“I was raped three years ago by a man named Curtis Lepore,” says Jessi Smiles.
Jessi was one of the first “Vine Stars” - a title given to her for being one of the first people to garner millions of followers on the social media app Vine. She says that a big reason she left that platform is because fellow Viner Lepore raped her. The rape, in addition to the resulting hostility and victim blaming from Lepore and his fans, became too much for her to endure.
She does not speak about the rape very often, if at all. “I haven’t mentioned Curtis or what he did to me in a very long time. I didn’t want to deal with it. I didn’t want to get more backlash from his fans.” She says that when it happened to her, she thought, “I was raped and now I have to be miserable.”
“People told me all sorts of things. They told me it wasn’t my fault. They told me that they were glad I reported him. Once they saw that I didn’t get the justice I deserved, they told me it was okay – he would get his justice from God. It just went on and on and on.”
She says it was endless. “People told me all sorts of things to try to make me feel better. I know they were trying their best. But all of it was painful.” She says that the things people said to her did not make her feel better at all, rather, “Because it didn’t make me feel any better, I felt like I was a failure.”
As for how she is feeling three years after the rape, she says that she recently discovered a new option for dealing with her feelings and emotions. In this article, she would like to share that option with anyone who may have gone through (or is currently going through) something similar.
“My point in sharing this with you is not to tell you how to deal with what you have been through,” she says. “The way that you deal with what has happened to you is not wrong. I really want you to understand that. But I want to give you an option – a different way to see things.”
She continues, “That’s all this is – an option. That’s it. I’m not saying anyone has to follow my advice. But this is something that I have discovered and never knew was a possibility for me. I’m really glad that I found it.”
Smiles says, “There’s a woman named Byron Katie. She developed a system that you can use to investigate your thoughts.” The system that she is speaking of is “The Work”.
Byron Katie says that we need to investigate our thoughts because we would be shocked to realize how many of our own thoughts we believe to be completely true. Jessi says, “Thoughts that we make up – just us on our own, in our own heads – we believe them. And that belief is what makes us suffer.
"I always said I forgave Curtis. I always said that I hoped he was doing well. But that was all a lie. What I was actually saying was I forgive him, but he did rape me. I forgive him, but I hope he is doing terribly."
Jessi says that she was recently watching a video of a woman telling the story of a rapist taking her virginity. She says that she was very emotional while listening to that woman's story, and when the woman said "I will never be the same, it really resonated with her. “I have said those words and I have believed them,” Smiles says. “But hearing someone else say those words really sparked something in me.”
She goes on to say, “I know what the woman in the video meant when she said it. She meant that she is always going to be ‘worse off’ now. That is what we are told to believe.” She adds, “If you don’t believe me when I say that, go look at the comments people leave on my Vines.”
You don’t look like a rape victim because you’re smiling.
You don’t look like a rape victim because you’re making jokes about sex.
“I would read those comments and think, You’re right. And, dutifully, I suffered,” she says. “If I didn’t suffer, I wasn’t honoring what happened to me. If I didn’t suffer, then what happened to me was not validated. If I didn’t suffer, then it wasn’t real anymore. I held on to suffering because that was my identity. Being a suffering victim who was raped was my title.”
Jessi says that after watching the video, she sat on her bed staring at the wall and crying out, “Oh my God” over and over. “I realized that I always felt that if I truly forgave Curtis I would have to forget what he did, and I didn’t want to. I wanted to keep it burned in my mind that he was a bad person.”
“I was torturing myself. I was causing my own suffering. In none of those three years did Curtis ever call me or come over to my house and say “Hey, are you thinking about that time that I raped you?” No. I did that. i reminded myself every day."
Smiles says, “We play horror stories in our heads. We have illusions about who we are. Those illusions become our identity, and the very moment that we let them go, we don’t know who we are anymore. Why do we have to feel bad about something in order to acknowledge that it happened? I don’t think we do.”
Jessi offers a different perspective – one that she has arrived at after three long years of sadness and suffering. “If you’ve been raped, this is a different option for you. You don’t have to mourn your way through your life. You did not die. I did not die.”
Jessi was staying in California when she was raped. She explains that after it happened, she went to her friend’s house. Her friend had insisted that she go to the hospital. After that, she went home to Miami and continued to live every day for the next three years with a horror story playing over and over in her head.
"Byron Katie says that the only reason we suffer is because we are trying to change reality in our minds," Jessi says. "The truth is that the real problem isn't what happened." She pauses for a moment, "I know that is a hard statement to grasp, but let me explain. Open your mind for just a second."
“Being raped wasn’t my problem,” she says. “Rather, everything I believed after that was the problem. Being raped is not a death sentence. You do not have to be miserable for the rest of your life.” Jessi says, “People tell you that it’s not your fault, but that doesn’t make it any better. You still believe the bad thoughts in your mind.”
Jessi insists that you don’t have to suffer to acknowledge what happened to you. “I have hurt myself with my own thoughts for three years. I choose not to do that anymore. Your thoughts and beliefs decide who you are. I choose to believe that I am not a victim. What happened to me happened. And I choose to be okay.”
Jessi Smiles rose to Internet fame on the social media app “Vine,” where she no longer posts content. You can now find her on Twitter or on YouTube, where she posts new videos every Tuesday and Saturday.
If you need to talk to someone, the National Sexual Assault Hotline is open and available 24/7 at ohl.rainn.org/online or 800-656-HOPE.