Suzannah's Voice

Is It “Really” Rape? A Survivor’s Story

Trigger Warning: Rape/Sexual Assault

The stereotypical image of ‘real’ rape? “[T]he crime consists of a forcible attack, perpetrated by a male stranger on a female victim who has not been drinking or behaving in a sexually provocative manner, and is immediately reported to law enforcement and supported by ample physical evidence.”  -From Rape culture isn’t a myth.  It’s real, and it’s dangerous, by Amanda Taub.

We should all know by now that stereotypes are not to be believed or relied on.  All rape is not violent, and all rapes are not perpetrated by strangers. Some rapes fly under the radar because we aren’t educated, alert, and aware.

When I was 15, I had a huge crush on my older brother’s friend. Ricky was tall, muscular, and handsome, and he had a beard. He could ride his beach cruiser bike with no hands, and he could sit on the handlebars and ride it backward. That was because he was experienced in riding dirt bikes, motorcycles. He was 15 like me. Several times, he’d come to our house with my brother after school. My mother was at work or at her boyfriend’s house. When my brother wasn’t around, Ricky and I would make out. We made out a couple of times after dark, too. I’d leave my house on my beach cruiser, meet him at the dark corner of my street, and we’d ride a little ways into the grassy field beyond, where it was dark, where we could lie down together and no one would know we were there.

Photo: Ed Yourdon

Photo: Ed Yourdon

Because of how mature he looked, Ricky could buy beer. One night, he, my brother, and I rode to Piggly Wiggly to see if he could get some. My brother and I waited behind the store with Ricky’s bike while he walked around and went in. Jackpot! He came back with two six-packs of Mickey’s Big Mouth. We loved Mickey’s Big Mouth, but not because it was especially good beer. We loved it because of the Tony Basil song, “Hey, Mickey,” which went : “Oh Mickey you’re so fine, you’re so fine you blow my mind, hey Mickey! Hey Mickey!” We were fifteen. That’s all it took to get us to like something.

That night, we drank maybe three beers each, and David carried what was left. We took off for the unlit elementary school playground next to Ricky’s house. David and Ricky were competitive about who could ride faster, so David pedaled off, but Ricky stayed behind with me. We rode fast, too, my long brunette hair trailing behind me in the wind.

Ricky cut down a street that went by my street. When we got near it, Ricky said, “Hey, why don’t you and I go to your house?” I was very buzzed and very happy. When we rode up, we saw my little brother working on his bike in the open garage at the front of the house, but my mother wasn’t home. Her car wasn’t there. We were quiet. We put our bikes on the other side of the house and snuck in.

Ricky and I went to my bedroom and closed the door. We lay on my bed, clothed, and made out for a while. Eventually, he laid on top of me, between my spread legs while we kissed. I liked that. We were still clothed. When he unzipped, I put my hand on him, as I had done once before in the tall grass. I liked touching him. When he unzipped my pants, I buzzed with anticipation. He was going to touch me. It was my turn. I couldn’t wait. Instead, he tried to put himself into me. “That hurts,” I said. I know I said those two words. I also know that I told him I don’t want to. We can’t do this. My little brother is out there. I don’t want to. It hurts. “It has to hurt sometime,” he said, words as sharp thirty years later as they were then. And with those words, he forced himself into me.

I was a virgin. Until then.

My mattress springs squeaked and I winced, held my breath. I didn’t want to feel like this. I didn’t want him to be inside me. I didn’t want to have sex. I had wanted a little pleasure, but all I was feeling was pain. I also didn’t want my little brother to hear us, because then he’d tell my mother and I would be in trouble.

When Ricky was done, he stood up, wiped himself on my blanket, zipped up his Levi’s and said he needed to go to the bathroom. I showed him to the bathroom in my mother’s room, where he’d be least likely to be discovered. In the bright light, he checked his face, rinsed it, and said, “I have to go. It’s past my curfew.” Not even a kiss goodbye. I sat on the toilet to pee and when I wiped, a lot of thick, pink goo was on the toilet paper. I was starting my period, and I was shocked that he’d left his fluid inside me. No one told me about that.

I went back to my bed. I didn’t know what I felt, exactly—emptied, maybe, but full of woe. A little excited that I’d had sex, but terribly sad that it was like this and that I hadn’t wanted it to be like this. I didn’t want to lose my virginity, but he took it from me.  I sobbed myself to sleep– quietly, so I wouldn’t be “caught.”  

