You don’t have to be a rapist to be complicit in the act. There are men I went to college with who knew their friend raped me and, 15 years later, it is their faces that haunt my dreams, not his.
They are the Quentin Tarantinos who “knew [Harvey Weinstein] did a couple of these things” but chose to ignore them. They are the Scott Rosenbergs, who admit “everybody f — knew” what Weinstein was doing. They are the countless men who are told stories of sexual violence by women in their lives and choose to either not believe them, or overlook them. They are the men I went to college with.
At the time, I was 18, and I didn’t use the word “rape.” It took years for me to associate what occurred in that room with the act of rape. In that moment, all I knew was that something bad happened.
To this day, the image of the sterile eggshell walls of our dorm, patterned with cinderblocks and visible paint drips, plays on repeat in my mind as I run down the hallway to tell my friends what happened.
My memories of that night are spotty. It is a jigsaw puzzle that’s missing many, if not most, of the pieces. Part of that is due to the traumatic nature of the events and part of it is because of the copious amounts of alcohol I had consumed that evening.
All these years later, I cannot conjure up a memory of the assault itself, but I am certain that it happened, as certain as I was in the moments following the violation, as certain as I was in the days and months that followed.
I do remember flashes of the boys’ anger, though. I remember that they wanted to confront him, and I remember that I started to panic.
I wanted to take it back, but I also wanted their support. I was afraid for them to say anything to him, and I was afraid of them saying nothing. I don’t know if they ever confronted him; I can’t remember. What I do know is that, when we all woke up the next day and the dust had settled — and the booze had worn off — nothing changed.
They all remained friends with him. I’d have to see him wandering the halls of our floor, those same halls I still run in my nightmares all these years later. It was like a slap in the face to see him in my space. It meant that, even at home, I could not be safe. Even with my friends, I was not safe. I stopped knowing the meaning of the word, stopped understanding what safety even felt like. He was everywhere, so nowhere was safe.
He was always invited to all the parties, always asked to be part of the group when everyone went out. To everyone else, he was a fun-loving, friendly and happy-go-lucky guy. To me, he was my rapist.
The less he seemed like the monster I accused him of being that night, the easier it became for everyone else to forget the night ever happened.
One of the guys was my boyfriend at the time of the assault and we’ve talked about it in years since. He said he didn’t know what to do, because my rapist was his friend. I knew what I wanted him to do — I wanted him to believe me, to value me and my well-being over this boy he’d just met a few weeks before. But he didn’t. Maybe he couldn’t. I don’t know if he ever fully believed me. I don’t think he thought I was lying, per se, but more like misremembering. I think he thought I believed what I said, but he thought it was something more like a misunderstanding.
I’m not sure there’s much to misunderstand about digitally penetrating an unconscious girl, but toe-may-toe, toe-mah-toe, I guess.
I’ve never spoken with the rest of the boys about it, because I was never sure there was anything to say. At this point, it’s been at least ten years since we’ve even talked. How do you bring up something like this up? “Oh, hey, it’s me. That girl from college. Do you remember when I told you your friend raped me? Ah, memories, amirite?”
But I dome wonder if they remember that night. Do they ever think about it? Do they ever think about ? Do they wish they had done more? Does it haunt their sleep, the way it haunts mine? Do they ever see me running down that cold, stark hallway, looking to them for warmth, comfort and safety? Because I see them. I can’t shake the image of them. Their names are never far from my consciousness. Even though they weren’t the person that raped me that night, they still took something from me. They took every shred of self-worth I’d possessed when they proved that I wasn’t worth standing up for or protecting.
In showing me that I had no value, it became a self-fulfilling prophecy. When they decided that I wasn’t worth believing, I became that person even more. I became nothing more than a party girl, a whore to be passed around. I wasn’t “girlfriend material” because no one dates girls like me. But they rape girls like me, and I’d become exactly what they told me I was with their inaction that night — someone who brought things like that onto myself, someone who deserved it when those things happened to me.
My rapist faced no consequences for his actions — everyone still hung out with him. They called him a friend, and I didn’t press charges.
I don’t blame them for what he did to me in that room that night. I don’t even blame them for what happened to my life in the years that followed — my descent into self-hatred and alcoholism. But I do blame them for not doing more. I want to hold them accountable for the fact that they are complicit in what happened to me because none of them ever told him that it wasn’t okay.