It is the fall of 2013 and I am a freshman in college with newfound independence and freedom.
The weekend arrives and I attend a local house party as so many freshmen do. I expect the night to be fun and light-hearted like most others are.
This is not the case.
That night, I leave the party with my friends — two girls and one guy. I live across campus from the three of them.
My friend offers to walk me home, assuring me that it is no trouble at all, and says he’ll grab something to eat on the walk back. This does not strike me as out of the ordinary and I accept his kind gesture without hesitation.
We begin the walk across the mile-long stretch of campus toward my dorm. The trek normally takes about 15 to 20 minutes. I can only recall the first few.
I have been taught since I was a little girl to fear the dark. To fear strangers who lurk at night; to never walk alone. I was taught that this fear is an innate part of being a woman. I never expected the nightmare to involve someone I knew and trusted.
I wake up in my bed to him on top of me, inside of me.
It feels like a dream; fuzzy around the edges and foggy everywhere else. I frantically glance around, confused.
This is what it feels like to be raped. I am being raped. This is the last I can remember before I black out again.
When I awake the second time, my eyes jerk open and lucidity hits me. I know what is happening.
But why do I feel so fuzzy? Why does it feel like I can’t move? My bones feel weary. Like they’re made of glass and might splinter, shatter inside of me.
I cry. Tears rolling down my face and onto my neck as he continues to violate me.
“No … No please, stop,” I mutter. It feels like my words are too soft for anyone to hear. I black out again.
I wake up the next morning confused and alone in my own bed. I don’t cry. I don’t tell anyone what happened. Instead, I sit. I attempt to digest it, make sense of it. I can barely move my body. This vessel of betrayal.
For two years after my rape I refused to acknowledge what happened to me. I swallowed it, compartmentalized it, filed it away to hurt me another time when I thought it would be easier.
I’ve had flashbacks of that night in the years since, triggered by consensual sex or even seemingly random things like seeing a man with similar facial hair as my attacker.
Now I’ve started therapy sessions and my counselor has pushed me towards a technique in which I “confront my attacker” by way of imagining an office chair as my rapist. The first time he mentioned the technique, my chest instantly tightened and I was sure I’d be sick. It wasn’t until this moment that I realized I perceived “the perp” as a monster.
As the months passed, I felt ashamed and embarrassed that I was still unable to confront the chair in my counselor’s office as my attacker. I let this man instill a permanent state of fear in me, even after I’d transferred schools and hadn’t seen him in years.
My counseling progressed and my counselor and I joked about a recent episode of one of our mutual favorite shows, “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit.” My counselor then had an epiphany mid-session about how the show could potentially help me.
“If confronting your attacker is still too painful or scary for you, let’s try to imagine Olivia from SVU confronting him. How do you visualize that going down?” he asked.
It hit me like a ton of bricks. I suddenly felt empowered, protected. I almost cried of joy.
I visualized Olivia slamming her fists down on the metal interrogation table and yelling at my rapist, showing him no mercy.
“You raped her. You drugged her and you raped her. She trusted you, you son of a bitch,” she’d scream. He’d cower in fear of her rage.
I continued to visualize these encounters throughout the following weeks. Olivia would sit me down and assure me I did everything right.
She’d remind me that many women are attacked by someone they know and trust and that many of those same women are too afraid to come forward and report.
She’d put her hand on my back and comfort me as we acquired some form of justice for the heinous crimes he’d committed.
She’d take a special interest in me and hand me her card, telling me to call her anytime. She’d protect me, my identity, my past and my choices that night to no end. She’d advocate for me, listen to me, believe me, and reassure me.
In the months since my revelation, I’ve carried the imagery of Olivia Benson around with me like emotional armor. Admittedly, the road to acceptance and moving past my assault is long and often intimidating. There’s no specific program or map in progressing past emotional, physical and sexual violence.
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the multitude of emotions that night holds over me — but with the help of my counselor and my strange, albeit seemingly healthy, attachment to Olivia Benson’s character, I’m finally making progress.
There is no manual that works for everyone, but I encourage anyone who’s been through similar situations to become the person you need during painful tribulations — whether that’s a fictional television cop protecting you or even just a best friend comforting you.
Sometimes you have to pretend to be someone else in order to become the person you need to be. Thank you, Olivia, for showing me how to be the person I always needed in my own life.
Anonymous, Contributing Columnist