It Was Rape is a documentary by Jennifer Baumgardner. I am interviewed in the film.
I was afraid when the film was shown that it would feel like being raped again.
I was afraid that people would judge me. That it would still feel like my fault.
That the feelings I had in the days that followed my rape–”I shouldn’t have been there, I shouldn’t have let him kiss me, I shouldn’t have been in the dark with a boy I didn’t know”–would come back, that the audience would judge me.
In the dark as the movie was playing, my chest hurt. I had a hard time breathing. I was in the dark again, not knowing what would happen.
But in the months since that first showing, it’s been the opposite. Somehow, by participating in this film, I have more light and joy.
I knew something bad had happened, but I had let him kiss me in the dark. I had already fooled around with two of his friends. Of course he thought I was a slut, and was there for the taking. But that’s not just him, that’s the rape culture we live in. She’s slutty, she’s drunk, I can fuck her.
And CNN said those poor boys will have to live with the repercussions their whole lives.
REALLY? Really? REALLY? BECAUSE I AM ALMOST 42 AND I HAVE BEEN LIVING WITH THIS MY WHOLE LIFE.
ALMOST 30 YEARS.
AND IT SUCKS.
At the second showing I attended of It Was Rape, there were some guys doing the sound check. And then, they left the film on while they adjusted the screen and the projector. The first woman’s story played. I sat there freaking out.
I was already sitting at the end of the front row near the door in case I wanted to leave, but now the wall next to me seemed to be leaning in, and the velvet theater seat itched. The man on the ladder adjusted the screen, and he didn’t care about what happened to her.
No one was listening and no one cared and this is exactly why people get raped, and no one cared and no one listened, and then suddenly I shouted, “Could you turn it off if you aren’t going to listen to her story?”
The room stopped, and everyone hushed. Oh, I accused him. I imagined the word “trigger” dancing in the air. A few minutes later, I tried to explain. “Sorry I didn’t mean to be rude, it’s just …that you had done the sound check, and then when you were doing the screen, the sound was still on and no one was paying attention and I felt bad for her, no one listening to her story.” The tech guy smiled and nodded, “Sorry, I had no idea.”
I was accusing the wrong guy, clearly. But I wanted him to know: That this film is sacred, with these stories in it. Native American activist Lisa Brunner says in the film that an Ojibwe healer told her to “tell her stories to a tree.”
This documentary is our tree.
I’ve seen the film four times now, and every time I cry. It seems embarrassing to still cry for myself, and the life I could have had if I hadn’t been raped. As if I should “get over it.” But mostly I cry for the others and for the young women that I meet and teach who still feel like their stories don’t matter.
What happened to me in the mid ’80s was similar to what happened in Stuebenville or Maryville, only analog, not digital.
I was 15, drinking clear liquid with a girlfriend at a house we shouldn’t have been at. The two guys were in college, one liked my friend and the other raped me.
Only instead of making a digital video and tweeting about it, they made what I call the Rape Tape.
Luckily, I kicked and screamed and got away. But even though I knew what happened, I didn’t tell.
It was 1985, not 2013, so they took my cassette tape, taped over the edges so they could record over it, put it back in their boom box and pressed the record lever and had what you might call a party celebrating my rape. They equate what happened to me with horror movies. “Who’s your boyfriend now, Nancy?” they quote Freddie Kreuger from A Nightmare on Elm Street. “Dun, dun, dun, dun” they taunt the theme from Jaws. “You should have shoved a broom handle up her c***!” they goad each other. In a faux feminine voice they mock me, “He shoved his boner in me!”
I have a 10-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter, and I want the world to be different for them.
The experience of being interviewed for this film and subsequently appearing on panels about sexual assault and slut-shaming and rape culture has been invaluable to me. I am stronger, happier and more at peace with myself.
The most important thing It Was Rape did for me was give me a space to talk about rape in as close to a normal situation as possible. It wasn’t therapy. Jennifer was sympathetic but she wasn’t there specifically to make me feel better. It wasn’t a pity party. I wasn’t there crying on my best friend’s shoulder about how I was a victim and how I blamed myself. It was bigger than me and my feelings.
My story is just one of too many. I am proud to speak out now, and wish I had told then.
Photo taken from the It Was Rape project. For more information about the film or to schedule a screening in your community, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Christen Clifford is a writer, artist and performer. She is a lecturer in theatre and performance at SUNY Purchase and a curator at Dixon Place.