It was August 2010.
I was fifteen at the time, and you were eighteen. We were dating. We'd planned on camping and drinking with two other friends, but what happened next was totally out of my control.
I had smoked K2—synthetic marijuana—for the first time, and drank just a little. I lay in that tent watching the ceiling spin. My body couldn't move. I was frozen. No one told me what K2 would do to me. No one told me how lucky I was that I didn't have a heart attack.
I remember saying, "No, no, no." With my body frozen, but my eyes still able to see, I watched you take off my shorts and rape me.
Not once, but seven times, at least according to what you told people afterward: "I hit it seven times," you said.
My reputation suffered. You treated me like garbage. You manipulated me—and you still do to this day, by telling others I'm a slut and then coming back to me and trying to be my friend.
It wasn't until after I attempted suicide four months after you raped me that a social worker told me what had happened was "date rape." I was in shock. Since I wasn't beaten, it never occurred to me that I was raped.
"Do you want to press charges?" she asked.
"No," I replied. I was confused and unstable. I didn't know what to do. I had just tried to commit suicide.
Six years passed, and I was still broken. Every time your name came up, my heart stopped. I tried to invest in relationships, but I couldn't; I felt so guilty about what had happened to me. I always thought it was my fault. I was afraid that whoever I dated would find out. I didn't know what was wrong with me.
It wasn't until I told my therapist about these problems that I learned that the trauma is why I am the way I am. The trauma of pure manipulation, of verbal and emotional abuse, of you taking advantage of me when I was completely vulnerable. That's something I have to live with every day. It wasn't until all of this came to light that I realized the trauma had ruined so many relationships. I began having flashbacks and daily anxiety attacks; the stress got me so sick, I threw up everything I ate or drank for three months. I lost nine pounds—and I only weighed 110 to begin with. I was so weak, I couldn't drive. I could barely walk.
In July 2016, my psychiatrist diagnosed me with post-traumatic stress disorder and functional dyspepsia, a chronic disorder that occurs when the nerves in your stomach send the wrong signals to your brain, causing stomach acid to build up, nausea, and vomiting. It stems from PTSD, anxiety, and depression, I learned.
Then, one day at work—I was a photographer at the Henderson Daily Dispatch—I was assigned to photograph a "safe space" for kids who have been physically, sexually, and emotionally abused. After listening to some of their horror stories, I told myself, "If a four-year-old can sit in front of a jury and explain to them what Uncle Jim did to him in detail, I can take my case to the police. I can sit in front of that jury and tell my story."
And so, in February of last year, I finally filed a report with the Raleigh Police Department. A month later, the Wake County District Attorney's Office rejected my case. He-said, she-said, they said.
I guess I expected that. There was no physical evidence, after all, and seven years had passed since it happened, so there wasn't much chance of a successful prosecution. But I didn't expect the healing I got from this experience.
I'm telling my story for myself, as a way to confront what happened to me and deal with it. But I'm also telling it for other women who may be afraid to come forward, to speak up, afraid to be vulnerable again.
I want you to know that what you did is probably the worst thing anyone has ever done to me. But I'm a stronger person now, thanks to you, and I wouldn't change that for anything.
My heart was racing. My hands were soaking in sweat. My mind was going a mile a minute.
It was the summer of 2016. I'd just walked into the Raleigh Police Department. There were a half-dozen or so officers standing around, chatting. One of them saw me and asked what I needed help with.
"I was raped."
Every officer fled in a different direction, like when you flip on a light and cockroaches scatter. They wanted nothing to do with me or my allegation.
Then, I approached the desk officer and told him that my sexual assault had happened seven years ago. He looked at me and began asking every question imaginable: Why are you only reporting it now? Is this revenge? Where did the assault happen? Who was there? I knew then how every single sexual assault survivor must feel when filing a report: terrified, anxious, ashamed, guilty, angry, depressed.
A detective who happened to be at the desk pulled me aside. He gave me a list of questions: Who raped me? How old was he? What was his birthday? Where did the assault take place? When? Why are you only speaking up now? He told me to bring back answers. Since I couldn't bring back proof, I had to bring back a statement, printed out in black and white.
That list forced me to relive the trauma. Every time I speak about the assault and its aftermath, I'm opening up an old wound. I found out more information about you than I knew. I learned, for the first time, that you were eighteen when it happened, an adult who knew exactly what you were doing to me. You knew how to manipulate me.
