rapist, knowing that I had been raped by him. And indeed, two-thirds of my cohort had chosen, by this point, in September of 2015, nearly two-years past the investigation, that the whole situation was one they would ignore. They were not taking sides. His presence would be tolerated, perhaps even solicited, at all of our events. But if his presence was tolerated then mine must necessarily be eschewed. There was no other option. My friends could tolerate my rapist’s presence, but I could not.
What does this mean for women in graduate programs, or even undergraduate? It means that Title IX isn’t being upheld by our university. It means that, for lack of “evidence,” I was forced to spend my graduate career hiding out in my bedroom, or in various corners of my department, sequestered away from the overwhelming fear of that man, of that pain, and of the casual disregard for this entire situation that many people around me seemed to show. Because for one reason or another, for legal reasons, because he wasn’t charged, because the top-down system of the university prohibited it, no one could really accommodate me attending my classes by asking him to leave. Instead, if I was uncomfortable, I was the one who had to go. It will always be that way as long as I’m on this campus, unless I sue them for Title IX violation and drag myself through that lengthy and likely rewardless court process.
And really, no one saying, “Just be brave! Just go to the events! Just work in your office! Just go to class anyway!” can know what it feels like to remember the sensation of his body and the very physical pain of that experience. And perhaps the feeling that overwhelmed me in his presence was not fear so much as shame. How could he do that to me, how could he do that to my body, and still be here? Was my body unimportant? Did I matter so little to everyone that his violence could be overlooked because a shitty two-week investigation didn’t turn up results?
What this really means is that my friends chose my rapist over me.
I don’t have a nice ending to this blog post. I can’t tell you about how it was eventually, finally okay. I can say that there was one friend, even as far back as two years ago, who refused his ride to the grocery store. And she always believed me. I love her for that. But I wish she had not been alone.