SAAM 2021: Why Women Don't Report
“Several years ago the hash tag #WhyWomenDontReport became a social media trend. Reading through so many women sharing their stories of fear, disappointment, and betrayal at the hands of the justice system worldwide broke my heart and inspired me to share my own story.
“Because I didn’t want to be investigated/prosecuted for being the victim of a crime.”
“Because sexual assault is like a murder without a corpse. And you feel powerless”
“Because society victim blames and shames women in to believing they deserved it.”
“Because despite feeling shameful it feels safer to be quiet.”
“He is innocent until proven guilty, but I’m a liar until proven honest.”
“Because I was ashamed. I’m not ashamed anymore. I won’t say ever say his name, but this is MY narrative now. I win.”
“Because it’s easier for me to cry and dwell in my sorrow alone, than it is to share my story and be ridiculed for it.”
“From the moment a women walks into the police station/hospital the system is working against her.”
These are all so true and every single one of them reflects the same thoughts that went through my head as I was trying to come to terms with my assault. In the end, it really boils down to this for me personally: First off, it was so traumatic I repressed it until many years later. Secondly, when the memories did resurface I remembered this as well: He was recovering from major head trauma, and explained the event away as a sleep disturbance. All of the violence I endured with him happened at night, and it made sense. Until he denied everything years later. Not just he assault, (which is fairly obvious he would deny) but the night terrors, and other sleep disturbances as well.
The assault happened one evening in December 2005. I was living with a man after enduring an extreme falling out with my mom. We were friends and coworkers. I’d spent the night with him several times before making the choice to move into his home, and I felt safe there. Besides feeling comfortable in his home, I had literally no where else to go. I was employed full time, but my salary was next to nothing. I couldn’t afford an apartment on my own, but I could afford to pay a few hundred dollars toward rent with my friend. We shared his bed after I moved in. I had my own room, but I didn’t have any furniture. He had an extra mattress stashed in his second bedroom, but it wasn’t made readily available due to the hasty nature of my move. Even though we were sharing a bed nightly we never discussed any sort of sexual relationship. We were roommates, and being naive as I was I assumed that nothing would change.
We lived together peacefully for several weeks until on night, without warning he brutally raped me in our bed. After the rape my entire world was shattered yet again. The events leading up to my hasty move nearly broke me. I simply couldn’t endure the verbal and emotional abuse from my mother any longer. In fact the day that so nearly tipped me over the edge, was the first time my life had become so overwhelming that I wanted to end it. If the man who would eventually become my rapist hadn’t been there to pick me up off the floor, calm me down, and offer me a place to stay I probably wouldn’t be here writing this. On the heels of my first bout of suicidal thoughts; then being violated in such a personal, and horrible way by the very same person who had saved me just weeks earlier, I quite literally could not cope with it. The memories were almost instantly repressed. The night immediately after the rape I returned to our apartment, and his bed nary the wiser that something so violent had happened between us. I continued to live with him despite the attack and other subtle ways that he abused me. Eventually, our friendship blossomed into a horribly toxic, and exceptionally dysfunctional romantic relationship.
About two years after our relationship began, it came to a rather messy and dramatic end. When I was finally free from the constant triggers that came with living with, and being in love with my rapist slowly the memories of the rape began to resurface. At first they were flashbacks. My current husband would say something or touch me in a certain way while we were intimate. I would have a panic attack, start crying, or just feel an overwhelming depression come over me. I didn’t understand what was happening. I only knew certain acts and phrases were off limits for a comfortable experience. Once the flash backs subsided, I was met with haunting memories in nightmares. The same scene playing over and over again in my head. Hand on my breast, hand between my thighs, pain, and then erratic sobbing into my pillow. The nightmares were much less frequent and not triggered by anything specific as the flashbacks were, but they were still a lingering presence in my subconscious. I couldn’t understand them, nor could I get rid of them.