This alone could have stopped me dead in my tracks, but I couldn't let you win. Over the next six months, I continued with my therapy, which eventually pushed me to go back to the police, while I battled the panic attacks that never subsided and continuously second-guessed myself. But I knew I needed to do this—for me.
"I need to file a report on a rape that happened seven years ago," I told the police officer.
"I can't help you with that," he replied. It angered me to be immediately dismissed, but I persisted.
It was February 2017, six months after I'd initially gone to the police. I'd finally come back with the detective's list in hand, the list that made me relive every single memory: the night it happened, how you assaulted me, how I woke up hurting down there, how you treated me afterward, the rumors that spread like wildfire, every little detail my mind had suppressed. Memories I didn't know existed.
I handed it over.
The officer took it, looked it over, and typed up a report. He gave me a sort of business card that had my case number on it and told me a detective would be in touch with me soon. The detective called about a week later. We set up a time to meet: March 8, 2017, seven p.m. I didn't know it then, but this interview changed my life.
Not knowing what to expect, I went in quiet and cautious. The detective greeted me and sat me down in a room where the walls were white and the chairs were black. It smelled clean. I felt terrified and anxious. I looked to my right and saw the video camera recording me. I looked down and saw his notes. I looked up, and we began.
The questions were blunt and difficult to answer, but he was honest and kind. I needed that. He assured me that, after I left, he would have to call you. And he and I both knew this would raise issues that I didn't know how to deal with. What were you going to do? I wondered. Will you threaten me?
For the next two days, I was a wreck. I couldn't think straight. I couldn't sleep.
On March 10, the detective called me while I was at work. He told me that he spoke with you, and you said you were really messed up and weren't sure if the night I told him about was that night you assaulted me. But you didn't tell him you assaulted me. You told him it was consensual, as if a fifteen-year-old girl stoned into paralysis could consent to anything. The detective took my case to the district attorney's office, which declined to prosecute you. Since it was my word against yours, they couldn't charge you.
The moment I received a call from RPD informing me that the district attorney rejected my case. I realized it was over.
I get that the cops couldn't do much for me. Still, seven years is a long time to deal with the trauma, the guilt, the manipulation; a long time to be suicidal, trying to ignore rumors, using drugs to suppress the pain, trying to move forward with my life, but ultimately not understanding why this happened to me and why it was so consuming.
What was I supposed to do? Face it?
I was numb.
There were no more phone calls, no more interviews. I wasn't going to court. You would never face a jury.
A week later, though, something wonderful happened: the pain, the anger, disappeared. I suppose my brain finally processed it.
It's funny. Everyone says not to talk about your sexual assault. But for me, telling my story has become more than a healing experience. It's shown me a new layer of myself that I hadn't known existed. By telling others my story, I've been able to reflect on who I am—and to be a light in other people's lives. By being vulnerable, I can help them heal, too.
When I originally posted this story to Instagram, someone reached out to me and said, "While my dilemma is nothing compared to what you went through, not even remotely similar, your posts helped me get out of bed."
Many people seem to think that after facing something like this, the trauma ends and you can go on with your life. But it's never over. I'll never heal, not completely, but I hope to continue to grow, to emerge from this experience with knowledge, strength, love, self-care, and a little more confidence.
You have closed so many doors in my past, but I refuse to let you control my future. I refuse to let your actions dictate how I feel or whom I can be vulnerable with. You've unwittingly taught me so much about myself. You've taught me how to fight for what's right, not holding back but not letting go, either. I'll continue to walk through every storm your actions throw my way, and I'll continue to stand up for myself.
I won't let you win again.
Former boyfriend Bradley, holds me after my interview with the detective on March 8 , 2017 in our home in Raleigh, NC.
An officer lets the detective know that I arrived for my interview on March 8 , 2017 at the Raleigh Police Department in Raleigh, North Carolina.
I wrote my thoughts down in a notebook after my interview with the detective on March 8, 2017 in my home in Raleigh, North Carolina. "I'm so uncertain about the next 24 hours", I wrote.
My therapist Megan Feather discusses with me how a majority of these sexual assault cases don't go past the district attorney on March 15, 2017 in her office in Raleigh, North Carolina.
On March 14, 2017, I wrote an apology letter to my boyfriend at the time. This was the day everything hit me and really broke me inside. I explained to him in the letter if he couldn't handle someone with depression, I understood, and he could leave me.
On March 10, 2017, this was the moment after I received the call from the detective telling me the district attorney rejected my case. It was in this moment I realized it was over. I was on assignment and didn't have time to process it.
A single tear drop is left on the apology letter to my former boyfriend.