Survivor Stories

by: Jennifer S.

 

I hate the month of February. Valentine’s Day throws me into a depressive spiral. And it’s because on February 12th of 1999, I was raped. Wow, when I type it that seems to matter-of-fact. It’s funny because no matter how far you’ve come, sometimes it seems like I’m right back at square one.

My “story” is unique in that it deals with an online predator. I want my story told because I want people to know how easy it is to get caught up in a situation that seems so innocent that it’s almost impossible to see the evil it will become. I want teenagers to hear what happened to me and hopefully that will prevent it from happening to them. I made some poor decisions, but I am not to blame. When I was going through training at the East Texas Crisis Center I was told something that I repeat to myself every time I start to mentally play the “If only I’d…” game (which I still play to this day) and that is: “Just because you leave your door unlocked, doesn’t give someone the right to come in and steal your things.”

I used to go online a lot with a girlfriend of mine named Kate. We would go into music chat rooms and meet people from all over the world. It was all just innocent talk and wasn’t ever supposed to end in a meeting or anything like that – we weren’t stupid… more so young and naïve.

One day I met a guy online; he said he was 21 and his name was Gary. His aol screen name was “speedy21a.” We chatted a lot and exchanged emails for about a week or two and then I gave him my number. He called me a few times and our conversations were completely innocent. He told my girlfriend he needed my address so he could send me flowers and she gave it to him – she was also very careful not to ruin the surprise by telling me.

One day we were skipping school and were online most of the day. I chatted with him and told him we were skipping school. Then he showed up at my house with a friend! I knew better than to let them come inside so we talked with them out on the porch. I went inside to change the CD and my friend let Gary go in to use the bathroom. While he went inside my friend and his friend went for a walk up the street.

I remember what happened next like it was yesterday. I remember the way I felt uncomfortable at first and then terrified, and I even remember when I stopped feeling all together. As I was messing with my stereo, he came up behind me and started kissing me. And I was ok with that because it was just kissing and even though I didn’t really want to do it, I didn’t want to seem like a dumb kid so I let him continue kissing me. Then he pushed me down onto the bed and kept kissing me. I kept pushing him off but he kept being forceful in his kissing. He started tugging at my pants and I lost it. I told him “no” and tried to get up but he pushed me back down. He held my wrist down and kept kissing my neck, telling me that I’d like it and that I knew I wanted it, wanted him.

My memories at this point become kind of hazy. I remember saying “no” over and over and I remember screaming and trying to get away from him as he called me a “tease.” I finally stopped when he said, “the more you move the better it feels.” After he said that I didn’t make another sound or move. I don’t remember anything about him finishing, but I know he did because I distinctly remember cleaning his ejaculate as it oozed from inside me for two days afterward.

When he was done he let me up and I remember my hands shaking as I quietly got dressed. He started chatting about something, like the fact that he’d just raped me was nothing. He waited until I was dressed and then he walked out of the bedroom after me. When we got outside our friends were back and he said they had to go. So they left and my friend and I went inside. I remember as soon as I shut the door I sunk down on the floor against the door and started to cry. My friend asked me what happened and I couldn’t tell her, I just got up and went in to take a shower.  I scrubbed myself and cried and tried to clean up my vaginal area but it was bleeding and swollen and torn and bruised. My friend just let me do this, not saying a word.

When I got out of the shower she told me that Gary’s friend had told her that Gary and I would have sex while they went on their walk. My friend said she doubted it because I was a virgin and wanted to lose my virginity to a special person. He told her that if I didn’t give it up, Gary would just take it. That’s when she said she wanted to come back to the house. She said she heard the screaming but she thought it was on the death metal CD I had on the stereo.

Initially I didn’t want to tell anyone; I wore long sleeved shirts until the bruises on my wrists went away and that was that. But then I told one of my other friends, and she told all of our friends, and they told the whole school. No one believed me. By that time Kate and I weren’t really friends anymore and she told everyone I had just slept with him and changed my mind and lied afterwards. They all believed her.

But one of my friends, Ashley, told my parents that I’d been assaulted. They didn’t know what to do. My parents are smart people; they work in the medical field and have educations and etc but didn’t know what to say to their only daughter when she was raped. Later, my dad told me he blamed himself. He felt like he had failed in protecting me and teaching me to protect myself – which is why he made me take karate classes for 3 months after he found out. They took me to the doctor (this was months later so a SANE exam was never done) and then to a psychiatrist and a psychologist but I refused to participate in my therapy. I was 15 and thought I could fix this problem. I thought I was in control. The years after my rape were rough ones… I dabbled in drinking and drugs and promiscuous sex. All of it was what made it easier to deal with the rape. I came up with ‘rules’ that to this day it’s hard for me to see the illogic in. For example, I wouldn’t kiss someone I wasn’t “ok” with having sex with – that way if he tried “to just take it” I would just give it up willingly. I still live by those “rules.” I also had panic attacks for a long while and was very depressed – sometimes I would cry and not even be able to pin point an exact reason why. This went on for years. What helped me to get through those times was poetry – I used to write poetry about the pain I felt inside and that made it seem a lot more real… which allowed it to hurt less.

