I was heavily involved in church youth groups as a teenager. As a result of spending every Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesday evening with the same kids, I ended up primarily dating guys from inside the group.
We were pretty incestuous in our dating, actually; the girls all passed around the same few guys. We tried not to compare notes too much, because that might get into TMI territory, but we certainly kept a thumbs up or thumbs down rating system in place and sometimes fought over who got first dibs on trying out the new guy. I would bet that the same thing was going on in the guys’ camp.
A church romance often started with holding hands in the back of the church bus on the way to or from a field trip of some sort. Then we’d hold hands while sitting next to each other in a church pew during a worship service. Then we’d find time to be alone and we’d kiss. Later, if we were alone in a totally private space, we’d progress to what I like to call Christian sex.
As horny Christian teens, we could make out plenty. We just couldn’t have actual intercourse, because premarital sex was against God’s law—and could get the girl pregnant and therefore ruined for life. A Baptist girl certainly doesn’t have abortion as an option if she gets knocked up. In fact, she’s likely to be standing at a busy intersection on a Sunday afternoon with horrifyingly graphic abortion protest signs, not having any understanding of what it might feel like to actually need an abortion.
I rarely had to tell a Christian boy no, because they rarely presumed that intercourse was even an option. Any amount of kissing and touching were fine, as long as his naughty bits didn’t try to touch mine.
I wonder sometimes if that’s part of why I was so vulnerable the night I was raped. I was only 16. I had only dated boys who didn’t try to do anything I wasn’t ready to do. They were never even rough with me. They were gentle and kind.
When I went on a double date that night, I thought it would be exciting to be with someone new. My friend had set me up with her boyfriend’s friend—an older boy from my high school. I couldn’t help but think ahead to the prospect of actually having a boyfriend at school. (All the church boys went to different high schools than I did.)
My date was driving me home from the party we had attended. I’d had a few drinks, which I was feeling a little guilty about, but I was hoping he was impressed that I could hold my liquor with such grace.
He didn’t drive me straight home. He drove to a dark, secluded parking lot at the edge of the high school property. I was open to the idea of making out a little, though I was starting to worry about what time it was. It was already past the curfew my parents had set for me.
He stopped the car, unbuckled his seat belt, and leaned across me to lock my door. Then he grabbed the adjustment handle on the side of my seat, throwing my seat into the reclining position. I moved my hand to my seatbelt latch, intending to unbuckle, but he pushed my hand back, stopping me from doing so. He hadn’t spoken a word yet, and neither had I. I wasn’t scared yet, but this was feeling very strange to me.
He lifted my shirt and yanked my bra up to reveal my breasts. He grabbed at them roughly then reached down to yank my miniskirt up. I started to protest, and he covered my mouth with his hand. With his other hand, he ripped my underwear down and jabbed two or three fingers straight into my vagina. I cried out in pain—as much as I could with my mouth covered. He told me to shut up, then took his hand off my mouth. I know now that I should have screamed at the top of my lungs at that point, and fought him with all of my might, but I didn’t. I just started to cry. I foolishly thought the assault was over, that he had just wanted to explore my body in that brutish way.
He unbuckled his belt, unbuttoned and unzipped his jeans, and lowered them. I was scared at this point, and certain that I did not want to do whatever he had in mind. I told him I really wanted to go home. He ignored me.
He climbed on top of me, straddling my chest, then pried my mouth open and shoved his erect penis into it. He gripped one hand around my throat and told me that if I bit him, he’d kill me. I believed him. He was much bigger and stronger than me.
He was thrusting his penis in and out of my mouth so hard that the edges of my mouth tore. I was continually gagging as it slammed against the back of my throat. It’s a wonder I didn’t vomit. He stopped before reaching orgasm. For that brief moment, I was thankful. He had stopped, and I was glad to not have to swallow the sperm of someone whom I now hated more than I had ever hated anyone.
But he wasn’t finished. He kept his hand around my throat, but moved his body down. I begged him, “No, please, don’t.”
Without pause, he shoved his penis into my vagina, tearing the delicate exterior and breaking my hymen, all within a matter of seconds. I screamed in agony. He tightened his fingers around my neck and told me to shut the fuck up.
