Thursday, March 21, 2013


A girl in my relatively small-town high school class accused an older classmate of rape. I wasn't really friends with either of them, but knew them both. I heard the rumors, I listened, raised my eyebrows. 

I judged. 

The accuser suffered the wrath of the popular accused's many friends and likely saw eyes cut her way by those who didn't say what the others did, but thought it. She was the topic of jokes, ones I *may* have smirked at. The case was eventually dismissed. One rumor said the accused passed a lie detector test, and that she failed. I have no idea if that's true, but it sealed her fate and she laid low a long time. He flourished.  


After graduation, I heard whispers, knowing shrugs and even open discussion of this same accused boy doing the same thing to several other girls, WHICH WAS RAPE. They spoke of it like a rite of passage, or a group they now belonged to. They all said, I shouldn't have been there, I was drunk, etc. By this time, we were all adults and the accuser had moved, but I felt vindicated for her somehow by this reception-hall-bathroom-conversation, even if she didn't know it occurred. 

She and I became better friends over the years, over Facebook. I never told her what I had heard, and we have never spoken of her ordeal, or the fact that I didn't do as I should have, was not a friend to a classmate who probably could have really used one. For that I am ashamed. I still see the accused around town, and as much as I don't want to, when he smiles and says hi, I do the same. And I cringe.


In the same time period, another friend said she was date raped by a older boy we hardly knew. One of our friends wondered if she had made it up; after all, she had gone on a drive with him willingly, and was flirting with him like mad. I should have DEFENDED her, should have probably told. I DID believe it happened, but I was afraid to tell my parents because I didn't want her to get in trouble for going off with a clean-cut but much older boy with out-of-town plates and a charming smile, who turned out to be anything but. That sounds ridiculous to my 'parent ears' now. Even worse, I didn't talk to her about it, although we were as close as sisters.  


While we are still close, I STILL haven't talked to her about it at any length, except once when she told me that he raped her in the hard, cold bed of his truck and told her "it can be the easy way, or the hard way". He berated her the entire drive back to town, before offering her another chance to 'learn a little something and do it better next time.' 

She was barely 15. 


Over summer break, a friend told me her long time boyfriend "pretty much made her do it", after tiring of waiting on her to go all the way. They broke up right after and both were mum as to why it was over, odd in our usually gossipy 'popular clique'. It was the period of time when we were all deciding whether or not to abandon our virginity and I am pretty sure I remember suggesting she should go ahead and do it. To her, that may have felt like pressure, and I am sorry for that. 

After she told me, I was horrified that he didn't stop when she said she was at her limit, but again, I didn't handle it well. I was scared of what I knew, and freaked out that the boy who had done it RAPED HER was at the same party I was later that night, acting like... not-a-monster. I shudder as I remember quietly sharing the *idea* (without saying RAPE) that 'maybe he had pushed my friend to 'do it' and that maybe that was why they had broken up?,' with a small group of our mutual male friends. I remember the boys saying to each other "well, what did she expect; that he would wait forever?" I gave up. WHy did I give up? I should have marched over and kicked him in the nuts for my friend. I even asked him what the hell happened, why they had broken up, hoping he would confirm what she said, admit it to me so I could react appropriately, but he mumbled something incoherent about her being dramatic and I shamefully accepted that. I spent the entire summer inside the same social group with him, the rapist of my good friend. 


My friend and I have rarely spoken of that night, at her urging. I fear that by not being a good friend then, I have made it more difficult for her now. 

Today I wrote to each of my three friends and apologized. I do a lot of writing about women's issues, support of women by women, and suddenly feel like a hypocrite. I wrote that I had not supported them, I judged or did not defend them, I failed them as a friend, as a woman. I feel that each of them carries a scar from the incident, but also in part because of my inability to know what to do. I am just now realizing that I knew of 3 rapes before I was 18. THREE RAPES OF TEENAGE GIRLS, and I DID NOTHING. I am sure there are many more I don't know about. The ones that my other girlfriends knew about our other friends, have kept secret for years and the ones they didn't handle as well as they could, either. 

