I hate using the word rape. When I think of rape, I think of a woman being viciously attacked and forced upon. That’s not my story. My story is much different. It happened when I was twenty, freshly transplanted from Canada to the Bay Area. Lonely and eager for friends, I found a welcoming group that loved hockey — a familiar and comfortable past time. We went to the home games together, and gathered with other San Jose Sharks fans at a bar not too far from the arena called Henry’s. It was a small pub with dark wooden walls, that played loud 80’s music and had drunken guests spilling out the front doors. No one knew what a Canadian drivers license looked like, so I had no problem flashing them my fake ID; a new concept for me, since the drinking age in Alberta was 18.
One night after a game, our friend called us at Henry’s and told us to meet her at a hotel about ten minutes away. She was in the room of an NHL referee. We were young and carefree, and more important to the story: drunk. We happily and readily accepted. When we got there, I was already feeling dizzy. I looked over at my friend Michelle*** and with blurry eyes, noticed that her sweater was falling off her shoulder, exposing her bra. “Michelle,” I slurred, “fix your sweater, we can totally see your bra!” I remember the dirty look she gave me, as if I had verbalized her plan. I had no intention of calling her out on her flirtation, but it was obvious she saw it differently. The referee at this point had shifted his attention from Michelle to me, clearly much more inebriated. He talked about his wife and kids, and being twenty years old and naïve, I let my guard down. He was older. I didn’t feel threatened. I laughed at his jokes, and ran my fingers over the heavy material of his black and white ref jersey, hanging over the back of the chair.
When our friend Betty*** announced that it was time to go, all three of us girls got up to leave. I somehow got wedged behind the referee, while my friends wandered to the door. “I’ll get her a cab, girls, not to worry.” I heard him say. “No.” I said, determined to go back to my car with my friends. I had a final paper due in the morning, and had to do some last-minute editing. “No, I need to go now.” My friends walked out the door, and turned to face me, blocked by this 40 something year old man with his arm on the door jamb, preventing me from getting out. “She’ll be fine, see you later!” “No! No! No! No! No! No!” I made eye contact with Betty, pleading her with my eyes not to leave. “Let’s go,” Michelle said and grabbed Betty’s arm. It was clear that she was upset that I was the one he chose. In slow motion, I watched them walk away as the heavy hotel door slammed shut and his grey haired head turned towards me.
He kissed me, and pulled me close to him as I tried to push him away. “No!” I said again. Wasn’t that what they taught me to say? No means no, right? He pushed me on the bed and lifted my light blue sleeveless shirt with tiny butterflies over my head. “No.” I whispered. I didn’t give up trying to stop him, but my brain was spinning. Or was it the room? At this point, I remember thinking that if I stopped fighting the nausea and let my body throw up, he might get grossed out and leave me alone. A moment later he was on top of me, on the bed, his hands inside my pants, pulling them down. “No.” The cold and crisp white sheets of the hotel bed on my skin made me more aware of what was happening. He put himself inside me. “Do you like it?” He asked me. He was met with silence, as I was now too afraid to say ‘no’ once more. It was over quickly. Thank God he used a condom, a fact that I didn’t think about until the moment I saw him take it off.
“Do you want to sleep?” “No.” I gathered my clothes and he watched me get dressed, a smug look on his face. “Hey, I’ll call you next time I’m in town. We can get together again.” I didn’t leave my number.
I rode the elevator in silence, still very drunk, and unsure of myself. I could barely make eye contact as I asked the front desk clerk to call me a cab, and vaguely wondered if I had enough cash left to pay the driver.
On the ride, I asked myself if I knew what had happened. Was I just raped? I couldn’t have been; I chose to enter his room. I was drunk, which was illegal where I was since I was underage. He didn’t tie me up, he didn’t hurt me. What just happened?!
I drove home, still drunk, and focused on turning my paper in. I didn’t entertain the idea of reporting it. I didn’t even define it as rape, so what would I say? I blamed myself for drinking. I blamed myself for going to the hotel. I blamed myself for not crawling underneath his arm when he tried to block me. My friends never asked me what happened, and I didn’t volunteer it. I was happy to not talk about it.
Even now, sixteen years later, I feel guilty for calling it rape. But when I finally had the guts to tell my husband about it three days ago, I used the word for the first time. “I was raped.”
I also published my story on my blog and soon I started getting emails from women I didn’t know, thanking me for bravery; my courage in speaking out about what had happened to me.
Most of the women sounded like me. “It’s awkward to call it rape.” “He didn’t use a weapon.” “I was drinking, it was my fault.” “I could have done something to stop it.”
An interesting thing happens after an occurrence like that: I stopped trusting myself. I doubted most of my decisions after it, actually. I hid the truth from myself, and a self-loathing pattern erupted. Why? Because I blamed myself for what happened. Not him. Not the man who forced himself inside me, and had no respect for my existence. How many other women out there are like me, doing the same thing, right now? Far too many, based on the response I got.
What’s causing so many of us to live in silence and to swallow our pain, I began to wonder?
If we change the way we talk about rape –all types of rape, not just the violent acts– we can take one step closer to empowering women to stop it from happening to them. It’s time to #changethedialogue.
If we #changethedialogue about what’s happening, we can offer a safe, secure, and trusting society for women that are victims of this type of violation.
I’m asking you to join me in my crusade to change the way we talk about rape. #changethedialogue with me, and hopefully pave the way for future conversations to be open, healthy and healing.
On Wednesday, April 1st, the first day of Rape Awareness Month, at 2 pm Eastern Time (11am Pacific), please post/tweet/IG your support of #changethedialogue with your story, your endorsement, or the name of a friend that you stand behind (initials are ok). For example:
1. J, I stand by you, and will help #changethedialogue
2. I was raped, and I want to #changethedialogue
3. Join me and try to #changethedialogue
4. I changed my profile picture to #changethedialogue
You can print out the picture take a photo with it, like I’ve done. There’s also a Facebook group and an event page that you can join and invite your friends.
Please share this with as many people as you can, so we can spread the word, far and wide, to all the tiny corners of the earth where a woman might be touched by our efforts to help her come out of the shadows, and back into the light.
Click this link to sign up for the campaign. Thunderclap will post for you on April 1st, and won’t store your information for anything other than the #changethedialogue campaign http://thndr.it/1EN8xHS