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Sexual assault victims recount their experiences

Zoe Greszler • Updated Sep 28, 2018 at 3:12 PM

(Editor’s note:  This is the fourth and final installment of series focusing on sexual assault. This story contains information that may be upsetting to some and may not be appropriate for younger readers. The identities of the sexual assault victims interviewed for this story are known to the Reflector, but they were granted anonymity at their request to tell their stories.)

 

“He took my phone and was holding it out away from me. I reach over to grab it and I fall off the couch and when I fall off the couch, I basically pass out. I remember sitting there for a second and then it just goes black. The last thing I remember is when I fell I could see him coming down toward me but then a split second later I was out,” she said.

“I didn’t wake up until morning. I was naked in his bed without any covers. He was on the other side, rolled up on his side. I was just laying there basically. No covers. No clothes. I was naked. My clothes were on the floor. I didn’t know what was going on. I woke up thinking, ‘Where was I?’ I was still intoxicated. It wasn’t a hangover yet. I was seeing wavy lines and was confused.”

Throughout Huron County, more than 3,000 women have accounts similar to this one, which was related by a Norwalk woman in her 20s.

These women, according to the 2017 community health assessment, said they have been sexually assaulted in some way during their lifetime. Among the county’s school-age teen girls, 10 percent say they’ve been touched in an unsafe way and another 3 percent report being raped.

These numbers are actually low, according to local health officials. They said it’s not reflecting the many more who either don’t realize what they experienced was sexual assault or are too afraid or ashamed to discuss the experiences that changed their lives.

 

Date rape?

This woman, whom the Reflector will refer to as A.B. to protect her identity, said the date rape happened within the past six months and was committed by someone she knew — her best friend’s ex-boyfriend. Despite the break up, she said they had all remained friendly with one another. 

She admitted she was drinking underage at the time, and in an open and honest interview with the Reflector, said there are things she realizes she could have done differently.

“Since he was a friend, I didn’t think I’d have to. I shouldn’t have had to,” the woman said.

That night, A.B., sober at the time, offered to take her friend home since he had been drinking. He asked her to come inside, alleging his friend whom she had a crush on was going to be coming over soon too. She agreed. When offered a shot of whisky, she accepted, thinking she was drinking with a friend.

“I thought, ‘That’s fine, too, because I get really nervous around this guy I liked and I thought I should just drink some of this and it’ll be fine.’ It started out fine and then it was a whole glass and he pushed it in my face and kept saying, ‘Drink it. Drink it. Don’t be a (expletive). Just finish it.’

“I’m definitely a people-pleaser and I know I give into pressure too easy. I thought I was with a friend and I should have been able to tell him no (and stick to my guns), but, pressured, I said, ‘Fine.’ Then he said, ‘Finish the bottle, and I said, ‘No.’ He shoved it in my face,” she said. 

“In about 15 minutes I was feeling it pretty good. I was Snapchatting that guy I liked, excited that he would be coming. That guy (whom she was drinking with) told me to stop bothering him and said he’d get there when he got there. As soon as I leaned back to take a picture to send him, this guy reached over to grab my phone.”

The rest of A.B.’s sexual assault was related at the outset of this story.

 

’That’s not consent’

When A.B. came to her senses the next day, the man told her he didn’t know “she liked that kind of stuff” and asked her “how she enjoyed last night,” she said. Despite his insisting that she had fully consented, she repeatedly told him she couldn’t remember anything.

“I didn’t remember consenting. I thought I wouldn’t have done that. I didn’t even like this guy; I liked his friend. I wouldn’t have done that. But then I think, ‘I don’t know. Did I consent? Why would I have done that?’ I wouldn’t have done that, but he says I did. Did I consent? I don’t know.

“I didn’t really realize it was a sexual assault at first,” she said.

“I thought if I was conscious and saying I wanted it, then this was just me being an idiot. I was thinking, ‘Why did I give consent and why I’d I do this?’ It wasn’t until I finally talked to somebody else and they told me that’s the definition of assault. I just didn’t want to think that it happened to me or that he would do something like that. I think that’s why I never wanted to press charges. I just thought of myself as being the idiot instead of the stuff he did to me. But even if you’re drunk and you give consent — that’s not consent. It’s really hard to understand when you’re sorting through it,” the woman said.