As we talk about rape culture, I think there is a chance that the boys in these rapes felt somehow justified, or thought that pushing a girl beyond her initial NO's was 'usual', and that what they did wasn't a scary word like RAPE, since it wasn't like they were 'violent'. Or because she was drunk, or because she had obviously let herself be alone with him for a reason. Maybe they look back now and realize it was wrong. (I'd like to ask them.) Hopefully they didn't continue to behave the same way with others because I DID NOTHING. 

Hopefully those who knew about and belittled the claims of our first friend in the 90's look back now as I did and think how we reacted poorly, blamed and shamed a possible victim, and said all those things people are saying now like:

 - Why was she so drunk?
  - Why did she go with them then? 
 - She just regretted it the next day..

And then I hope they talk to their teenagers about those events and how we were so, so wrong. Being young is hard, and we have to acknowledge that DOING THE RIGHT THING ISN'T ALWAYS EASY. I was aghast at the actions of the kids in Stuebenville, until i took a long fucking look in the mirror today. 

We need to talk about the difficulty of doing the right thing among peers with our young people, instead of stamping the kids in Stuebenville immoral. We need to understand WHY no one reacted, and why some felt the young girl had created this situation to be violated and were comfortable enough to tweet about it. We need to have all the hard discussions and ask all the uncomfortable questions. 

I had to force myself to write the word RAPE in this post, made myself capitalize it as I went back and changed it. Even now, I was tempted to minimize the word, make it less horrible. We need to say the word RAPE, identify what it means and label it when it happens without minimization or justification. Or victim blame. 

I want my daughter and son to feel different, to be different and to have the courage to do the things I didn't do to support friends and classmates, even when it isn't easy. I want them to understand the awkward nuances of sex, and where the limits lie, without debate. But without acknowledging my own failings, it will sound hollow to my own ears. 

My penance for my failure will be to share this post with them when the time comes, share the stories above and the role I played in rape culture. There are many to blame, including myself.  


My gratitude to the women who accepted my apology today and agreed to allow me to share their stories in this blog. Their courage and forgiveness overwhelm me. 


Reptile Sadie said...

Onion Girl, you amaze me. There is so much to be written here and not big enough balls to do it.

Thank you.

Kelly DeBie said...

Thank you. Just, thank you.

Anonymous said...

All I can say right now is "great job" and "well written". I am currently out of the Universe reliving 1986.

I admire your courage in writing those three letters. Thank you. I have been avoiding writing about my own memories of high school because they are wrought with tears and pain. You see, I was the girl no one believed and "HE" was one of the cool kids.

I am currently working on a book about overcoming trauma and starting life over at 40+ as a single woman and business owner. This is probably the most difficult and painful chapter I will have to write about in my book. The timing of your blog post couldn't have been any more serendipitous. My heart was ripped open and I am letting it all pour out of me onto the paper. I thank you for that too. Without this post, perhaps I wouldn't have written about it quite the way I have. I think 25 years is long enough to keep it a secret. I still feel shame and guilt over the whole situation but I do know it's not my fault.

Now, you've been very brave to confess your part-or lack thereof- in your teen years but please remember that you too were just a CHILD. You are reflecting back on something with a maturity you did not possess back then. Don't be too damn hard on yourself. Honest is fine, just don't beat yourself up over it. Speaking for myself, I have moved forward and made incredible changes in my life despite? because of? what happened to me. We are what we experience and endure and overcome.

Love to you girl.

Thanks again for the post. I'm sharing the hell out of it.

Unknown said...

I'm blown away by this. It's so frickin' powerful.

Damn girl.

Here through DeBie Hive. Sharing EVERYWHERE.

Razorblade Brain said...

You are my new favorite person. I feel your pain as a person who has done nothing. Not only have I been a victim, but I've also been one of those silent bystanders. One instance, not such a silent bystander. We can chalk it up to so many things but the bottom line is that we just all need to do better. Be better. Show better examples. Be better teachers. This is a great, wonderful start. Love it and love you.

The Onion said...

Thanks for all the nice comments. I haven't blogged in a while and it came out of me today like a tidal wave. I guess I just didn't have anything worth saying until today when I made the connection that i am not that different from the 35 kids who were at the parties in Steubenville. Stacie

Anonymous said...

