On Restoring Dignity
This piece was submitted to our 100K Stories Project by an author who wishes to remain anonymous. This powerful statement is what she shared in court, addressing the sexual assault that shattered her world, and the person who sexually assaulted her.
Today is not a day for re-litigation. After almost two years of my credibility being challenged the man who raped me plead guilty to drugging and sexually assaulting me. This is no longer a discussion about my credibility or character; it is a reflection of the impact his heinous actions the night of April, 18 2015 have had. I will not let this impact be minimized.
I choose to bravely articulate some of the ways I have had to fight for myself through the countless injustices I have faced since the night I was raped. I am here to describe the perplexing journey of chaos and stillness, grief and growth, that has become my life. I choose to be present in front of the man who raped me. I have worked incredibly hard to be able to tell my story and the details of my recovery without needing to make it digestible for others. Today I take the opportunity to clearly and boldly speak my truth.
So, if and when my voice cracks, my eyes well up with tears, or I pause to collect myself, please stay present and bear witness the incredible impact being raped has had on my life. The tears I have shed are not of weakness but of truth. Speaking today, I know that the people present will experience a splinter of the pain I have experienced the past 22 months. I hope my words pierce their hearts. It is only when society can see and feel the monumental impact of rape and repeatedly decide that it is an unacceptable and violent act, will we see progress.
It is nearly impossible to articulate the impact one night has had on my life; each day I live submersed in that impact. Without my consent my world changed rapidly. The morning after I was raped everything I had known about myself, about the world I grew up in, and about humanity needed to be reconsidered.
April 18th, 2015 was a day meant for celebration. I flew home as surprise to celebrate my brother’s 19th birthday. I was in Boulder, a place I knew as sacred and safe. That night I left my childhood home believing I was in control of my world. I was newly 21; armed with a natural sense of invulnerability and excited by the many possibilities my future held. Like most of my peers, I had experience going out, drinking, and then returning home safely. I did not think that night would be any different. We left our house running towards an evening filled with adventure in the pursuit of fun. The last thing I remember was being with my brother, his girlfriend, and a group of cadets at house party on The Hill. I have no memory after that.
The following morning I woke up in my childhood room. My body felt unalterably heavy as I slowly emerged from unconsciousness. Pulling myself from my bed, I struggled to walk to the bathroom. I stared at a reflection of myself in the mirror; I did not recognize myself. I was cloaked in clothes I had worn the night before, but the mirrored reflection showed they were muddy and painted with blood. I had no ability to hypothesize what had occurred to cause the presence of such violence.
In the world I had spent 21 years crafting, I had been fortunate enough to not know of such ugliness. Rape was not something I believed could happen to me, thus it was not in my mind as probable explanation to the cuts and bruises I was covered in. I woke up without any ability to place myself the night before despite being in a known place. Something felt exceedingly different and “off”, but my world was still somewhat familiar. The house I woke up in had always been safe, Boulder had always been home, and I was accompanied by my brother and a small group of Air Force Academy Cadets- people whose academic title immediately casted seeming credibility. However, I had no, memory, leaving me disoriented and feeling incredibly vulnerable.
My family urged me to seek medical attention. Driving to the hospital, I still did not understand what had happened to me. I wanted to focus on studying for the biomechanics exam I had the following morning; I was clinging on to the familiarities of my everyday life. I sat in a hospital bed believing I was going to return to my university that night; I could not see the destruction yet.
“Dirt or dead skin?” a SANE nurse rhetorically asked. Did it even matter at that point? By the time the nurses administering the SANE exam had studied every inch of my upper body and started to examine my ankles, my skin felt dead; dirty. Naked, nauseous, and cold, I laid on a hospital bed for hours while each mark on my skin was inspected. I felt like a weird science project, in which only hypotheses could be given as to why there had been so much blood shed, why my body was painted with bruises, and why I had suffered internal injuries to my vagina.
With each minute of awakening, realization set in. Grief moved in as familiarity moved out. I became more detached from the world I knew. The familiar, comfortable life I built for myself was rapidly slipping out of my hands.
When I returned to Boulder for my brother’s birthday, I had no idea everything would change. Prior to that weekend I was a Division 1 college athlete and dedicated student. My time as a student was spent learning how to balance my daily life filled with classes, biomechanics labs, practices, and weight/conditioning sessions. I was continuously learning who I was as a responsible, self-sufficient, motivated, driven young woman. I never imagined not completing my schooling. The natural progression of the pursuit of a college degree, that I was so fortunate to have up to that point, was interrupted. The fluidity of my life was disrupted yet it looked as if it was only my world that stopped.
