When we think of rape, we often conjure tales of strangers dragging women into bushes past midnight, ripping their clothes and stealing their dignity, like an SVU episode. The difficult truth is that rape is much more banal than that. It’s a partner forcing the other into sex, it’s having sex with someone who can’t consent, it’s so many things. And that isn’t even mentioning assault, catcalling, groping or forcible touching.
I asked the women in my extended network to share some of their #metoo stories anonymously, to illustrate this. Before you ask what this has to do with my project, understand that sense of place is psychological as much as it is physical. These are stories from women across the U.S. whose basic sense of peace, safety and place has been attacked. And my proximity to them moved me to share.
Warning: this will be a long and painful read, but I urge you to take time and read each story. Pay attention not just to the action, but the perceived ownership of female bodies that these assailants have. We shouldn’t need all the gruesome details in order to believe people at their word. But nevertheless, here we are.
— — 1.
When I was 22 years old, my best friend told me she had been drugged and raped by a man she met on Tinder. It was the first time I ever loosened my seal of silence and told her, “Me too.”
— — 2.
— — 3.
It was January 2014.
He was a designer and “photographer,” and he reached out to me on Model Mayhem. I had never modeled swimwear before, but I was looking to diversify my modeling portfolio and his design work was incredible.
His message is still sitting in my account. It read: “Hi I like your look. I am a fashion designer and a photographer and I would like to do a photoshoot with you at my studio in Brooklyn. I will also be participating in NY fashion week and BK fashion week and I would like you to model for me on the runway if you are interested.”
Before responding via phone, I did a little research. I found a few cool things about him online — fashion shows he had participated in, etc.
So, I agreed to work with him.
I went to the address in Brooklyn, and it ended up being in the basement room of this brownstone. He had everything set up like a studio. Images of prior models in his designs on the walls, etc. He had me try on some pieces and stepped out of the room to “give me some privacy,” he said, as I changed. He came back and rubbed oil over my body, which I assumed was to enhance my appearance in the photos, considering I was modeling swimwear. He used a white sheet as a backdrop, and I believe there were some lamps or bulbs of some sort that he had propped up for lighting in addition to using the on-camera flash.
I was a little skeptical at that point, as having some photography experience myself, because his techniques didn’t seem to match the quality I saw online. I also saw that his angling was a little awkward, but I wanted to assume the best.
After a few shots, he said he needed to measure me. I was pretty uncomfortable at this point. I took off the swimwear and was left in my undergarments so he could measure me properly. After taking a few measurements standing up, he had me sit down on a chair and began to measure around my thighs. All of a sudden, he slipped his finger through the side of my underwear and touched my vagina.
I froze, and all I could say was “What are you doing?” He laughed and said, “That’s cute.”
I got up and continued to act normal and proceed with the shoot. He attempted to hand me something raunchier to wear, and I told him I was not comfortable. He gave me something else and stepped out again as I changed into the next outfit, and I took out my phone and noticed I didn’t have service. I looked closely around the room for anything I could use to protect myself just in case anything happened.
We continued to shoot for a bit more, but clearly, I was ready for it to be over, and he cut it short. He walked me back upstairs, and I didn’t notice before, but he had to unlock the door with a key to let me out. At that point, I realized how scarier that situation could have gone.
I told him to “have a blessed day,” and walked out so fast, immediately calling one of my close friends to share what happened. When I got home, I felt so disgusting. I showered like crazy. Like I felt like it would take me forever to wash his dirty hands off of me. I retained my cool and contacted him multiple times afterward, not really bringing up what happened, in an attempt to retrieve my photos. He kept saying he would have them soon. Weeks and months past, and I never received them to this day.
I never reported him. I didn’t even think to at the moment. I didn’t know that I needed to do anything. So with time, I began to heal.
I ran into him again twice about a year later selling his designs at two major street festivals in Brooklyn, and I decided to confront him one of the times, with my friends around. I asked him did he remember me. He acted like he didn’t until I told him my name and recounted how we met. I proceeded to tell him how unprofessional he was and how he should never be touching anybody and how he shouldn’t be taking advantage of his talents to do things like that and so on. He seemed shocked, and he apologized.
Then three years later, this year in June, I see on my Instagram timeline that THE SAME GUY sexually assaulted someone during a shoot. I was furious. I felt like I didn’t do much back then when it happened to me, so I took it upon myself to out him publicly on my own timeline. Other women who followed me reached out and said how they had worked with him before and how creepy their experiences were. And I ended up conversing with a dozen of other woman in an online group message, many of whom recalled the same exact details that happened to me.
He never responded to me directly, but he blocked me and a few other women, and tried to change the name of his handle. He also posted a message on his page stating how we were all lying. I finally decided to direct message him from a separate Instagram page to talk through what was happening (which was very awkward). He insisted that we speak over the phone instead.
Our messages read:
Me: While I don’t personally know the extent of your interactions with the other young women, I know that I was really hurt when you touched me inappropriately when I shot with you in 2014, and it frustrates me that I am still hearing these stories years later, especially after you apologized to me.
Him: Can we have this convo over the phone? I do understand your frustration. I really do.
Me: Sure, how can I reach you?
He gave me his number, and I called.
In short, I got him to confess over the phone, and I recorded him. He claimed that he had an issue and was getting help and blah blah blah. I haven’t done anything with the recording. I don’t know exactly what to do next, but I know that I want to do whatever I can to prevent these things from happening.
— — 4.
— — 5.
I met him my first day of college in the dining hall.
Fast forward about four months later and we had a solid friendship going. He wasn’t a stranger anymore; we had hung out multiple times and I trusted him. I was at the gym one day when I got a text, “Hey, what are you up to?” I had been working out at a gym located right next to his dorm, so he suggested I drop by to hang out for a little on my way home. I had sweaty hair tied up in a messy ponytail. I was wearing running shorts and a t-shirt.
I said “no” more times than I can count. I tried blocking him with whatever extremities that could break free. I tried moving my hips and legs in different angles. At a certain point, you realize it’s hopeless. You freeze. You become silent, just waiting it out.
I’ll never forget when I was gathering my things to leave, him boasting about how I was number four. As if what had just happened was some intimate, consensual experience between the two of us. Did he honestly not understand what had just happened?
I buried it.
“Rape victim” was never supposed to appear on my resume. If the words never left my mouth, then maybe it wouldn’t become a part of my story. It would devastate my family if they found out. This person had already hurt me, I wasn’t going to let them hurt my loved ones too. I bottled it up with my lips as the seal. I ran into him numerous times before I graduated. Have you ever had a nightmare where you open your mouth to scream, but nothing comes out? That’s what the next five years felt like.
— — 6.
After coming back from going out with friends, one of my roommate’s friends came up to my room with me and laid down with me. When I told him ‘no sex’ he replied ‘But you’re so pretty’. I turned my back to him. He then pulled down my underwear and raped me. This rape led to an abortion. Moving forward was difficult because he was considered a friend.