Speaking from the Closet of Shame

I know a woman who was raped in college. She did not report it. Nor did she tell her parents or any of her friends. She didn’t speak with a doctor, mark it on a calendar, or write about it in a journal. If she were to come forward today, she’d have no corroboration.  Some people would find it inconceivable that she wouldn’t tell anyone after it happened, and consequently, contend that she can’t be believed.

This woman would explain to those people that she didn’t speak up because of her profound shame.  She chastised herself innumerable times for putting herself in the situation that led to the event, and, thereby, being complicit in her own victimization. After all, hadn’t she been taught that all young men suffered from raging testosterone and what they all wanted? She was a smart person who had been utterly stupid.

Her rapist was the older brother of a boy in her high school, who she didn’t really know, but was a friend of a friend. Their father was a very important person in the state, leading her to believe he came from a “good” family.  The guy, who we’ll call X, was tall but not stocky, wore wired rimmed glasses, and, in general, seemed mild mannered, somewhat immature, and a bit timid with women.

It was the first semester of her freshman year in college where she was taking the last required foreign language credit after placing out of the first four. Accordingly, the class was full of college juniors who had slogged through the preceding four and were anxious to be done with this last requirement. Not too far into the semester, X realized that she had a better grasp of the material than he, and asked her to help him prepare for upcoming tests. She agreed, figuring it would help her prepare, too. Over the semester, they had two or three sessions in a neutral location.

After finals in December, X called her and said he was having a small Christmas party for some of the residents in a mental health facility where he volunteered and asked whether she had any “girl things” he could give the women as presents, e.g., purses, hats, or what not. She appreciated the good cause and brought some things – as he suggested – to his apartment. First mistake.

Upon her arrival, he brought out bottles of tequila and margarita mix that he had recently purchased on a weekend at the Mexican border. She should try some, he urged, and he blended up a delicious concoction, more sweet than citric, making it very easy for her – not a big drinker – to consume. It was like lemonade. Second mistake.

She was a bit buzzed when he suggested they go outside and play Frisbee, which seemed like it could be fun.  Did the physical activity pump the alcohol faster through the blood stream to the brain? As they played, she began feeling very inebriated and slightly nauseous. The Frisbee play seemed to be another mistake.

Back in the apartment, she realized she wouldn’t be able to drive, but had an important errand to run. X agreed to drive her where she needed to be. Along the road, they stopped a few times so she could vomit out the door. Afterwards, they returned to the apartment where he suggested she lay down until she felt capable of driving home.  By this time, her multiple mistakes left her no option.

Shortly after laying down, she blacked out. When she awoke, much of her clothing was off and he was on top of her on the floor. It was like waking from a terrible nightmare to discover the monster in the dream is real and your limbs are paralyzed. She had no strength to push him off and her repetition of “no” and “stop” had no effect on him.  Then she blacked out again. When she next came out of the blackness, she was in a bathtub and X was attempting to wash away the vomit from her hair and body.  Was he being considerate or cannily destroying evidence?

At some point after the bath, she was able to make her way home, although the details of that drive remain sketchy. If asked today, she wouldn’t be able to identify the apartment location except to say it was somewhere south of the river.

In the aftermath, she felt she could never tell anyone what happened because she would have to admit to being an accomplice to her own rape. If her mother had taught her anything, it was that the apartment of a man she barely knew was dangerous territory. Moreover, she had allowed herself to get profoundly drunk (assuming he hadn’t added drugs), consuming the alcohol quite willingly. And since she couldn’t remember much, could it be that she somehow consented? Wouldn’t the totality of her actions lead a reasonable person to discount a rape claim?

Later circumstances convinced her that there was no consensual sex – he failed to contact her ever again and made sure he never ran into her on campus or anywhere else, for that matter. Presumably, he spent a long time worrying about whether she would report the incident. Meanwhile, she worried about whether she could be pregnant with his child.

She spent about six months avoiding close contact with young men, nervous about putting herself into any situation where she didn’t control all of the circumstances. Eventually, a developing expertise in denial allowed her to go on with some sense of normalcy. Since no one knew about it, she could pretend it never happened.

Did she have panic attacks or any long-term debilitating condition? No. Her ability to function in the world was not impaired. But relationships with men were more difficult.  It wasn’t so much because any trust in men had been shattered, but because she lost trust in herself — could she trust herself to accurately judge people for who they really were?

In later years, she would remember that night and imagine how she could have been killed, maimed, and/or impregnated. She could have had a car accident on the way home or been stopped for drunk driving, having to reveal what happened, becoming the “talk of the town,” given the identity of his father.  She erases those visions with extreme gratitude that none of them occurred. Nevertheless, she knows she will always carry the vision of that man on top of her, taking advantage of her utter helplessness.

Now, almost five decades after this episode, she watches as Brett Kavanaugh seeks confirmation to our highest court, and ponders whether she could come forward and tell her story like Dr. Blaisy Ford were X in Kavanaugh’s shoes. Could she withstand suggestions, which would surely come, that she put herself in that position – didn’t she know that boys will be boys, even when they are college juniors and were raised in “good” families? Would she have the strength to testify in the face of death threats and other insults hurled her way by the deplorables (appropriately named by Hillary Clinton)? Would she crater under withering questioning by the gray-hairs on the Senate Judiciary Committee, be reduced to a blubbering puddle on the national stage?

In the final analysis, there is no evidence to corroborate my, I mean, her story. That doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.  That doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen everyday in America.  There is a closet of shame where victims live and rarely leave.  That must change.

About nowandthenadays

Observer of life who writes about Austin, women's issues, history, and politics. I worked in the Texas Legislature for 9 years, moved to the State Comptroller's Office where I worked for 9 years, then went to work as an Assistant Attorney General after graduating from UT Law, for more than 20 years. Since retirement in May, 2013, I've identified myself as a writer, a caretaker, widow, grandmother, pandemic survivor, and finder of true love.
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6 Responses to Speaking from the Closet of Shame

  1. Christopher T. Martin says:

    Thank You, Jeffee I just said good-bye to my granddaughter as she left for college in New Mexico I can’t help but worry about her.


    • I understand your concern, Chris! I hope she knows that her family loves and believes in her. Part of my issue was that I couldn’t be sure my dad would believe me. He was too busy with his own career and second wife….and he tended to believe in his friends. This guy’s father was a friend of his. I know the Martin family and can’t help but believe that she feels confident to seek help from you all should she need it.


  2. Shelly Dennis Baldwin says:

    I hear you. I believe you. I support you. My own story was posted on Facebook on Friday. I understand. You did nothing wrong. Thank you for your courage.


  3. Kathryn Anderson says:

    Oh Jeffee……………I am crying Thank you. such important words. so beautifully wrote. So well explained. Thank you, Hugs to you. From your friend, kathryn




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