He kept going until he reached orgasm. He left his filth inside me. Then he relaxed his whole heavy, sweaty, disgusting body on me for a minute, crushing me under his weight, before climbing off of me and over to his own seat. Tears were running down my face.
“If you tell anyone about this, bitch, I’ll kill you,” he said. He pulled his jeans back on and started the car. I shifted my clothes back into place and cowered as close to the passenger door as I could, getting as far away from him as possible in that moment.
He could have tossed me out of the car and left me there, in the parking lot, but I suppose that might have drawn unwanted attention. He drove me to my house and told me to get out. As soon as I closed the car door, he screeched off.
I let myself into the house with my own key and walked straight down the hallway to my room. No one in my family saw me. I think they were all asleep. I don’t know how late it was at that point. Nothing seemed to be in real time anymore. Things were getting hazy.
I took off my clothes, my belt, my shoes, and my jewelry and threw them all into my wastebasket. I put on a robe and went out to the hall bathroom. After closing the bathroom door behind me, I took off my robe, looked into the mirror, and started to cry again.
I could see bruises already beginning to form on my neck where he had gripped it. There were half-moon-shaped cuts on my breasts from his nails digging into my flesh. I felt warm liquid running down my legs. I turned on the shower, stepped in, and crumpled down to a seated position, wrapping my arms around my knees. I sat there, rocking back and forth for a long time, the water running over me and blending with the blood and semen from between my legs before running down the drain.
The next morning, and for several days afterward, I wore a turtleneck to hide the bruises. I don’t remember anyone commenting on it, even though it was summer. I emptied my wastebasket full of evidence into the garbage can outside, to avoid the inevitable questions from my mom if she had been the one to empty it.
I didn’t tell anyone what had happened.
A few weeks later, I went into the pizza place where he worked. I hadn’t known he worked there, or I wouldn’t have gone in. He jeered at me and asked if I’d like to step out back for a moment of privacy. I ran straight outside, vomited in a garbage can, then jumped in my car and drove off as quickly as I could. (Ten years later, I went into that pizza place again to meet up with some friends. It still made me queasy to be there.)
Then, somehow, I forgot it had happened. Truly. I must have repressed it for my own protection. I didn’t remember anything about that night until two years later, when my naked boyfriend climbed on top of me and brought his penis up to my mouth. The position made me flash back to that horrible night.
I pushed him off of me and started sobbing. He began apologizing profusely for making me uncomfortable, for moving too quickly. I finally calmed down enough to talk. I told him it wasn’t his fault that I was crying—that someone else had hurt me years before. That was the first time I told anyone.
I can’t remember at what point I started sharing the story with select friends and family members, but I did eventually. Each person was shocked to have not known about it beforehand and felt sorry to have not been able to provide emotional support for me at the time. But how could they have been there for me, when I had chosen to be alone with my pain?
Initially, shame was what kept me from telling anyone, not fear. At the time it happened, and in the hours immediately following, I was certain that the rape was my fault. If I hadn’t had anything to drink, if I hadn’t worn a miniskirt, if I hadn’t accepted a ride home from a person I knew so little about, if . . . if only. And when I couldn’t agonize over it any more, I blocked it from my memory.
The boyfriend who was the first to know was a big part of my life for a number of years. We dated off and on, and he was the first person with whom I had consensual sex. Sadly, that was traumatic for me too, because of Christian guilt.
We were very familiar with each other’s bodies from countless make-out sessions, but we had never crossed the line and had intercourse. One night we parked in a quiet spot on the outskirts of town and climbed in the back of his Jeep Cherokee. After making out a little, he told me he really wanted to make love to me. I said I wanted that too. I was 18, and I was ready.
The experience wasn’t entirely pleasant or entirely unpleasant. We were rookies, after all. But I remember that immediately afterward, I was feeling wanted, loved, womanly, and safe in his arms. Then he pulled away from me and told me what he was thinking, and all of that went away.
He apologized for sinning and causing me to sin. He felt guilty for influencing me and causing both of us to do such a bad thing. Now I felt dirty. I felt tricked and violated again. And, again, I felt shame.