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WHAT A DIFFERENCE A YEAR MAKES

An Account of One Woman’s Rape and Assault at MIT

By Anonymous

What a difference a year makes,” some say. I’m not so sure. There aren’t a lot of differences between me today and me a year ago. I’m still trying to make sense of my life and what has happened to me. Today, I’m resisting the temptation to withdraw from everything as I did a year ago. Instead, I’m staying entirely too busy with other things in order to keep my mind from wandering. And although perhaps outwardly I haven’t changed so much, inside I feel more detached from my friends. I’m having intense problems trying to relate to others around me.

“But, you’ve been through so much in your life,” they say. Well, sure, I can rattle off countless times when my world has fallen apart, or I’ve been the unlucky participant in some terrible occurrence. And yet, I always seem to get through it. Some say these types of situations make you a stronger person. If they are right, I just may be the strongest woman in the world. In reality, the facade that surrounds me has just gotten that much more convincing.

This anniversary marks something altogether different. Anyone can sympathize with family problems, or a relationship gone sour. These things are understandable, not your fault, and don’t say anything about you as a person. But rape is different. It changes the way people view you, alters their interpretation of your life. You stop being invited to things, forgotten on spontaneous trips to dinner, left out of conversation. Even if someone doesn’t know the truth, it is clear that something about you has changed; the facade has cracked, and your deeper secrets influence every contact you have with another person. It’s hard to know how to act around someone who knows about what has happened to me. I doubly analyze their actions and conversations, wondering how their knowing has changed our relationship. I wonder what they think about, what they expect me to do, and what they want me to say.

Even the most sensitive person views rape as something that can be controlled or avoided. Perhaps I shouldn’t have gone into the office on a Sunday morning, when no one else was around. Or maybe I should have noticed the light was on and not gone into the room. Maybe even more self-defense training or mental strength would have allowed me to get free. These issues race through the minds of anyone who knows; you can tell by their questions and actions. I don’t blame them for thinking or saying the wrong thing, for pulling away, for letting me push them away farther. Almost everyone is ill-equipped to handle the consequences of a rape.

One year ago, I went to work in the morning, just to make a few copies and prepare some papers for an upcoming meeting. The door to the building is locked off-hours, but I had card access. I swiped my ID and waited for the door to shut behind me, knowing that there had been recent problems with theft in the building. I unlocked the office door, made the copies, and, since there were fewer distractions, decided to do some other school work. I had been working a while, maybe an hour or so, when I became aware of the sound of breathing behind me. A man was standing there, watching me type on the laptop. He had been there for quite some time. For the most part, he looked pretty ordinary -- not at all bad looking, though a little scruffy from not shaving that morning. He was wearing jeans and a blue sweater. I didn’t have time to fully turn around before my vision grew fuzzy. His hands were around my neck, squeezing and twisting. I remember thinking that his hands were really large as I went into automatic defense mode to get out of his hold. I whirled around to face him, and to leave the room, only to see another man closing the door behind him. He was holding a Leatherman with the knife extended by his side. He walked up to me, teasing me, and casting flirtatious glances up and down my body. Tracing my contours with the blade, he cut open my shirt, exposing the fact that I had not worn a bra that day. “What a whore,” he said to his friend. “She was waiting for us.”

I prayed for numbness, a coping mechanism that had worked for me so well in the past; but I was rewarded only with hyperawareness and sensitivity to the reality of my situation. Little lines of red grew across my chest as the second man grew impatient and careless with the blade, using his free hand to unbutton his pants. His friend, already partially undressed, thrust me against a table, ripped my pants down, and pushed into me. Both men were quiet. The only sounds in the room were of tearing flesh, and my head hitting the wall with each pounding motion. He stopped suddenly, as if aware of a noise in the hallway. Growling at me to be quiet, the second man grabbed my wrists and flung me to the ground. He took his turn, first with the knife, “to get me all lubed up,” and then with his penis. He was rougher, more abrasive than his friend, gripping my arms with a strength that left hand marks across my biceps. His friend stood over me, grinning sadistically for several minutes, before deciding to kneel over me, thrusting his penis into my mouth. He covered my head with his body, not seeming to notice my choking, my struggle for breath, or even the vomit that gurgled out of my throat.