The next morning, my grandmother called and I answered the phone. She delivered the bad news that my cousin Jeff died during the night in a horrific traffic accident, head-on with a semi, right in front of the Piggly Wiggly.  I felt so sad about that, and in my mind my cousin’s death and what happened to me that same night belonged in the category of loss. When my mother got home I told her about Jeff. The other, I kept to myself.

Three days later, I still hadn’t heard from Ricky. I hadn’t seen him, either.  They were three days of some kind of hell.  I dreaded what had happened, but in the way it often happens, I wanted the one who caused me pain to comfort me.  I cried and cried. My mother was at her boyfriend’s house, about a five minute bike ride from our house. I pedaled over. I was crying hysterically within moments of arriving. She asked me what it was about, and I didn’t want to tell her. I cried more and more, and she was more insistent. For a mother who was absent so much, she was awfully overbearing and controlling. Finally, I said, “I’ll tell you when I’m older.”

“Did you have sex with him?! You did! Oooh, I know you did!” She yelled at me about how she had warned me and warned me. Then she said she had to go to the grocery store, and she was gone in her car. Her boyfriend, whom she eventually married, sat me down in the living room and asked, “Did you enjoy it? Did it feel good to you?” as though I would talk about my intimate sexual experience with him for his sick sake, but my mother’s husband is another story entirely.

My mother went to Ricky’s house, not the grocery store. She stood in their front yard and yelled at his mother. His little brother, who was a sweet little 8 year-old, heard it all. “It takes two,” said Ricky’s mother– who had four strapping sons and the 8 year-old– probably standing with her fists on her hips and an indignant look on her face.

When my mother came back to her boyfriend’s house, she screamed at me, “I am humiliated! Do you know what she said to me? She said It takes two! What was I supposed to say to that?!” It takes two! Oooh, how could you do this to me?!”  My mother then said to me, “Once you have sex, you can never go back to holding hands.”

No one ever asked me why what happened upset me so much.  I’d like to think that a hysterical 15 year-old girl would receive a little more attention and care.  I’d like to think that a mother would try to calm her daughter rather than be on such an offense.  I’d like to think that a mother would ask her daughter whether it was consensual.  

Part of the problem:  “We are well beyond the notion that a stranger must pop out of an alley for it to be considered an attack. As our definition of consensual sex continues to morph, some young women could interpret certain unfortunate sexual encounters as ‘rape’ when they may just have been stupid, risky, unpleasant and regrettable.” – From the Dec. 13, 2014 op-ed piece in U-T San Diego, Is date-rape crusade hurting innocent young men? by Peg Rosen, who calls herself a feminist but admits that her true interest is her two adolescent sons.  

I saw Ricky once after that, when he was riding his bike up a street and I was riding down it. I stopped. He slowed and said, “Your mother won’t let me talk to you,” and off he rode. I think he liked that excuse to stay away from me; he had a real girlfriend at school. I didn’t know if he’d told anyone, and I surely didn’t want his girlfriend to look at me in whatever way she would if she knew. I wouldn’t have been able to stand the shame. But I felt the loss of not being able to see him again, no matter that he had hurt me physically and emotionally. Something had been taken from me and I hadn’t even had the chance to say goodbye.

At 19, I married a guy I met at church. I’d started going to church on my own at 18; my home life was so dysfunctional that I had to find peace somewhere, though I still hadn’t realized the truth of what had happened to me.

Years after having my children, I heard the term “date rape.” It didn’t immediately sink in for me. But when it did, I knew that’s what it was. I could see it clearly. I told my mother, “You were humiliated when his mother said ‘It takes two?’ Well, it doesn’t take two—it only takes one tall, strong 15 year-old boy who is going to get his way.” I didn’t get a big response. It was something like, “Well, okay, I’m sorry, but I did the best I could at the time.”  Three decades and a lot more enlightenment for the general public later, I’d like to think that today’s mothers can do better.  

My children went to the elementary school that was next to Ricky’s parents’ house. The same house where my mother stood on the front walk and screamed and from where she’d been sent home with her tail between her legs because “It takes two.” Every day when I dropped my children off at school and picked them up, I had to drive past their house. When I went to their school to volunteer or to chaperone a field trip or lead Cub Scout or Brownie or meetings or go to PTA board meetings, or to go to the carnival, there was their little brown house and the two chairs on the front porch, where they were sitting sometimes. Did they see me? Did they remember me? Would Ricky’s mother have seen things through a more discerning lens back then if she’d had a daughter? 

I didn’t hold a double standard with my children. I could not let my three sons become beasts who would do to a young woman whatever they would want and not fear consequences, as so many beasts had done before them. Beasts is a good word, because rape is animalistic at best.

