In the Aftermath: Reflections by Survivors of Gender-Based Violence
IN THE AFTERMATH:
This week, Tasteful Rude publishes a pair of reflections that explore the aftermath of gender-based violence. Tasteful Rude is doing so to counter the continued erasure of survivor-centered narratives, especially those concerning life after harm. We also publish these essays in response to the continued glorification of “cancelled celebrities,” in particular men reported for persistent engagement in gender-based violence and harm. For this male demographic, gender-based violence seems a way of life, a manner of toxic masc-craft, a process through which certain masculine persons create, maintain, curate, and propagate their gender. Toxic masc-craft is an element of rape culture or the “environment in which rape is prevalent and in which sexual violence against women is normalized and excused in the media and popular culture.”
On November 23, Moira Donegan, a Guardian US columnist, tweeted, “Marilyn Manson and Louis CK were both nominated for Grammies today. A long time ago I used to keep a running document of all the accolades and new jobs that were given to men who had been publicly accused of sexual abuse, but it got too long and became corrosive to my soul.” That same day, the Seattle Times published an article titled “Officer convicted of rape gets home detention after judge determines no ‘psychological injury’ to victim.” This headline glibly gets at the heart of another insidious aspect of rape culture, the denial of the ongoing harm wrought by sexual assault. For many survivors, the initial encounter with a perpetrator of gender-based violence, a moment many call rape, is merely an introduction to a structure that encroaches upon, and in some instances, consumes the victim.
This week’s essays expose the harm done by men who engage in gender-based violence, emphasizing the destruction that gender-based violence leaves in its wake. When such men vanish from a survivor’s day-to-day life, their harm does not vanish. Men do not take the harm with them. For many victims, surviving sexual assault poses an ongoing challenge that may leave almost no facet of life untouched. Sexual assault is a prolonged and protracted ordeal and its harms may persist for decades. Both of this week’s essays honor the pain wrought by gender-based violence as well as survivors’ attempts at recovery, renewal, and wholeness. The first one is authored by Mara Keire, a Senior Research Fellow at the Rothermere American Institute, University of Oxford.
ESSAY I: “AN ACT”
The momentum provided by #MeToo led New York State to pass the Child Victims Act , a law which changed the statute of limitations on child sex abuse cases. By temporarily lifting all time restrictions on cases involving sexual violence against children, New York state enabled nearly 100,000 survivors to file claims. I am among the survivors who was ready to do so during the February 2019 to August 2021 grace period. Like countless other victims and alleged perpetrators, I entered mediation and settled out of court.
This is my impact statement. It has been lightly edited for clarity.
When you first talked to your lawyers, you acknowledged that “an act” had happened. But you otherwise disputed the facts and my characterisation of them. Now, you admit that you raped me because I was sixteen. However, you don’t consider what happened a real rape, meaning forcible rape. But what you did that night in 1984 was real. It was forcible. It was rape. In the next twenty-five minutes, I’ll describe that night again in plain language. I’ll then talk about the consequences of your actions: how you raping me shattered my life. I will conclude with a few thoughts on apologies, equality, and amends.
Part 1: August 1984
In 1984, you were an Olympic hopeful coaching a swim team at a nearby club. When your college teammates told you there was a party after our end of the season award ceremony, you hitched a ride to attend.
You did not drive your car, so you planned to drink. You also had a condom in your pocket, so you planned to have sex if you saw an opportunity.
I don’t know if it was a normal party for you or not. I wasn’t much of a partier, being very focused on swimming and school. I’d gone to some dances at school, and hung out with friends on the weekend, but I hadn’t gone to many keg parties. As a result, the post-award-ceremony bash was a big deal to me.
I don’t know what it meant to you. I don’t know if you were in the habit of partying with junior high and high school swimmers when you were in college, when you knew we were all underage. And you knew that we were all under eighteen, because eighteen-year-olds competed in a different bracket. I have no idea what kind of boundaries you drew between yourself and those you coached. I do know that THAT night you had no problem attending a party explicitly held for fourteen-, fifteen-, sixteen-, and seventeen-year-olds.
You weren’t the only non-club instructor there. Some guys from a different university also attended, but you were the one who hung out with us and told us stories about college swimming. We were dazzled. We all wanted to compete at that level. Some of us had college scholarship dreams. I did. You used your status as a National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) medallist to wow us.
