While I was scrolling through Facebook posts Tuesday, between pudgy, dancing babies and the latest political debate, one status stopped me cold.
According to the post, in response to a woman who shared that she had recently been date-raped, a man decided to explain the mind of an alleged rapist by detailing how he had sexually assaulted a girlfriend years ago. Within minutes of inquiring about the veracity of the claim, I received screenshots of both the man's original comment and his subsequent ones justifying the sexual assault, a link to his personal and professional Facebook pages, and photos of him smiling with his family, including a wife and daughters.
This man never publicly showed one hint of remorse, and in response to some of the pushback he received from one commenter, he flippantly said that he would "rape her mother next."
Welcome to another normal day in rape culture.
Let's be clear: What the man details in his comment is unequivocally rape, though he never uses the word to describe the incident. "Beating the p—sy up" and throwing her "the f—k up out" the house as revenge for teasing him is rape. His nonchalant retelling of the incident without fear of repercussion is an extension of that violence and evidence of how deeply embedded rape culture and misogyny run in a society where women are too often discarded like depreciating commodities.
Unfortunately, he was never charged or convicted because, according to him, his victim never reported him. By his perverse logic, she deserved to be forced down and penetrated against her will. He further believes that they have been able to remain friends for decades because she understands that her rape was her fault. This kind of warped thinking is why Bill Cosby felt comfortable admitting in a court of law to drugging his alleged victims. It's why his most ardent defenders believe that he did nothing wrong, because if he were guilty, wouldn't those women stay far away from him?
It's why Damon Wayans felt comfortable getting on New York radio's Power 105.1's The Breakfast Club and calling Cosby's alleged victims "unrapeable bitches," and why Charlamagne Tha God and D.J. Envy laughed at Wayans' jokes. It's why the 13 black women who've accused Police Officer Daniel Holtzclaw of rape continue to be ignored. And it's why—even though nearly 1 in 5 women in the United States will be raped in her lifetime—we can stand in a room full of women and still be too ashamed and/or frightened to tell our stories.
Some men believe that women's bodies are their property and that if those bodies so happen to be raped, it's the women's fault. If the victims don't report it—even though 54 percent of rapes go unreported and only 3 in 100 rapists will spend any time behind bars—then it all must be a lie anyway. Though I'm speaking of rape here in gendered, binary terms, rape in the LGBTQ community too often flies under our cultural radar. And at its root still lies the need to assert power over another human being in the most violently intrusive way possible.
The man's Facebook post made me think of women who have been raped by a "friend" and did not report the crime. It made me think of the guilt and shame so many of us carry. The bone-deep fear that we will be viewed as disposable, dirty, different somehow. It made me think of how many of us internalize the hatred we feel for our attackers, our unsuccessful attempts to hide from ourselves because their invisible fingerprints are still crawling over our bodies, their words of coercion still replay in our heads like a scratched record.
"I was date-raped about 17 years ago," Brook*, now a writer based in New York, tells The Root. "And the guy probably thought we were cool, and that I was cool. Because after a while, I just gave up fighting. I had met him at a club and he offered to give me a ride home when my girlfriend hooked up with someone else.
"Instead of giving me a ride home, he terrorized me for about seven hours," Brook continues. "I finally broke out of his apartment while he was sleeping and ran down the street to a gas station to make a phone call. He was following me in his car. He called later that day, because early in the evening I gave him my number, and he asked me to go out again."
Sheila*, 42, an activist based in the Bronx, N.Y., has been raped several times, but she tells The Root that being raped by an acquaintance was the worst of them all.
"I didn't know dude and went to his house and flirted and teased him, too," she says. "I always felt guilty because of that. … When he finished and got up to hand me my coat, he started checking himself out, like to see if he had any cuts or scratches. When he saw where I had scratched him, he chuckled and said, 'Damn, you a'ight? You good?' It was like we just had rough sex and it was all consensual.
"He walked me to the train station like it was the end of a normal date," Sheila continues. "I had never been back to that station again [since I was raped in 1998] until one night a few years ago, and I didn't realize that it was the same station until the memory came flooding back and triggered an anxiety attack.
"It was the pattern of the tile on the walls that made me remember," she adds.
Jessiline (who didn't want her last name used), 37, a filmmaker based in Los Angeles, was 28 years old when she was raped by a "friend." The trauma that she endured in trying to process her attack led to increasingly unhealthy behavior and a broken engagement.
"I didn't remain friends with my rapist, but I did feel compelled to contact him again, which felt crazy when I did it, but I couldn't help myself," Jessiline tells The Root. "In some ways it felt like I could erase the rape if I had sex with him again. I didn't do it … but I felt out of control."
"When [the rape] was happening," Jessiline continues, "I remember thinking, 'I just don't want him to hit me.' I couldn't take being beaten by a man again after my first marriage. When it was over, he used my bathroom and stopped up the toilet so [that] it overflowed. I remember he was more concerned with what he'd done in my bathroom than what he'd done to me.
"He texted me a few weeks later to ask if I'd seen Black Snake Moan," she said.
These women bravely shared their pain with me and seemed clear—or on the path to it—that being raped wasn't their fault. Still, their need to explain themselves in some way, a wary pre-emptive strike against expected judgment, slid between the fragile layers of their resolve.
"I just wanted to say that I fought," says Sheila. "I tore his house up fighting him tooth and nail until I just couldn't. I just need to acknowledge that."
These stories, and so many others like them, remind me in some ways of my own, one I've never told publicly until now. My rapist was also a "friend." I was 19 years old, alone with him in his dorm room and crying over a broken heart. There was drinking involved, because college. Before I knew it, he had me pinned down to his bed, a bed I had felt so safe sitting crossed-legged on just moments before, as he kept saying, "Please stop telling me to stop; I love you. I've always loved you."
I never reported him and I never told my family because I believed it was my fault. Didn't I know better?
Wasn't I better?
Women, black women in particular, are taught that airing out our dirty laundry brings shame on not just our families but the entire community. Still, this I know to be true: If we don't air it out, if we leave it crumbled in those dark, dank corners where mold and mildew grows, then we'll never feel clean, not on the inside. And it is the rapists who deserve to feel like the dirty stains on humanity that they really are.
I have called upon this quote by Zora Neale Hurston so often lately because it speaks to the erasure and oppression of marginalized groups so powerfully: "If you are silent about your pain, they'll kill you and say you enjoyed it." Put differently, sometimes it's the silence that destroys us.
So for every woman or man who reads this who has ever been a victim of rape or sexual assault, I stand in solidarity with you.
Rape is rape.
You are not alone.
It was not your fault.
We do not owe anyone our silence.
Editor’s note: An asterisk (*) indicates that the name has been changed.