SAAM: Why Women Don’t Report Part 2

Monday I reposted an article I wrote a few months back focusing on a social media trend #whywomendontreport, which was the blanket many people needed to speak up about their own sexual assaults.

Today I’m going to go a little bit more in depth to my personal story, and why I didn’t go to the police until nearly 11 years after the assault took place. Yesterday I kind of talked about what eventually lead me to report my assault to the police. Today, I’m focusing on why it took so long to do so.

The assault happened one evening in December 2005. I was living with my attacker after enduring an extreme falling out with my mom. (Yes, I’m aware that’s not what my previously published accounts say. We’ll get to that in a moment.) 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 a month to live with a coworker and someone whom I considered a friend.

We shared his bed after I first moved in. I had my own room, but I didn’t own any of my own furniture. He had a mattress stashed in the second bedroom, but it wasn’t made readily available to me at first. Besides that, I felt safe sleeping next to him. THAT turned out to be a giant mistake, but I digress… we were sharing his bed for several weeks after I moved in. We hadn’t discussed any sort of sexual relationship or activity prior to the assault. We were roommates, and being naive as I was I assumed that nothing would change.

After the assault occurred, my entire world was shattered yet again. I say again because  the second reason I ended up moving in with this guy in particular, aside from my financial status, was the fact that I couldn’t endure the verbal abuse from my mother any longer.

I spent the night with him one evening, just because it was late and I didn’t feel like driving home after spending the evening watching movies. When I woke up the next morning I found several nasty voicemails from my mom which almost pushed me over the edge. It was the first time my life had become so overwhelming that I wanted to end it. If my attacker hadn’t been there to pick me up off the floor, calmed me down, and offered me a place to stay I probably wouldn’t be here writing this. That event is what made me feel safe sleeping next to him, until he raped me anyway.

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, I returned to our apartment, and his bed the next night nary the wiser that something so violent had happened the night before.

Fast forward to the end of our relationship (because we did end up in a consensual sexual relationship AFTER the assault) when I was finally free from the constant triggers that came with living with, and being in love with my rapist; slowly the memories 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 and I would have a panic attack, start crying, or just feel an overwhelming depression come over me. I didn’t understand why or what was happening, I just knew certain things and phrases were off limits for a comfortable experience.

Once the flash backs subsided, I was met with these haunting memories in nightmares. The same scene playing over and over again in my head. Hand on my breast, hand between my thighs, pain, sobbing into the pillow. The night mares were much less frequent and not triggered by anything specific like the flashbacks were, but they were still an ever present thing in my subconscious thoughts that I couldn’t understand and couldn’t get rid of.

Eventually, five years after my attacker and I ended our relationship, nearly 8 years after the assault itself had happened the full memories resurfaced. I remembered everything in vivid and graphic detail as if it had happened the day before. I was more confused than anything, doubting the validity of my own memories. It couldn’t be real. This man that I still felt such a strong attachment to so long after the end of our relationship couldn’t also be the man who raped me in such a violent, dehumanizing way.

It was that moment that spurred my initial idea to write everything that I remembered about our relationship down in an effort to heal. I began my journey on my own, unguided. When after a few months of wrestling with it (and enduring massive opposition from my attacker and his current wife who are still here reading my blog) I happened to look up the DSM criteria for PTSD. I don’t remember exactly why or what initiated my google search for information but once I found it, I felt like I was punched in the gut. 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 lense of a PTSD diagnosis.

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 was only attributed 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 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 a very long time.

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. Especially since my attackers current wife began to blame me for her own emotional turmoil after many of the ugly events between her husband and myself came to light. The absolute last thing I ever wanted was to cause him any pain as I went through my healing process. I tried to skirt around the issue as much as possible for a very long time, desperately hoping that she would stop reading.

That day never came, and finally in April 2015 I decided I could wait no longer. I’d put my recovery on hold long enough. So I published for the first time the altered account of what happened. I changed and blurred what I deemed as unnecessary details to give my attacker 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 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 had put most of my turmoil to rest until about this time last year. A whole bunch of life situations had put me and my children back in close proximity to my attacker, when I hadn’t been as I began my healing journey. It was the first time we had lived in the same state for nearly ten years, and 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 before we made the decision to move.

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 attacker with every single thing I had confided in him making my situation even more volitile that it would have been otherwise. Soon my attacker and his wife were driving by my home, sometimes (but not always) yelling derogatory things in my direction which sent my anxiety into overdrive.

