“You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride.”
I’ve worn my cowgirl boots and circled my computer all week long—knowing I have to write about Steubenville. Knowing how I have to write about it. I’ve struggled with how much is too much to disclose. And how my silence perpetuates the rape culture in which we live. Even my urge to disguise my own story as that of “a friend” keeps me bound by a shame that is not mine. So, I’m telling my story in support of the awesome brave sixteen year old “Jane Doe” in the Steubenville story. She has my undying admiration for her extraordinary courage.
Over thirty years as a clinical psychologist, I have counseled hundreds of patients—women and men—burdened with the shame of having been sexually abused. Because the majority of my caseload is adolescents and young adults, the stories of shocking brutality are ongoing and never-ending. Rapists include—but are not limited to—baby-sitters, fathers, step-fathers, brothers, uncles, friends, dates, boyfriends, husbands, fellow students, teachers, coaches, preachers, bosses, coworkers, and strangers.
It is incomprehensible how frequently witnesses are present who, even if they don’t participate, do nothing to prevent, stop, or report the attack. And by now everyone knows that the overwhelming percentage of victims never report the crime.
Whenever a person is subjected to actions that shame, humiliate, and degrade—it is abuse. What we are learning from Steubenville is that we must broaden the definition of rape to include any act of force or coercion that makes another feel sexually defiled, violated, shamed, or debased. The magnitude of casualties is staggering.
My memory is full of details from rapes on sidewalks, in backyards, in cars, in pickup trucks, in boats, in bedrooms, in living rooms, in basements, on beaches, at parties, in hallways, with friends, in alleys behind local establishments. I’ve seen and heard of photographs, videos, Facebook postings, and cell phones capturing graphic brutality. In an alarming pattern among men preying on local college students with “date-rape” drugs, more than a few Northwestern students have awakened disoriented in strange locations—and discovered their assaults recorded on their own cell phones.
Also buried in my memory is a summer night when I was sixteen. For forty-eight years, that night has lived in the periphery of my memory—accessible when triggered, but best left alone. Because I’ve never dwelled on it, the memory has never altered, never been examined. And I’ve never told a soul—until this week, when I told my husband.
The first thing I remember is his sleek butter-yellow car circling our Dairy Queen. His car was brand-new and fancy—clearly not from Mesquite. We were both with friends, and he introduced himself. Told me he was a senior at a fancy high school in Dallas. He was reasonably cute, and after we talked awhile he asked for my phone number. Since he seemed nice, I gave it to him.
He called and asked me out on a double-date. He showed up, rang the doorbell, and met my parents who told him I had an eleven-o-clock curfew. When I got in the car, he introduced me to the boy and girl in the backseat.
We had just pulled away when the boy in the backseat offered me a cup of orange juice he poured from a glass bottle. One taste and it was clear it wasn’t just orange juice. I had never had alcohol before, and I gagged and recoiled. The other three laughed and encouraged me to “just sip it.” Shy and embarrassed by my naiveté, I sipped the juice.
The next thing I remember is being in a cold shower, naked, in a strange bathroom. The girl from the backseat was holding a towel. I was so drunk I could barely stand. I’d never felt that way before and I was terrified. The door to the bathroom was cracked and I heard loud music, people talking, and laughter coming from the other room. One of my date’s friends made a joke about him “always picking up trash.” And I felt shame.
The next and last thing I remember was standing in my driveway, watching his car roar away down the street. Somehow, I made it into the house and into my room without my parents seeing me. I must have made curfew.
I never told a soul about that night. Shame kept me silent. Even after I told my husband this week, I asked him, “Do you feel bad about me, now?”
Like the girl in Steubenville, I only remember the beginning, middle, and end of that terrible night. Like her, I felt like garbage, because that’s how I was treated when I was dumped from the car. I will never know what else happened, or if pictures were taken, because I “blacked out.” I do know that I was not physically raped, because I was a virgin and I would have been able to tell. But under the broader definition, my attacker was a rapist—and he used a date-rape drug.
I haven’t explored that memory in forty-eight years, but I explored the hell out of it this week. I went online and typed in his name and high school and information popped right up. Turns out he graduated from high school in 1963 which means he lied about his age. That night he was already two years out of high school and three years older than I was—which made me “jail bait.” No wonder he was in such a hurry to dump me off and get out of there.
From my new perspective, I realize he was a predator, trolling the Dairy Queen in his brand new car, looking for Mesquite High School girls—because he knew we would be easily impressed. His intentions on the date were to get me drunk and get “lucky.” My inexperience with alcohol clearly ruined his plans. And the “joke” his friend made sounded trite and stale—as if often repeated to the same lame laughter—as though this was something that had happened before. I wonder how often it happened since.
After checking him out on Google, I put his name in Facebook and, VOILA! There he is, an old man standing next to his wife. I wouldn’t have been positive it was him, except for the picture of what must be his son. The “spitting image,” as they say in the south. He still lives in Texas, and it looks like he never left.
My newest book is called
PSYCHOtherapist Orchard Road—about a psychologist who goes over the edge and starts avenging those who have harmed her patients over the years. I based the protagonist on what I’ve always considered my “alter-ego.” I will have a field day with this one!
Just imagine, with a few hits of the “request friend” button, I could introduce myself and tell everybody on his friend list just what a criminal shit he was when he was young. Maybe they already know. Maybe they excuse it as “boys will be boys” or think he’s just a “good ole boy.” But I could also tell them what a coward he was, and how his actions negatively impacted a sixteen year old girl for forty-eight years.
It would be SO easy to do—but I wasn’t that kind of girl then, and I’m not that kind of woman now. I see the sweet, innocent faces of his wife and what I assume to be children and grandchildren. They might not believe me, but my accusation would cast uncertainty their way—it would give them unrest and do them harm. I have no interest in harming the innocent.
To take back my power, I will just thank him for giving me an experience from which I’ve been able to call up genuine empathy for all the women and men I’ve counseled over the years. Inspired by the young girl from Steubenville, I have been brave, and I am proud to have been able to speak up.
Post Script from PSYCHOtherapist to my attacker: If you are reading this, do not rest easy. It’s a small world and I have an angry brother and very good friends in Texas.