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08 Nov 2018

The Pain Returns: I'd Left Behind the Trauma of Being Raped 30 Years Ago—Until Recent Events Brought It Back

Written by  Colette Fontainne

The last two years have been like a horror movie playing out in super-slow motion. Even though progressives made some fantastic gains on Election Day, I find myself exhausted and sad. And ever since Brett Kavanaugh, it’s gotten worse.

I've stopped watching the news—any news. However, I still scroll through comment sections on Facebook, and I hear conversations in bars, at the grocery store, at the office … and I am horrified, because now we are talking about rape—specifically, rape in the 1980s.

Things were a lot different in the ’80s. We were taught through film, TV and books that rape was something that happened to you in a dark alley, or at a rest stop, or in a parking lot, usually late at night, by a total stranger (often black). We were taught that good girls didn’t get drunk, didn’t dress provocatively, didn’t go out alone, and never brought men back to their homes—because that was “leading him on,” and if something happened, we were “asking for it.” It wasn’t until later in the decade that we started to discuss what we called “date rape.” I’m not sure why we had to qualify it with the word ”date” to separate it from “real” rape.

I was 19, with an infant child, working as a cocktail waitress in a busy nightclub. He was tall with blue eyes and adorable blond curls. He came in a few times and eventually asked me out on a date.

I said yes. I got dressed up—a black mini-skirt with ruffles, spike heels and a leopard-print blouse. We went to the club where I worked, and we had a lot of drinks. We danced a little … and he was so attractive.

He took me back to his house. We smoked pot and drank some more, before he offered to drive me back to my apartment. Once there, I invited him in.

Yes … I invited him in. I was attracted to him. I wanted the night to continue, and if I am being completely honest, I have to admit I was considering getting intimate with him.

I was not given a choice.

We sat on my couch, and he started kissing me hard—too hard. I tried to pull back, but he had my head in a vise-like grip. He forced his tongue down my throat … and I knew. Before he pushed me down, I knew. I put my hand on his chest and tried to push him away, but he was strong and determined. I decided not to push very hard, because I was afraid he would make it worse if I did.

I had an out-of-body experience. I could see him on top of me, as if I was looking down from the ceiling. Thankfully, it was over very quickly. He came, got up and pulled up his pants. He kissed me on the forehead, told me he’d had a great time and walked out my front door. I heard him drive away.

I lay there for a long time, paralyzed. I took that famous scalding hot bath, and I cried dry, wracking tears until the tub got cold. All those warnings I’d heard came back to me: Why hadn’t I listened? I was stupid and foolish.

I was never going to tell anybody what I had “let” happen. We whispered about those girls. “She was raped” somehow meant she was tainted, ruined. We thought of her as dirty and slutty—completely deserving of her fate: “Well she should have KNOWN better.”

We didn't report our rapes in the ’80s. To report meant being labeled as a slut, as damaged, as dirty. To report meant getting essentially raped again in an emergency room, by a doctor collecting “evidence.” Reporting meant going to court to get emotionally raped by your rapist’s lawyer and possibly the judge. To report meant everybody knew and whispered behind your back. To report was the equivalent of putting yourself on trial for the crime of being raped.

I was in denial. I prayed no one would ever find out. I started to have the nightmares. I was walking down the street in broad daylight, and I would see him. He was always wearing all-black, always silent. He would see me, and I would try to run, but my legs wouldn’t move, and he would catch up to me, push me down and rape me right there on the sidewalk. The street was typically one from my childhood, a street I had taken on walks home from school. The rape was always much more physically violent than the one I had experienced.

Depression and a suicide attempt followed. I was in a locked ward for eight weeks for my own protection.

It came out during a therapy session. My therapist looked at me with such compassion, and said, ”Honey, you were raped. You were raped, and it wasn’t your fault.” This simple statement rocked my world. The dreams disappeared, and I stopped blaming myself for what happened. But I still felt tainted, soiled. I am one of tens of millions of women who had this experience.

Years went by; decades went by. Today, I don’t often think about the time I was raped—or at least I didn’t until the Supreme Court hearings.

Tens of millions of women, like me, have been triggered. Millennial women are crying out #metoo. Even some men are now revealing the truth about the rapes they have experienced. This can lead to anxiety, depression, a return of nightmares, and reliving the rapes.

Those of us going through this need compassion, nurturing and unconditional love. Please believe us when we tell our stories, even if we can’t remember the details, dates and names. Please reassure us that we are not ruined, not dirty. Remind us that it wasn’t our fault. We need you right now. We need men to believe us, to show us that not all men are violent. We need to heal from the freshly re-opened wounds we are experiencing; whether you thought Ms. Ford was telling the truth is not the issue. Rape is the issue.

The time has come to change the language we use. We used to say, “No means NO.” Now we must learn to say, “Only yes means yes.”

I left my rape behind for 30 years. I’d have left it alone forever if I could have—but perhaps this is my chance to finally be free. I can make a decision to feel those feelings without harsh self-criticism. I may not want to, but I get to process my rape today. As scary as it is, I can allow those petrified feelings to thaw and really feel them for the first time. I’m not anywhere near there yet, but I have hope that such a day will come soon—the day when I can finally set myself free.

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