I am pregnant right now with my first, a boy. I will be saving this for him to read. Sadly we'll probably have to start having this conversation when he is younger than I'd like, but THANK YOU for writing this. THANK YOU SO MUCH.

Anonymous said...

we must give our children (boys are raped to) permission to not be polite when they are not comfortable in a situation. from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: Martin Vanger: Let me ask you something. Why don't people trust their instincts? They sense something is wrong, someone is walking too close behind them. You knew something was wrong, but you came back into the house. Did I force you? Did I drag you in? No. All I had to do was offer you a drink. It's hard to believe that fear of a offending me is stronger than the fear of pain, but you know what? It is. And they always come willingly, and they sit there, they know its all over, just like you do.

Anonymous said...

Holy moly! You so brought to light how I have been avoiding the mirror.when it happened to me at 13 yrs old it seemed easier to put it away in a box. No one posted pictures. That was not an option back then. I dealt with it, or didn't, quietly. I was repeatedly raped while intoxicated when I went back to visit my home town. Went I came home to my current city, no one knew. I put it away. Sort of. But now days with twitter, and other social media, everyone knew more of what happened to that girl than she did. That makes it so much worse. Thank u for always being so candid and putting it out there.

Munch said...

Our mistakes are those things that make us learn, grow and to become better people.

I'm proud of you for what you are doing to rectify your mistake and I'm proud of you for standing up and say I failed.

You're human. You were a young girl and scared to know what to do. Fortunately, you now do know. You can use that information to help the young women in your community

Donna Alexander said...

THank you for writing this. I found it very powerful and moving. I wish more people could be so bravely honest.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for writing this as I was RAPED in high school and no one believed me I still see the guy and also ended up with a child from this looser! I kept my child and it was the hardest thing I ever had to do in my life! I love that child so much and hated him,(he tried getting custody of my child) ended up losing all rights to the child and I lost all my friends, it is so hard even after 22 years of seeing friends that I was so close to( one I had since kindergarten) I still remember what she told me why she couldn’t be friends with me anymore “you are pregnant and I can’t be seen with you anymore” I was not in her group of friends “the cool kid group” but we would spend time on weekends when none of her “cool friends” were around, but once I found out I was pregnant it was over! I hated high school, but I managed to graduate with the not so cool group of friends, but those not so cool groups of friends help me through high school. So thank you again for writing this blog, I often wonder if someone will ever write me a note saying sorry or I am so sorry I DID NOTHING! I am sure it will help whoever those girls are as I know that it would help me if just one person would say “hey I am so sorry for what happened to you and I hope you can forgive me”, I know it will never happen, but I have moved on and I am a better person than anyone will ever give me credit for as I am a survivor!!! Sorry this is so long but I am one of your classmates it happened more than we all know. I do love your blog and this is one that hit home and so glad that you had the guts to say something so again THANK YOU!

Lance said...

You wrote the letters. That's superhero stuff. Who does that? You, that's who.

Let's talk.

How many times have we run across someone we went to school with and the memories of how they were twenty years or more earlier make you shudder but we accept the request anyway?

You wrote those letters and this post.

Look, I'm half chick about most things. It's why I'm well equipped to live with 4 women - wife and 3 daughters. I was the last male person I knew to lose their virginity. I've never even been around rape or seen anything where I should have stopped something. I roomed with a guy in college who was accused. I didn't support him because I considered myself a feminist and assumed he did it because he slept with so many girls. He didn't do it. A year later I ran across him at a grocery store, hugged him, and said I was sorry for being a bad friend. That's redemption, which is what this post is about.

You did "do something". You talked about this. You looked inside your sensitive soul, and you wrote this post which will help a victim or a victim's friend or loved one.

Thanks for letting me read it.

Unknown said...

Very good post. I'm a man I suppose about your age and I think I had the same attitude towards it then that you did. Which is to say that I thought of rape as being much more serious and scary than anything that might have happened around me. I was nervous as hell around girls. And I don't understand how anyone could hug another human without permission let alone rape them. But as I say, I wouldn't have called any boy I knew who went further than his girlfriend wanted a rapist then as I now know he would be. And after all the talk lately I'm positively horrified to learn how often rape happens. I now know that I must have known someone well who either raped or was raped as a teenager. Sick.

