“Why Didn’t You Scream?” The Memoir of a Survivor and Hero
“Her friend knocks at the door. It’s been three weeks, don’t you think its time you got out of bed?”
“No. The ceiling fan still feels like his breath: I think I need just a couple more days of rest. Please.”
- Andrea Gibson, Blue Blanket
For the past ten months, I cannot begin to tell you how many times I have heard some variation of this question asked of me: “Why didn’t you scream?” “Why didn’t you fight?”
For centuries, we (as women) have been instructed to look pretty. Be smart, but not too smart. Fade into the background. For centuries, we (as victims, as survivors of any and all genders) have been advised to keep silent.
Countless times, our voices have been extinguished. How often have you heard “they didn’t mean anything by it,” “they were just trying to give you a compliment,” “they were just being friendly,” “just let it go,” “you’re making a big deal out of nothing”?
Constantly, with each passing day, we are told to keep quiet about sexual harassment, street harassment, sexual assault and rape.
Each night, I have nightmares. I don’t remember the last time I slept more than two hours in a row without waking up; crying, shallow breaths, dreaming about being raped, being assaulted, or imagining my friends in these situations. Some people wonder why I stay up so late.
I sleep with the lights on now.
I go to work every day, I write for Feminspire, I am training to work for RAINN, I am active with friends. Each day, I think to myself, “I can pretend a little longer.”
For almost eleven months, I have allowed these incidents to pervade through every pore, every action, every breath.
I will not allow this to control me any longer. I will not be silenced anymore.
On January 21st, 2012, I was at a party with some friends off-campus. I had drunk about the equivalent of eight drinks. Around midnight, a few other friends who had not departed agreed to walk me back.
When we arrived on campus, Bryce (name changed) invited me into his room to smoke some weed. I foolishly accepted. Entering the bathroom, he opened the window to let out the smoke. I had about eight hits, and I became significantly fucked up.
There is nothing scarier than realizing that you are incapable of living inside your own body. I remember sitting on the edge of the bathtub, struggling to remain conscious. We were talking about music, all different kinds, and I remember I was barely able to speak properly. I kept rearranging consonants and vowels, babbling unintelligible words, and everything began to spin. After what seemed like a long time, he put his hand on my knee.
When I start to tell this story, people immediately castigate me for not telling him to stop then and there. The way I elucidate this situation is through an analogy: imagine you have a gun, and when you shoot it, it fails to fire on the first shot. This is what my brain felt like. I was so altered by the weed and alcohol that although I understood someone was touching me, I failed to grasp the gravity of the situation.
He leaned in and began to kiss me aggressively. I automatically responded. I don’t remember consciously thinking, “Oh, we’re making out now,” I just remember being barely in control of my actions. I had no idea what was happening. After about thirty seconds of kissing, it clicked and I realized I did not want to be kissing him, let alone doing other sexual activities while I was this intoxicated.
But I couldn’t do anything. My brain, literally, was unable to form the word “no,” let alone an entire sentence to explain that I was scared and confused. It wasn’t a question of consenting or not consenting. I was physically incapacitated to the point where I was unable to form words to consent or not consent.
The next thing I remember is pain. Either I became dead weight, or Bryce dropped me off of the toilet because I smashed my head into the tiled wall. I had passed out in the middle of this incident and fallen into a wall. This was the only reason I woke up.
After about a minute, he apparently assessed that I was okay and pulled me back onto his lap. He began aggressively making out with me again. The next time I woke up, I was on the bathroom floor, and his hands were in my bra and my underwear.
At some point, he stopped. He began to feel ill. As he started to throw up, the window was still thrust open, the smoke entirely dissipated. I remember lying, terrified and shivering on the cold tile, wondering what to do. Ultimately, I couldn’t leave. I had to make sure he was okay.
I started to hold his hand and rub his back and his arms to comfort him while he was vomiting. He began to shudder and moan and it was really creeping me out. He grabbed my hand and made me go under his shirt. He then kept sliding my hand into his pants. I kept pulling my hand away but he kept putting it back.
When he finished vomiting, he got up, washed his hands, and said he was going to bed. As I struggled to get off of the ground, I looked at him, expecting him to offer to walk me back since I didn’t live on this side of campus. He returned my gaze and said, “You can go home now.”
