By Violet Paley
To the girl at Stanford,
This fourth of July marks the 4 year anniversary of when I was raped. That is the first time I have written down that haunting sentence.
First, let me start out by thanking this brave young woman. There are so many cases like this happening everywhere, where the victim stays quiet and it is swept under the rug. Your feelings, your experience, your bravery, your eloquence — all things that got me feeling and talking about things I had suppressed all this time. I think parts of my story are similar to yours.
I had just turned 18 and graduated from high school. One of my best friends Maddy and I had taken jobs at a camp in Big Bear. We are from Los Angeles, and we were excited to get to live with our coworkers in a cabin whilst working with different campers that would come up each week. I was the hiking instructor, which was funny in itself because I am terrible athletically and complain when I’m in the sun. The place we all lived in was big, coed, and a lot of fun. The bedrooms were small, and there were two sets of bunk beds in each of them, each with a thin cot. Most of the other staff members were from other places around the world, Australia, New Zealand, Jamaica, but mostly England. Maddy and I were the youngest working there. We were thrilled, and instantly had crushes on people.
At night, they would do this thing called “star bar” where we would all go to the woods while the campers were asleep (supervised by their counselors), get super drunk, and have fun. My first week there, I had sloppy, drunk sex with the hot lifeguard from New Zealand on one of those thin cots. Maddy and I talked about it in the morning, she asked for all the details and it was fun, we laughed and joked around about him. She asked if I would do it again, I said maybe. I was happy about it. It was consensual. Yes, I was drunk, but I was also awake.
Not even an hour after that, all the other staff members knew what had happened. The walls were thin. I could hear these girls calling me a whore. Girls that I tried so hard to be nice to. I remember telling my supervisor how I thought the girls didn’t like me and she told me, “well don’t shag someone the first week you’ve met them and people won’t judge you.” Fair. But is it their business who I sleep with, or what I decide to do with my body? Were they jealous? Or in actual disgust by my actions? It didn’t take me a long time to notice there was a lot of secret sex, relationships, and drama on the down low. Realizing it was rather hypocritical, I confronted one of the girls. She told me that I was new, very young, and just very different from them. She reminded me we’re coworkers, not friends. That hurt, I wanted to be friends with my coworkers.
Eventually things seemed to get better, I was on good terms with everyone and having fun with the kids during the day and blowing off steam at “star bar”. Fourth of July was coming up, and the supervisors had planned with the staff at another camp to rent a big, nice cabin for all of us to party in. It was going to be super fun. I was excited. And the day finally came.
Maddy and I got ready together. We put our hair up in matching bear buns, wore red, white, and blue make up, and took a whole bunch of selfies and sent them to our moms. We piled into one of the cars that was going, and got to the cabin. A lot of people were already there. My friends and I went upstairs to get drinks. I remember having a couple of drinks, maybe a shot, I’m not sure, it all seems blurry to me. Next thing I remember I was sitting on the couch laughing with everyone at my friend talking to us. I leaned over onto Jay, a guy in his 30’s from the UK. Everything seemed to be going in slow motion. I remember kissing Jay’s neck. I don’t remember much else. I have flashes of being on the floor and being put back on a bed, crying. But I had blacked out.
I woke up in the morning, completely confused on where I was. I got up and saw that someone had urinated on my body. My underwear were off I had bruises in my crouch area, and my vagina was swollen. I touched it and a mixture of what seemed like blood and seamen was in my fingers. I started yelling “Hello!?” repeatedly. Maddy ran in with her then boyfriend.
“Holy shit” they said looking at me. “What happened to me?!” I asked. She said, “you had sex with Jay I think.” I told her I didn’t. She said she saw him carrying me to the bedroom, and that’s all she remembered. It hurt to move, but we had to get back to work. There were only 4 of us, my friend and her boyfriend, and one of my coworkers with a car. I asked him to stop the we passed a drugstore. “I think I should buy plan B.” They all walked with me inside. I was limping, and something in my heart didn’t feel right. I took my friend’s boyfriend aside and asked him what happened. He seemed disturbed, “I was pretty drunk and I was trying to find a bathroom. I opened the door and you were falling off the bed and Jay kept pulling you back on. His pants were down. You didn’t seem awake. I said something like ‘what the hell is going on?’ and he told me ‘it was all cool’, and closed the door.” That hurt. Tears and the feeling of worthlessness started forming. I paid a days worth of my paycheck for the plan B, while standing shoeless, on the cold tile of CVS trying to not smell the scent of a stranger’s piss on my body.