“It’s just hard to grasp (the definition of sexual assault),” A.B. said, adding she still carries blame for that night. “It’s just still kind of hard in my mind to fully get it. I don’t want to believe it. I understand it. But there’s nothing else I can do. Even if it has that label now, what difference does it make? I can’t do anything about it. I don’t know. I guess it’s just not going to change anything.”

While she feels the man took advantage of her and that he was in the wrong, the Norwalk woman said she feels she also carries a degree of responsibility for that night, a common factor for many victims. A.B. said while there are things she regrets about the decisions leading up to the situation, there are decisions she said in all honesty she still wouldn’t have changed and that shouldn’t have had to change.  

“I don’t entirely blame him,” she said.

“I should have known my own limits for alcohol. I should have thought about that. I give in to peer pressure very easily. Since I considered him a friend, I should have been confident enough to tell him ‘no’ when he was making me drink. I regret that about myself, doing that. I don’t regret picking him up and preventing him from drunk driving. I don’t regret waiting for that guy. I was excited to see (my crush). Drinking that alcohol was really the only thing that I would change and I just gave in to it.”

A.B., while talking of being hurt, angry, confused and disgusted with the perpetrator, and at times with herself, still exuded some feelings of guilt and self-blame as well.

This often overwhelming whirlwind of emotions is common in the aftermath for sexual assault victims, and is something another Norwalk woman, here called C.D., said “never goes away.”

 

‘It started when I was 3’

Some people suffer more injustice in a short period of time than others will experience in an entire lifetime. These victims are among the people you pass by and interact with, some on a daily basis.

You also might know the people responsible for that suffering. Unless they are caught, the perpetrators can blend in just as well as their victims. 

C.D. said she knows that well, having been sexually assaulted, molested and raped countless times. One perpetrator was a teenage family member. Another was a good family friend and employer. Yet another was a stranger. Never once did she report her abuse to authorities. C.D. said she hadn’t discussed some of the accounts with anyone — not even to her own husband — prior to her interview with the Reflector.

Now married and the mother of a grown son, C.D. initially appears as a strong, lively, beautiful and confident woman, one who’s not afraid to speak her mind. After conversing a little beyond casual pleasantries, however, one can detect small telltales of the difficult experiences she’s had to live. Sometimes she said she is needlessly apologizing or feeling bad over situations that weren’t her fault. 

Behind her confidence is a woman seeking reassurance and to know she’s pleasing the people whose opinions she values. C.D. said masks and facades can be a common way of coping for sexual assault victims.

The first time C.D. remembers being assaulted was when she was still a toddler. 

“The biggest one for me was with my cousin who was 17 years old (at the time),” she said. “He used to babysit me and my sisters. It started when I was 3 until I was 6.”

On Wednesday evenings, her parents would go to her aunt and uncle’s house for Bible study, C.D. said. The couple would send their son to C.D.’s house to babysit her and the other young children. 

“That was my first experience with sexual assault,” she said.

“The very first time, it started, just for whatever reason, because I didn’t want to go to sleep. He kept sending me to bed and I kept getting out of bed and going (out to the living room). I can remember popcorn and I remember the smell of popcorn and I thought, ‘Oh, I’d like some popcorn.’ He was continually getting frustrated that I kept getting up, so he put me over his knee, pulled my panties down and spanked my bare bottom. Then he went further.”

C.D. detailed the account of how her cousin molested her for the first time, telling her, “That’s what good girls do.” She didn’t make much eye contact as she shared the memory, but her voice conveyed the disgust.

“He was my family member,” she said. “My parents were at his parents’ house for a Bible study. I was terrified. I remember I just froze. I was so scared. I just remember thinking later that I thought this is normal. It’s such a tender age.”

She said this was the first — but certainly not the last — time her cousin would sexually assault and harm her. 

“I didn’t say anything. I didn’t even tell my mom until last year,” she said.

But the courage C.D. mustered was not met with open arms. 

“She blamed me,” she said, referring to her mother. “She blamed me because I didn’t tell her right away. (I felt) awful, disgusting, like second-guessing myself. I thought this is even more reason to keep it to myself. If my own mother can’t believe me, who the hell else will?”