It wasn’t until later as I was coming out of an abusive relationship that I sought help for both that situation and the sexual assault. For me, I had to accept I wasn’t in control in order to gain control of my life again. I had to ask for help before I could take it. When my parents wanted me to go to therapy I wasn’t ready to deal with the situation, but years later when I went on my own I was.

I was raped. Something horrible happened to me – but it doesn’t define me. I am still me. I am still the same person I always was… now I just have a purpose driven life.

It’s not easy to ‘get over’ being raped. But I do it by helping others who have been sexually abused. I think my rape gave me purpose and that purpose is to help others understand they aren’t as alone as I felt I was.

Here is a longer version of my story…

My name is Jennifer Sul and I am a survivor of rape. For many years I was a victim of rape, but I stand before you today as a survivor. This February I will recognize the ten year anniversary of the day my innocence was stolen from me. I have never been asked to speak of my sexual assault in such a personal way, but I am hoping as I share my experience you see just how devastating the effects of sexual assault can be. It is estimated that every 46 seconds in America someone is sexually assaulted. So many men, women, and children are faced with obstacles similar to what I will describe and I want each of you to understand that rape is a life changing experience and the journey to recovery is an uphill and ongoing battle.

When I was 15 my friend Kate and I would go into chat rooms on the internet for music fans and sometimes instant message people we’d come across that sounded interesting. We never shared pictures or had any intention of meeting anyone in person because we knew how dangerous that was. But there was a guy who took a particular interest in me. Gary was 21 and said he was a security guard at the airport.  He would always IM my friend and me. Eventually she gave him her phone number and I talked to him once or twice when I was at her house. Little did I know he asked my friend for my address so he could send me flowers – she gave it to him and they agreed to keep it a secret so I would be surprised when the gift arrived. In her naïve, 15 year old wisdom it seemed a harmlessly sweet gesture from a “cool” older guy.

One day Kate and I were skipping school and playing around online at my house. Gary sent us an IM asking what we were doing out of school – we told him we were skipping. Shortly thereafter he said he had to go and she and I continued to listen to music and visit our favorite websites. A couple of hours later there was a knock at the door and I was faced with the face from the pictures Gary sent me online and a friend of his. They had brought a 6 pack of wine coolers and a 6 pack of beer. My parents were VERY adamant about my not having boys in the house while they were not home but they sometimes let me allowed me to visit with them outside in the open. So we hung out for a little while and Kate and I each drank a Fuzzy Naval Wine Cooler. I went inside to change the CD (we could hear the blaring music from outside) and while I was inside Gary told Kate he was going to go in and use the bathroom but that he’d be back in just a minute. After he went in his friend took Kate for a walk down the street.

As I was standing in front of the stereo I felt Gary come up and put his arms around me and kiss me on the neck. I shyed away from him and told he my parents would kill us both if they knew he was inside. I started to leave the room but he sat on my bed. I didn’t want to be the “uncool 15 year old” but I was very uncomfortable having him in my room. I had stuffed animals all over my bed and he started picked them up and playing with them, especially my ‘Tickle Me Elmo.’ I kept asking him to put them down and come outside but he started teasing me about how “cute” they were and how I needed to relax. Finally I got irritated with him and reached over to take the Elmo – as I did he pulled me onto the bed with him. He started kissing me and I wasn’t kissing back and was slightly resisting but I told myself not to freak out – it was just kissing. When he flipped me over and got on top of me I started to loose it. I told him my mom would be home any minute and I asked him to stop over and over but the more I talked the more forceful he got.  He called me a “tease.” He held my hands and started to unbutton and unzip my pants – this is when I really started to get scared. I started screaming and crying and I remember thinking, “if I’m loud enough someone is going to come in and make him stop”… but no one came. When he put his penis inside me it hurt a lot. Because I had never had sex before I didn’t really know what was going to happen… I had no idea why he kept sliding in and out. He was holding my hands above my head with his hands and I was fighting as hard as I could until he said, “the more you move the better it feels.” When he said that, I immediately stopped moving. I stopped screaming. I stopped crying. I don’t remember much after that because my mind just went to different place – I disassociated. I don’t remember him ejaculating but I know he did because I excreted semen for a few days afterward. I didn’t even know it was semen, that’s how innocent about sex I was. I didn’t even think about it until several months later when my mom asked me and then explained what the fluid was.

