* The following letter is a collaboration done by several victims of sexual assault, meant for the ones that assaulted them. *
To My Assaulter:
I remember what I wore that night. It was a red cotton blouse tee with criss-cross holes at the collarbones, a denim skirt with over-the-shoulder straps like suspenders, and Adidas tennis shoes. Do you remember when you waited outside my friend’s apartment for us to get back from shopping? How you followed me home? How I was too afraid to turn around because somehow that would make it more real? What would you have done? Apologize? Offer me some more whiskey? Bash my head into the concrete? Finish the job? There wasn’t much left to take and a lot of times I find myself wishing you did.
You’re not my first. Assault, I mean. Does that surprise you? Are you still angered by me calling you that? A rapist? Are you thinking, in that case, I should have learned something by now? Not much to learn and not much to do when you’ve stopped caring about what happens to you and just accepting it: this is what it is to be a woman.
When I was 13, some college kids yelled, “Where’s the rape van?” at me from their car and I guess they were right. That’s what I am to you, to the boys from middle school, to my friend’s dad, to some stranger at a Dance Gavin Dance concert: rape bait. Do you feel set up now? Like I was intentionally provoking you? “All women secretly want it”—you said that to me that night.
I wish that I could have known that you were not showing me love. I wish that I had woken up from your manipulation and realized that you were hurting me. How could you blame me for your actions? People laughed in my face, because I am a man and you sexually assaulted me and “men can’t be sexually assaulted.” No one believed me. I cry myself to sleep when my back feels exposed. You made intimacy with another person scary ... you made me terrified. I hope you know what you did was wrong. I will never talk to you again.
After you raped me I was completely broken. I lay awake at night scared to fall asleep and when I finally did fall asleep I woke up mid-panic attack, soaked in sweat. I stopped coming to school because I was scared I would run into you. Having to tell my parents was awful. Have you ever seen your parents cry? Have you ever had your dad hold you, hysterically crying, telling you he was so sorry that he wasn’t there to protect you?
The first time I had sex was 6 months after you raped me. I broke down crying after 1 minute. My whole body was shaking and I couldn’t stop crying, and I had to be held and told that I was okay and safe and no one would hurt me. I went from having slept with two people to sleeping with anyone because I felt like I didn’t have the right to say no. I hurt people and pushed them away because I did not know how to deal with such pain. I scrubbed at my skin because I didn’t want it to have been touched by you. I hated myself so much because of what you did to me. I even attempted suicide.
Does this still seem like I only regretted it like you told me? I now realize I did nothing wrong; I shouldn’t punish myself. You are the problem. You are a rapist even if you still can’t understand.
You cannot regret something you were not fully conscious for.
Most of the time when I think about it, I just want to ask you questions. Did you know what you were doing? Do you know now? Did you know it was wrong? Did you know that there’s a name for it? It’s sexual assault. Did you know that some days when I try to fall asleep I can still feel the ghosts of your hands on my waist?
I’ve spent close to two years now healing from what you did. Some days, it still doesn’t feel real. You don’t feel real. I’ve forgiven you. For myself. Left your consequences up to a God who can handle you better than I can. I hope you have become a better man - a safer man - if only for the sake of other women.
I am grateful for who this healing has made me into, but I will always want for it to have never happened. I could have become who I am now in other ways that don’t make me afraid of men, or the dark, or entire small towns of people. I believed for a long time that I was broken. That you broke me, and permanently. Some days I still believe that. But I have worth that you could have never touched no matter what you did to me. And all of my days that is the most hopeful, victorious thing.
I wish I knew what you would do to me the second I met you. I wish I hadn’t been charmed by your smile, your jokes, and your confidence. I wish I hadn’t been blind to the manipulation, so easily swayed by the pouty lip you would give me when I said, “No, I don’t want to,” or “I feel uncomfortable,” or “I’ve never done this - I don’t think I’m ready.” I wish you hadn’t pushed my boundaries, prodded at me until I cracked, taken advantage of inexperienced, young me.
I will never forget the two pairs of underwear I bled through that day because of you. I will never forget the words you said after you forced yourself into me - “I love you” - and you dropped me off at school. I am forever grateful that I never heard your voice again after that day.
I was clueless and helpless to the game you played. Fast forward to nearly 8 years later and I still flinch when a man I love touches me. I still bathe myself in scalding water to get rid of the dirty fingerprints you left. I’m skeptical of everyone that wants to show me affection. My hope is that you never force someone into intimacy like you forced me. That you never leave your name imprinted like a cattle brand on another person’s skin.
I hope you realize the scars you left. I hope you realize how long it took for me to forgive you—for myself.