When I Was Raped
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because you might forget a lot of things, but probably not this.
By Nicole Economou
In high school, a relationship can last only a few days or weeks, enough to get one through the social events of the season, which in this case were the Spring Formal and the Powder Puff Game. Today, I cannot recall which came first. I know this: I attended both the kegger that followed the game and the formal dance with a rapist. My rapist.
He was the captain of a sports team and was regarded as having a shot at a professional career, even if he also was clearly deficient in the brains department. I liked him simply because I was concerned at the time with being popular, and dating a sports captain was an automatic ticket to the in crowd.
I was also uncomfortably a member of the Most Likely to Succeed crowd, and dating a high school sports star was becoming a habit for me; I’d previously been dating another less-than-brilliant young man who ranked high on the rosters of both the football and baseball teams. He was no prince of morals either; he dated me behind the back of his “real” girlfriend, who ultimately was crowned homecoming queen.
But we left the keg party to drive to the house where he lived with his parents and pick up some eight-track tapes for the party. I had consumed a little bit of beer at the party just to fit in, as I didn’t like beer and wasn’t accustomed to drinking. I felt drunk, unstable on my feet.
A couple of years later, I encountered my rapist on spring break from college at a hometown bar where my dad took me to demonstrate what a “grown-up” college student I now was.
We went in through the garage; no one was home. He pushed me down onto my back on a sofa in the family room, pulled down my pants and forced himself into me. I recall feeling acutely aware of how weak my arms felt, like jelly. I still recall the sensation of utter helplessness. I could not push him off. I recall saying “no” several times. It didn’t matter. He kept going and was done quite quickly; he pulled up his pants and in mute shock, I assembled myself and we got back into the car and went back to the party.
I vaguely recall that the dance came after the rape and that I attended it with him despite the rape, because I was trying to maintain the facade that I was so cool and nonchalant about sex that the attack had not upset me.
Over the next several days my mind was preoccupied with only one thought: What would I do if I were pregnant?
My parents were very strict immigrants from Eastern Europe who set a stern curfew, had complete confidence that I would attend a top university and regularly checked for signs that I’d been smoking cigarettes when out with my friends. We had never discussed sex, and I knew that although they were loving and supportive, they would be shocked at the idea that I’d had any sort of sexual relations with a man.
When I got my period, I was incredibly relieved. At the time, I felt pride at my cavalier attitude about the attack once my anxiety about pregnancy was relieved. By that time, I’d consumed a lot of literature from the ’60s, including Portnoy’s Complaint, and thought my sanguine attitude was simply because I was cool and cultured.
My attitude at the time was that the “poor guy” was so stupid he knew not what he had done.
A couple of years later, I encountered my rapist on spring break from college at a hometown bar where my dad took me to demonstrate what a “grown-up” college student I now was. My rapist asked me to dance and I accepted, congratulating myself on my forgiving nature and again, my “cool” attitude about sex. My attitude at the time was that the “poor guy” was so stupid he knew not what he had done. I tend to still believe that.
But my rapist? Well, I found an item in the local police blotter: He’d ended up in jail on a petty theft charge. His bright athletic future never came to fruition. As for me, I went to law school when I was 28 and still never told anyone what happened to me. I worked hard to be published in the school’s law review — my topic was Rape Trauma Syndrome, inspired by an Indiana case in which the jury acquitted the defendant of a rape charge because the plaintiff had shown insufficient trauma.
The jury had been allowed to hear evidence that she’d gone out dancing in the days following the attack. The case outraged me. I knew from experience that it is eminently easy to pretend, even to oneself, that the attack “was nothing.” Yet, I still told no one of the motivation behind my interest in writing on criminal law, a field I did not pursue. To this day, although I mention the article on my résumé, I delete the reference to its title.
So before Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s letter to Dianne Feinstein was revealed to the general public, I’d recently begun telling the story of how I was raped at the age of 16 by a boy in my high school class. I had kept the story a secret from everyone in my life for nearly 40 years, with the exception of the young man I briefly dated as a freshman in college.
I never told my parents; I never told my younger sister, with whom I am still very close; and I never told any of the women with whom I was very close friends in high school and college. I never told any of my current girlfriends, until close to a year after the Harvey Weinstein allegations became public. I still have not told my sister, who knew the perpetrator. I want to shield her from it. I still have not been able to tell of it to a man I have been regularly dating for the past five years.
But I still remember the attack as if it just happened. I remember the sensation of terrible weakness in my arms and that I said “no” many times and was ignored. I remember that there was a pool at the house where the party was held, and that’s where the keg was located. It was a lovely, balmy night, typical of the town where I grew up, and I’m pretty sure the shirt I was wearing was light pink and had frilly cap sleeves.
And I still remember the cul-de-sac on which the rapist lived, and that no one was home, and details of the “rumpus room” where the rape occurred. I’m pretty sure he drove a gray Honda Civic, which was a relatively new model at the time. I remember vividly what he looked like. His name, of course, I will never forget.
- Nicole Economou, OZY Author Contact Nicole Economou