The kids and I moved, not once but twice through out the year. There were other factors contributing to each of our moves aside from my attacker and his shenanigans, but the stress from it all caused me to reach my limit of compassion towards mostly his wife. It was one thing dealing with my attacker being upset, denying everything I had published and recollected about our short life together. I lived with him and know him very well (although he’ll deny that too) I knew what to expect from him. His wife was meddling. She had no business getting involved in something that was clearly an issue between he and I. I could ignore the victim blaming and shaming from him. It isn’t any different than the abuse I’ve already survived. From her? I’d had enough, and I let her have it in a very long, very angry, rant here.

Now that, actually solicited quite an angry response from my attacker. 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. Before his last rant (which I shared part of yesterday) he had always maintained the “I loved you, but…” explaination for our break up. The “but” changed every time we spoke about it, and never being a consistent story I knew he wasn’t being honest with me. FINALLY having him come out and admit that he had been using me from day one, confirming my suspicions and the conclusions I’d already reached, 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 move onto the next phase of healing. Instead of hurting me with his caustic words, he inadvertently provided me with the key I didn’t know I needed to unlock more of my repressed past.

Of course he also verbally attacked my own family and abilities as a wife and mother which I felt the need to respond to. I did, really not feeling any hatred toward him all, merely standing my ground and defending my own. After I hit the reply button and thought about it, I remembered the last time we fought he had attempted to file a false harassment claim against me. I had spoken the reporting police officer several years prior and had been under the impression that charges had been filed, which I was unsure if I had violated by responding to his tirade.

Yes, that’s actually the thing that finally lead me to the police. Making sure I hadn’t broken any laws because my attacker had tried to intimidate me by filing false accusations. THE IRONY IS REAL HERE. I called the local police department and an officer came out to speak to me. I’d printed everything out for him, he checked to make sure no formal charges had been filed and that I wasn’t in violation of anything. He asked me about the assault and if I had ever thought about filing a formal report but beyond that nothing really happened. I wasn’t in violation of anything since no formal charges had been filed against me. It was misinformation from my attacker, and an attempt at intimidation plain and simple. THAT made me angry, so I set about furthering my reply to my attacker’s rant. It wasn’t the brightest idea I’ve ever had, but my emotions got the best of me. I responded again, linking back to an article I’d written months before the confrontation. I had forgotten that all of my posts here have a limited time frame which comments can be left by the public, at least until I checked my email a few days later and saw a rambling note from my attacker, calling me crazy among other things for having the compassion to forgive him, and the gall to hold him accountable for his crimes. More of the same old story I’ve heard from him for years, both during and especially after our relationship.

I replied respectfully, told him continuing the conversation was pointless and asked that he not contact me further. He ignored my request, and emailed me again, 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 attacker to back off.  My attacker was ever so careful with how he worded his emails as to not include anything that fell into the definition of a criminal 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, but if I traveled from my home to the town where the assault took place and filed a report there I was told maybe that department would have different resources available. It took me about two weeks to decide to do it, but eventually I did. I packed up my kids and drove to the town where the assault took place, shuffled all of my kids into the small police station and initiated my report hoping to finally put an end to the years of harassment and bullshit threats from my attacker.

It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do, especially after reaching out for help before 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 my assault had actually taken place took things seriously and didn’t try to pawn me off on someone else. The investigation is ongoing and I can’t discuss the details of actually giving my report and all of that right now. Eventually when things stall or move forward I’ll get around to the specifics.

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 my attacker and I ended our relationship I moved out of state. It was another inappropriate coping technique. Instead of facing all of the pain, and working through it immediately as I should have I ran away. I did. I straight up ran away. Hoping to leave everything behind.

If life hadn’t brought me back home, 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 don’t know if I ever 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 he was a bully on the play ground not a violent, and abusive criminal. I won’t say that I regret it, 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, the best way to end any further harassment from my rapist, or if I’ve only delayed the inevitable. Self doubt constantly creeps in, no matter how much evidence I have to the contrary, how much support I have for pursuing a case against him.

For the longest time I felt like I was doing something wrong even just by speaking up and not allowing this to pass by unaddressed. It’s only been recently that I’ve realized I’ve never been wrong, but it’s society and the shame continually heaped upon victims of sexually based crimes that is wrong and the only way to change it? Speaking up, loud and proud as long as I am physically able even despite fierce opposition. I am just one tiny voice lost in a sea of different opinions, but my voices matters. Every voice of every survivor matters, and don’t you dare let anyone convince you otherwise.

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