Why Now? (Why and how on a random day five years after the fact I told my friend that he raped me and how that led to my decision to report it)

A question life didn’t prepare me to answer but has asked me a handful of times is, Why did you decide to report this now? It’s not the anniversary of anything. What changed? Here’s the honest answer, as simply as I can manage to give it:

I did not know I was raped. I think I’ve made this clear by now. However, in the year following, me and the person who raped me did manage to cut our friendship without anyone ever questioning it. We were civil. We had no classes together, but we still shared the same interests and after-school clubs. I knew I was damaged by what happened between us. I still hadn’t gotten my period, and my eating disorder was raging strong. We sent passive aggressive texts to each other, from what I can remember, but I can’t remember why or how I justified my anger towards him to myself. But I was angry at him; I was angry at every single person in my world, too, though. I didn’t need the justification.

Once we graduated, from what I can remember we stopped talking for a while. He had asked me if it was okay for him to text me, and he even said he would like to take me out to dinner someday. I told him ask again later. I was focusing on recovering from the wounds I left high school with. I did this without facing what he did to me. I did this by isolating myself from what I feared.

Somewhere along the way, somehow, we started talking again. I had forgiven him for my own sake without admitting what I was truly forgiving him for. Talking to him again felt like talking to an old friend. We connected like we always had, but now we were different, older. As it turned out, we had both gotten into fitness, so despite how we had changed as people, we still had the same interests. As we settled into a new version of an old friendship, the passive aggression that we had come to know when we had last spoken dissipated. I had my good old friend back.

And it was nice. Besides the fact that we still had that connection I had convinced myself was real, we were able to talk about what happened between us. I was able to ask him the questions that kept me up at night, and though I tried to do this with the intention of getting it off my chest and not for his actual answer, it was helpful hearing what he had to say, even if sometimes I was searching for hidden meanings.

When I started dating my boyfriend, I realized quickly that all the wonderful healing I had done was perhaps not as all-encompassing as I had believed. I could no longer keep my aversion to sex or my vaginal pain to myself. I started to allow myself to admit I was abused. Yet I kept my rapist in my life. I told myself he didn’t realize what he had done, and even if he had, he had changed. I refused to let him go.

When I had sex for the first time with my boyfriend, it was almost five years since the last time my rapist had sexual intercourse with me. It was also the first time I had ever had consensual sex. Despite how glaring it quickly became, it took me a few months of healthy sex to admit to myself that I now knew that the thing that my rapist did to me was not sex. Even still, I kept him in my life. I told myself he didn’t realize what he had done, and even if he had, he had changed. I refused to let him go.

As I began to heal from what I had been running from for so long, there was as much pain as there was relief. Though it happened so long ago, I was only beginning to realize that I had been raped and that so much of the life I had been living was lies that my rapist told me and I told myself. I was learning to let people in, and that felt so good. But I was also having intense anxiety, flashbacks, and my depression was super apparent. Yet I kept my rapist in my life. I told myself he didn’t realize what he had done, and even if he had, he had changed. I refused to let him go.

One day during a particularly bad anxiety attack, I wrote my rapist a letter, just to get it off my chest. I would never send this letter, of course. I did not want to hurt my rapist. I didn’t want him to be punished; he had always felt so guilty for the affair, and I felt he had been punished enough by his own shame. Besides, he had changed, and he told me I had something to do with this change. He learned from his mistakes with me. Punishment was no longer warranted, and I didn’t want to burden him. He still felt guilty, he told me. I didn’t want to make it worse.

Only the problem was, I had drafted this letter that finally said all of the truths I had in me, exactly how I needed to say them. Once the letter existed, I could only feel it burning through my mind, through my pockets, through my cell phone. I have to send this. So I talked to multiple people, and I got a lot of different input and perspectives. I made a pro/con list. And on Sunday, October 23, 2016, in a move that would begin the worst anxiety of my entire life, I sent the letter.

dear avery

When my rapist read the letter, he called me. It was after midnight. We spoke for half an hour. My boyfriend was next to me, and he heard the phone call. My rapist told me he was so ashamed. He said he didn’t realize that what he had done was rape. He was grateful that I told him, and he wished I told him sooner. He told me he was so sorry. He told me I was so special. He said all the right things. Of course I would never question you, he said.

He told me he didn’t realize what he had done, and he had changed.

And me, I refused to let him go.

He suggested we meet in person to discuss the letter. We met three days later. He took the train to Penn Station, and I took the day off work. I had my boyfriend and his best friend follow me just in case. We spent the first at least half hour talking like the old friends we were. Back in high school, he notoriously told outrageous stories that were clearly not true. As we spoke on a bench at Madison Square Park on this cold October day, the stories he told were all too reminiscent of those tales he used to spin. When we finally got onto the topic he had traveled here to address, it was odd, but not the way I expected.