My teammates still competed in games, ran sprints, and pushed themselves in the weight room. My classmates continued to dissect frog hearts and study the kinematics of linear and angular kinetic motion. My friends continued to go out on Friday nights without fear or worry of their life changing in an instant. My calendar filled with games, practice times, tests, lectures, and socializing was replaced by processing trauma in therapy appointments. The drastic juxtaposition of their daily activities from what my life had become comprised of was incomprehensible.
The rapist’s unwanted and destructive presence in my world on April 18th, 2015 compromised every part of the life I knew. His actions catapulted me into a realm unknown and uncharted. I quickly learned there is no handbook or guidance for navigating this new world.
You learn the things you need to know.
For weeks after it happened my life looked as if it froze over; stuck, quiet, cold. The immense physical, mental, and emotional trauma I suffered left me motionless and numb. I suffered from PTSD symptoms, common for Survivors in acute-processing. Immediately after the trauma, I lost my appetite, my ability to sleep through the night, my sense of self and autonomy. I suffered from hypervigilance. I could not think clearly. I had no desire or stamina for communicating with anyone. I did not trust that I could take care of myself, because having no memory of what happened to me made me feel powerless. Guilt, shame, fear.
To anyone looking in, it must have looked like he broke me; like parts of me had died. There were days I did feel like I was broken; like I was no longer human; like my life was permanently stuck. Some days the thought alone of getting out bed terrified me. Each day I felt like a victim to the reckoning of his actions. But I assure you there wasn’t a day that I didn’t fight like hell for every inch of movement in my world.
Learning kinematic equations or athletic opponent’s tendencies were no longer crucial to my ability to thrive. Those were not things I needed to know in this new harsh world. After continually grieving the disruption in my life it became apparent I was never going to feel as I did before. With time, I made a conscious choice to no longer expend energy on trying to reclaim and preserve the life I had prior to being raped; I could not go back to exactly who I was before this happened. I would never again have the luxury of knowing a world where I had not been a victim of rape. I had to learn a new world. I had to learn the things I needed to know to survive and to rebuild myself.
You learn the things you need to know.
I had to learn that I am capable of creating and holding boundaries for myself after every boundary I had ever created had been obliterated; that it wasn’t my lack of boundaries that caused someone I had just met that night to rape me. I chose to wear a hat every day for months after I was raped to shield myself from the community that held space for the rapist’s actions, and to practice putting up physical boundaries. I could decide who I wanted to see, I could decide who could look into my eyes, and I could shield myself from seeing the countless triggers and reminders of his presence in my hometown. I sought shelter in the impermeable boundaries of my childhood home. Each time I shut my bedroom door I could see myself setting a boundary. Once I trusted that that boundary was respected I would expand my surroundings slightly. Intentionally, carefully, and slowly learning to trust I could be safe in new environments.
I chose to pull neighbors’ weeds and mow the lawn just weeks after I was assaulted- work that allowed me to see a beginning, middle, and an end. I had to learn that my hands and clothes could be stained with mud and dirt, but that in that moment, I was not in physical harm. I had to learn that I could replace the feelings of deep filth and disgust knowing the rapist had violated every cell of my being, with the presence of real dirt from the Earth; and that it is not my soul that is unclean or impure. I had to learn that the presence of soil under my fingernails was not the same as when I had to claw my way from out underneath the rapist as he pinned me to the Earth, like I needed to that night.
You learn the things you need to know.
It felt like someone took a jackhammer to my world and I was left trying to put the broken pieces back together. For weeks after I was raped, I chose to break plates, tiles, and glass for mosaics, so I could feel like I held power in my hands. Unfairly, I had to learn that life plans can shatter as fast and chaotically as glass; but that it wasn’t just my plans for the future or my natural self-efficacy that felt breakable. I too was capable of shattering things; I still had power. For hours I would practice breaking glass and piecing the broken shards together to create something new and beautiful. I needed to see myself physically putting smithereens back together, so that I could gain confidence in my ability to do so with my life.