This was my way of getting even with the world: putting three healthy, respectful men out there to treat women the way women should be treated.  I had a daughter, too, but I didn’t concentrate my energies on arming her with the litany of things she should do to to stay safe and be personally responsible.  I concentrated more on raising young men who would respect not only young women, but themselves, too– not to mention their family.  Rape is far-reaching.  Pregnancy, too.  I taught all four of my children that everything they do affects more people than themselves.  What did they want to bring back home to their family?  I spoke with them frankly and gave them plenty to think about.    

When my children were older and I had graduated from college and then law school, I’d see Ricky’s mother in the grocery store sometimes. His niece was a cashier. Did she know who I was? Did his mother recognize me? I think she did. I held my head high, and not because I was a professional wearing a suit when I’d come in after work, but because I knew by then that I hadn’t done anything wrong, and that everyone had only assumed I had, that he was the one who had done wrong, and that I was okay in spite of it. Ricky date raped me and took my virginity, but he didn’t take my self-respect.

I didn’t change his name to protect him. He doesn’t deserve it. And I’m writing this freely under my own name, though I am the innocent one. I am the one who deserved protection, way back then. And I deserved understanding and empathy. But I didn’t get it.

Today, what I need most is to truthfully tell my story, to say “Yes, this is really rape,” though I had been drinking, though I had invited him to my bedroom, though we had been making out and heavily petting and though I let him unzip my pants.

I said no.


25 replies »

  1. I truly think that when something awful happens to a child. We need to have a better way to talk about it. It’s not shameful and it’s not embarrassing. It is a challenge in life that we overcome.
    I know. I would never compare my situation to you’re situation, my reason for bring this up is to tell you some people are told nothing happened and it’s too late to do anything if it did.
    I hope you find the day that you no longer remember his name.


    • Thank you for your kind and thoughtful comment, Jennifer. We don’t have to compare our situations to know that we are sister survivors and that neither of us deserved to be hurt in the ways we were hurt. I’m sorry that someone hurt you. You deserve to have someone acknowledge what happened to you, and if no one did when it happened, I’m saying it now.

      During the Dylan Farrow media blitz, I posted on Facebook about how she deserved to be believed, as all victims deserve to be believed. That led to younger females in my family telling me what they endured as girls. I wrote a piece then for The Gloria Sirens. You can read it here: What Would You Say if I Told You? Talking About Sexual Abuse.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I just read it. It makes me terribly sad. I will need to wait until this afternoon to share, as my own emotional balance needs to be steady first. I hope that makes sense. I love that you explored all the various people’s reactions, the way rape culture invades and pervades–not just in the abstract, but through the actions of individual people.


  3. ❤ This is so honest and intense–and we need more accounts like this. Thank you for your bravery in writing and sharing this. There are too many men and women who have the similar, heartbreaking stories to tell. May your eloquence bring them the strength to speak out, also.


  4. Suzzanah, I admire your honesty, boldness, clarity, and dignity.

    The reportage of rape seems to be ever vexed, the media unwilling to deal with the brutality of the subject—that human rights violations like this are within the spectrum normal in American culture.

    We need to keep having this discussion until everyone understands it shouldn’t normal, until the conversation isn’t conducted mostly in shouting matches between adults unworthy of the name or blasé politicians who are incapable of being human beings.

    I am grateful for your vision, courage, and strength.


  5. This seems like a pretty straight forward rape to me. “I don’t want to” makes it clear rape, but if no indication that sex was unwanted is given until after the act, then can we really call it rape? I think the op-ed piece by Rosen is more focused on the woman who, only after having sex, develops regret. Despite the fact that she was a willing participant throughout, under the fairly liberal definition of rape that we currently use, she the ability to retroactively decide that consensual sex was rape based on regret. This is clearly a poor way to define rape, and it belittles the experiences of women who have had someone force themselves on them, i.e. true rape.


    • I find it very interesting that a feminist like Rosen, who admits that she is focused on her two adolescent sons, uses this as an example to simply try to bolster her case.

      To build on what you say, Rachel Rogers, how many adults who have engaged in consensual sex have later experienced regret? All of us except those who met their lifetime spouses in high school. That is a shoddy, apologizing stance for any person to take after they have consented to sex. I fiercely oppose anyone who says those who claim rape make up more than 2% of all people.


  6. I was born in 1982. When I was in high school in Bradenton, a group of us girls were asked if dressing provocatively invited attack. I think I said no. The truth is, I might have said yes.