Eventually, five years after the relationship with my rapist ended, nearly eight years after the rape itself had taken place the full memory of what happened that night resurfaced. Suddenly, as I was sitting on the couch going through an old CD binder, I remembered everything in vivid and graphic detail as if it had happened not years but hours before. As I began to come to terms with what happened I was more confused than anything else. Because the memory seemed to appear out of nowhere I had severe doubt regarding the validity. It couldn’t be real. The man that I felt such a strong attachment to so long after the end of our relationship couldn’t also be the man who raped me. It was the doubt that spurred my initial idea to write everything down in an effort to heal. I began my journey on my own unguided. After a few months of wrestling with it on my own I happened to look up the DSM criteria for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). I don’t remember exactly why I thought of PTSD or what initiated my google search for information, but once I found it I felt like I had been kicked in the chest. Reading more in depth about it was like reading into my own thoughts. All of these things that were swirling around in my head made sense when viewed through the lens of PTSD.
So, I set off to find a mental health professional to see if my hunch was correct. If I did in fact suffer from PTSD, a disorder I had ignorantly believed could only to service men and women in the Military or law enforcement. The very first time I sat down with my therapist to discuss why I felt that I needed to be there I spoke of the rape and how it had caused so much continuing conflict in my life. I couldn’t come right out and say that what had happened was a rape for a long time. Almost a year into my treatment and recovery actually. Speaking to my therapist was the first time I had spoken the word “rape” out loud in regards to my memories.
It took a lot of soul searching to come forward about what happened to me. Not in the sense of going to the police, but just speaking the words out loud. Telling my story for the sake of being heard and putting the internal emotional turmoil aside. Finally in April 2015 I decided to publish my story for the first time. I changed and blurred what I deemed as unnecessary details to give my rapist the benefit of anonymity. I was foolishly trying to protect him from the consequences of his own actions. More than just wanting to protect him, I was also severely concerned as to how he might retaliate for me exposing the last dirty secret between us. After enduring his abusive behavior during and somewhat after our relationship I was terrified that if I called him out specifically, that his reaction would be swift, violent and angry. Much to my relief, he pretty much ignored my first retelling of the event, which gave me the courage I needed to continue writing and finally put an end to my own internal turmoil.
I was able to maintain my tempestuous grip on peace without going to the police for a very short while. While the aspect of my life regarding my rape had began to settle down, the rest of my life was in the midst of chaos. Several hasty decisions inadvertently put not only myself, but my children back in close proximity to my rapist. It was the first time we had lived in the same state for nearly a decade. Making things worse we were less than 10 miles apart in neighboring suburbs. Running into each other was pretty much inevitable, and I knew it. Trying to put my mind at ease I contacted a mutual friend and explained my fears. Well, I thought he was a mutual friend, but as it turned out he went directly to my rapist with every single detail which I had confided. It only made the situation more volatile than it would have been otherwise. Soon my attacker and his wife were driving by my home, yelling derogatory things in my direction which sent my anxiety into overdrive.
The kids and I moved, not once but twice through out the course of the year we spent dodging my rapist. There were other factors contributing to each of our moves aside from his shenanigans, but the stress from it all caused me to quickly reach my limit. It was one thing dealing with my rapist being upset, or denying everything I had published about our short life together. I lived with him and know him very well. I knew what to expect from him and wasn’t surprised when he reacted with anger and veiled threats. His wife, however, was meddling. She took it upon herself to belittle me in an effort to shame me into silence about the rape much the same way she had been attempting to manipulate me into never writing about the brief life her husband and I happened to share before they met. Originally in an attempt to be civil I had contacted her asking her permission to write about our life, but the situation deteriorated quickly as my account of the relationship differed wildly from his own. In the end she had no business becoming involved, and I wish I had realized it before I sent the initial message asking for her blessing. Through out the entire time I was writing and enduring the hateful things said to me or about me nothing stung more than her invalidation of my life. I could ignore the victim blaming and shaming from him. It really wasn’t any different than the abuse I’d already survived. From her? I had enough, and I let her have it in a very long, very detailed and angry post on my personal blog.
Now that, actually solicited quite a vehement response from my rapist. Which makes sense, as he viciously defends his family and always has. There was a time when I was on the other side and he came to my own defense, but this time was the first time I had been on the receiving end. I was actually relieved that he finally dropped his facade and told me the truth about our “relationship” which he had been hiding or twisting around for so long.