After I was raped I had to learn that I was not stuck in Boulder forever. It was hard thinking otherwise when something so normal like driving made me feel small and insignificant. Driving meant combating feeling numb, small, or untethered by the chaos of other moving vehicles; recognizing that at any moment my life could be altered by the impact of another car. I had to learn that propelling myself was crucial to my survival- I needed to practice packing my things in my car and taking myself outside of Boulder. I got a job in the mountains about an hour away. Driving up to work I would get to a place where I could finally take deep breaths. Boulder was suffocating and toxic. I constantly feared the possibility of running into people I knew from my childhood, because I didn’t know how to tell them my world was no longer the same. I was trapped in a town that haunted me with triggers from a night that totally changed my world, yet refused to carve space for the heavy mess that came with the healing from his actions. Learning to leave Boulder was essential to my survival.
You learn the things you need to know.
Exercising had been a part of my daily life before I was raped. My world as a student-athlete was built on my love for exercise, but that passion was compromised by being physically violated. I had to learn how to re-center myself after I experienced debilitating panic attacks from raising my heartrate; reminding myself that in that moment I was not in immediate danger; I did not need to flee. I had to relearn that my body could be sore and ache because it is a natural part of being active, not because my muscles had seized up to protect me from him forcefully entering me. To this day I work to learn how to make my body feel safe to be present in. I have had to fight incredibly hard to learn how to take ownership of my body again; that all of who I am cannot be reduced to the abuse my body suffered; that my body did not deserve what happened to me.
I had to learn that being groggy from anesthesia after having surgery only four months after being raped did not mean that I had been raped again; that the slow dawning the next morning did not mean I had been a victim to him again.
You learn the things you need to know.
For as long as I could remember I knew I wanted to go to college to study the human body. I had hopes of becoming a physical therapist or working with prosthesis. The thought of going back to school to study the human body after mine had been victimized was not possible. I was no longer attached to what I dedicated my studies and future to. I was also no longer attached to competing physically at a high caliber. I had to learn and accept that I was stepping away from academics and a full-ride sports scholarship because it was an act of taking care of myself. I knew that I could no longer thrive pursuing that academic or athletic career, but I grieved that loss.
You learn the things you need to know.
I had to learn that I can allow myself to fall asleep; that committing to sleep did not mean committing to having every part of my world drastically change upon awakening. I had to learn that each time I woke up from an unbearable nightmare, it was not my reality. For almost two years I have grieved the loss of sleep, the loss of rest, the loss of peace. I had to learn that the sleepless nights spent hypothesizing every possible action and outcome from the hours in which my life was hijacked would not change reality; that a world where I was a Survivor of rape would meet with me the rising of the sun.
I drastically cut my hair, a decision only I could make about my body, to have visible markers of growth. Seeing a part of myself growing would affirm that I was still alive and human; that every part of me wasn’t dead. Through this I learned that time doesn’t promise outcome, but time is continuous and ever moving.
You learn the things you need to know.
With each conscious choice to learn how to be human in a new world, I took my power back. I gained strength. I took ownership of my reality. It is an injustice that I had to learn these things solely because of his selfish actions, but I gained the clarity I needed to see that I was deserving of far better. I gained the voice I needed to decide I wanted to understand what happened to me. I gained the strength I needed to seek legal action.
My decision to start an investigation and ultimately prosecute felt like an opportunity to stand up for myself. I could see that I was given an opportunity most Survivors don’t have, and I wanted to do what was right for me while honoring those Survivors who had not been given the time, space, or opportunity to criminally prosecute. It was not an easy decision, nor was any part of the justice process. Nothing could have prepared me for the re-traumatization and victimization I would face after choosing to prosecute. The Defense sought to discredit every truth from the night I was raped. They went through extensive measures to paint the rapist as the victim of my desire. I endured his countless re-victimizing attempts and many injustices.
I was court mandated to submit my address to the Defense. They wanted to question my neighbors about my “truthfulness and character” despite having only lived in my new city for a few months. I experienced his conscious choice to violate me yet again, when his team hired private investigators to come to my door and sit in cars outside my house. The physical boundary I worked so hard to put up- thousands of miles of separation- proved to be feeble protection. My sense of safety was temporarily lost; at any moment I could be a victim to his attack again.
I then started to receive calls from former teammates, friends, and peers. They called to ask why they had been pestered by private investigators about intimate details of my life. I frantically felt I needed to contact everyone I knew and alert them of what happened to me, to feel like I was in control of telling my story. I hated that people were finding out about what had happened because a private investigator contacted them. It took my power and voice away- much like my power and voice away were taken the night I was raped.