There’s not much to dispute at this point:
You attended a party for kids, all of whom were under 18.
You intended to drink. You did not bring a car.
You brought a condom. You intended to have sex even though all the girls present were underage.
You could have hung out with the other instructors, but you chose to talk to us about swimming, especially college swimming.
You got me a few beers. There was a keg. It was probably Rolling Rock. I remember looking down at the beer foam swirling in my cup as you tipped the bottom up encouraging me to drink. I drank and kept drinking. I hate the smell and taste of beer to this day.
We talked about swimming. We talked about applying to colleges. You encouraged me to apply to your university. I bragged about how I could swim in regional events for another summer. Few people are young enough to compete after their senior year of high school. So you knew I was underage. We kept talking. You listened. You asked questions. You teased me about my enthusiasm. We had an honest to god conversation about swimming (or at least I thought it was honest to god). I was THRILLED that someone of your status (a nationally ranked swimmer!) was taking me seriously.
When you suggested we go upstairs to make out, I agreed.
But all the beds were taken.
You asked Dave, your teammate and our head coach, for the keys to his Toyota.
When we got to Dave’s car, you ushered me into the backseat, stripped off my clothes, and committed what you call an “an act”. But what you call it doesn’t matter. Because however we parse it, you raped me. I was a child of 16. You were a man of 20.
But this case isn’t just about the age of consent. You also really raped me. I said “no”. Clearly. Emphatically. Undeniably. “No!” I cried. I tried to “buy you off” with a blow job. You pulled my head off your penis. You wanted to fuck. You put on a condom. I was tight and dry. You moved me to straddle your lap. I told you I was a virgin. I said no again. I didn’t say it quietly. I did not say it ambiguously. You tried to sooth me – and half-heartedly arouse me – by flipping me onto my back and briefly going down on me. I did not want you to do that. I was shocked and scared. No one had ever performed oral sex on me before. You spat on my vulva. I remained dry. It was all going so terrifyingly fast.
Two club teammates, fourteen-year-old boys, opened the car door, giggling. The overhead light went on. I was mortified. Everyone at the party would know we were totally naked, that we’d done more than make out. Without pausing, you reached over and closed the door. You did not care. You did not ask me if I was okay. Your condom had dried out. You took it off. You pushed my legs further apart. You raped me.
My hymen blocked you. You did not stop. You thrust hard. You tore through my virginity. I bled. A lot. I hurt. Badly. You didn’t stop. You didn’t care. It was only about you.
I did not consent. Nor could you have mistaken my actions as consent. My pleasure meant nothing to you. My reputation meant nothing to you. My well-being meant nothing to you. For you, that night was all about you. Your wants. Your desires. Your pleasure. You.
You went to a party for young teenagers.
You used your status as a college swimmer to enter our space.
You found a pretty young girl. Any girl would do, but you found me.
You wowed me with swimming talk.
You got me drunk.
You got me into the back seat of your teammate’s car and committed “an act”.
That act was rape. Forcible rape.
Criminal. Deliberate. Uncaring. Rape.
Part 2: Consequences
For you there weren’t any. I’ve protected your identity for thirty-seven years. I’ve let you keep your reputation as a “good guy.” But you’re not a good guy. You’re a rapist. For thirty-seven years, you’ve lived your life untouched by that night. But on that night, you irrevocably shattered my life.
After you raped me, you slept. I remember being out of my head. Out of my body. Looking down at myself. I now know that trauma specialists call this state dissociation. I remember feeling like you, a hammer, had shattered me, a glass mirror. To this day, I use that metaphor. I’ve put myself back together, but my reflection remains distorted, a fun house version of what could’ve been. Through persistence, study, and therapeutic practices, I work to keep myself together. I like to compare what I do to the Japanese art of Kintsugi, where people glue back broken porcelain cups with seams of gold. On my more optimistic days, I think about the self I struggle to keep intact as a mirror ball. Broken but with the capacity for joy. Still, I long for wholeness.
