How Do You Put Rape into Words?

My name is Julia Rayberg. I’m 25 years old, born and raised in Boston. I was drugged and raped in Guatemala, where I live and run the nonprofit organization I founded five years ago. Although not much time has passed, I am filled with this overwhelming emotion to share the story with you.

Striving for justice within a legal system that doesn’t support women, I feel so out of control. The only control I have is to use my voice, to share my words with you in hopes that it can inspire you to use yours. Although it breaks my heart knowing that so many of you will relate as you read this, I only hope it empowers you to speak up, to stand strong together in a time where our country desperately needs it. 

When we silence a woman, we empower a rapist.  Be strong with me. Be loud with me. Let’s continue to make noise and demand to be heard. 

(Fibonacci Blue / Creative Commons)

“Julia, you are a good girl,” he would say, while he shifted around weights, dictating my workout. His voice was gentle, always relaxed as he switched between English and Spanish. The gym was small but cozy in rural Guatemala. We worked hard during our daily one-hour sessions, ragged exhales and reps punctured by bursts of laughter and talk about life.

He was that boy who didn’t party much. He worked hard. He went to bed early and woke at dawn. He ate well. He was that boy who didn’t do drugs. He had a beautiful girlfriend in the States. He knew a healthy life. His Dad left when he was little. “I don’t have a father,” he’d say. “I could never treat a woman the way men have treated my mother.”

I respected him. I started to care for him, as a friend does, but I didn’t let it show. Guatemala is my home: I moved from the U.S. years ago; I’d worked in these communities and I’d seen these situations before. Too many times. I understood his life.

“Mom worked hard for us growing up, we were so poor. She washed clothes. I take care of her now. She deserves that.” I would nod in silent agreement, but kindly avoid getting too personal. I had put a wall up. I tend to do that. I hate vulnerability.

He shared that his brothers had better jobs than him, more professional. They would say things to him like, “someday you need to get a more professional job.” He told me they were more successful than him. But the question of why or how was never answered.

“Julia, you’re a good girl,” he’d say, as we talked about the organization I founded in his country, how important service work is to me. He’d tell me about the pro-bono soccer program he ran for the poor children in the town. He’d show me photos. We bonded over that passion.

The gynecologist consoled me while she examined my cervix. I shook, convulsing on the examination bed. She didn’t see the tampon that later exited my body eight days after my rape. It must have been high up.

“You’re a good girl Julia,” he’d say, “you work hard.” It was in this way that he invited me to his best friend’s birthday party, gently reminding me every day that week. “You are coming Julia, yes?”

Yes. I brought my own wine. “They’ll have drinks there,” he insisted. But I wasn’t interested in liquor. It was the early afternoon.

The house was fancy, modern, newly built. The music was loud and latino. It was a long walk from the entry door through the living room, where people gathered around a pool table. I flashed an uncomfortable smile a few steps down into the kitchen area. This was an introvert’s worst nightmare. The view was incredible. The balcony off the kitchen brought you into a wonderland. The most beautiful lake in the world—volcanoes, pure serenity. That’s where you could find me, staring off into the lake, for the time I remember anyway.

The other guests smothered my suspicions under a shroud of hospitality and welcoming. I tried to loosen up. Just relax Julia. Just enjoy. All I could focus on was the 12-year-old boy they hired to prepare food. I knew him. I poured my glass of wine and wished my new acquaintance a “happy birthday.” We cheered the birthday boy with a sample of the bottle of Bombay Sapphire he was gifted.

An hour passed and I topped off my glass of wine. I’d leave after this glass, I told myself. I was finished entertaining the unrelatable crowd.

Time froze. Or I guess maybe it didn’t, but it did for me. They were doctors, so maybe it was anesthesia. I guess I’ll never know. A shack by the river is where I woke up. The bed was soaked with my urine. I was completely naked. He was next to me. I felt like my heart wasn’t ever going to calm itself. I was so cold.

I lost control. Questions came pouring out before I knew what I was asking. Where am I? What happened? What time is it? Where’s my purse? I had nothing. I was taken without my belongings. I couldn’t leave even if I wanted to.

But I still blamed myself.

When I was in college, I knew the life of drinking into a blackout. I was too experienced with that, actually; I gave up alcohol for three and a half years. From the age of 21 to 24 I committed myself to soul searching—hard work, mindfulness, self-love. Then I decided I was ready—gave myself permission to enjoy wine, be twenty-something, embrace life. A healthy, balanced life. A life I continue to live as I serve the impoverished communities of rural Guatemala.

