I am the girl you’ve been riding with since you were ten. We were in the same class; I sat across from you in math. I am your colleague, your associate. I’ve worked for you. I’ve given you my number. We’ve met up after being friends for years. I’ve tried a horse from you, I’ve competed against you. I’ve boarded at your barn, I’ve helped you build jumps. I’ve taken care of your horses when you were sick or couldn’t make it out. We’ve gotten lunch and dinner together countless times. I’ve talked to you for hours and hours about life goals and aspirations and dreams. I’ve held your hand through some of the scariest times in your life and also through the best. I am your friend, your niece, your daughter, your sister, your cousin.
I am also a survivor of sexual and domestic violence. I was molested for several years by a family friend starting when I was in kindergarten and ending when I was in fourth grade. The years seemed endless. I knew it was wrong but I didn’t know why. I didn’t know how to connect with other kids. I couldn’t make friends. I couldn’t trust anyone. I was in first grade when I first told my mother that I wanted to kill myself. I tried to hang myself repeatedly and then switched to trying to drown myself. I had no one to turn to. No one would listen to me. All the signs were there. “You have an active imagination,” they said. “You must have a learning disability, that’s why you can’t make friends.” But the truth is, I was molested by a family friend and I watched it happen to another kid.
Children cannot process sexual violence, especially in today’s society where rape victims are shamed into silence and authoritative figures are dismissive. Thus, I kept silent, for years. I felt deeply, deeply ashamed for being so jumpy around people. I couldn’t make eye contact; I couldn’t sleep with my head outside of the covers although I woke up several times a night suffocating from underneath my comforter because I was afraid that if I took the blankets off, someone would be forcing themselves into my mouth.
It was in High-School when I came to the conclusion that I had sexual boundaries – I just didn’t know how to be okay with them. I didn’t know how to explain to someone I would eventually date why I couldn’t do certain things, why I didn’t want to. A new girl had transferred into my grade and soon started dating someone that was soon to be my future boyfriend, whether I knew it at that time or not. We had been in Middle-School together and while he was kind of a jerk to girls, that’s how you know a guy likes you right? If he bullies you? If he’s mean to you?
My future boyfriend was accused of raping the new girl. She bravely came forward to the principle of our High-School and accused him. She came forward because she wanted to protect future girls. She came forward because rape victims are told that it’s our responsibility to protect ‘the next girl’ because the fact that there will be a ‘next girl’ is a guarantee. She came forward because she wanted to protect me. But what happened to her is what happens to rape victims around the country, around the world. She was ridiculed. She was bullied into silence. She was forced to leave the school. The worst part is, I was one of those people that ridiculed her.
We tell girls that it’s on them to make sure rapists don’t rape again. But then we silence them. We ridicule them. We duct tape their mouths and send them back into that dark, dark hole that they crawled out of on the promise that we, as a society, would make it right if they just told the truth. Then we claim we never saw it coming when they try to kill themselves. We don’t have any answers, especially not for you, except that suicide isn’t one and if you attempted suicide, then you were just too weak.
It was Homecoming. The theme was zombies, or something like that. He had been moody all day, even though I had forgiven him for cheating on me just the day before. I had gotten my hair done, my makeup done. I had practiced walking in heels for hours to make sure that when we showed up together, I would make him look good, he wouldn’t be embarrassed by me. I never seemed to be good enough, pretty enough. I never seemed to be as sexy as the other girls; something he would remind me of daily. Especially, because I didn’t want to have sex. I didn’t feel ready and there were things I wasn’t comfortable with. Things he had been begging me for, for months. I didn’t want to be on birth control because I had health issues and when I had tried birth control previously, it made me extremely sick. Something he had been unsympathetic to and I thought, “Well, maybe I am a prude.”
It almost didn’t surprise me when he shoved me against the car and my head hit the passenger side door and I busted my lip. I ran my fingers over my face; I couldn’t tell if my lipstick was smeared or there was blood on my chin. I plastered a smile on my face and tried to laugh it off. He just looked angry at me and I didn’t know why. He drove me home and when we parked outside my house, he grabbed me by my hair and dragged my frozen body across the seat. I remember my head hitting the steering wheel. I remember not being able to see anything except fuzzy stars but when I came to, he was unzipping his pants. He said that I owed him, that he had been waiting for so long. That all the other girls did this for their boyfriends.
