Rape And Its Legacy

In October, 1984, exactly 32 years before the Republican nominee’s sexual assault tape was published, I was raped in a dorm room on the campus of the University of Tennessee at Martin.
I was an 18-year-old college freshman and I was raped by someone that I considered a friend. He was a football player (a linebacker), that I had a [psychology] class with in the Fall of ’84. It was my understanding that whenever there were ‘away games’, football players would miss the Friday class to travel.
Richard called to ask if he could borrow my class notes and I agreed. I offered to leave them at the front desk of his dorm but he said that I “could just bring them up [to his room].” I grabbed my notebooks and an umbrella (it had been raining), and told my roommate Cassandra, where I was going.
I walked in the rain from my dorm to his, cutting through Ellington dorm to stay dry. When I reached the lobby of his dorm, I took off my wet jacket and laid my umbrella upside down in the corner. I walked up the stairs to his room on the 3rd floor. His roommate let me in and Richard greeted me from the other side of the room. I walked over and sat down at the desk and removed the notebook from my bag. His roommate was there the entire time.
As I was going over my notes to explain concepts to him, he complained that the lighting was poor. He turned on the light over his bed asked me to move. I told him that he could just give me the notes back after class the next day. Then he asked me to clarify something I wrote, so I sat down on the bed to read what I had written and before I knew it, my notes hit the floor and he was on top of me. With his left hand, he held my hands over my head, squeezing my wrists; and with his right hand he ripped off my pants. “Please don’t”, I begged! “NO, NO…STOP…HELP!!!” I screamed, as he shoved himself inside me…smiling. “NOOO! HELP ME…”, I pleaded to his roommate who was still in the room. He covered my mouth with his, kissing me so I would stop screaming — I could hardly breathe. No one helped me. After he finished, I was crying and he looked at me and asked, “What’s wrong?” (Per his football stats, which I later discovered, he was 6’4”, 270 lbs.) I NEVER stood a chance! I pulled up my pants, grabbed my things and ran out of his room.
As I ran back to my dorm, I realized that I had left my umbrella in the lobby. I was soaked by the time I reached my dorm, but I barely noticed because I was burning from my insides being ripped apart. I was ashamed that I had been so stupid, I should have known better I kept telling myself. When I reached my room, I told Cassandra what happened and she called our friend Melody, who immediately came over. There we were, three 18 year olds, trying to figure out what to do next.
Once I ‘reported’ the rape to my friends (we didn’t have a rape crisis center or organization to report to in 1984 that we were aware of), they confronted him and he in turn, spread vicious lies about me among his teammates… and others, I assumed. One of them sent a warning through a friend, that I “stay off the 3rd floor of G-H”. It was not meant as a threat, or at least that’s not how I perceived it, but more out of concern for my reputation. I was a rape victim who was turned into a football slut.
For the rest of the quarter, my rapist literally had me running in fear. It seemed as though I could not escape him, he was everywhere. In the cafeteria at breakfast, in class…everywhere! As soon as I would sit down, he walked into the room. Eventually, I just stopped going to class.
Two months later, I found myself pregnant. I had been raped, inpregnanted, and had an abortion, all before my 19th birthday…Life Changing!
The next quarter, I passed just one class, a writing class…I had a lot to write about. I eventually shut down and only opened up to Melody and Cassandra. I went from being a confident and outgoing young woman, to a scared, insecure little girl.
By Spring quarter, I began to socialize again with friends. My sister friends, who had been with me since the night of the rape, asked me to hang out with them so I brought my camera to take pictures. It was a Saturday afternoon and the campus was mostly dead. It seemed that everyone went home for the weekend. We laughed and talked, and I took pictures... We walked to the University Center to see who, if anyone, was on campus. As we walked through the UC, we laughed, posed for pictures…just had a good time. Suddenly, Melody stopped walking and her smile faded; my eyes followed hers straight into the face of my rapist. The laughter that I had only recently rediscovered, was gone and my body ached with familiar pain. I felt like I was in a jungle with an unleashed animal, and I was scared all over again.
He and his friends walked right up to us…and spoke. “Hey, when are we getting together again?” he asked while his friends encouraged him.
Not knowing how to respond, I said, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Don’t act like you don’t remember”, he smirked. How could I forget, I thought. His friends were laughing — probably because he told them that I had sex with him, not that he RAPED me while his roommate watched and ignored my pleas for help.
