I have seen the Stanford yearbook photo of the convicted rapist whose father feels he is being punished too severely for “20 minutes of action” with an unconscious, young woman behind a dumpster. My stomach turns and I fight the nausea that comes in waves along with the memories of fear and disbelief and shock and horror and indescribable panic that I experienced during an attempted rape. It all happened so fast…and in front of his 1 year old daughter who I had come to babysit. She was on the couch and I was sitting on the floor playing solitaire, waiting for him to leave. His girlfriend’s shift started about two hours before his and I had agreed to watch the baby for a few hours each night to help her out. I had known them both for several years. I distinctly remember sitting strategically on the floor in front of the couch so that if the baby decided to get down I could catch her with my body. I remember that I was wearing jeans and a grubby t-shirt because I didn’t have time to go to the laundromat. I was barefoot because it was hot that day and I always took my sandals off at the door. I was bored and wanted to be at my own apartment across the street where my then husband was watching television. But I had agreed to stay with the baby at their place. And I remember thinking, “Why hasn’t he left yet? He’s going to be late for work and then the phone calls are going to start.” You see, he was on house arrest and had a specific number of minutes to get to his job and clock in or his ankle monitor would go off. He had been arrested for robbery. And he wasn’t violent. And I knew him. So I thought I was safe. And I felt him staring at my back. My back that was covered with a baggie t-shirt. And how he managed to jerk my jeans and underpants off and throw me to the floor with only one hand holding my ankles together and over my head while I was pinned to the floor with his body weight was unbelievable. I am a strong woman. I lifted weights in high school and college. I ran track and cross country and have very powerful legs. I forced my feet onto his chest and started to force him off of me. His face was replaced by that of a menacing monster and his fist that was twice the size of mine threatened to break my face if I kicked him. I felt pure fear for the first time that day. My mind raced to his daughter who was sitting on the couch watching this assault unfold in front of her innocent eyes and I started to cry. And I managed to choke out, “I cannot believe you would rape me in front of her” and then the tip of his penis that was already touching my labia was gone. And he pulled up his pants and walked into the back of the apartment. I threw on my underpants and jeans, grabbed the baby and ran to my apartment across the street. I called her mother from my house and told her that she should call me before she leaves work so that I could bring the baby back home as she got home. She was upset that I told her I couldn’t watch her anymore. I am sure she felt betrayed by me; leaving her in the lurch having to take off work to find short-notice babysitting that she could afford. And I never told her. And I never told my husband. And I never told a soul…because I knew that my past one-night-stand with the baby’s father that had happened when I was engaged to be married would come out and then my friend would be hurt and my husband would be hurt and I would be labeled a whore and what difference did it make since he was going to go off to prison soon anyway?
It mattered. I lost my friend anyway. I lost my husband anyway. True, not for the reasons I had imagined, but they were gone nonetheless. And I still find myself afraid in parking garages, storage facilities, elevators with just one male rider. I doubt my ability to make good choices, whether or not turning my back to him to play cards on the floor was an invitation. This was 26 years ago. And I still panic over it. And I wasn’t “actually raped.” And though there was no penetration, I still felt violated and terrified and dirty and ashamed. And in my effort to protect the feelings of others in my life, I never told anyone and ended up carrying this violation, terror and dirt and shame in my soul and mind anyway and it is the reason for my self-doubt on so many occasions.
And I can’t help thinking that if all the Stanford rapist gets is 3-6 months in a county jail, then maybe he’ll end up on the other end of that equation at least once. He won’t make the connection that he is experiencing what she did. He’ll blame her for it. And the Swedes. And the system and probably even the judge who did him the favor of slapping his wrist instead of teaching him the accountability he so desperately needs to be taught. And no one will be any wiser or safer or better for it.