When you awoke, we got dressed. We went inside. You abandoned me to re-join the others. I went to the bathroom by the entrance. I sat on the toilet. I tried to wipe your semen out of my vagina. I’d never smelled sperm before. I’ll always remember its texture and scent on the toilet paper. I worried about getting pregnant. I wanted your mess out of me. I kept wiping. I shook with fear. Sometimes I feel like I’ve never left that moment of horror in the bathroom.
I went out to sit by the pool. I was hunched over, trying to make myself as small as possible. My friend Lauren came and put an arm around me.
You did not.
You did not say goodbye.
You did not give me your phone number.
You did not ask for mine.
You did not care about my reputation.
You did not care about whether you got me pregnant or not.
You forcibly raped me and you left me on my own. Alone.
While you were preparing for the first dual meet of the college season, I was scared. I was late. I always had my period between 35 and 38 days. But that month I didn’t. Numb with fear, I wrote my college essay – on how life was like a swimming race. I filled out applications. I waited for my period. It did not come. I went up to Harvard on an unofficial recruiting trip and talked to the coach. I pretended nothing worried me. I continued to wait for my period. I started my senior year of high school. And I waited in increasing panic. I sent out my college applications. I kept waiting. You were well into the NCAA fall season. By day fifty I was terrified. I knew I was pregnant. My breasts hurt. I felt bloated. I was nauseous – and not just with anxiety.
I went to CVS and got two pregnancy tests.
I was fifty-five days late. One day shy of eight weeks. Two months since my last period. I took the test. Drops of blood fell on the stick. I was safe. I had miscarried. I was no longer pregnant.
My period was short and heavy, the blood thick with clots.
I now know I’m prone to miscarriages. I had three while my partner and I were trying to have a child, and I almost lost my son as well. Before I entered perimenopause, I never skipped a period or went more than 42 days between periods. Except that one time – and the other times I was pregnant.
I had back up plans. I would go to Planned Parenthood. Beyond that I didn’t know what I’d do. I didn’t have any cash. I’d spent all my allowance on special racing suits. I thought about how I could contact you, but I didn’t want to talk to your mother or your father or your coach. I didn’t want to talk to YOU. I’d begun to realise how callously you’d treated me. After I miscarried, I thought the nightmare was over. But the trauma of the rape and the stress of the pregnancy took their toll. You not only fucked me, you fucked me up.
I started smoking and doing drugs. I began to experience suicidal ideation and depressive episodes. I asked my mom if I could go into therapy. She didn’t want me to. My dad was vehemently against it. I insisted. The therapist my mom got was inadequate to the task. So was the next one. The one thereafter, the one I saw in grad school was superb, but by that time my depression was so severe that they needed to prescribe SSRIs for me to get through the day. My psychiatrist told me I was in such dire shape that I’d need to take meds for the rest of my life. This morning I took 60 milligrams of Celexa to manage my depression. I’ll do that tomorrow, and the next day. I cannot live without medication. However, SSRIs don’t treat dissociation. Or flashbacks.
In 1984, I lacked the words for what you’d done. Although you physically held me down while I cried, I told myself the “act” wasn’t violent enough to count, I only had bruises between my thighs. Although you were an adult man and I was an underage teen, I told myself I knew you. You were “a good guy”. You weren’t some knife-wielding stranger. Although I said no, I told myself I must’ve sent signals saying I wanted it. I had no clue what rape looked like. I had no idea that rape could happen between people who knew each other.
I didn’t understand why I was so fucked up. I didn’t understand why I could no longer flirt with guys, why making out scared me, why I was relieved when I didn’t have to kiss a date.
I didn’t understand until I started Yale in the autumn of 1985. Until I started hearing the term “date rape.” Until I talked with my friends Andrea and Jennifer, and Andrea told us about getting raped her senior year of high school. I thought about how goddamn familiar it sounded – an older man feeling entitled to the body of a younger girl. I told my story. We cried.
I swam. Or more accurately, I tried to swim. I wasn’t hitting my times. I wasn’t hitting my splits. I didn’t have the speed I used to have. But I persevered. We went to women’s NCAA championships my sophomore and senior year. But it was hard. Everything relied on small group politics and social skills. Because of you, I couldn’t handle the partying. Because of you, I couldn’t negotiate the sexual dynamics. Nevertheless, I had brief glimpses of what college swimming could be like. It was glorious. I still remember races when it all went right. I still dream about perfect starts and turns.