 

‘He was grooming me ... to rape me’

That was just the first of several accounts in which someone whom C.D. trusted would prey on her, betray and then abuse her, not minding the damage left behind.

C.D.’s parents divorced when she was a younger teenager. She went to live with her dad, who lived in Norwalk at the time. By her sophomore year in high school, a family friend who lived just half a block away approached her father, asking if she would be able to babysit her younger children. Her dad agreed, saying it would be a good opportunity for the 14-year-old girl to gain experience and make some money.

“This man was extremely affectionate, I guess is the word I could give,” she recalled of the family friend. “He was always overly concerned with how pretty he claimed I was. What I can conclude from that now is that he was grooming me at that time to rape me at 15. That went on from when I was 15 until 16.”

C.D. appeared more uncomfortable recounting these memories than the ordeal with her cousin, struggling with word choices as she deviate from her normally strong voice and fluid speech.

Throughout this part of her interview with the Reflector, C.D. stopped to clear her throat before continuing. But that might be expected when it’s the first time a victim is finally able to release a little of the pressure that’s bottled up inside for so many years.

“I’ve never told anybody about that one,” C.D. said. “My husband doesn’t even know about that.” 

She said the rape by a man she trusted and admired was nothing she could have prepared for or expected.

“I did not see it coming at all. I just thought that he was … I looked at him almost like a father figure,” she said. “He was friends with Dad, my grandmother, my grandfather. I mean he was at my grandfather’s funeral, my cousins’ weddings. I’ve had to see this man on multiple occasions since that happened.”

C.D. said running into the man that forced himself on her, taking advantage of her youth, has been “gut wrenching.”

“Just gut wrenching,” she said, “because I have to play nice and I have to act like nothing ever happened.”

These feelings aren’t ones that ebb and slowly fade away into the distance as time passes. 

“No, it never goes away,” she said. “It changes how you view yourself in the world. It changes how you view your self worth.

“You start to begin to believe the broken record playing in your head that ‘you are worthless; that you are dirty; that you are bad; that you are disgusting; that there’s something wrong with you; that it’s your fault; that you did something to provoke it.’ That’s a record that plays in my head all the time.”

 

‘I woke up to him on top of me’

Not many times during C.D.’s childhood and adolescence was she free from sexual assault. The abuse continued into her adult life, some accounts more brutal than others — from men screaming sexually obscene things at her to more a blatant rape, including an incident when she was 18.

C.D. was working as a lifeguard at Cedar Point, a work environment normally known for its nightlife more than its day-shift activities.

“I was fresh 18 and I had moved out of my parents’ home,” she said. “My parents were extremely conservative. When I lived in my parents’ home, I never partied; I never drank; I never did any of that stuff. So living over at Cedar Point, with a bar directly across the street from where you live, that leads to rebellious behavior.”

About a month into beginning her job, C.D. decided to go out with a group of friends for a round of drinks. 

“I got ridiculously drunk, like falling-down drunk,” she recalled. “I remember one of my roommates had to help me walk back to my dorm.”

That roommate left to continue the party elsewhere while C.D. slept. She said she left the door unlocked for when her roommate returned.

“While I was passed out sleeping, (my roommate’s) boyfriend came in,” she said. “I woke up to him on top of me, me naked. My clothes were off and he was on top of me, raping me. I froze. I didn’t know what else to do but freeze. The only thing I knew was, ‘I need to just make it out of this situation and I need to make sure that he doesn’t hurt me in this situation.’ So I just laid there; I froze. I never reported it and I really, really regret that.”

To this day, C.D. still doesn’t know the name of the man who raped her that night. 

 

Dealing with the aftermath

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports on average every one in five women have, or will be, raped. The organization estimates that equates to about 1.3 million women raped each year. Those numbers don’t include the number of other sexual assaults that occur on a daily basis. Most victims are first raped before age 25, the CDC reports. 

An annual study conducted by the U.S. Justice Department revealed it’s estimated about 97 percent of sexual perpetrators will go unincarcerated. 

Though a rape or other sexual assault might only last a short time, the effects can last a lifetime. 

