Why didn't I stop him? Is her death my fault?
Around the age of 20, after years of being a hermit, I slowly came out of my shell, flirting awkwardly with guys I had no business flirting with. Looking back, I guess I was just trying to find myself, but the only thing I did was put myself in danger's way.
One night, my friend Jessica* and I met up with her friend, Charles*, who brought his friend Kevin*. I immediately felt attracted to Kevin, despite stern warnings from Jessica that he was bad news.
Kevin came to the passenger side window where I was sitting, blew smoke in my face, and asked what was going on for the night. He was a bad boy and I needed to be with him. For whatever reason, I needed to prove to myself that I was capable of attracting a bad boy.
We exchanged numbers and hung out a few times, alone. The first time he took me out, he brought me about 40 minutes from my house to a crime-riddled neighborhood where his friend was a bartender at a local pub. He drank beer and I ordered a Diet Coke.
My nerves wrapped themselves around every organ in my body, shivering from excitement and fear. I was being an adult, doing adult things with an adult man, but I was also scared for unknown reasons.
When I talked about him to my girlfriends, they all tried telling me to ditch him, but I refused. He was going to be my boyfriend if it was the last thing I did — and it almost was.
After we were "together" for a while, I asked him about a relationship but he always changed the subject or declared he wasn't a relationship type of guy. No matter what, I was determined and wouldn't give up.
Stupidly, and often, I would meet him in a dark, deserted parking lot, where we would make out in his car under a flickering, barely lit street lamp. One night, our kissing turned hot and heavy and he requested sex.
I had my period and delicately told him so, embarrassed over my womanly functions. He told me he didn't care. In my mind, I had found a guy who wanted me so badly he didn't even care if I had my period. I didn't tell anyone about that; I was ashamed and feared my friends would think I was dirty. But it didn't matter because Kevin liked me, dirty or not.
We finished up what we were doing and before I left for my own car he told me to look in his glove compartment. Excitedly, I lifted the latch and fished around for something he apparently wanted me to see.
It was a knife. He took it in his hands and looked at it with love and affection, how I'd always wanted him to look at me. Disappointed, I walked to my car as he drove off, not even waiting to see if I made it in safely.
Despite all the warnings and despite his behavior, I continued seeing him.
About two weeks later, we were once again in the back seat of his car. He had me pinned, and like every other "date" he insinuated he wanted to have sex. I wasn't in the mood that day and told him a playful no. I still wish I had been more stern.
Still having me pinned, he said, "Remember that knife I have in my car? I'm stronger than you, remember that!" Scared for my life, I allowed him to continue. I didn't think it was rape. I still question whether it was.
The following day, walking to my acting class, I had my friends on the phone and explained the previous night's events.
"Liza! You were raped! That's rape!" they said.
"No, I said it was OK. That's not rape."
"You said no. He threatened you with this knife and his strength. IT'S RAPE!" they screamed.
I didn't tell my parents or the authorities. Kevin knew where I lived and I was terrified he would retaliate, or that somehow I would be blamed. Instead, I blamed myself. Why wouldn't the rest of the world blame me?
Soon after, our pseudo-relationship dwindled and I moved on, not really dwelling on what happened because I didn't know how to feel about it or cope.
Two years ago, I was reading the news online for my local town and his picture popped up. A scream escaped my throat. He had killed his wife in front of his children, then committed suicide. It was all over the papers, and the grief, guilt and pain flooded my heart.
What if I had done something when I was with him? Why didn't I stop him? Is her death my fault? I should have done something, ANYTHING!
I've been told over and over again that I can't blame myself, but how can I not? I will always feel partly responsible.
It's incredibly unfortunate that even today, victims of sexual assault don't get the help they need, when they need it. There's always something to push the blame onto the victim, but the very definition of victim contradicts how society treats us.
"Was she drunk?"
I said no to Kevin, more than once. He threatened me. Was it my fault? Was I asking for it by being in a secluded place with him? No. I didn't ask for any of it. I just wanted a boyfriend, not a rapist.
If you've been the victim of a sexual assault, you aren't alone. There are others, like me, like you, holding in this guilt that eats away at us at every chance.
The world is a scary place and admitting our vulnerability is frightening but if we stand together we can make change. We can be the voice for victims everywhere and revise how they treat us. We have to do it for ourselves, and for all the little girls out there who want love but are met with evil.
*Names have been changed.
This article was originally published at Life and Other Atrocities. Reprinted with permission from the author.