A Letter to My Rapist: When I Was Fifteen, You Assaulted Me. I’m Still Healing. | News Feature | Indy Week
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A Letter to My Rapist: When I Was Fifteen, You Assaulted Me. I’m Still Healing. 

Caitlin Penna

Photo by Taylor McDonald

Caitlin Penna

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.

click to enlarge I wrote down my thoughts after the interview. - PHOTO BY CAITLIN PENNA
  • Photo by Caitlin Penna
  • I wrote down my thoughts after the interview.

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.

click to enlarge My therapist, Megan Feather, tells me that many sexual-assault cases don't get past the district attorney's office. - PHOTO BY CAITLIN PENNA
  • Photo by Caitlin Penna
  • My therapist, Megan Feather, tells me that many sexual-assault cases don't get past the district attorney's office.

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.


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