    I imagined walking in a mall parking lot in a short skirt in the dark, a man in black darting out from behind a white panel van and grabbing me.

    By the time I went to college, I was terrified of rape. Date rape became the “standard,” more realistic circumstance. Now, I’m shocked to hear accounts of stranger-rape on the news.

    I once made-out with a guy on a couch in a friend’s apartment. I had met him that night. I had drunk a bottle of cheap Champagne, plus a couple mixed drinks (it was New Year’s Eve). I lost my breath on the couch. He was crushing me. I pushed him away, grabbed my flip-flops and Arcade Fire CD (priorities) and drove home, wasted and scared. I got lost on a route I drove at least once a day from the university home. My car straddled a speed bump in a dark neighborhood at 6:00 a.m., and I cried.

    I made it home, thank God.

    He was stupefied, concerned, insulted. “You held my hand first,” he said when I spoke with him a few days later, in the presence if friends. Even though we continued to hang out and our relationship grew more complicated, I hated him.

    I was never raped, but I felt ashamed. I was drunk. He was right–I had held his hand. Did I make some social-sexual commitment then? I was new to the dating world. Were these rules that everyone else knew?

    And what had he done wrong? We had made-out, and I had run away. In front of my friends, he called me a tease.

    Later in our relationship, I would take off my clothes for him, and I hated myself for it. We never had sex, though. Maybe my desire to frustrate him was a kind of revenge. Still, I pushed my limits. I pushed the limits of my physical, mental, and emotional strength. I pushed the limits of how much I could drink and still say no. I put a lot of trust in strangers, strangers I invited into my arms.

    I want to know–what about the boys? Do we teach girls to fear boys? Do we teach boys to fear girls?

    Thank you for reading this. Thank you for writing, Susannah. Thank you for making me think.


    • Em-dash lady, you grammar-and-punctuation maven, you: yes, we teach girls to respect boys, and we teach boys to respect girls. If you drink enough to lose your breath on the couch, you cannot possibly legally consent; you are inebriated. Boys should respect that. Girls who don’t say no, who aren’t sure, and who only regret it afterward, should respect the boys, even if the boys are not mutually respectful. Rape is not only a word or a term. It is a crime. It is a violation. It is not always violent, but it is a show of power of one against another. It is one person doing to another what the other has denied, and denial can be spoken at the last moment before penetration of any kind, or well before penetration, or never at all because they are not able. Consider the women who claim that Bill Cosby drugged them and then they awoke (one, at the Playboy Mansion saying that she awoke to him licking her toes while he was pleasuring himself). Rape takes many forms. I could not possibly profess to know all.


    • I’m sorry that I didn’t address a point that I meant to in my reply below. Holding hands is holding hands. Nothing you do gives a man the right to have sex with you, and you’ve made no contract with him. As I wrote below to Incidental Scribe, the reason I went into such detail about what happened to me is because it is important for women and girls to know that you can go that far and say no to intercourse. I never intended to have intercourse that night, and it was not okay with me. When we say no, that’s the end of it.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Thank you for sharing your story, Suzannah. Having experienced gang rape and the more emotional, yet still brutal spousal rape, I can relate to the the shame, the pain, the fight to reestablish one’s dignity. Rape is rape is rape. No means No.


    • Barbara, you are so right-on. Rape is rape. No means no. No one owns your body but you. And I am sorry for what you have gone through. It’s hard to say what has happened, but even harder if you say and no one offers a soft heart and a strong hug. Well, you have that from me–and then some.


      • Or that his desire has the right to override her reluctance. And when a woman displays fear and anguish–before, during, after–an encounter, we have to stop treating her as if she did that to herself and it serves her right. It does take two. Men should be hesitating if for no other reason than they know if they physically or psychologically coerce a reluctant woman into sexual activity, the community will rain down upon them hellfire and damnation.


  8. Yes, Lisa, indeed. It’s so important to surround yourself with other women and people whom you can trust, so if you find yourself in these horrid situations you can call on those people you consider friends to help you, rather than be sold out by and backstabbed by them, when you find out they befriend those very people who abused you. (Otherwise … well, why would those women be so audacious as to run women’s blogs about equality?) If you’re not horribly strong (as am I), you might find yourself in a pretty bad situation until you find the right friends to surround you.


  9. I want to thank you for sharing this. It’s a bot close to home so I’m having trouble being more articulate right now but I want you to know your words, your experience, and you matter. By telling others about your experience you help dispel the ugliness that grows when we keep secrets.


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