I told two people the next day. I remember watching their faces screw up in consternation, trying to rationalize how I could claim something bad had happened with such a nice guy. “He wouldn’t hurt a fly,” “he’s such a nice guy,” and “he’s into kinky sex, he has a lot of toys, that’s probably why you thought he was aggressive,” were some of the responses I received. I remember sitting on my friend’s bed, trying to hide the horror from my face. His comment, which was meant to alleviate the tension, made me feel even worse. I felt like if he hadn’t gotten sick, I would have been in serious danger of being raped.
This being only a handful of hours after the incident, I related the story as “something bad that had happened.” At this point, I had no idea how to define the experience, and I was looking for someone else to label it.
At the behest of my co-workers, I reported the incident to the dean without his name, and decided that this was the end of the matter. It wasn’t until a month afterwards that I started experiencing really negative internalization of the emotions I was attempting to suppress. I began having nightmares of people breaking into my room and abducting me. I began withdrawing socially and drinking a lot.
My first attempt to speak out was on April 3rd, sexual assault awareness day. I came out on Facebook through Project Unbreakable, an online project giving the survivors of sexual violence a voice. If there is one thing I can’t stress enough, it’s that you, the survivor, are not powerless. Throughout this last year, I have felt utterly powerless multiple times. But I am not. I control how this experience shapes me. I struggled for so long, asking others to label me; but only you can decide for yourself what happened to you.
At the advice of two of my amazing ex-residents, I decided to report the name of the person to the dean. One of them went with me and helped report it. He sat with me, listened to the entire story in detail, and even asked clarifying questions to the dean to make sure we both understood how a hearing would proceed.
All summer I waited to be informed about this hearing. After moving it multiple times, they set a date. I took off from work and had my advocate ready to accompany me. My college changed the date again, fewer than 24 hours before it was supposed to occur and as a result, my advocate was unable to attend. None of my witnesses responded to attend. I went to the hearing alone.
Two weeks before the hearing, on August 8th, I was at a friend’s apartment. After he went to sleep, me and another friend stayed up. He asked if I liked him and I said sort of. He then kissed me and we began to make out. After a minute or so, he immediately began to try and take off my pants. I said no. He continued to pull on my sweatpants. Exasperated, he chastised me: “Why did you change, it would have been so much easier with your dress!”
He pulled me over to the mattress and pulled off my shirt and my pants. I couldn’t even respond before he was thrusting his hand inside of me. I couldn’t believe this was happening again. I tried to walk away but he kept pulling me back.
He then said, “Do you want to see my cock?” I was so taken aback that I didn’t respond. He asked me to go down. When I said no and moved away, he repeated “go down.” I said no a second time, so he pushed my head down and forced me to perform oral sex. As he repeatedly pushed my head down, I tried to stop because I was barely able to catch my breath.
He flipped me over and began requesting to have sex with me, asking if I had a condom. I said no. He asked me a second time. I said no. He asked me a third time. I said no. The fourth time, he asked me to wake up my friend in the other room for a condom, and I said absolutely not. He then responded, “Okay okay, it will be fine. I’ll stop asking.”
And then he anally raped me.
I guess he decided that by not asking, I couldn’t refuse. I remember sitting in stunned silence, trying not to move because it was so painful. After about a minute, I squeaked out, “You’re hurting me.” He proceeded to stop and said that he had to finish before he went to bed. I had to choose between risking fighting and getting hurt worse, or just finishing him off and hoping it would be over. I chose the latter.
After he finished, he wrapped his arms around me and held me tightly. I could not escape. He said that he wanted to sleep with me. I asked him, “Aren’t you sleepy?” And he replied, “No baby, I could go all night long.” He was hard, and trying to anally rape me again.
It was in this moment that I was truly terrified. It was 4 am. I was in an unfamiliar part of the city, I was unable to drive, I was naked, and I had no idea where my phone was. I don’t know if you’ve ever been in a similar situation, but I dare you to try and tell me to fight him. He was 6′ tall and very strong.
I finally managed to break free and I whisper-shouted, “I am going to sleep over here, you are sleeping over there.” I haphazardly redressed and threw a blanket over my body, not daring to move for twenty minutes until I was sure he was asleep.
I want to say it stopped here, but it didn’t. I was unable to break it off with him, and in an attempt to rationalize what was going on, I convinced myself that he didn’t mean it. I explained to him my past and he apologized and promised to ask if things were okay the next time we were together. I told him that if I ask him to stop, he has to stop. I remember vividly, sitting in my car after work, him chuckling to himself and saying, “Oh N, I don’t know if I would stop.”
