I was raped long before I ever took a Women's Studies course, but I was certainly aware of the stigma attached to being a survivor. Terms like "victim blaming" and "damaged goods" were at the forefront of my mind while I dealt with the aftermath of the rape. Scenarios where I fended off some slimy defense attorney's accusations that I'd somehow "asked for it" played out in my mind over and over.
I'd reported the crime to police and been interviewed extensively. I told the story from beginning to end to three people: the officer who was first on the scene heard the story through tears and jagged breaths, the nurse who examined me heard the physical details punctuated with long pauses, and the Detective who would ultimately catch the rapist heard the story from my hospital bed, told in cold, detached detail. The reporters I called got the short version.
I wanted the local television stations to broadcast what had happened for a couple of reasons: first, my apartment complex issued a letter to the tenants in my building stating that a rapist had entered my apartment "through an open window." This was misleading, as my windows were locked. Second, I knew the more airtime the story received, the higher the chances were of catching him.
Several reporters offered to shadow my face and disguise my voice if I gave an interview, but I refused. I was terrified that one of my son's classmates or friend's parents would see the report and recognize me, and I knew even then that I did not want him to inherit the stigma I now carried. After the close of the trial, I turned down A&E's Cold Case Files producers for the same reason.
Around the time I was raped there was another high profile case in my area - three women had been raped by the same man, and they defied convention by openly discussing what happened to them in interviews and on television. I admired them, and I wished I could have had their courage.
In the years since the rape, I have spoken openly to college students about my experience. When I returned to college as a non-traditional student, I cast off the shroud of anonymity and told complete strangers my most shameful secrets. I did it because I am sickened by the way society continues to treat survivors, sickened by how pervasive violence against women remains, and determined to do what little I can to perpetuate change. It was easy there, though, protected by the notion of higher education in a room of students who were at least somewhat concerned about women's rights.
I don't regret anything I did regarding the rape and ensuing trial. Every choice I made led to my safety, my son’s safety, and the successful capture and prosecution of a monster who does not deserve to be free. But I often wonder if the anonymity I so fiercely protected in the beginning hindered my ability to heal as quickly as I might have, had I not been ashamed of what had happened to me.