I also still dream about you. I see the head of your penis as I wonder if I can stop you raping me with a blow job. I can still feel the beige vinyl of the backseat and the awkward bend of my knee as you forced my leg off the seat so you could get better leverage. I can feel the towel you placed under us when we first got in the car. I remember the look of your shoulder as you tore through my hymen. Sometimes I wonder if you cleaned up the blood or if you made Dave do it for you. Mostly, I re-live the moment my consciousness left my body and I look down, watching you rape me. I never see my face. Only my body. Because that’s what I was to you – a body. Not a person. Never a person.
My whole adult life I’ve had nightmarish flashbacks to that night. You raping me in that car. I try to go to sleep, I feel like I’m sixteen again. Afraid. Alone. Ignored. Overridden. Violated. I struggle to have sex. Even with a much-loved partner. I see your naked body. Your penis. I’ve never gone down on my husband. Before we went out, I told him I could never go down on him. For twenty-nine years, he’s never asked. For twenty-nine years, he’s lived with the consequences of your criminal violence. As a result of my complex PTSD – PTSD that you caused – you still intrude in my life. You ruin my sleep. I can’t share my bed with my husband. We haven’t had sex in over ten years. I am perpetually exhausted.
In 1989, the summer after I graduated from Yale, I tried to keep swimming, but I didn’t have my parents’ support. As a result, I was ecstatic when my dad invited me to attend a fundraiser at the New York Athletic Club. I was 22, and it seemed like he was finally recognising my interest and talent.
But you were there. (I had to sit next to you.)
With your first wife. (Were you going out with her when you raped me?)
You remembered my name. (I was a notch on your belt.)
I felt trapped. (You chatted with me like we were friends.)
You never acknowledged that you’d had your dick down my throat or up my cunt. Or that you’d done it when I was still sixteen.
I operated on autopilot. Playing the country club game. False smiles and stilted conversation.
As my dad and I left, one of the speakers – an important coach – tried to talk to me. I couldn’t talk to him. I couldn’t make eye contact. I was so freaked out. I ignored him. I was breaking down.
I went home and wept. I fell into a deep depression. That’s when my episodic depression began to turn chronic. I applied to grad school. I quit swimming. Quit smoking. Quit smoking dope. I can remember swimming three times since then.
After that dinner at the Athletic Club, I could no longer pretend to follow the course I’d once set. Rather than risk running into you again, I shifted to follow a new direction. I went to grad school. I dedicated myself to studying history.
As a historian, I’ve won all sorts of prestigious fellowships. I’ve written a book and a number of well-regarded articles. I’ve taught, lectured, led seminars, given research papers, and done all the things I’m supposed to do. Except I’ve struggled with PTSD and severe chronic depression. It took me ten years to finish my PhD. Since fellowships don’t count as work, I don’t qualify for social security. Or Medicare.
In 2000, when Oxford offered my husband a job, we decided to take our chances in Britain. I could limit the number of times I went home without further alienating my parents. I could reduce the probability of seeing you. I no longer had to make constant excuses about not going to the club with them.
Going to the UK wasn’t a panacea. I’m a stellar teacher, but it takes me a long time to write because of my exhaustion. For British academics, I don’t write fast enough. After my third miscarriage (actually, my fourth, counting the pregnancy with you), I decided I could not manage my fulltime job at the University of London and maintain my mental health. I did not go up for tenure. Instead, I went on sabbatical at the Georgetown Law Center. With less stress and more sleep, I got and stayed pregnant. I gave birth to my son, Nathaniel, on April 29th, 2008.
I kept researching and writing. My book came out in 2010. I did pick up teaching for Oxford and Stanford. In 2015, I was hired for four years as a part-time teaching replacement for the Rhodes Professor of American History at Oxford. The sexual harassment by renowned historians triggered me. Watching older men use their status to prey on younger women triggered me. My sleep got worse. My mental health declined further. I’ve only held jobs for nine out of the twenty years since I earned my doctorate. I do not qualify for a UK state pension. My university pension is tiny. I will only get $420 dollars a month starting when I turn sixty-six.