After he finished raping me I remember him just getting off me and he started small talking, like nothing had just happened. My hands were shaking as I got dressed and he teased me about it. I was silent as I followed him out of the house and he told his friend it was time to go. His friend said bye to Kate and I and they left.

When they left I locked the door behind them and sunk down to the floor sobbing. My friend didn’t know what to do. She kept asking me what was wrong but I was crying too much to answer her. I then went and got into the shower – as I was undressing she saw the forming bruises on my wrists and thighs and I was bleeding pretty heavily. I felt so dirty and I could smell him all over me so I started scrubbing my skin raw with very hot water. My genitalia hurt very badly but I cleaned as thoroughly as the swelling and pain would allow with the hot water and soap. As I got out of the shower my mind was going 100 mph – I knew if my parents saw me they would know or I would break down and I couldn’t stand either of those so Kate and I walked to her house. I called my mom and begged her to let me stay at Kate’s house that night, which thankfully she permitted.  It did not even enter my mind to report what had happened to the police or to tell my parents. I was in pain, embarrassed, ashamed, scared of getting to trouble, and

The next few months I withdrew from my family and most of my friends. I spend my after school hours in my room writing poetry or working on art projects. I became very depressed but reached out to no one. Kate and I didn’t talk about what had happened for quite some time. When we did she told me Gary’s friend told her that if I didn’t have sex with him he would “make me.” When they got back from the walk she said she heard me screaming but the friend told her she shouldn’t interrupt and he started making out with her to distract her. After I found that out, our friendship declined to say the least. When we stopped being friends she told everyone at school I was saying I was raped but I actually had sex with a guy I didn’t know and regretted it. We went to a high school of 800 students and people spread rumors… this caused me to withdraw even more and become even more depressed. But in my head, I had it together still because I wasn’t outwardly breaking down.

A few months after the rape, I got this urge to escape and decided to run away from home. One of my friends told my parents I was sexually assaulted and that I was planning on leaving the state. My parents found me at the train station, about to board a train. It was then I could no longer hold everything in and I started to have some serious problems. I had panic attacks, cried randomly and stopped eating. I became very afraid of the dark and compulsively checked the locks on the car doors and house because I was terrified he would come back or find me. I started sleeping on the couch instead of in my room. I had very vivid nightmares and would wake up screaming or crying. I would be unable to sleep for days and then would sleep for an entire day at a time. I was always tired. I felt helpless and out of control. I overdosed on everything in the medicine cabinet once. I had to go to the ER and drink activated charcoal – it made me very vomit for hours.  I wasn’t trying to kill myself I just wanted to go to sleep and never wake up. For some reason in my head those were two totally different things; I didn’t want to die, I just wanted to escape.

My parents did not know what to do with me – I wouldn’t talk to them about what had happened to me. My dad felt like he has failed as a father by not protecting me. My mother tried to coddle me and that just made me push away from her more. They took me to our family physician for a medical exam (it had been two or three months since the assault so the evidence was long gone) and she referred me to a psychiatrist and a psychologist. I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and was prescribed anti-depressants. I refused to take the pills or participate in the therapy. In my mind, I was able to handle this and I was in control of the situation. Eventually my parents gave up on therapy and meds and let me handle it in my own way. This was both good and bad: bad because I engaged in self destructive behavior over the next few years, but good because it feels good to know I am responsible for my own recovery.

Slowly I began handle the situation a little better. No matter how upset I was I always managed to complete my schoolwork and maintain a high GPA. I think being able to succeed in school with minimal effort allowed me to keep some simbiance of self confidence. I found solace in completing assignments and reading books – learning came easy to me and I am grateful for that because it kept me always working toward a goal.

In my latter teen years I reacted to my assault like most teenagers reacts when they are going through something they don’t like or understand: I rebelled against the trauma I had been through. I started smoking pot and socially drinking. I dated older guys and stayed out for most of the night – I think I was lying so much and acting out in such ways that my parents didn’t know how to handle or control me. I wouldn’t listen to them or anyone else for that matter – I just wanted to do my own thing. Many victims of sexual assault turn away from sex and don’t enjoy it but I engaged in risky sexual behavior and was had complete inhibition. By having sex with who I wanted and how I wanted I felt in control. I vowed to myself I would never be in a position for someone to force me to have sex again – I vowed I would always be in control. I was very selective in who I spent time with and who I dated. I made sure they knew I was the one in the driver’s seat. I developed a series of rules about dating and sex: Rule 1: Don’t kiss anyone you don’t want to have sex with. Rule 2: Don’t be alone with a male unless you’re willing to have sex with him Rule 3: Don’t mess around with anyone – it’s sex or nothing. The rules went on and on… being in control was my coping mechanism. However my inflated self confidence and outgoing behavior was a facod for low self- esteem. I still felt ashamed of what had happened to me and guilty I had not handled it better. I avoided thinking about the rape as much as possible because when I did my thoughts were mainly focused on self-blame. I would think things like, “Why did I skip school?”, “Why didn’t I fight back harder or scream louder”, “Why didn’t I call the police?” I told very few people about my being assaulted and I never used the word “rape.” I didn’t like the term – it sounded so harsh and true.