Each time an individual from my past was contacted by a private investigator, and each time I saw a car lingering outside my new place of residence I had to remind myself that I am not a reflection of the Defense’s presence. Their presence did not invite feelings of guilt, shame, or a need to hide. Their presence did not mean I had to shrink or take up less space. Their presence did not discredit any of my truthfulness. Each injustice I faced at the Defense’s expense was an act to try to make me feel small. Each was an unwarranted, dehumanizing act of harassment. They thought it would make me want to stop pursuing legal action, but it made me see just how necessary the continuation of prosecuting was.
It was incredibly painful to learn that Scott Jurdem was representing the rapist. Over the past 22 months I have wondered if Scott Jurdem knew who I was when he took the case. Did he remember that his daughter and I went to elementary school, middle school, and after school care together? Did he remember that she and I pushed our desks next to one another in the second grade? Could he recognize me from the pictures of my battered body the SANE nurses took the morning after I was raped? What was he thinking when he hired private investigators to question my former teammates and peers about my character, my sex life, and my social tendencies? Did he remember me as he hired multiple medical professionals to falsely allege the immense amount of blood found in my underwear was related to a non-existent menstrual cycle, not from being raped? If he remembered me as his daughter’s friend, would he have debated and disputed the seriousness of the internal injuries I suffered?
This is a judicial system injustice.
Ironically, the Air Force Academy also knew me; just years prior I was recruited to become a cadet and a Division 1 athlete at the Academy. At that time I thought of the USAFA as an institution built on honor. It was an institution I felt honored even being able to consider attending. I believed that leadership, truth, integrity, and dignity were values cadets pride themselves on. I believed USAFA built characters that valued accountability and responsibility. I believed USAFA built characters that would honorably stand up for truth.
The Academy defines character as: “One’s moral compass, the sum of those qualities of moral excellence which compel a person to do the right thing despite pressure or temptations to the contrary.” Their words may be high-minded and strong, but the actions that have been demonstrated throughout this process by the cadets and the institution as a whole, are weak and those of cowards.
The act of rape is the act of a coward, not of character. The act of staying on a Division 1 lacrosse team whose coach outwardly supports the behavior and actions of his player, the rapist, is an act of coward, not of character. The act of defending the man’s actions the night he raped me, after he plead guilty and even after personally witnessing the violent aftermath of the night he raped me, is an act of coward, not of character. The act of expending immense energy towards preserving the reputation of the man who committed this crime, rather than spending that energy on preserving the well-being of the victim, is not an act of character. This is the behavior that fosters rape culture. I am thoroughly disappointed in the character that has been revealed; this behavior goes against what I believed the Academy and cadets to be. This goes against what I believe the Academy and cadet corps are meant to represent. I firmly believe this goes against what we as Americans stand for.
Everyone should be disappointed and demand more from this service academy. Every taxpayer in this country should question why their tax money continued going to the man who raped me after he was arrested and even after he plead guilty. He has continued to receive salary benefits. This is entirely unjust and challenges the morality and culture of our military institutions. I believe they can do better.
The man who raped me had no clue what my character was made of. He chose not to see me as a person. To him, I was nothing but a body for his use. I was never present in his presence, but his character was exposed right away.
As I said in my statement in response to the plea hearing, it is clear to me that despite the rapist’s plea, responsibility has not truly been taken. In fact, I feel strongly that the plea had nothing to do with taking responsibility for the event that hijacked my world, but rather to decrease his sentence. I refuse to believe that someone who pleads guilty in the 11th hour is truly remorseful or wanting to take accountability for their actions. I still firmly believe this as the rapist requested a hearing at USAFA to dispute his discharge. I refuse to believe that someone who is genuinely remorseful for their actions would request leniency on their discharge from an institution that prides itself on being built on honor. One cannot be both a leader of moral high ground, and a convicted rapist not taking responsibility for their actions.
Too many privileged white males are receiving leniencies in the penalizing of this heinous crime. Despite the cultural change and awakening around sexual assault, we are surrounded by rhetoric and behavior that perpetuates rape culture and diminishes the effects rape has on Survivors and our nation as a whole. “Locker room talk” is absolutely not an acceptable excuse for the atrocious objectification and dehumanization of females. “Lock room talk” perpetuates the idea that successful males of privilege, and in far too many cases successful athletes, can use physical dominance to hurt others without consequence. His ability to use his strong, forceful body, does not trump my need to feel safe and respected in mine. We live in a country where “Make America Safe Again” does not apply to women. When people with the ability to hold political power declare that admitting to sexual assault is “just words, people” I certainly do not feel safe. When convicted rapists are spared jail or probationary time because of their earned private school athletic scholarship, I do not feel safe. When our military institutions refuse to accept responsibility for fostering a culture where rape is tolerated and increasingly present, I certainly do not feel safe. This matter must not be taken lightly.
