“The events as you’ve described them, Kim, constitute a felony rape. If you do not make a statement, we will still proceed with prosecution and regard you as a hostile witness.”
I was 20 years old, on a semester leave from college. Those were the words of the police officer to me, in a hospital room, after I recounted what had happened to me a couple of days earlier.
It was my first interaction with the police, other than Officer Friendly visiting my elementary school class, or one of the officers my parents had befriended when they started a Neighborhood Watch program in the community where I was raised. Surely I could trust the police, I thought, to understand what had happened and to help me.
Although this was more than 20 years ago, I remember the moment vividly, because it was the acknowledgment, the naming, of something I had been struggling ferociously to reject: I was raped.
I desperately wanted it to be something else, like a misunderstanding between me and this man I’d been dating for a week or so. I felt locked in a life-or-death battle to deny this heinous violation, because it threatened to undo me–my sense of personal safety and well being, my mental health, my personhood.
In the years since, I’ve had lots of therapy, including group therapy with fellow survivors of sexual assault and abuse. I’ve volunteered at two rape crisis centers. One involved a speakers’ panel, visiting college classes, rehab facilities, police training sessions, even a group of men incarcerated for violent crimes including rape. At the other center, I served as hotline counselor and in-hospital victims’ advocate. Most of the other volunteers had stories of their own survival, and saw their volunteer efforts as a way to give back, to create and foster the same kind of community that enabled us to find our own voices and our sanity, to reclaim our selves and reassemble the pieces of our lives.
I rarely think about the assault and its aftermath anymore. The counseling, both giving and receiving, not to mention the tremendous education I got from the centers where I volunteered, helped make triggering a rare event for me. The experience became just one painful part of my life, rather than its central, agonizing, defining core. Occasionally (about every two years in the District of Columbia) I am called for jury duty. As part of voir dire, I have to tell the judge and attorneys that I have been the victim of a crime. When pressed for details, I recall them with startling clarity. My account is invariably met with compassion, followed by a quick dismissal.
Despite the officer’s words to me in that hospital room, the justice system and all those I encountered as I navigated my way through it seemed hell bent on proving that what I had experienced was not, in the words of Senate candidate Akin of Missouri, “legitimate rape.”