He raped me.
I remember walking inside my house, my parents sleeping soundly upstairs. I walked to the bathroom and looked up into the mirror. My eyeliner, my mascara was smeared across my face. My lipstick, mixed with blood, slowly congealing around my parted lips as I reached into my mouth and plucked pubic hairs from my tongue. I gargled water so many times, just trying to get the taste of him out of my mouth. I teetered on my heels, collapsing against the bannister as I tried to walk up the stairs to my room. I peeled off the rest of my dress, as most of it was torn from my body. I remember thinking what a shame it was that I had just bought it last week, as I wrapped it in the bag it came in and threw it in my bathroom trashcan.
I was a sophomore in college. I had just transferred to University of Houston from William Woods University. I was trying to figure out how to balance being an aspiring professional rider and a student at the same time, succeeding more at the former than the latter. I went to yoga, I pole danced with an all-women’s group for fun, I was a vegan, I volunteered at an animal shelter. I was so many things and mostly, I was trying not to be a rape victim. I wanted to be trusting, not bitter. I wanted to be open-minded, not a prude. I wanted to be all the things that you said would make me a girl deserving of love, respect, and belief – something a rape victim is apparently not, according to you.
It was ten o’clock at night and I was in my apartment. I could hear screaming from below my apartment unit. I ran downstairs, still in my yoga clothes. I remember that it was cold outside as I ran barefoot down the concrete steps. My neighbor’s door was wide open and the woman was screaming. Her husband was inside the bathroom, yelling that he was going to shoot his son and then shoot himself. The wife wailed and wailed. I sat outside the bathroom door, taking in the scene of the apartment; the bed was flipped over, a glass bong lay in pieces, embedded into the carpet. I begged the husband to let the boy go: “This isn’t the example you want to set for your son,” I said, as I knocked gently on the door. “He deserves better than this, whatever this is, and so do you.” It seemed like a lifetime before he opened the door, gun in hand, pointed at my face, and shoved the little boy into my arms. I grabbed him, dragging him out of the apartment as I stepped on the broken glass, down the stairs and outside into the frosty air as the police sirens screamed in the distance.
I called my best friend, told him what happened. He was at my apartment in minutes and held me as we stared out the window, watching the tenants of my apartment milling around the scene when they felt safe enough to come out and gossip. I just wanted to go to bed. I still had my leggings on and a sports bra and a long-sleeve t-shirt. Glass was still in my foot and I felt it twinge as I walked across the carpeted living room to my bedroom. He crawled into bed with me as I shut off the light, hoping that when I woke, it would be a new day and all this would be behind me.
But I woke to a hand over my mouth. I woke to a knee forcefully shoving its way between my thighs. I woke to the sound of his voice: “Relax, it’ll feel better if you just enjoy it.” I remember thinking, “No, this time, I’m going to fight. This time, I’m going to SAY no.” Because if you say no, then you’re explicitly not consenting, right? “No!” I screamed, in between his fingers as he clenched my jaw. Except he laughed and he said, “No what?” and grabbed my hair and yanked my skull back so fast and so hard that I felt my neck crack.
He raped me.
I wish I could say that I was dressed like a ‘slut’ to relieve you of how awkward it must be for you, you know, to read about my rape. I wish I could say that it was just some stranger and that I was wrongfully going out on a late night Ben & Jerry’s run for my overactive hormones while I was PMSing. But it was a Wednesday night and I knew the guy. I knew him so well that on Thursday nights we would cuddle up together and watch Scandal. I knew him so well that I sang John Mayer to him through my shower door. I knew him so well that he brought me cartons of blueberries because he knew they were my favorite fruit. I wasn’t going out on a late night Ben & Jerry’s run. I was going to sleep in my own bed, in my own apartment.