It will take communities waking up, realizing that they too hold responsibility when these crimes happen. We cannot continue to turn our cheek to this behavior while questioning why this crime routinely occurs. Rape is a power and betrayal crime; it has nothing to do with sex. It is simply goal oriented for the rapist; game-like and situationally driven. This entitlement and power- hunger is a learned behavior. As a society, we have the responsibility to do better by each other. We must understand that a call to action for changing rape culture and supporting Survivors is not a call to condemn an entire gender. Working to change rape culture and support Survivors is working towards a better understanding of respect, honor, and humanity.
Today constitutes as a “win” for sexual assault Survivors and for “The People of Colorado”, but I look forward to the day where the outcome of this case is not labeled as justice. We are all deserving of mental, emotional, and physical space in this world. As long as we have people like Caryn Datz, Ken Kupfner, John Clune, my dear friends and fellow warriors Ellie, Kristen, and Katie, and so many more fighting for what is right despite an environment that fosters a different view, we will forever see progress.
To all my sisters who never received “legal justice” or had no opportunity to prosecute because of their socioeconomic background, the color of their skin, their sexual orientation, their school’s inability to take responsibility or action, a lack of community support guiding them through the legal process, and many other reasons, today is a day we honor you as well. Today is a day we bear witness the impact this terrible crime has on your lives. Today I stand up here to represent our fight for visibility, space, and voice in a society that still tries to diminish the impact of rape.
So, Your Honor, when you are trying to understand the impact that this man’s conscious actions have had in my life, you can clearly see the immediate holes, cracks, and destruction he caused. You could argue that the immense loss of the natural progression in my life before I was raped is enough of a blow to articulate the impact. I was tasked to learn that I will never be the person I was before he raped me; before he used force to enter me when I was unable to defend myself; when he lost the ability to see me as a human and I became nothing but a body in which he could penetrate. I will never be the person I was before I hazily woke up to a bruised body, underwear full of blood, pants covered inside and out with mud, and an unearthly weight to my body. I will never have the privilege I once had of knowing a world where I had not been raped. He took that from me.
But, the world that he violently touched on April 18, 2015 is not the world I live in now. Looking solely at the impact he had in that world is not enough. You must look at the ways I have learned to take care of myself to see the impact. You must look at justice beyond what the legal definition is and understand that no legal penance can change what happened to me or return me to the life I lost. To understand the impact his actions had on my life you must look at all the ways I have learned to fight for autonomy of my thoughts, body, and actions; self- agency and fluidity in my life—my personal justice.
Over the past two years I have learned horrible things do not happen for any reason other than suffering is a natural part of human life. I did not need to endure what I have to be strong or to find reason and purpose. I have chosen to learn the things I needed to, to survive in this new reality and to find reason and purpose. Every day since I was raped I have chosen to run towards understanding living in a world where I am a Survivor. Every day I have chosen to be present to the insurmountable grief and destruction his actions caused, because bearing witness to that pain means being present in my new world.
I have control of how I choose to honor my story and my truth each day. I choose to work towards creating a supportive environment for Survivors that has nothing to do with the violence they’ve endured or those who violated them. I continue to choose to learn the things I need to know to survive in my new reality, and I choose to share my experiences with others in hopes that they feel like validated as they define their fight for justice. This is why I am proudly co-founding Restore Dignity, an organization entirely dedicated to financially support the continuation of education for Survivors as they learn the things they need to know to survive in their new worlds.
I am strong, and I know that I, like so many others, deserve a great life beyond the destruction of rape. This is why I will continue to speak out for myself and for those who do not have a voice and those who are oppressed and marginalized because of sexual violence. This is why I stand here my character unbroken.
I leave you with this poem by Rashani Réa;
There is a brokenness
out of which comes the unbroken,
out of which blooms the unshatterable.
There is a sorrow
beyond all grief which leads to joy
and a fragility
out of whose depths emerges strength.
There is a hollow space
too vast for words
through which we pass with each loss,
out of whose darkness
we are sanctioned into being.
There is a cry deeper than all sound
whose serrated edges cut the heart
as we break open to the place inside
which is unbreakable and whole,
while learning to sing