“I was an asshole, jerk,selfish, blunt, honest to you about never loving you,dated mutable women while together, had permission from you to be with other women when I went to [school] If anyone has any issues its you. You were a pussy pillow from the start, and I was a jerk enough to let you know up front….Now about these blogs that are about me, first off you were never raped, matter of fact if I recall the next morning when I said to you “you are not going to read too much into this are you” and you said “no are you?” plus if I recall right you came over that next night. Actually a lot of your stories are just that stories with new and exciting twists that never happened. Here are some of my favorites I purposed to you, my father speeding, my mother changing clothes or dressing down to make you feel better, you being raped, my current wife slashing your tires, that I could possible cut/hurt myself, suffer from depression, night terrors funny that hasn’t happened in 10 years for some reason, you helping me through anything the only thing you help was you opening your legs when I asked, and this could go on and on. I mean if I was this horrible person all this time and a sexual abuser then why be around me and live with me for 2 YEARS! I mean come on that makes no sense what so ever. “Help me you raped me, oh wait its love, I love you” Becca you telling everyone that I sexually abused you then proceeding to go over your good times and bad and over the years should prove to readers you are FUCKED UP IN THE HEAD. It makes no sense but “You hurt me so you raped me, you rapist!” Also if I raped you then why be with a predator? Strange when I was with [my wife] for the first time I was nothing but a gentlemen and asked her, “Is this okay”,” Are you sure you want to do this”, and my favorite “can I kiss you”. Because my Father taught me to always ask before doing anything.You may be asking yourself “if you don’t care as much as you say then why are you responding? I am glad you asked! You see your readers only get the made up fictional version as if you were a victim of sexual abuse. I want your readers for once read what I have to say but I am sure you will be a coward and will take it down.”
Before he shared his own feelings publicly he had always maintained the “I loved you, but…” explanation any time we spoke privately. The “but” changed every time we spoke about it, and I could tell that he wasn’t being entirely honest with me. FINALLY having him come out and admit that he had merely been using me, confirming my suspicions and validating the conclusions I’d already reached about his abusive behavior was exactly what I needed to hear. His intention was to be hurtful, but instead I felt a sense of freedom that I desperately needed to completely move on. Instead of hurting me with his caustic words, he inadvertently provided me with the key I didn’t realize I needed to unlock more of my repressed past.
Of course he also verbally attacked my family and abilities as a wife and mother. I issued a brief, precise response. It wasn’t out of anger, or hurt, or a reaction to much of his words at all. I was merely standing my ground and defending my own. After I posted my response I began to think back to everything that brought us to the point of bickering on a public forum about a relationship that had ended nearly a decade before. The more I thought about it, I remembered the last time we had a verbal sparring match via telephone I ended the conversation by hanging up on him, and in response to his bruised ego he called the police. I don’t know what all claims he made against me, but a few minutes after speaking to him I received a call from a police officer informing me that if I continued to harass my rapist that charges would be brought against me. Realizing that I might have unintentionally violated the law by interacting with my rapist on my blog and via several private emails, I took it upon myself to go to the police.
Yes, when the police became involved I was merely making sure I hadn’t broken any laws because my rapist attempted to press false charges against me. After speaking to a local police officer I discovered that no formal charges had ever been filed against me. The threat was just that. A threat from my rapist that he had no intentions of following through with. I wasn’t in violation of any law. THAT made me angry, or perhaps my anger was a delayed reaction to the initial confrontation or rooted in something else entirely. Regardless, I set about furthering my reply to my rapist’s rant. It wasn’t the brightest idea I’ve ever had, but my emotions got the best of me. I responded, linking back to an article I’d written months before the confrontation. I had forgotten that all of my blog posts have a limited time frame during which comments can be left by the public. I assumed the scuffle between us was over until I checked my email a few days later. My rapist sent yet another long winded, rambling email calling me crazy (among other things) for having the compassion to forgive him, and the gall to hold him accountable for his crimes.
