Through the eyes of the survivors

Editor’s note: Six students enrolled in University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law Professor Paul Cassell’s criminal law course last spring shared their deeply personal stories of surviving sexual assault with classmates as a way to bring attention to victims’ experiences.  The women shared their stories in the latest edition of Res Gestae, the alumni magazine of the S.J. Quinney College of Law. (Pages 31-34)

Two of the survivors granted permission for their written stories to be shared in  entirety below.  Readers should be aware the accounts contain graphic descriptions of sexual assault. For information on services the University of Utah provides to survivors of violence, visit: and



Rape. It’s a word that doesn’t come easily, especially to those who have been victimized by it. Even after I told him no, pushed him away, even after he hurt me so bad I couldn’t scream, even after he twisted his fingers under my ponytail and pulled so hard I thought my head would explode it didn’t feel like rape. Even after he pounded into me like I was a piece of concrete and he was a jackhammer, here to break me into a million pieces. Even after he told me to “suck it up.” Even after he raped me the next morning, kissed me on the cheek, and left. It still didn’t feel like rape.

Why? Well, because nobody announces what they are planning on doing to you or gives you a chance to think. Nobody wears a badge that says “rapist.” And nobody, absolutely nobody, wants to be “that girl.” Do you want to know why I didn’t fight? Well, so do I. I don’t remember it ever being a choice. I remember that one moment I was turning toward him, preparing for the hundredth time that day to inform him that I wouldn’t be sleeping with him and he could stay on the couch, and then all I remember is pain. Numbness. Shock. Fear.

Rape is not a mental experience. It’s a physical one. Even when your mind wants to forget, your body remembers. Even when your mind doesn’t know what to call it, your body knows the truth. Your body quivers, shakes, cries, freezes, and crumbles even when your mind knows that you’re safe. That the stranger who kind of looks like him isn’t a threat. But how, how on earth, could you ever know when you’re not safe again? How, on earth, will you ever feel whole again? I wished he had beaten me. I wished he had killed me. I wish he had given me some shred of incontrovertible proof that I had been raped so that I didn’t have to be eaten alive by both pain and doubt. My body knows, but my brain forgets. And the judgment of others, who try to take away that knowledge that only my body can produce and that my fragile and indecisive mind can barely hold onto is too much power for strangers to have. My story is the only power I have over my mind. So I tell it, to keep it alive, to make sure that my body can seek the justice it deserves but will never get. Because his boss didn’t care. The police didn’t care. He has done it before and he will do it again. And there’s nothing I can do about it.


You should know I don’t talk about this because I don’t want you to judge me.

Would you say I wasn’t raped because I didn’t use utmost-resistance? That I wasn’t raped because I didn’t claw his heavy oppressive body off of my petite 13-year-old frame?

Would you say I wasn’t raped if I didn’t physically fight him at all? Would you blame me for just lying there like an animal playing dead? Sometimes I still blame myself… is that a “reasonable woman” thing to do?

Would you say I wasn’t raped because I only said no once and then just gave in when he pushed his heavy body onto mine, down into the tall, wet grass?

Would you say I wasn’t raped because I didn’t tell the police? Or because I didn’t tell my parents? Would you say I wasn’t raped because I thought it was my fault? Or that after I limped home in the dark I pulled the chain off my bicycle and rubbed grease all over my hands to have an excuse for being home late? Or because I didn’t cry until I got home, let my parents yell, ran up to the bathroom and sat underneath the shower, and watched as the tears, dirt, grease and blood mixed with the water, erasing the evidence but not the shame. Never the shame.

Would you say I wasn’t raped because only the bugs in the grass saw him hold me down or because no one heard him whisper, “you are a goddess” in my ear, or felt his hot breath on my neck?

What if you knew that my best friend said I was lying and called me a slut when I told her? Then all those other girls started calling me a slut too. Then would you say it was rape? What if you knew that I prayed for hours and hours for relief and when I told my priest about what happened he said, “god works in mysterious ways.” God left me that day.

If you knew what it felt like you would say it was rape. If you knew that the physical trauma was only the beginning you would say it was rape.

What if you knew that over a decade later I still see a therapist? Or that I cried after class on Monday? That I cried when I wrote this yesterday. And I cried while my friend wrote hers too. If you knew all these things would you say it was rape?

Why do you get to decide what it was anyway? Why do you get to have that ownership of my body and my fate just like he did?

When I tell the story now I always feel compelled to add to the end, “but I’m lucky because I didn’t get a disease and I didn’t get pregnant.” Then I yell internally at myself. “WHY DO I SAY THIS?!”  If I was lucky I wouldn’t have been raped. If I was lucky I wouldn’t still have trouble having a functional romance. If I was lucky I wouldn’t have flashbacks at random times I can’t control: walking down the street, sitting in class, with a lover… If I was lucky I wouldn’t be trying to get you to understand what it feels like to be raped. If I was lucky I wouldn’t be writing this worried that you will judge me for what I have to say.