It was the beginning of June 2018, right after I had had a major accident in Nevada, just outside of Las Vegas. My front wheel had flown off my truck while I was driving down the highway with my Airstream, due to a mechanic not tightening the lug nuts all the way. I had huge bills to pay and I was running out of my savings. I knew I had to find a job but I hadn’t ridden seriously ridden in over three months. I missed horses so badly, so I picked up a horse job in California, grooming for someone in exchange for the mere hope to hop on a horse every once in awhile. I’d never groomed for anyone except for myself and I certainly didn’t know how to braid but all of my friends said that I could just pay another groom at the show to teach me.
I didn’t want to screw up, I didn’t want to disappoint my boss. I wanted to ride so badly. I was getting tacos at the taco truck, my head in my hands, near tears because I was so afraid of letting my boss down. A guy came up to me, patted my shoulder and asked me what was wrong. I choked out sobs, explaining that I used to be a rider but my life had gone to complete shit, my horse was ruined, and now I had no idea how to be a ‘Real Show Groom’. I felt like such a fraud because I didn’t know how to braid mane. I felt so alone and overwhelmed; I knew no one on the West Coast. He gave me a reassuring smile: “I’ll teach you how to braid, don’t worry! You’ll be okay! You’re seriously overthinking it!” He told me stories of the first few times he had groomed and by the time I had finished my lunch, I was doubled over in stitches, laughing.
I strung up a hammock that night in my grooming stall, afraid to let my horses out of my sight. I had just planned on taking a nap and then braiding them for their classes early in the morning with the rest of the braiders. I had watched youtube video after youtube video; I was prepared, I was ready.
I woke up to someone shoving their hand up my sports bra, groping my breasts so hard that they bruised. I felt a hand pull down my pants. I was frozen. It was still dark outside as I opened my eyelids and stared at the wall. The hand on my breasts moved down my stomach, towards the front hem of my pants. I turned over and looked him in the face: the guy from the taco truck. He just looked at me, dead in the eye, and smiled. He said nothing. Then he took back his hands, zipped up his pants, and walked out. An hour later, he brought me a coffee and said, “Are you ready to learn how to braid?”
The horse show said that in order to have him kicked off the property, I had to go to the police and file a police report. I was beyond terrified. I thought of my past. I thought of how no one had ever believed me. My boss told me that I should report; another rider at the show told me that I should report. Everyone said it was on me to protect all the women and little girls at the horse show and if I didn’t, then he would not only get away with it, but it would also be my fault if he attacked anyone else. Only on the way to the San Juan Capistrano police department did I find out that his ex-wife had a restraining order against him for almost beating her and their child to death.
I recounted my story first in front of a deputy and then again in front of the sheriff. I could barely breathe, clutching a cold cup of coffee, sitting outside while the two men were standing over me, glaring at me. “Wait, wait, so you mean there was no REAL penetration? Not with his penis? Well, you aren’t a real victim, you aren’t enough of a victim,” they said. “We can only question him if you testify, which you need to do or else it will be on you if he assaults another girl.”
I was diagnosed with PTSD by a licensed psychiatrist and psychotherapist a few weeks ago. I sat cross-legged in his office, on a couch, just across from him as he ticked away boxes on a clipboard before finally looking at me. Heaving a sigh, before he said, “I can’t help you, but here is the number for a trauma specialist. Hopefully she can.”
I am your friend, your niece, your daughter, your sister, your cousin. I am a victim and a survivor of sexual and domestic violence. I have told my story. I have done my part, and then some. I have stood up for myself. I have both kept my silence and spoken up. I have held my tongue and bared my soul to the world. I have opened myself to your ridicule and your hate. I have been vulnerable and I have been strong. I have been through and done and said all these things but my story never changes and neither do the nightmares and struggles that I deal with on a daily basis.
I am also not the only one.
I have DONE my part. I have carried my burden. I have shouldered my shame; shame, that should have never been mine to start with. And you? You do not get to be a bystander in my story. You do not get to put your fingers over my mouth and look the other way. You do not get to blame my fellow survivors. You do not get to undermine us. We are in a crisis of humanity, not politics. This isn’t about who you voted for or why. This is about what you believe, who you choose to stand up for, and what you stand against. This is about morals and ultimately, about fundamental human rights. I believe survivors and I believe Dr. Christine Blasey Ford.