Standing next to me in the courtroom, my rapist didn’t look like a rapist at all.
It wasn’t just his black dress shirt and tie, or his perfectly creased pants and shiny shoes.
It was the warm smile he wore when he walked in and cheerfully greeted everyone in the room that almost completely camouflaged him against the backdrop of other humans; ones who I was sure hadn’t held me down over the back of a couch a year earlier and forced themselves inside of my body while holding their hand over my mouth to quiet my cries of pain like he had.
Even though I don’t remember exactly what I was wearing 16 years ago, I’m certain that I didn’t appear to be who I really was that day in the courtroom either.
Before this man and his shiny shoes and warm smile and before our shared darkness, I was just…me.
A good girl.
Funny. Bright. Whole.
I even had a warm smile of my own, back then.
But in the wake of my rape I had become addicted to substances that left me as hollow and powerless as I felt that night on the couch, trapped under the weight of him.
To feel nothing at all, to blot out the existence of concern for anything but the next high had become my coping mechanism for the learned idea that a human could violently tear through another human’s body and take a piece of their soul without asking.
At 6 feet tall I weighed less than 100 pounds, my face and body were speckled with scabs, my eyes vacant. At 19 most young women were in the throes of their “becoming,” but this was all anyone could see I had become.
Just an addict.
A broken girl.
There were reasons I had waited a year to officially report my rape.
There was my tearful confession to a friend shortly after it had happened that resulted in a fictional retelling of the event by him to all of our friends, in which I was falsely portrayed as promiscuous drunken sex fiend.
Then there was a belief I held onto so tightly it took years to unwind it from my core. It was the undeniable fact that I had intentionally walked into my rapist’s house that night, as I had done before, and willingly sat on that couch. That I had been drinking. That we already knew each other. That he didn’t grab me off the street and pull me into a dark alley to do the deed like the real kind of rape you see in movies.
There was also the way I looked, and the way I saw people looking at me. Mistrusting eyes that always avoided direct contact with mine.
These were my reasons not to, and I didn’t know any better so they remained for a year.
When I finally did file a report, it was recorded by a tired looking police officer who kept his eyes focused on the small pad he used to jot down notes while I fed him the horrific details of that night on the couch.
He never once looked directly at me, or gave any indication that he believed the story I was telling him in my broken voice.
When I was done, he simply stood, closed his notepad, and replaced his pen with a short click.
“Thank you,” he said curtly before turning to leave. “You’ll be hearing from someone this week.”
I remember suddenly wanting to take back everything I had said to this officer with the averted eyes. I had the urge to grab his notepad and eat the pages with his rape notes on them, to swallow them back down into my gut where they belonged with my shame and hurt.
Instead, I waited 30 days to receive a court date so I could stand next to my rapist at 8:30am on a Tuesday.
There we both stood in the courtroom, clad in our respective disguises, awaiting judgment.
When the judge walked in and I saw that she was a woman, I felt something like hope spring up from a place I hadn’t known it was hiding. She would believe me, I thought. Woman to woman, she would recognize the truth.
We were both asked some questions about what had occurred that night and why I had taken so long to report it. I was nervous, and terrified, and too high but not high enough, and I was just so weak standing in the shadow of his smile that I stammered through my answers, feeling like an idiot.
I began to get that silvery feeling in the pit of my stomach that something wasn’t right. My rapist’s smile kept getting warmer, and the judge’s stare in my direction colder. This woman did not see a fellow woman. This woman did not see me at all. This woman was not on my side.
Finally, with an exasperated sigh she gave her judgment.
She advised my rapist to stay away from women like me so as not to be involved in this kind of trouble in the future. He was even granted a restraining order against me to seal the deal.
“And to you, Ms. Evans,” she said, looking me in the eye for the first time that morning. “I suggest you stop making up stories and ruining people’s lives. This case is dismissed and you are both free to go.”
I heard a short chuckle to my right and turned to see my rapist looking right at me, still wearing his smile. He gave me a wink as he straightened his tie and left.
Being a broken girl has its benefits. When you are only half of yourself, you can’t feel the full impact of moments like these.
I didn’t cry or scream or shout.
I stood there numb, watching him walk out of the courtroom, his laugh and his wink and his freedom and my shame all still hanging in the air between us.
The judgment had been made. Unbelievable.
I went on of course, beyond that room and into the rest of my becoming. The shame of my rape and that day in the courtroom propelled me further into an addiction and a lifestyle that almost took my life, and then further into the sobriety that would save me.
For many years now, I’ve been living in the recovery that helped me put together almost all of the fragments of my once shattered soul. I’ve learned to use the flawed and still cracked pieces to help put other broken girls back together again.
Recently in the news I saw a female in another courtroom, testifying about her assault while the man who assaulted her sat in the same room, armed with his beautiful family and his years of an upstanding life and his tears of regret.
I watched as so many of us did, and I felt every single excruciating moment of her testimony because 16 years later I finally can. This woman told her story in the hopes that she would be believed, and she did it with the certainty that for the most part, she wouldn’t be. But broken girls, past and present, know this woman was telling the truth.
Unfortunately, we carry this this kind of knowing in our veins. It is a part of who we are.
My own rapist is on Facebook.
He’s on LinkedIn and Instagram.
He doesn’t look like a rapist there, either.
I could even see, when I finally searched for him after years of never doing so, that he is a father to a 5-year-old girl. I stared long and hard at his profile photo of him happily gazing into his daughter’s eyes. I again tried to imagine him as a different man.
A good man.
But I cannot imagine away that night on the couch.
Can I live with this? I must. I do not have a choice. So many of us broken girls who weren’t believed must live amongst this kind of secondary assault every day.
I can only be a little grateful that more of us are beginning to find our voice and put the pieces back together.
For each other.
We must remain what they are afraid of; dangerous storytellers, ruining the comfortable lives of those who no longer deserve to live in that comfort at our expense.
And to those who try to keep us quiet, who roll their eyes and say “that’s just how it was back then,” or “boys will be boys,’ or who tell us too many years have gone by, or that our story doesn’t matter, to you I say:
Without judgment, or a preconceived idea of who you think we are.
Look us in the eye and hear our stories.
Do it as though you already believe us.