The first time I posted about my rape on social media I did not include all the details: that I was walking alone late at night, that I was midway through a year of solo travel, that the alleyway he dragged me into was dusty and dirty.
I did not write that there was a physical struggle to get away, grabbed wrists and fists and teeth. That there was an off-duty policeman who found me, a savior, though it was far too late.
That there were physical injuries, a rainbow of bruises painted across my body.
I lost three best friends in the aftermath of the rape because they couldn’t cope with my struggle to recover. Each of them told me, separately, that I was “too hard to deal with” or that they “couldn’t be involved in my problems.” There is a particular shade of hopelessness that comes from being alienated because of an event I could not control.
I had not spoken publicly about the rape since it happened six years earlier, and if I was going to expose myself, I wanted my message to reach as many people as possible. I hoped my story would help other rape survivors feel less alone, and I hoped my community would believe me.
I included only two main details: that I was raped by a stranger, and that I was raped in an alleyway.
I wrote “stranger” and “alleyway” because I wanted to make the rape seem real, but I didn’t yet know the dangers of that kind of classification.
Black sharpie in hand, I filled a poster with painstakingly chosen words so I could photograph it and share the image on social media. The marker got slippery between my sweating fingers as I made sure each word fit within the poster’s borders, evenly spaced, visually appealing enough for Facebook shares.
Of the hundreds of people I heard from after hitting “post” on Facebook, not a single person doubted my story.
I sat in front of my laptop for hours, inundated with messages from friends, acquaintances, former classmates: “You’re so brave.” “I believe you.” “It’s horrible this happened to you.”
I didn’t hear the words that many rape victims hear:
My rape is so classic as to be stranger than fiction — really, exactly like fiction.
“Stranger in an alleyway” fits the collective cultural nightmare, the stereotypical rape we see in movies, TV shows, crime novels: always in the dark, by faceless strangers far away from home. It is the easiest narrative to believe about rape — because it is the furthest removed from most of our day-to-day lives.
But really, the stories many people find hardest to believe are much more common than mine.
My friends have been raped in dorm rooms by the guy from biochem that lives two floors down, or by dates that paid for dinner beforehand; in their own beds on top of soft Ikea sheets, or in their parents’ homes, family photos collecting dust on bureaus.
We don’t easily believe these stories. We want to hear what we want to hear. We want to believe that the people we surround ourselves with are good people, that the people we love will not be hurt, that the world is, on the whole, a safe and happy place.
I was raped by a stranger, but most rapes — 80 percent —are perpetrated by somebody known to the victim, whether friend or partner or family member.
I was raped in an alleyway thousands of miles from home, the ceiling nothing but a starry sky, but most rapes occur indoors, in familiar locations, most often in or near the victim’s own home.
Though I am a white, straight, cis, and a mostly healthy woman, rape impacts women of color, people in the LGBTQ community, and disabled people at much higher rates than people like me. Men experience rape much more frequently than many people believe.
Without this understanding of a broader picture, my story is at risk of perpetuating, rather than ending, stigma and false tropes about rape, about women’s bodies, about who perpetrates crime and under what circumstances.
Sometimes I wonder: Am I better off keeping silent? Is my story more harmful than helpful? Does the truth of my particular experience diminish the truth of the broader, cultural pandemic?
In a world that’s saturated by misconceptions about rape and #MeToo stories under widespread scrutiny, it is not enough to tell it in a vacuum. Telling my story matters — but contextualizing it to complicate myths about sexual violence matters, too.
Since I first started sharing my story publicly I have reframed it: My rape is the exception to the reality of sexual violence in 2018.
It took years after my rape before somebody could touch my wrists without me jerking away from them; before I could hear the sound of a belt unbuckling without entering a flashback; before I could walk into a dead-end alleyway without panicking, struggling for air.
It took even longer for me to take my story public because I was afraid I would not be believed, a fear familiar to most rape victims. Then, after I went public, I worried that my story contributed to the myths we tell ourselves about rape.
But the answer is not for me to hide my story from the world. The answer is for all of us to be very, very loud. We need more stories — not just mine. And we need to reach a place where telling mine doesn’t distract from, or detract from, all the rest.
Katie Simon is currently working on a memoir about the year she got the plague.