No One Believed Me When I Was Sexually Assaulted

The moment I heard about the court ruling in the case of recording artist Kesha — which barred her from breaking a recording contract involving Dr. Luke, the man whom, she alleges in her 2014 lawsuit, "sexually, physically, verbally and emotionally abused" her — I was instantly transported back four years, to a painfully similar moment in my own life. I can still hear the detective explain why there was nothing he, nor his police department, could do for me after I reported my own assault. I can still feel the invasive tools the nurse used during the rape kit, and the cold, intrusive air of the examination room as I removed my clothes so evidence could be collected. My cheeks still flush with the same embarrassment I felt as a stranger zoomed in on the bruises left behind by a former co-worker-turned-abuser, so that he could successfully photograph my body parts. I still shake with anger and frustration, remembering how my willingness to report my sexual assault, endure a rape kit, and relive my trauma again and again and again, proved pointless when it came to taking legal action against my attacker. It made me remember that, sadly, I am not the only assault survivor to not be believed.

One in three women will have experienced rape, sexual assault, or some form of sexual violence in their lifetime. There's also an untold number of men — who, thanks to prevailing gender stereotypes and a patriarchal society, are often too afraid or embarrassed to report sexual assault — who know the darkness and isolation that comes with being a sexual assault survivor, too. And the results of court cases like Kesha's or others that accuse a high-profile man of committing sexual assault are part of why so many suffer in silence, shut down by a justice system that continually turns its back on them, and a society that requires 40 women to speak out against a single alleged abuser, before anyone will believe them — because so many of us aren't believed at all.

I know what it is like to scream in a room full of powerful men, begging them to believe the tears in my eyes and the marks on my skin, only to have them shake their heads and tell me, even kindly, "no." And, for better or worse, I am not alone. Here are the stories of six brave, inspiring sexual assault and domestic abuse survivors, sharing their truths, in their own words, and describing what it felt like when no one believed them. Kesha's court case is ongoing — Dr. Luke has denied Kesha's allegations and countersued for defamation, and his lawyers deny rumors that the lawsuit is causing Sony to curtail its relationship with Dr. Luke — but it is a powerful reminder that this isn't just a problem for pop stars or celebrities. This isn't a problem that can go away with a reported staff change. This is a problem that will remain unless our culture drastically changes, and it's a problem for us all.

Leah, 26

I ended things with my abusive boyfriend beginning my junior year of college and wasn't able to take him to court until November of my senior year. He sent me threatening texts, followed me to class, shouted obscenities across the campus, and showed up at my apartment to scream through the doors. For more than a year, I had to endure his harassment. I was saving his messages for evidence, meaning I had daily reminders of the hell he put me through. I was forced to speak to police officers, lawyers, and school officials about him.

I was a wreck and became extremely closed off and sad. Needles to say, I lost many friends in the process, because they didn't want to put up with my sadness or his psychopathic tendencies (though I guess that means they weren't really my friends to begin with). Between losing friends and being forced to relive the abuse, I tried to take my own life shortly before the trial. I just didn't want to deal with it anymore and thought killing myself was the best solution.

When we finally went to trial, I was forced to face him and his family. I had to read every text and email, and hear every voicemail he'd left me. Then, in true fashion, he used my mental health against me. He said a person who is so unstable that they'd try to take their own life shouldn't have their opinion trusted.

Unfortunately, I think what he said worked. A few weeks later, I got a call saying that he had been found guilty of violating his restraining order, but that he was found not guilty of harassment, despite the blatant evidence that I presented. When I got that call I questioned not just the legal system but myself — was it all in my head? Was I a liar like they claimed?

It took years of therapy to realize this wasn't my fault. That I did nothing wrong — the system did.

Brandy, 34

Last August, I was working as a waitress at a restaurant. I was sexually assaulted by a coworker, who was, up until that moment, a friend of mine. It happened late at night, in his car. I had had two drinks.

I didn't tell very many people, but half of the ones I told questioned whether it was really his fault. I told my managers that I had been assaulted, but I didn't say by who. They didn't press. I finally did tell one of them — the one I was closest to — that this coworker had hurt me, as I was giving my two weeks notice. He was supportive. He told me he'd rather get rid of my coworker than me, and he wanted me to be a part of helping to end sexual harassment at the restaurant (it's rampant in a lot of restaurants). I declined, because staying didn't feel healthy for me.

But later, I emailed the owner of the restaurant and offered to give seminars at all his restaurants on what sexual harassment is and what is appropriate in the workplace. I never heard back. Later, I went back to the restaurant to pick up my W-2s and another manager described me as "the girl who was crying," because the last night my coworker and I worked together, I had not been able to handle my emotions.

Beatrix, 28

My assailant was my coach, who was a church-going, community-loving man. I was run out of my high school after I reported a small fraction of what happened. He spread the word of my "lies and manipulation," to the point where I showed up at a friend's father's funeral and another parent from my high school came up to me and asked, "What are YOU doing here?" I said, "Supporting my friend" and that parent said, "Yeah, OK..." like I was only there to make my a scene. She had taken my coach's side.