Anonymous said...

I have a different version of this story and wanted to share. The summer before my sophmore year in college, one of my "not-really-friends-because-her-parents-had-more-money-than-mine-" friends, was raped by an older boy, July 4. This boy was someone I had dated earlier in my life and had kissed, but then he had also dated my best friend. I knew that they had had sex and I knew too that she never wanted to talk about it and I just always thought it was the inner souther baptist going to hell in a hurry guilt that she was dealing with. After our not-really-friend, friend, said this boy had raped her, I called my friend immediately and asked if she, too, had been forced to have sex with him...mentioning the specifics that the other girl had told about. She broke down into tears, said "yes, that's exactly what happened" and hung up. I decided to tell. I was protecting my friend. I want you to know that if I could take it all back and never tell anyone, I would. My life became a living hell because of telling. She was furious at me, her parents and grandparents were even MORE furious with me, telling me that I should learn to keep my mouth shut and mind my own business.
The boy and his friends were very mean to my mom, who worked nights at a convenient store. They knocked shelves over, ransacked the convenience store more than once and threatened me to her. My mom did not retaliate at work, which kills me now so much. She did, however, retaliate when they called my house or put burnt pictures of my dog in the mailbox that they had taken of her.
To make matters worse, in order to stop the harsh jabs from the boys, my friend WENT BACK OUT WITH HIM AGAIN SO THEY WOULD LIKE HER AND QUIT TORTURING HER. Their song was, "secret lovers", yes, gag. The charges were all dropped because after all, he had a baseball scholarship and what would this do to him? When school started in the fall, it was horrible. I am guessing I missed around 50 days of school that year because of not wanting to go to school. My friends were far and few between and it wasn't until my boyfriend finally got into an altercation with the rapist, that he and his friends finally stopped. Between my boyfriend and my debate coach helping, they finally stopped. He graduated and went on to marry another one of my friends as if nothing had ever happened and few remember that he actually did rape at least two girls.
The friend I tried to help was in my wedding and then a year later, I in hers. At her wedding, we had a huge fight because of me telling all those years ago. She still harbors such resentment for me telling anyone. She wanted it to remain a secret and told me that I put her and her parents through absolute hell. But do you know who still never went through hell? Him. Her parents didn't want me to be in her wedding, they didn't want to see me at all.
I will never forget the feelings of loneliness and isolation for doing what I thought was the right thing at the time. Why wasn't it the right thing? In one sentence to defend my friend, my whole world changed...for the worst. I will never forget hating the change so much and wishing I could make it go back to the way it was, when I had friends and everyone was happy and no one hated me. I'm not sure if I hated change or dreaded change as much as I do now, before this. But I hate change. I like predictability and I don't appreciate what change brings, even if it CAN be a good thing. I never think it's a good idea...even when it turns out to be good. Just another view from someone who DID do the right thing and tell. I wasn't "present" when it happened, but when I knew that it did, I told. It should have been the "right" thing to do, but it changed my life for the absolute worst. I think I trusted people before that, I'm not sure, but I think I did. I think change was ok with me before that, but I'm not sure.

Anonymous said...

***summer before my sophomore year in high school, not college.

Anonymous said...

This was painful to read. I also did nothing. But the person I did nothing for, was myself. I too, have minimized the fact that I was RAPED. Twice. The first time was also a situation where I went for a drive with an older, "hot" guy. I thought he was taking me home, but I was wrong. I also heard the words "we can do this the easy way or the hard way." I felt responsible. I shouldn't have gone with him. Attention from an older guy for a girl with not so great self-esteem was a stupid thing to seek.

The second time was a different guy. Out with friends and I drank WAAY too much. I rarely drank in high school. We were party hopping and my friend put me to bed at this house party, I was nearly passed out before she got me to the bed. I woke up with him on top of me... I couldn't speak. I couldn't comprehend what was happening. Again, this was a guy that all the girls thought was so amazing and gorgeous and he was MUCH older, not even in high school. I was 15.

I was ashamed. It was my fault, I never should have been there.