“The feelings, they can be wrapped up in rage, sadness, grief, depression, anxiety — I still have all of that — drug addiction, harmful behavior, behaviors that are out of character, wanting to go out and get hammered, completely plastered drunk and not knowing why, but just knowing you feel like you need to,” C.D. said of her daily struggle with the aftermath of all that’s happened to her.

“You build up walls that nobody one can break down. You put on masks that no one knows are fake and inauthentic, that only you know are fake and inauthentic. Only you know the real person hiding behind them. You doubt yourself. You doubt your place in this world and you internalize every single situation as being your fault. No matter what the experience is — it’s your fault.”

When asked if she felt like she’s come out of her date rape a stronger woman, A.B. said “sometimes yes and no.”

“I feel like I can talk to other girls about it, like I can try to help my best friend,” she said.

A.B. was initially tormented by the thought of having to tell her best friend what happened, considering the assault was committed by her best friend’s ex-boyfriend. She said she finally decided to tell her about it two months after the fact, which brought “relief” and even more disturbing news.

This reportedly wasn’t the first time the man had done this. A.B.’s friend alleged he had done something similar to her several times while they were dating — something she had never told anyone.

By speaking up, A.B. said she and her best friend have been able to try and work through the aftermath together. Still, the experience has changed her and has changed the way she lives her life.

“But then there’s times I see that guy or I hang out with a group of guys (and) I feel like I have to be so careful now,” she said. “You never feel like you can fully let go or be comfortable with a guy. You just constantly have it in the back of your mind — ‘What if?’”

C.D. said these feelings, thoughts and changes aren’t unique to rape victims, as some might think. She said often times she feels that other sexual assaults are downplayed. However, she said they can have just as traumatizing effects.

“I think it affects women (who) are victim to repeated cat-calling, unwanted groping, even something as simple as saying, ‘You should smile, sweetheart; you’re so pretty.’ Something like that can trigger emotions in anybody.”

Beyond the anger and grief, though, is a much deeper, sometimes far more ugly emotion — guilt.

When C.D. looks back on her assaults, she said one of her biggest regrets is not speaking up and not reporting them. In reference to her second experience, involving the family friend who raped her at 15, C.D. said she knows she wasn’t the first and “definitely” not the last.

“I feel like part of me feels responsible for it,” she said. 

“(The assaults) continued to happen after it (the rapes) stopped. He would send me cards in the mail for my birthday, for Valentine’s Day. He was married and he had a daughter the same age as me at the time. I always felt uncomfortable around his wife because I knew that she was 16 when she married him, so he did the same thing to her, but she ended up married to him. And then when she got older, he found someone else and he thought that was going to be me.”

If she could go back, C.D. said she would have told somebody and she wouldn’t have waited to do so. She said she also would have stopped babysitting, something she felt she had to continue doing, despite the abuse. 

While she hopes telling her story for the first time will help with the healing process for C.D., she says there’s one aspect that will haunt her. That’s something she’ll never be able to go back and change and something that drives her to urge others to speak up about their own abuse.

“You carry the guilt that he could have continued to do that — that what he did with you, he’s doing to others,” she said. “You carry the guilt of all the future victims with you.”

 

‘Tell somebody’

Both women admitted they contemplated backing out of such a raw, open and honest interview, wondering if they “really want to do this and put it out there.” Both said they had the same driving force that compelled them to follow through in telling their stories —  other victims. 

“Tell somebody,” C.D. urged victims of sexual assaults. “Please, talk about it. Don’t hold it in. Get help. Get counseling. Meditate. But most importantly: Talk about it and tell everybody.”

When C.D. was told she was brave for telling her story and “did a good thing,” the relief became evident as her normally tense stance relaxed and a smile came easily to her face.

That’s what she needed to hear, she said. That’s all many victims need to hear sometimes — someone telling them they’re not alone, that they are brave and they are believed.

“There are people out there (who) believe them and support them,” C.D. said, referring to her comments to other victims.

“Survivors are not alone. They are supported and I do believe them. I don’t know one women in my life (who) hasn’t been touched by that in some way, shape or form. That’s sad and ridiculous that should not be a norm. It should not be a normal experience for any women. They need to know they’re not alone.”

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