I keep working, but the damage you caused makes it so very, very hard. My career is incomplete. I am incomplete. I have a title, but I have no salary. I must keep writing, presenting, and supervising students – all unpaid labour – to keep my position which encompasses an email address, letterhead, and access to libraries. I am not competitive on the academic job market.
When you raped me, you permanently damaged me. And that damage has left me physically, mentally, and financially vulnerable.
I’ve got scars from all my years of swimming: a busted rotator cuff, skin damaged by the sun, chronic depression and PTSD, a shattered sense of self rebuilt into something beautiful but far too fragile. I long to be whole.
Part 3: Apologies, Equality, and Amends
I don’t want your apology. We survivors of sexual violence have heard too many meaningless apologies over the years. “I’m sorry you feel like I violated you. I was insensitive and immature. It was different back then. I didn’t know what I was doing.”
But it wasn’t different back then. I was jailbait and you knew it. You knew exactly what you were doing.
You came into our space. You were not a member of our club or one of our instructors. You used your ties to college teammates to go somewhere you did not belong. You came – without a car – to our end-of-the-season party, a celebration for fourteen- to seventeen-year-olds. You came with a condom in your pocket.
You probably thought you were safe because you weren’t at your club or your college or wherever you were coaching that summer. You thought you could take advantage of your reputation as a champion without consequences. And for 37 years you were right. For 37 years, I did not name you. I’ve told my story many times, but I’ve never said your name.
I don’t believe in apologies, but I do believe in amends. As we engage in this mediation, I want you to think about what you can possibly do to ameliorate the damage you’ve caused. You destroyed swimming, you shattered my mental health, you ruined my sex life, you took away my sleep, you made holding a job impossible.
To date, you haven’t cared about those things. Your lawyers said that you’re concerned about YOUR reputation. You mentioned neighbours, but you’re probably more worried about word getting out in the country clubs. You and I both know how quickly news spreads among members.
But here’s the thing, you did not care about MY reputation when Ryan and Len opened the car door while you were raping me. You just reached over, closed it, and kept on going. You did not worry that my teammates – or other swimmers in the state – might slut shame me. Hell, you didn’t care about the damage you did to my body, that you might have gotten me pregnant (and in fact did).
Once you got me in Dave’s car, you did not show me an iota of compassion. Once we left that car, you’ve never expressed an ounce of concern.
You brought your second wife here today. No doubt you’re anxious about how this case will affect your family. You’ve got three kids together. Two are older than I was when you raped me. Your youngest is about the same age as my son. I bet you’ve never had to sit on a city bus dissociated and in full flashback while trying to explain to a ten-year old what’s happening to you. I reckon that during the past year and a half, as your kids have learned from home, you did not need to teach them what triggers are, what flashbacks look like, what dissociation means, what depression encompasses. My family matters just as much as yours, and they’ve lived with the consequences of you raping me far longer.
I want to heal the damage that you did. I don’t want to hide from you or to continue to protect you. I want to regain the control that you took away when you forcibly overrode my no with your yes, shattering my sense of self. I want to stop participating in the silencing that started that night in 1984. I hate that you still hold down my voice as you once held down my body. I want to own what happened to me.
As the law stands, I can’t just go ahead and tell my story, if that story includes you in it. Your lawyers have already threatened me with defamation. I must fight for the rights to my own history: hire lawyers, serve you notice, mediate, litigate if necessary. Worst of all, I need to see you – you who hurt me so badly that I struggle to sleep, to hold a job, to raise my kid, to have sex with my husband – in order to regain ownership of my life.
So here we are. In this room. With our lawyers and a mediator. So you can make financial amends and I can speak my truth.
We ended up settling. He admitted no guilt. Nor can we interpret that settlement as an admission of guilt. I am not allowed to name him or publish anything that identifies him, including the sport I loved so much, but I can keep my story and keep this statement. I am speaking my truth.
I am forever grateful to my legal team at McAllister Olivarius especially Ann Olivarius who’s led the way for so many women.
Mara Keire is a Senior Research Fellow at the Rothermere American Institute, University of Oxford. She is the author of For Business and Pleasure: Red-Light Districts and the Regulation of Vice, 1890-1933 (2010) and is currently writing another book, Under the Boardwalk: Rape in New York, 1900-1930.