I was lucky it happened in the mid ’90s. It being a sexual assault by a group of boys, attempted rape by one boy and actual rape by another boy, that is. I was lucky because no one had a camera on their cellphone. Because if it had happened even 5 years later, it all would’ve been on video. It would’ve been shared among the group of friends. It possibly would’ve ended up on the internet.
And then maybe a decade later, one of those boys who knew what was happening and did nothing, who knew what was going to happen, would’ve felt bad enough to speak out. Of course, speaking out would also serve to advance his career, because of course it would. He could make himself a bystander and a witness and an innocent, but of course he’s not innocent. He knew the whole time what was happening and didn’t stop it.
I went to school with my rapist and the teenage boys who assaulted me or didn’t stop it. I had classes with some of them. I have no idea how I managed to deal with all of this, but I did. I knew they spread rumors about me, saying things like I’d let a group of boys run a train on me. Every rumor was untrue. My assault never stopped.
When I was a couple years out of high school, I was the passenger in a friend’s car. She was my closest friend and knew everything that had happened to me. We ended up driving next to my rapist for a split second. Before I’d even finished saying “That’s him” she was deftly turning off the road and rerouting so that he wouldn’t see me.
Maybe 4-5 years ago, Facebook started prompting me to friend the man who had attempted to rape me back when he was a 17 year old boy. You see, despite the fact that I’d told a few people what had happened to me, people took their side. So my high school friends were still friends with these people, and Facebook was just trying to help me network. I added everyone I could remember to my block list, including my actual rapist. I had to dig for him, though, because he changed how he spells his name. It’s a surreal experience to go looking for the guy who raped you, to find his profile, to see his picture: him, leaning against his car with a shy-looking smile. I know that he’s bullshit. No matter what he does, he is bullshit.
But between those two experiences, I repeatedly saw one of the boys who was there that night. He was present while a group of teenage boys fondled my body while I was in and out of consciousness. I don’t think he touched me, but he could have. He also could have pulled me out of that truck and helped me. But of course he didn’t.
He did grow up and get married, though. And he frequently shopped at two of the grocery stores near my house. And I saw him and his wife probably six, seven times over a four year span.
Oh, the look on his face the first time he saw me! He looked like he couldn’t breathe. He’d been mid-story, and suddenly looked stricken and panicked. And you know what? GOOD. Fuck him. Every time I saw him I looked him right in the eyes and he always looked away. His wife was usually the one pushing the cart and carrying a list, and he would nervously joke with her as we’d pass in the aisle. Once, they were stopped so I stopped near them and pretended to scan the shelves. He bounced back and forth from foot to foot, nervously glancing at me until his wife started pushing the cart away. It felt good to know I made him nervous.
More than once I considered talking to him, just to fuck with him, just to see him sweat. What if I walked up to him and said “Remember that night you knew that they were going to rape me and you didn’t help me?” or saying to his wife “You should ask your husband about the night his friends sexually assaulted me while he did nothing to help!” How would that have played out?
Ultimately, saying nothing felt more powerful. I had the power to reveal something of who he was and is to the most important person in his life, and he knew it. And though I’m sure she would instantly side with him, the kernel of doubt that would’ve planted! He knew he was a coward and he knew that he was complicit and he’s the one who has to live with that. I hope it eats him up. I even hope I get to see him again and make him squirm.
To anyone who stands idly by while someone is raped or assaulted or abused: I see you, you little men, you keepers of the status quo, you enablers. I see you and I am not afraid. Even though other people might, and our misogynistic culture surely will, I won’t mince words or pretend you didn’t pimp me or someone else out for your own safety or your own career or your own selfish reasons. Because that’s exactly what you did.