In college, I was part of a tight-knit group of young women. There were five of us in the core group. Two were roommates and their room, 513, was our central meeting place. There was a lack of formality when it came to hanging out. It was totally normal to walk right in if the door to 513 wasn’t locked and downright mandatory to stop by if it was propped open. We were honest and comfortable with each other.
Or so I thought.
Rape doesn’t happen the way you think it will. I wasn’t drunk or drugged at a party, no one jumped me after dark while walking home alone; the attack didn’t even start as being physically rough. It was slow, insistent, and shocking. My rape was terrifying, uncomfortable, and incredibly confusing. The physical pain was as bad as the betrayal; the psychological injury of living in the same building as the rapist almost ended me entirely, but I still had my friends, I reasoned, so I was able to keep going with my collegiate career.
The semester following the rape, I breezed into 513 and was met with a chill. The door was cracked open and there was a movie playing. Inside were three of my friends and my rapist, who I almost tripped over, sitting in a beanbag chair enjoying the movie. I’m more of a fighter than a flyer, but I ran like hell. My friends told me later that one of the 513 girls had a class with my rapist, and even though they were all fully aware of what he had done to me, it was too uncomfortable to “not be friends with him.” They said it wasn’t a big deal, that the attack was eight months ago and I should just move on.
So, I moved on.
I found new friends to spend my time with. I stayed in therapy, did well in school and learned a kind of lonely independence I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to unlearn. My new friends had my back without question. The vet student upstairs seriously considered experimenting with animal castration techniques on the attacker; the sorority sister offered to have her many fraternity friends blackball my rapist’s membership if he ever applied; and the church-group friend kidnapped me often for Johnny Depp-themed movie nights and baked cinnamon rolls when she noticed I was feeling down. My new friends were great.
I found additional solace in talking to other victims. It’s almost like a secret club; you only know who is in it when you’re inducted. I heard stories, so many stories, I could write a book. But maybe no one would want to read a tome that naked and depressing. The sexual assault epidemic in this country is the big, ugly elephant in the room, and it’s disheartening how many people are more comfortable ignoring and denying it like the 513 girls did.
For a long time I missed the closeness of my former clique. I missed watching their lives unfold and having an always-open door I could walk through. I wish they’d had the strength or courage to cut ties, rebuff, and ignore my rapist, but I can’t change people, and I can’t change the past. My hope is that someday the 513 girls will understand what every person should understand: sexual assault is not something that can be dismissed.