At that moment, something SNAPPED! I had NO FEAR! “Oh, you mean the night you couldn’t get it up?” I shot back at him with my own smirk. Now, his friends were laughing…at him.
“You’d better shut your mouth” he threatened, moving closer to me. My friends were trying to stop me, “Jeniffer, let’s go” but I felt empowered for the first time in months. I couldn’t stop. “Oh, you didn’t tell your friends that your ‘little man’ didn’t work!” I reveled in his discomfort while watching his friends fall to the floor in laughter, I continued my assault on him.
Moving even closer, he said again, “You’d better shut your mouth!” I saw the fear and humiliation in his eyes and I went for the jugular. I pulled out my camera, pointed it at his groin area, and ‘pulled the trigger’.
“I’ll blow it up for you” I taunted while trying to mask my fear, because at this point, I could feel his breath in my face. I accepted the fact that he was going to knock the hell out of me, but seeing him humiliated in front of his friends and feeling a moment of power over him, was worth it.
I remembered the humiliation that I felt when he forced himself inside of me and stripped away my sense of security; the humiliation of thinking that every time a guy smiled at me, he saw me as a slut; and I will never forget the humiliation of lying on a table with people yelling at me to “be still” while extracting tissue from my uterus!
I felt no mercy when he begged me to stop (to shut my mouth) humiliating him. I wanted to inflict as much pain on him, as he had inflicted on me. But when my friends, who had been yelling “let’s go”, finally grabbed me by the arm and pulled me away, I was relieved. I could not stop myself from attacking him even though I wanted to. But when he approached me as though he had not raped me, I went into “fight or flight” mode. And because I had been running from him for months, I had to stay and fight or I would never be free again. I had to fight…I. Had. To. Be. Free.
In the fall of 1986, I met a guy in a communications class and we became friends. We both had a passion for politics, a love of justice and we both LOVED to debate and argue. He used to tell me that we were going to “change the world” and how. He was more militant than I was at the time, but he was smart, so I listened to his views. For the first time in nearly two years, I felt comfortable…even safe in the presence of a guy. We talked about everything, especially social justice and race relations. Anthony tried to make me more aware of my “true blackness”, introducing me to the work of an up and coming director by the name of Spike Lee. Although I considered myself an activist, he taught me about real activism.
His friendship was pure and genuine and he wanted nothing more from me than to engage in intellectually stimulating conversations. Of all the men I could have met during my resurgence, I could not have met one more in touch with my soul. I went through a transformation of being kind and confident, to distrusting and insecure, to hateful and bitter, all the way back to kind and confident. While I never told Anthony about my rape, he was kind to me anyhow. With all the disdain and disrespect that I had for the male “species”, one eighteen-year-old young man, redeemed them all.
For the next 32 years, my life would be impacted by rape in big and small ways. My triggers were few, but they were BIG! The most significant impact for me was the inability to be tickled. One day, I was folding laundry in the bedroom while my ten month old baby slept and my husband walked in the room. He was teasing about how sexy I looked folding clothes. He pushed me down on the bed and started tickling me…just tickling. But he was holding me down and I couldn’t move and I started screaming and kicking. At first, he thought I was laughing and enjoying it, but he realized that I was “fighting for my life” and he quickly got off. “DON’T EVER DO THAT AGAIN!” I was screaming at the top of my lungs at a very confused man. He had no idea of what he did wrong and it took me a minute to figure out why I was so angry. My trigger was being held down against my will, which in this case, was being tickled. “But you know that I wasn’t trying to hurt you…” trying to reassure me that the actions were different, but it didn’t change anything.
Most children like to tickle and be tickled and mine were no different, except for the Don’t Tickle Mommy rule. Because of what a brute had done more than a dozen years earlier, my children were denied the joy of a simple game with their mother. Because of what he did, trust and intimacy did not come easy.
Rape is not just an incident that happened and you move on, it never really leaves you. It may lie dormant for months or even years before you think about it, but somewhere down the road, your trigger is activated and it feels like yesterday. Rape doesn’t just affect you physically, but its effect can be mental and psychological as well. I am telling my story now because of men like Bill Cosby and Donald Trump. For every one rapist and sexual predator that you hear about, there are dozens, hundreds, or perhaps thousands more that we will never know. They are football players, law students, medical students, white, black, rich, poor, famous and common. They are sexual predators and they probably have more than one victim. That is why I’m speaking out…if there are any other women who were sexually assaulted or raped by Richard “BD” Wilson, I want you to know that... I Believe You!   -Jeniffer (Manassas, Virginia)