“Oh dear, what have you done Julia?” I thought to myself. “How in the world did this happen?” It was so dark. His skin was so soft but felt disgusting against mine. My body rejected his as if it knew something I didn’t. I shook lightly but uncontrollably. My hands were unsteady. I felt sick. I was starving.

He gave me clothes to put on as he consoled me. “Nothing happened. You just drank too much, Julia. Don’t worry.” But his voice shook slightly. My reaction had filled him with panic.

Ten hours of the unknown. A dark ceiling and a blank stare. A pain so deep with a burning desire for answers. A lying boy and a bed of urine. Numbness took over. Suddenly I remembered the tampon. It was a “just in case” tampon I had put in before the party.

I told him in a panic: “I had a tampon!” He brushed me off. “You said some shit about taking it out.” He spoke to me in soothing tones. “Everything is okay.” “I saved you from the party.” “Nothing happened, Julia. You are safe. We did not have sex.”

Ten hours of the unknown. I wanted so badly to leave but the bedroom felt safer than the unpredictable outside, a Narco slum by the river. The ugliest family. So ugly.

He tried to push his body on mine. “Quieres? Quieres, Julia?” he repeatedly asked me, “you want?” in Spanish. I can still hear his tone. I numbed my body and mind. I replied, in a quiet monotone: “no.” Staring off at the ceiling, I laid awake, so alert, searching for answers, for hours while he slept. Dawn couldn’t come fast enough.

The STD was evident. The three different antibiotics burn my belly. “Take every 8 hours for 7 days.” The “variety pack,” I call it. The “I have no idea what you could have, but please take all of the above” pack. The nightly vaginal injections bring tears to my eyes every time.

Ten hours of the unknown. But I am strong. I went to the police and they told me to leave my house. But I am strong. I started making noise and they started watching me. But I am strong. I showed the police the dirty shack by the river and they pointed out his web of criminal family members. But I am strong. I thought I knew my friend but he only knew his premeditated rape. But I am strong. I learned that they’re drug dealers in Guatemala, but I’m not afraid. I am strong.

I went through the forensic exam required by Guatemalan law — the reason women don’t report rape in this country. “Stand here. Open your legs. Squat. Get on all fours. Face down.” The drape over the exam table was dirty and stained from prior exams. I asked the male doctor if it had been cleaned, but I don’t think he liked that question. I was a mess. The room was cold. He performed a full body exam.

I sobbed as he took photos and entered my body. Raped again. But I am strong. I thought for days about how to call and tell my family thousands of miles away. How do I comfort my Mom? How do I prevent my Dad from killing him? My poor sister and brother, I know they’ll be heartbroken. Carrying the weight of their pain is worse than carrying my own. But I am strong. Four women came to me, all drugged and raped by these individuals. They never spoke up, but I’ll speak for them. We can be strong together.

While my mind is consumed by strength, my entire body aches.

“Fast Car” by Tracy Chapman is on repeat. I don’t know why, but it just feels good. “Keep going, Julia, this is your fight to fight,” the voice inside in my head repeats, a beautifully broken record. I reflect on Dr. Seuss. “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to change. It’s not.”

How do you put rape into words? I’ve asked myself this for days. And today, on the tenth day after my rape, it only feels right to recognize my ten hours of the unknown. For the sake of women who have gone through it, the ones who weren’t so lucky and lost their lives before they could speak. For the sake of the five-year-old girl who walked out of the forensic examination room before me, hysterical, tiny, her little body absolutely defeated, who was with her two older sisters. Hours and hours of unknown darkness between us. All rape survivors. My eyes connected with the eldest sister, 13 years old. We didn’t need to speak, our eyes exchanged condolences. I wanted to throw up.

How could I not do it for them? I’ll be your voice. I’ll do it for the young girl in me who experienced something once before and couldn’t speak up, only go numb, who put herself away, hid and felt shame. I need to do it for her. For the sake of justice, I will continue to fight, and I will not be afraid.

I am strong.

This post originally appeared on Medium. Republished with author permission.


Julia Rayberg is a 25-year-old entrepreneur from the South Shore of Massachusetts. At 19, she founded a nonprofit organization in Guatemala called Worthy Village, which works to build pathways out of poverty for women and children by providing economic opportunity, healthcare and education.