I know how it feels to not have people believe you because the abuser is a "good guy." My abuser somehow blamed the possibility of his divorce on "spending too much time taking care of me." That was before I even reported anything. When I was in the hospital, I told someone that he said that, and they made me report it to the school. I tried to share more, but the person who I was talking to at my high school said, "What do you want me to do? His contract was just renewed."

Anonymous, 32

It happened about a decade ago. And it wasn't as if I wasn't believed or taken seriously. I distinctly remember being intimidated to not do anything.

The college I went to had a nice student recreation center, and I used to jog on the inside tracks, and, of course, I used to shower afterwards. One day, a man opened my shower curtain and was masturbating while looking at me and grinning. I just put my towel on and got dressed as fast as I could, went to an attendant outside the locker room, waited with the attendant until the man came out, and identified him.

Campus police were then notified of the situation. I was called in to the campus police station a couple of days later, but the officer told me the man that I alleged had masturbated at me was a prominent figure in the campus community and that if I decided to go ahead and have my word against his, it was likely that my sexual history and the history of my partners would become public record. I didn't know what to do. I remember being told it'd be best to drop it. So, I did.

Rebecca, 27

My friends knew about my attack before I could even say the words out loud. I felt this unbearable need to run down the streets announcing what had happened, but also knew that what had happened was not OK, and that it was supposed to be kept quiet. In moments where I was being crushed between silence and screaming, the open ears of my best friends calmed my chaos. My friends were my safe space.

And then I learned a little something about one of my best friends.

The best friend who had looked into my eyes only hours after I ran away from my attacker; the best friend who witnessed the emotional crossfire that was my life after my attack; the best friend who listened to my raw truths, the ones I didn't tell anyone else. That very same best friend thought I had been lying about my rape, for over a year and a half.

I quickly began to re-live and re-think every single second that lead up to and took place after my attack. Maybe she was right, maybe there was something she knew I had missed. I was left alone on the Strip in Vegas. Who could I have called? There must have been someone? Why didn't I call someone? I started talking to a guy who we had been talking to all night; he seemed nice. Would I have been safer alone on the Strip than hanging out with his friends?

He kissed me, and I told him not to, that I had a boyfriend and wasn't interested. He put his hand on me flirtatiously, and I pushed it away. Should have pushed his hand off harder? Maybe he thought I was teasing him? Was I teasing him? Did I lead him on?

I woke up after apparently falling asleep in the hotel to the most excruciating pain, and screamed for him to stop. He grabbed his stuff and ran away. Had I given him mixed signals? Did I scream loud enough? Should I have chased him? How would I report him? Would anyone believe me?

The fact that she didn't believe me about what happened was heartbreaking, infuriating and life-altering. But that was the easy part. I could just chalk that all up to her being an ignorant woman and a bad friend. The most damaging part about questioning a victim of rape is not the question itself, but the fact that you are forcing her to relive and rethink and over analyze every single second of her life and what she could have done to prevent her rape. The victim will spin in circles trying to find an answer, when the fact of the matter is: there is no answer. The act of raping someone has nothing to do with the victim and everything to do with the rapist.

Dorota, 45

I was 21 or 22, recently graduated from college, living with my parents and working. One day I went over to our neighbor's house across the street by myself. Three guys lived in that house — one that my friend was dating and another that was a former government agent, whom I'll call Pedro. When I got there — during the day — Pedro was there alone. We sat on the couch, talking. He (very casually) pulled out a machete from under the cushions and showed it to me. He also showed me his gun. I thought it was weird, but thought he was just showing off.

A few minutes later, he invited me upstairs. I was starting to feel uneasy, but this was my buddy, right? So I followed. He was holding the gun. He took my hand and took me to the bathroom. He laid the gun on the side of the sink. He then locked the door and started undressing me. I can tell you what followed is a bit blurry. I remember going numb and feeling simultaneously afraid and...guilty, complicit, like this was "consensual" because I was not fighting back, because I was not screaming. I was just very conscious of the gun on the counter and the machete downstairs, and thinking that I needed to do this to be able to leave there. I was a non-participant in what followed. He raped me, but I was so passive, so "dead" that he did not finish... I got dressed, acted friendly despite how traumatized I was, and I left. I never returned. I never reported it. I just felt dirty and broken and a fallen woman.I think the re-victimization that followed was almost worse than the rape. My friend's boyfriend turned out to be bad news. He was involved in an armed robbery shortly after my assault. I was invited to our neighbors' house one day and the sheriff was there. I was accused of being a bad influence on my friend, asked how we met these men and told I was "hanging out with the wrong crowd." I was wearing a mini dress, which surely did not help in their eyes.

The next day, my dad was in our driveway and noticed cars were slowing down and drivers were looking at our house. He turned around and realized what they were looking at. Someone had written "whore, bitch, cunt" in two foot tall letters on our garage door in black permanent marker. Later, we found that the same words were written on the door of our neighbors' house. A few days later, my tires were slashed. For the next several weeks, I noticed cars with tinted windows slowly rolling by the house. I was terrified. I got to the point that I was no longer just fearing for my life and safety — I was certain I would be killed — I was also afraid that "they" would hurt my family. That went on for weeks. And no, I never reported this. I was too afraid.

Images: Roberto Tumini/ Unsplash; Sasha Freemind/ Unsplash; Eli DeFaria/ Unsplash; Zach Guinta/ Unsplash