When I was a sophomore in college I went to a crisis center because I was living with a man who had become abusive. While I was there I met a wonderful group of people who encouraged and supported me while I left him. After I had healed from that experience I went back to the crisis center to volunteer – I wanted to help others as I had been helped. The volunteer coordinator was a woman I will never forget, Jane. During the volunteer intake interview I met her and when she asked me if I had ever been a victim of sexual assault or domestic abuse I told her about my experience with my ex-boyfriend and I also said, “I was raped when I was 15.” I used the word rape for the first time. That was the day I began to transition from a victim of sexual assault to a survivor of rape.

At the East Texas Crisis Center I was an advocate for victims of sexual and domestic violence. I loved this work and decided to focus my education on helping survivors of sexual assault. I found that helping others was how I healed. I drew inspiration from their strength and because of that grew stronger myself. I began to lead a healthier lifestyle and started to better understand what I was going through and how my reactions were normal. I was not weak or a failure because I was raped. I had every right to say no to sex and I didn’t need to be out of control to feel in control. I became more and more involved in sexual assault awareness and as I did I found my voice to speak out about being a survivor.

A turning point for me was when I was asked by one of my professors to participate in a sexual assault awareness forum at University of Texas in Tyler. I was supposed to explain the sexual assault exams performed in the hospital for the audience. Up until this day I had told less than five people that I had been sexually assaulted. It was a very private and personal thing for me and I was still battling with myself about how much blame I deserved. At the forum I stood up  in front of about a hundred strangers and said, “My name is Jennifer Story. I am a psychology major, a volunteer at the crisis center and a survivor of rape.” The room fell completely silent and my classmates, professor, and the audience looked at me in surprise – no one had known. Though I was totally shocked at what I had just said I didn’t skip a beat, gave my presentation flawlessly, and the forum continued. After it was over my professor came up and gave me a huge hug – she then told me she was molested as a child. When I was walking out to my car I called my parents and told them what I had just done – my hands were shaking as I dialed the phone. They were both very surprised. I felt like I was on top of the world. I felt I could conquer anything at that moment.

After speaking at the forum I decided I wanted to raise community awareness. As I am a licensed paramedic, I applied to be a presenter at the Texas EMS Conference in 2006. I lectured about how the emergency medical profession can better physically and psychologically treat victims of sexual assault. After my presentation several people come up to me to say thank you and share their stories. One woman I will never forget. She was the first one up at the podium and she was silently crying. She hugged me and several times tried to speak but each time she tried her words caught in her throat. I hugged her back and said, “It’s ok… you’ll find the words when you’re ready.”  She inspired me further to say the words other people are searching for. Now I regularly speak at events about the prevalence of sexual assault and give people information about the work being done at the San Antonio Rape Crisis Center for Children and Adults.

I have come far in my recovery from being raped, yet I still fight the victimology of sexual assault. When I get to thinking about the circumstances in which I was assaulted I sometimes start the blame game against myself again… and I have to stop and say, “The person who hurt you was not yourself – blame him!” I say, “Just because you left the door unlocked doesn’t mean it’s ok for someone to come in steal your things.” It’s still very hard for me to say no to sex, even with my loving and caring husband. I get very anxious when I’m in the airport because I expect to see my rapist around every corner. And it is hard for me to sleep in my bedroom at my parents’ house. But I face those challenges when they present and talk myself into being calm and relaxing. I will never be the same carefree person I was before I was raped, but I am coping… everyday.

In the last 10 years I have changed a lot. I transformed from an innocent child to the shell of a person and finally to what stands before you today: a survivor of sexual assault.

I would like to part with this quick story:

One day a man is walking along the beach and sees the shore covered with starfish – there must be thousands, maybe even millions, stranded along the beach. And he notices a boy frantically picking up starfish and throwing them back into the sea. The man goes over to the boy to try stop and calm him. The man says, “Why are you even bothering? It doesn’t matter… there’s no way you can save them all!”The boy picked up a starfish, threw it into the sea and said, “it mattered to that one.” Then the boy picked up another and the man joined him in saving the starfish.

You do make a difference… even if you just help one person – that person may not have made it without you.