We got back to camp and I was in trouble for being late. I told my supervisor I had to shower, someone had peed on me when I passed out. She rolled her eyes and let me do it. I could barely shower. I just stood there. I couldn’t touch my body, it hurt too much. I went into my bedroom and sat on the floor, curled up, and started crying. Maddy came to me and hugged me, told me she loved me, and told me it’s ok, we all make mistakes when we’re drunk. But she didn’t get it then, this wasn’t a mistake I made. Her well intentioned words made me feel worse, but I cried into her arms as she pet my knotted hair.
I finally got up and started getting dressed. “I made a mistake,” I told myself, “I got too drunk and had sex with someone. I was irresponsible.” Walking down the hall I heard the 3 older British girls sitting in their room talking about how “Violet’s a slut” and “18 years old and she screwed a 34 year old!” And more banter about how I’ve already “shagged” two guys there. They had all worked their for years and had a closer relationship with Jay than me, so naturally I was the perverted one in the situation.
I went up to my supervisor, frightened. She was always on top of her job, always right, and very strict. I told her, “I think Jay took advantage of me last night.” She stared at me. She said, “I’ve known him for 11 years, he is very important to me, he would never do anything like that. And if you say that to people, people will be very upset and you won’t work here for much longer. Ok?” I was instantly regretful. Praying she wouldn’t fire me because I tried to confide in her. It also made me confused, was I wrong? Why did this feel so disturbing to me? Why was I bleeding? Why couldn’t I touch my vagina without shrieking? Why was I bruised down there? Why did I feel RAPED?
I went through the day trying to get the word rape out of my head and just accept it as a drunk mistake. Then I saw Jay. My heart started pounding, and I walked right up to him. “Hi, I need to ask you questions about last night.” “Ok, I was really drunk,” he prefaced. I told him I felt like he took advantage of me and I wasn’t going to say anything to anyone if he was completely honest and told me what had happened. He told me I had been kissing his neck on the couch, and falling onto him so he took me to the bedroom. We were lying down and making out and then he started having sex with me. He said he wasn’t sure if I was passed out or not, he was “too drunk”. But that didn’t make sense, because he told me while he was fucking me, I fell off the bed. He said this happened several times. “Why didn’t you stop?” I asked meekly. “I don’t know, I’m sorry. I was really drunk.” He told me I woke up after some time and started throwing punches at him and sobbing, “get away from me”. He said it looked like a demon had taken over me. So he left. I thanked him for telling me the truth. Before I walked away he asked, terrified, “Do you think I raped you?” I didn’t know how to answer that, because from what everyone around me was telling me, no, he didn’t, I’m a slut. But my beat up body told me otherwise. I finally said, “no. please don’t do it again though.”
After that, I realized the true horror of what had happened, he had left me half naked, passed out, in a house where a party was still going on. So my mind just thinks up all the things that could’ve happened. Maybe a couple of guys from the other camp came and had their turn in me. Maybe some drunk people thought it would be funny to pee on the passed out drunk mess. Or maybe some pervert came and did brutal things to my vagina with inanimate objects. Jay’s story made it seem like he never came, so who’s seamen was dripping out of me? I didn’t even know how I felt about what he told me.
After leaving that camp for other reasons, I became heavily into drugs. I drank and did drugs before, but at this point I started doing it in lethal amounts. I would be in the ER blacked out screaming, “I was raped! I was raped at camp!” When I was sober in the morning and my parents would ask about it, I’d tell them it was nonsense.
I became very promiscuous after that. I would sleep with anyone if I was alone with them. I’m still working on this. My current therapist explained to me that some victims of rape will become extremely sexually aggressive because if they are the one’s to make the first move, they feel like they made a choice, and that they have the power. And that’s exactly how I’d feel. I’m giving them what they want, so they can’t do anything bad to me. I had sex with people and would just be lying there, my mind somewhere else, waiting for it to be over.
It’s taken me way too many breakdowns, inpatient treatment centers, outside validation, and research to finally be able to call what happened to me rape.
When you spoke out about your assault, I cried, I shared it with everyone I knew, and it reminded me of how important it is to be open about this. You’ve helped so many girls, just through your courage of going forward and being honest. I hope to do the same.
I want this dialogue to continue. More victims should feel like they can speak up. You speaking about a tragedy in your life helped me dealing with mine. Rape isn’t just how “SVU” or other shows, films, and books portray it, you can be a sexually active person, or drunk, or raped by someone you know.
And to any person out there that is scared their rape wasn’t “legitimate” or it was “a mistake”, you are not alone, the patriarchal conservative culture has made us feel that way. But there are people here to help. I needed to be able to say it out loud so I could get proper trauma therapy. I’m still working on it, and I look forward to it becoming something that makes me stronger.