He spent much of the conversation smiling. He apologized a few times, but it came across as procedural rather than genuine. His demeanor was chillingly calm, and I pointed this out. I told him that I wasn’t sure if he was just saying the things he knew he had to say. I told him his serene affect was making me appear calm but that I was not, in fact, calm. Because his reactions seemed so bizarre to me, and for only that reason, I decided to be brave and say the word out loud to be absolutely certain we were not misunderstanding each other.

I looked him in the eyes, “[rapist’s name], I am telling you that you raped me. Are you accepting that you did that?” He looked back in my eyes, and he said, “Yes.”

Even still, I intended to keep him in my life. I believed I knew everything, and I forgave him. I had not an inkling that I would have any desire to report the man who now admitted to raping me to the police.

I try not to live with regret, but if only I had emerged from denial sooner and had the good sense to record this conversation – my rapist confessed to raping me. But because I was naive, like all the rest of this it’s just my word against his – actually, it’s my word against nothing, since all he had to do to avoid arrest was not say anything at all. Ironic, isn’t it, that the very thing that allowed me to blame myself for my rape – silence – is the very thing that exculpated him from the consequences of raping me?

Anyway, before we parted ways I gave him a hug and told him he was a ‘solid person.’ It didn’t feel quite right, but I was overwhelmed. And then that conversation was over, and I was left to discover how I would deal with having directly faced my rapist. I knew the next day that something didn’t feel right about how our meeting had gone, and I texted [rapist] to ask him how he was feeling about that conversation. He ignored my text. I followed up the next day, and he responded with a drawn out version of saying he felt emotional and unsure. I told him I understood, but that it would be helpful for me if he could let me know when he processes it. Spoiler, I would never hear from him again.

My sister was semi-aware of the situation. My parents were not. One thing I felt sure of coming out of that conversation was I would never be in denial again. He admitted to what he did. With this newfound acceptance, I decided it was time for me to stop shutting out the world. I owed so many explanations. I wanted to feel known again. So I had my sister tell my parents what had happened, and because it was the closest thing there was to being right for me I had her tell them I did not want to discuss it with them. And on October 30, 2016 I told the internet I had been raped.

For 12 hours, I was on top of the world. I was free.

And then I crashed. I realized I felt awkward not knowing who of my colleagues, who of my friends and my boyfriend’s friends had read what I had written, and I didn’t know what they really thought of me if they hadn’t reached out. I felt awkward around anyone who I saw in person who I was Facebook friends with but hadn’t said anything. I couldn’t understand why it mattered so much to me, but looking back it makes sense. I shared something that for so long had been a secret that kept me from truly connecting with anyone around me, and it was not a magical fairytale cure where I suddenly and finally felt understood. In some ways I did, and it was incredible, and so many people reached out and have continued to, and it has meant more to me than I could imagine expressing.

But for the people who didn’t reach out who I had to see in person or who I expected or hoped would reach out, I was unsure how to navigate my relationships with them. I never expected everyone to read what I wrote or care or be comfortable saying something. I do realize what I’m saying is uncomfortable, and I realize everyone has shit they’re dealing with. I realize I am not entitled to anyone’s support. It was just a lot to handle, and no one ever taught me how to face the world when I’ve finally admitted to it that I was raped.

I made it a few days before I reached out to a colleague. I wanted someone at work who I could just be frank with. That Friday, five days after posting my first Facebook post about my rape, I was eating lunch with that co-worker and talking about everything. They said something to the effect of, “Do you want me to kick this guy’s ass?” and I responded, “No, no. We’re actually friends again.”

I refused to let my rapist go.

But later that very same night, I knew I would have to report him.

What changed?

Despite my clinging to my friendship with my rapist, I realized if there was any possibility that he could have victimized more than just myself or if I feared he might, I would report. And upon further investigation, that’s just what I did.

It’s amazing how many layers of denial I had to come out of. It’s hard to trust I’ve finally gotten through the last one and found the reality I’ve been searching for for so long. But it’s hard to imagine there could be anything left for me to discover that could change what I now know.

My rapist is a liar. He manipulated me as best he could, and that kept me quiet for over half a decade. He outsmarted me in so many ways. He twisted my mind to trust his word over my own. So why, when I was raped for the first time on March 6, 2011, did I report it to the police on November 5, 2016, a seemingly random and sudden call on my part? There’s no rhyme or reason why that was the date I reported my rapist other than that’s the day I realized that I should.

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