Saturday, November 10, 2012

My Friend Was Raped While She Slept

Tonight my heart feels heavy. My friend Jill* came over to tell me she was raped. Every day I passionately talk about the need to help rape victims, to believe them, offer them support, and not blame them, but when it happens to someone near and dear to you, no amount of reading will prepare you for the shock. We were sitting in my kitchen, she drinking a glass of wine, me munching on cookies while making dinner. When the words "I was raped" came out of her mouth I held on to a half eaten cookie for over an hour. I couldn't decide if I should eat it, drop it, or offer it to her. That was my way of coping with such a horrendous confession. While she told me her story I cooked enough food to feed a small village. It was the only way I could keep my hands from shaking. But this isn't a cooking blog. I am writing this because Jill's story is all too common, and the lack of available support is depressing, so I need your help.

Jill was raped in the middle of the night while she slept. That day she arrived home from work exhausted and frustrated that for the prior two nights she could not fall asleep. She ate, showered, read a book, and took a sleeping pill. For weeks she had left her kitchen window open because her small apartment was prone to getting stuffy. She would cover the open window with a canvas painting of "starry night" so that her neighbors could not see into her home. That night, someone climbed the building's fire escape and was able to get into her 5th floor apartment through her opened window. He quietly walked into her room, climbed into her bed, and taking advantage of her deep slumber, raped her.

Jill woke up thinking that she was dreaming and rapidly realized that there was man on top of her, raping her while she slept. She tried to scream as he restrained her, but the only name she could remember was her mothers', who lives miles away and could not have possibly come to her aid.While her rapist restrained her with the weight of his body he stroked her hair while whispering " one else is here." Jill told me that while he was restraining her he kept whispering terms of endearment into her ear. He called her "baby" and "honey" and tried frantically to quiet her screams. All this happened in her dark bedroom while she was half-asleep. She struggled until she could set herself free. By the time she was able to turn her bedroom lights on her rapist had run away, once again escaping through her opened kitchen window.

It took Jill several minutes to realize that she was not actually dreaming. In fact, the first person she called was her ex-boyfriend and good friend, who lives in another state, to ask if he had been in her bedroom. It made no logical sense that he would be there, but it was the only man she could remember having a key to her apartment. He assured her that it was not him and encouraged her to call the police.

At 3 in the morning the police escorted Jill to the hospital to undergo a rape kit examination. She waited with two police officers for 6 hours until she could undergo a full examination. When I asked her what took so long she said, "there was only one room, I suppose there were other women going through the same thing." After the medical examination she spent hours in a police precinct, retelling the story over and over again to detectives. Jill confessed to me that although the police and detectives treated her kindly, she felt disgusting and shameful every time she was asked to explain the events. She felt guilty that she could not remember what her attacker looked like, how old he was, his ethnicity, or even his approximate weight. He seemed like a shadow, and if it were not for the medical examination confirming the presence of semen in her body, she would have still been unsure of whether she was raped or not. Every time she was asked to explain how her rapist could get into her home she guiltily confessed that she had left her window open. She was embarrassed and kept blaming herself for being so careless.

Jill has no close siblings, her father passed away several years ago, her mother does not live near her, and her  older half-brother, lives in another state. That night Jill was completely alone. When her mother arrived at her side she was already too tired to retell the story and blurred the details in fear her mother would freak out; "I'm her only baby" Jill told me as she tried to explain why she did not want her mother to know all the details. When she called her half-brother he seemed rattled and upset, then told her he always knew she was careless and immature. He questioned her judgement, asked if she was sure she was not just being robbed, and then reminded her that accusing someone of rape could ruin that man's life; apparently forgetting that his own sister's life was in shambles. Jill is still struggling with comprehending that reaction, but continues to believe that she could have avoided what happened if she had only closed her window.

Jill came over last night to tell me that her rapist was caught, but that she still feels unsafe and wants to move.  An eyewitness saw the rapist climb though her window, and surveillance cameras caught him walking across her courtyard and entering his own apartment. He lived right across from her and was married. Jill says she's glad he was caught, but nightmares of that night haunt her. She has changed all the locks in her doors and windows, and even when in need of fresh air she hesitates opening the windows, for fear that she'll forget to close one. At night she sleeps with her lights and TV on because the darkness and quiet frightens her. Any noise in the night startles her, and when she gets home, she looks inside every room and closet to make sure no one is inside her home. She wonders if her rapist has friends or family members in the neighborhood, and she worries that they might try to take revenge.

While Jill told me her story I frantically cooked a million dishes, chopped all the vegetables in my fridge, and put out every snack item I had on the table. But we didn't eat any of it. I needed something to do, whatever kept me from crying. But I can do something now, I can help her move. Jill does not have a lot of money and while her job is satisfying, it does not pay well. She lost time from work going to the doctor for follow-up blood tests, talking with detectives and police officers, and going to court to testify. Soon after, Hurricane Sandy hit New York causing massive damage, flooding, and power loss. Jill could not get to work for days, causing her already dwindling savings to completely vanish.

I have offered to help Jill with money so that she can find a new place to live and pay for her security deposit, first month of rent, and moving her furniture. Thinking of Jill sleeping in the same bedroom where she was assaulted and raped breaks my heart. I  speak up about rape victims needing assistance all the time, now it's time to do something about it. I have set up a PayPal account for monetary contributions to help Jill move. We can't help every woman in this world, but if we help one we're moving in the right direction.

For those of you who can donate, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. For those of you who cannot, I also thank you from the bottom of my heart, for reading this story and caring. In times of need money is appreciated, but support and compassion is what truly matters.

I started writing this with trembling hands, and I finish it with a hopeful smile.

*Name of victim has been changed to protect her identity.