Every time we spent the night together, he would claim we were just hanging out, that we wouldn’t have sex, that he liked me a lot and wanted to be my boyfriend. But every time was the same. He would get “too turned on,” demand to have sex, and guilt me into it if I said no. If I agreed to some things, he would push and push against my nos. Even if I said no and he said it was okay, he would enter me anyway.
This happened at least ten times. He would get drunk and blame it on alcohol. He would make sure I had been drinking to claim that I wasn’t able to say no. He would take off the condom and trick me. One time, I was very sick and took drowsy medication, and he took advantage of me then, too. I was barely able to stay conscious enough to kick him out while he was sticking his dick in my ass.
While I was struggling with these new events, I went to my hearing for sexual assault charges. Bryce cried during it. He changed the order of events in an attempt to convince the hearing panel that my kind gestures while he was ill equaled “body language consent” to make out with me afterwards. He said he was a good man, and as a religious person, he would never ever hurt someone.
After over four months of preparation, the hearing panel took exactly twenty-one minutes to decide that he was not responsible for this “consensual” encounter. They said my body language gave him a green light. I guess passing out on the bathroom floor is a new form of consent these days.
The panel requested that the person presiding over the hearing inform me of the following: “The panel was disturbed, and was really sorry that you felt that something bad had happened.” Yet they still decided it was consensual.
Throughout the summer, a few co-workers sexually harassed me. They would speak in Spanish about how if they got me alone in the back room, they would fuck me raw. They talked about how my pussy would taste. This week I was proposed to once and had two people confess their love for me.
And still, people ask me, “Why didn’t you scream?”
I didn’t scream because I’ve been taught to hold my tongue. When I complained about sexual harassment, nothing was done. My store allowed someone who forcibly grabbed my wrists and hurt me to remain employed, and yet fired someone on the spot who missed a shift.
I didn’t scream because some of my friends, acquaintances, and people who don’t even know me told me that I should let it go, that I should just find another job. That I was a slut. That I am a whore.
I didn’t scream because Todd Akin proclaimed that my rape is not legitimate; I didn’t scream because Nancy Grace informed the public that she’s “Never had a rape victim describe the rape as a relationship.”
I didn’t scream because every single fucking day of my existence, at some point in these 24 hours, after being inundated constantly with victim-blaming statements, I still question whether I was raped or not. Every single day.
I don’t want to overhear a situation eerily similar to mine described in detail, and remain silent when the person says, “Well that’s not rape.” You asked me why I didn’t scream, so now you’re going to hear me shatter the silence.
I have some advice. For someone who is asked to be part of this difficult conversation, as that person opens their mouth, as your brother, mother, girlfriend, cousin, friend begins to tell you what happened, just listen. Don’t tell us what we should have been wearing, we know. We hear it a million times a day.
Do not threaten us, saying that we should tell the police or an administration because if not, we “will be responsible for other people getting hurt.” We already feel guilty enough, and we are not responsible for another person’s actions.
And lastly, please choose your responses carefully. Don’t tell us the person is harmless, that you could never imagine that person hurting someone, or that we asked for it. Do not tell us there is no chance that we could be pregnant, when there is a 5% chance of pregnancy for rape victims and over 32,000 pregnancies result from rape annually.
You never know how your words will shape the experience of the survivor with whom you are speaking. Something seemingly as harmless as “but ze is so attractive! Ze would never hurt anyone,” could completely invalidate a survivor’s entire experience.
I still consider myself a victim. There is no way that I am even close to healing right now. I still jump at the touch of others. I still blame myself sometimes. Do not become frustrated if you are not healing “fast enough.” There is no timetable for recovery. Do not become frustrated if you are helping someone through this and they do not seem to be responding.
I’ve had many negative reactions, but I’ve also had positive ones. It is hard to believe that people do want to help when we are surrounded by such victim-blaming sentiments in today’s society. Often times I do not believe my friends. This journey is arduous, but you have to keep trying to recover. I remember sitting in my bed over the summer, wondering if things were ever going to get better, and my friend texted me, “You are my hero, N.”
It’s been almost a year, and that’s still the only time I ever believed it.
Written by NDC