The card on the flowers said, “Let me take you to dinner.”
After a devastating breakup, I had spent months picking up the pieces of my shattered heart. On a whim, my friends convinced me to join them at a local bar. “It’s time to get back out there,” they said. As I reluctantly stood at the bar nursing a beer, he smiled at me.
He had a nice smile.
He approached me and hit me with the usual pickup lines as my girlfriends giggled at the other end of the bar and gave me the thumbs up sign.
He came on strong, and I should have known.
But his smile and his wad of $100 bills wore me down. He bought my friends drinks all night long and his eyes never left me. At the end of the night, as my friends gently cheered me on, I gave him my number. As we left the bar and tumbled toward the car, my friends hugged me and told me they were excited that I’d met a new guy.
And, the next day, as the fragrant smell of two dozen roses filled my dorm room, I was flattered and bewildered. How exactly had he tracked down my address? I pushed my doubts aside. My shattered heart deserved to be happy again, I reasoned.
“Let me take you to dinner” seemed easy enough. Baby steps.
I should have known.
Over the next few weeks, he lavished me with gifts and managed every detail of our dates. Each date was more exciting than the next, planned with meticulous precision. Spontaneous trips to restaurants he’d rented for the evening just for us and little boxes filled with gems that sparkled made my friends swoon. My roommates delighted in answering our door as huge flower arrangements arrived. “He’s the one!” they would exclaim. I’d smile and wonder if they were right.
Slowly, I let my guard down. I let myself imagine that he might be my Prince Charming. And, as he kissed me, always more urgently than I was willing to accept, I pushed aside my nagging fear. Inexperienced and shy, I wanted to take things slowly and said as much. “I won’t wait forever,” he said.
And he didn’t.
It happened at his apartment.
He’d invited me to dinner at his place. “Just us,” he’d said.
I arrived and the mood had been set.
Candles. Flowers. Soft music.
I was barely in the door when he wrapped me in his arms and kissed me to the point of suffocation. I resisted and my reluctance seemed to egg him on. He whisked me to his bedroom, laid me on his bed, and tickled my ears with fervent kisses. “It’s time,” he said. “We’ve been together for a month.”
I was 19 and still a virgin.
I wasn’t ready.
I said NO.
But he persisted.
“Come on, baby. It’s me. Let’s do this.”
“Do you know what I’ve spent on you?”
And then it happened.
In one motion, my pants were unbuttoned and he shoved his fingers hard into my vagina.
I cried out and begged him to stop.
My cries angered him, and he grabbed me as hard as he could.
“You fucking slut tease. You are mine,” rang in my ears.
“If you don’t shut up, I’ll shove my whole fist up there,” he leered.
I cried as he rammed his fingers into my personal space and he jerked off, daring me to fight back. He uttered obscenities in my ear, his breath scorching my neck.
When he was done, he shoved me aside and told me to get out of his apartment.
From beginning to end, I’d been there 20 minutes. I had my “20 minutes of action” with my own Brock Turner.
As I stumbled to my car, every step a painful reminder of my very shameful violation, I drove home with silent tears streaming down my face.
I tiptoed into my dorm room, careful to not wake my roommates, lest I have to explain how my perfect Prince Charming had sexually assaulted me.
As the hot water rolled down my back, I cried heaving sobs into my knees and vowed never to speak of my trauma again. The shame washed over me like a thousand oceans and I relived every moment for months. Years.
I went to his apartment. I should have known.
And I do know now.
I know what it feels like to be violated in a darkened room with no way to fight back.
I know how it feels to have a man reach into you and grip so hard that you are afraid he’s going to rip you in two.
I know how it feels to have a man steal your innocence and your dignity.
I know how it feels to have flashbacks of fingers ramming into your cervix when you are finally with a man who loves, respects, and cares about you.
I know how it feels to feel helpless at the hands of a man who doesn’t value women.
I know how it feels to hide my secret from the man who has loved me for the better part of 20 years.
I know how it feels to hear other women confide their stories of sexual assault and want desperately to say, “Me, too.”
I know how it feels to be grabbed by the pussy.
And it’s not nearly as great as some men would have you believe.
It hurts, and it’s a secret shame I carry with me every single day.
It’s not “just words,” and it’s not “locker room talk.”
It’s SEXUAL ASSAULT.
I wasn’t able to fight back in that darkened room 21 years ago, but recent media stories have made me come out swinging. I won’t stay silent anymore, if for no other reason than for the woman who is still too ashamed to admit that a man raped her. I won’t stand idly by as rape culture is perpetuated by men who think it’s their right to grab women when the mood suits them. I won’t let my my daughter grow up in a world where rape and sexual assault is acceptable.
I will wage my war because I never want my daughter to look me in the eye and say, “Me, too, Mom.”