The day I moved into my dorm, alone for the first time in my life, my room phone rang. I was desperately lonely. I didn’t know a single person on campus. I thought it might be my mom. The man on the other end of the phone told me he was going to tear off my panties and stuff them in my mouth so that no one would hear me scream as he raped me.
I laughed at him, told him what a sad little monkey he was, that his tiny dick wouldn’t hurt a fly, and hung up. Then I didn’t leave my room for hours, terrified that he was watching me.
The commonly accepted statistic at the time said that 1 in 4 women would be raped while they were at University. Before I left Ann Arbor four years later, one friend had been drugged and raped at a fraternity party. One friend had been raped repeatedly by her boyfriend. One had been chased into an alley outside a bar. Her attacker tore the pierced earrings from her ear as he raped her. She will wear those scars for the rest of her life.
I was the lucky one. I was followed out of the dorm cafeteria by a boy that the University had on suicide watch. He knocked my female friend aside to grab me from behind, then fondled my breasts, licked me from jaw to hairline, and ground his hard-on into my ass.
The hallway was full of people. No one stepped in because they thought I knew this guy. No one reacted at all — even my friend — until I started cursing my attacker.
His response? “I just don’t understand you girls. You send such mixed signals.”
I wasn’t hurt, but the clerk at the dorm’s desk — who’d seen everything — asked if I wanted to call the police. The cop I spoke to was dismissive of me for wasting his time.
My dorm advisor asked me not to press charges because the University felt sorry for the poor unhinged boy. His parents came that afternoon and moved him home. I was safe. He was gone from campus. Still, my boyfriend came and got me from my dorm room. His mother let me spend the night at their house.
After that I had to deal with the fallout. My mom was angry that I called my boyfriend first — even though he lived in town and she was an hour away. The police pressured me to press charges. They made it clear that if he ever attacked anyone else, it would be my fault for not putting him away. The dorm advisor didn’t understand what my problem was, since he didn’t hurt me.
I got so I couldn’t walk across campus alone, without a male escort. I’d been grabbed in daylight, in a busy dorm hallway, with a girlfriend at my elbow. I was sober. I was dressed in a long-sleeved shirt and blue jeans. I could not have done anything to make myself safe. There really was no safe place.
To this day, more than 30 years later, my blood still runs cold when someone walks behind me and jingles their keys. My attacker did that, as he worked up his nerve to grope me. My body remembers the sound before my brain can. I am embarrassed and disgusted and afraid all over again.
One night, a couple of weeks after the attack, I took too many pills. I didn’t understand why until much later.
Eventually, slowly, I got my courage back. I met a woman who was raped while at school in Paris. In San Francisco, she worked as a sex worker, working through her trauma and reclaiming her power by doing rape scenes.
I only met one man who was open about having been raped. The number of women in my acquaintance who had been abused or terrorized or hurt grew.
My point is, of the four of us who went through school together, of the people I met later, I was the only one who reported it to the police. I began to see how the statistics were only the iceberg’s tip.
Years later, I went camping with my boyfriend. We were alone at a lonely oceanside campsite, miles from people. These were the days before cellphones. The sex started out consensually, but he was pushing me, trying to break me, using his penis to win an argument.
I thought I could just go away from my body and wait until it was over. I was stubborn and scared. I thought I loved him. I didn’t know where my purse was, where my car keys were. I didn’t know where my jeans were. I thought he loved me. I could run naked out to the highway in the middle of nowhere, if I wanted to be dramatic about it, but there were 40 thousand ways that could go worse than what was happening to me at the moment.
I felt something tear. I started to cry. “You’re hurting me,” I said at last.
“Stop. Please stop. Just stop. It hurts.”
And there was a moment – just a moment – when he thought about whether he wanted to stop or not. It was the longest moment of my life.
So I write about rape in my novels. Raena was raped by her commander. Alondra was raped as a child. Lorelei learns to take control of her own body and to enforce it when she says no. I am not interested in the act of rape. I am interested in how women handle the damage to their souls. How they put their own pieces together again. How they learn to love themselves beyond what they’ve lost. How they regain control.
Putting my own self back together has been a journey. I am healing through my stories. I hope that my stories help other women to find their strength and see the beauty in themselves, too. Until rape stops happening, there will be survivors recovering from it. My stories are for them and for me. This is why I write about rape.