I replied respectfully, told him continuing the conversation was pointless and asked that he not contact me further. He ignored my request, and continued to email me which lead me back to the police. Once again I called the local department and an officer came out to speak with me. This time, the officer that came out suggested that filing a report about the rape would be the best way to build a case and get my rapist to back off. He was ever so careful with how he worded his emails as to not include anything that fell into the legal definition of a threat. Every officer I spoke to knew his intent was to threaten and silence me, but none of them could help me in terms of the law.
Basically, I was shuffled from one department to the next. The local police couldn’t do anything more than take a report of the emails and my desire to have communication cease. However, I was told that maybe if I traveled to the jurisdiction where the rape took place and filed an official report they might have more resources available to help me. It took me about two weeks for me to make my decision, but eventually I did. I packed up my kids and drove to the town where the attack took place, shuffled all of my kids into the small police station and initiated my report hoping to finally put an end to my rapist’s continued involvement in my life.
It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do, especially after reaching out for help and getting continually shuffled around from department to department. By the time I filed my official report I had been “redirected” four different times by four different jurisdictions. At least the department in the town where the crime had actually taken place took things seriously and didn’t try to pawn me off on someone else. Nothing much came about from filing the report. The detective I spoke with presented his case to the prosecutor, however with no physical evidence and so much time between the crime itself and when I came forward the prosecutor neglected to move forward. The investigation itself will remain open until the statute of limitations expires, and God forbid he ever victimizes someone else my report and testimony will aid in his prosecution. That’s, unfortunately, the only hope I have that my rapist might eventually see justice in this life.
As if the emotional turmoil wasn’t enough of a struggle to over come before giving my report, I also had logistical issues. Pretty much immediately after the relationship ended I moved out of state. I told my family and myself that it was a way to move on and get back on my feet. In reality it was an inappropriate coping technique. Instead of facing the pain, and working through it immediately I ran away. I did. I straight up ran away hoping to leave everything behind. If life hadn’t brought me back to my hometown, if my attacker hadn’t threatened to file false accusations against me, if I had never pursued therapy, and the memories never resurfaced, I honestly can’t say if I would have pursued filing the report. Especially after so many years and so many different people telling me to just shut up and forget about it. Like my rapist was a bully on the play ground and not a violent, abusive criminal.
Really, if his denial of the crime hadn’t been attached to his rambling diatribes it probably wouldn’t have changed my mind. I would have maintained my belief that the night he raped me was a simple case of mistaken identity. Seeing his denial in context next to the repeated admissions that he lied to me, he never cared about me, and that he just wanted to fuck me, things became fairly obvious. What happened that night was intentional. He knew exactly what he was doing and chose to willfully violate my humanity. He should have been held accountable. It made me feel incredibly foolish for defending him for so long, and somewhat guilty for loving him and giving him the benefit of the doubt. I felt like it was my fault for the way he chose to victimize me. I felt like it was my fault that he got away with it. I won’t say that I regret filing the report even so many years after the crime itself, because I don’t. I do catch myself sometimes wondering if I did the right thing. If coming forward so many years later was the best way to handle the situation. At least have a greater sense of closure. Not a complete sense of closure, because I’ll never have that as long as I continue to write and my rapist continues to seek out my words. However, the internal conflict between morality and compassion I’ve struggled with for so long has been put to rest.
The saddest part of all of this, my personal story aside, is how quickly #whywomendontreport stopped trending. It was a flash in the pan. Bright for a moment, just enough to catch my attention before disappearing again into the void. So many people in so much and different levels of pain crying out only to return to silence. It seems when it’s not a trending social media topic or part of political rhetoric, no one wants to talk about it. No one speaks forgetting that in order to see a change, we so desperately need to maintain our voices. I know it’s not easy. I’ve had to step away from this chapter several times to let the emotions and anxiety subside. Yet I keep talking. I keep talking after the trend is over, after it’s not news, after veiled threats, flash backs, and insomnia because it matters.”
To read more of Rebecca’s thoughts on surviving and overcoming sexually based crimes you can find her latest release Turquoise Boot Straps: A Survivor’s Thoughts on Amazon or by following the shop link above. Kindle and Paperback versions available now.
Copyright R. MacCeile 2019