I don’t know how long they were there with me, exploring every permutation of sexual position and domination. Occasionally, they would pull away, aware that there could be others in the building. Eventually, they slowly faded from view. The numbness that I had prayed for earlier finally overtook my senses. I rolled to my side, vomited, and looked at the clock. It had been three and a half hours since I stopped typing on the laptop. I barely had time to stagger up when I heard a voice call out, asking for anyone there to respond. I sunk down in a chair as a different man, a policeman, pushed the door open. Evidently, the sight of two men leaving the building, carrying loaded packs, with stained clothing, one nursing a bloody nose (I had apparently broken it during some struggle) arose suspicion, and a police detail was sent to investigate.

The next hours were a blur of doctors and nurses, carefully treating my physical wounds and explaining procedures to me. I honestly don’t remember much besides getting sick, and not keeping down any medication given to me orally. I was driven home with pamphlets, numbers to call, and options to explore.

I went into work the next day. I felt I had to go because otherwise I would have to explain to my supervisors why I wasn’t at work. Thankfully, it was February, so I wore a big turtleneck sweater that hid the marks and the swelling. I wasn’t planning on staying long; I would leave after discussing the data analysis I had done the week before. It really surprised me how easy it was to go back into that room the next day. I noticed the slight stain in the carpet, but marveled at how well the janitorial staff cleaned up the mess. Everyone was talking about the events of the day before; how the people stealing computers finally got caught after some kind of scuffle and everyone wondered who turned them in. I even participated in those conversations, wondering with them what had happened.

For the next number of weeks, my life more or less consisted of sleeping and doing the bare minimum to keep up appearances. I told everyone I was sick as an excuse to stop interacting with them. Six weeks later, when I noticed that I hadn’t gotten my period, I finally woke up to reality. It seems that since I couldn’t keep down the emergency “morning after” contraception, I was pregnant. I had also contracted syphilis, which was resistant to the antibiotic they gave me in the ER.

After the abortion, which may have been the wake-up call I needed, I started to take better care of myself and tried to stop failing my classes. Despite all the help I received, it was 11 months before I told anyone, besides my boyfriend and various medical personnel, what had happened to me. I still haven’t really talked to anyone that I told in December. It’s strange knowing other people know your secrets, that you have nothing to hide, and are completely vulnerable. I don’t always know what to say to the people who know. I know they have questions, concerns, things that they want to say to me, but don’t know how to bring it up, or how to say it.

I got almost all of my medical and emotional care after my rape outside MIT. I needed to be cared for more anonymously, especially since I know some of the medical staff here. Although my initial contact with the MIT people who found me after the attack was exactly what I needed and more, I wasn’t always taken seriously or treated with enough sensitivity by people at MIT. Many organizations in Boston and Cambridge are, in my opinion, more capable of dealing with such a trauma. Sometimes I wish I could have worked more with MIT people, if only to combat the belief that rape doesn’t happen here. From talking to others who have had similar experiences, it’s clear that a general lack of awareness exists on this issue.

It is difficult to really raise awareness, because, despite the statistics, no one thinks that it will happen to them. Information passed out during Orientation is quickly forgotten. And even the people who should be the most sensitive to this issue often have trouble relating to a sexual assault victim. In my case, it seemed that being raped was secondary to catching the men responsible for computer theft.

And so here I am, one year later. I’m certainly not over it, but I’ve learned to accept this part of my past. I’m sure I’ll be working out various personal “issues” relating to my experience for many years to come, but today, I’m relatively happy. I’m in a healthy sexual relationship, back on track in my classes, and participating in activities again. I still go into work several times a week without thinking of last year’s events.

Now I can begin sharing my story, letting others know what it means to be raped, and that sexual assault does happen at MIT. I realize that my case is somewhat different than most; I did not know the men who attacked me, nor did the attack occur in a dorm or FSILG. Despite these differences, I feel that my story needs to get out, to help educate and to remind people of the resources available if this should ever happen to you or someone you know. But most importantly, I want to tell those who share similar experiences here: you are not alone.

This account is anonymous to protect the identity of the author.