Sexual assault. It hits you when you least expect it.
When I awoke, alone, and in a strange bed, I heard the shower running near me. I looked around the room, not recognizing my surroundings. I turned my head and gazed down at my bare body to find all my clothes gone, dumped in a pile in the corner of the room as if left for the maid.
What caught my eye, were photos on a dresser nearby. My Godzilla antennae were out. Assess your surroundings. Get out! The whispers came to fast and furious. Now. Move it! The sexual assault happened here.
I tried to rise and felt dizzy. My vision blurred. I felt confused and nauseated. My legs refused to move, so I pulled them over to the side of the bed, placing each foot on the carpet, grabbing bed covers on either side of me for balance.
Singing commenced in the shower, emanating from an unknown baritone voice.
Could this be real? Am I having a nightmare?
No, it was a living nightmare. It was a sexual assault.
I blinked my eyes hard and focused on the subject in the photos nearby. It was me, spread eagle out on the bed, passed out. I hurriedly looked around the room for signs of violence or liquor bottles. I felt highly intoxicated without having recalled how I got there.
Also, my pulse was racing, and blood roared in my ears. Get out! I felt like a caged animal, unable to escape. But the images bolted me into the flight and fight mode.
I stumbled out of bed, headed towards my clothes. But when I reached down for it, I lost my balance and crashed into the dresser, sending the lamp, toppling onto the floor. A crescendo of broken glass and bent metal resounded.
I quickly grabbed my dress and scrambled into it. Incidentally, time was running out.
I seized the photos, taken with a land camera. I recognized its type immediately as I used such a camera to appraise real estate for clients when presenting properties for sale.
“What’s going on?” a voice from the bathroom bellowed. “Hey, those are mine! You can’t take those!”
My shoes. Where were they? I scrambled into my dress as the bathroom door flew open to reveal a man in a white towel. He started towards me. Terror reigned in me like never before. My hand reached the locked door before my feet. I was out like a flash, charging down the hotel isle for the elevator, peeling on more clothes as I ran, barefoot.
Sexual assault: how it happened.
Inside the safety of the elevator, it all came back to me. At the job replacement agency, I had accepted an invitation to book an appointment with an inventor for a brief stint on TV. He needed a pretty girl to showcase a new gadget on the Johnny Carson Show. First of all, I had accepted and was interviewed in an office suite in a high-rise hotel/condominium. The setting did not set off any alarm bells. Secondly, when I got the job, I remember being handed a glass of champagne.
“To celebrate,” my new boss said.
All things considered, no harm here, I thought. Next thing I knew – I awakened in a strange bed, naked and cold.
Rohypnol. Accordingly, it is known as the date rape drug – unknowingly to me at the time – is illegal in the US. Shipped from Mexico to US buyers, websites abound for the drug. Rohypnol is a dangerous drug that causes euphoria and amnesia. It can disable a person from resisting a sexual attack or even from taking care of themselves while they are under the influence.
Sexual assault: Rohypnol
As a matter of fact, at the time of my sexual assault, the psychoactive drug or incapacitating agent known to me as slipping the Mickey, except I’d only heard the term used with actresses who accuse Hollywood predators. It is dropped into an unsuspecting victim without their knowledge, with the intent to incapacitate the victim.
Mickey. As a result, it came to me in the elevator.
I crumpled into a mess of tears, sliding my back down against the wall of the moving elevator. How could this have happened? Sure, I grew up in a small town in North Carolina by helicopter parents. I was only twenty-one years of age. Why did I not see it coming? I blamed myself for my naivety.
I raced back to my apartment by taxi and tried to pull myself together. Rape. My body ached from the pain of the sexual assault. Should I make a police report? Yes. Did I? No. Why not? You know why. And there’s no excuse for it either.
The should haves, the wished I had, but didn’t, still wreak havoc with me today. I was too ashamed to make the report. I heard the tales.
Sexual assault: no one will believe you.
“No one will believe you,” they say. Personally, at the time of the experience, I knew four other women who were very dear to me and had endured sexual assault. None of them had reported it to the police. The experience can be heart wrenching. I had no one to turn to, as I was new in Houston. I did take one aggressive action. It was the best I could do at the time. I called the listing agent of the job placement agency.
“Hi Tina, how was the job interview?” the agent said when she answered the phone. Tears rained down my face. I shook with despair and shame. My words collided. I tried again.
“I was raped. Mickey. Don’t send any more girls there,” I muttered hoarsely.
“What? NO. Ok. Um, you alright?”
“No,” I said. After a bit of exchange for details, all the agent wanted to know was…
“Are you going to prosecute? You’re not going to sue us, are you?” she said.
I hung up and collapsed onto my safe sofa and cried some more.
What am I going to do about it now?
As a matter of fact, today, thirty-seven years later, and as a mother of two grown sons, I released my book: Bluewater Walkabout: Into Africa, Finding Healing Through Travel. Consequently, tt took thirty-seven years for me to begin to tell my story. Paradoxically, the more I talk about the assault, the easier it gets. Ironically, now everyone wants to hear.
Interestingly enough, I endured pushback from my immediate family. Shocking, right? I hadn’t expected it. I was blindsided. It sent me spiraling into a depression until I realized I was hurting myself from something I did not cause. He did it to me! Not me to myself!
Presently, I see the same story happening all around me. Ironically, my story seemed banal compared to the girls who are daily violated at raves, pub bathrooms, musical festivals. In fact, most suffered physical injuries. No doubt, all suffered mental anguish. Some are dumped behind garbage bins. It was time to speak out.
How did I seek to heal?
As a matter of fact and unfortunately for me, I didn’t have the money for a doctor, psychiatrist, or therapist. The internet was not a source of reference at the time. I was unable to share my feelings.I had no one to turn to.
Sexual assault: I believed I had no one to turn to.
Today, caring agencies and nonprofit organizations help girls to heal, anonymously. No one has to know. Rape kits are passed out at the police department. Hospitals and caregivers take sexual assault seriously. There’s no blame uttered during an exam. Being an epidemic, rape is taken more seriously today.
After my assault, I went traveling, instead of seeking professional help, since I felt it unavailable to me. I sought adventurous travel. Over time, the more I traveled and the greater the journey, the faster I began to heal. When traveling in foreign countries, I saw how other women suffered compared to my inner wounds. My problem became less significant and theirs’ more urgent.
As I began to reflect and appreciate how far I had journeyed, the pain of sexual assault left me. I began to feel normality return in Africa after learning of young girls having been kidnapped in Nigeria to become child brides for terrorists; after learning of arranged marriages in Pakistan and India where women were forced to bear children instead of experiencing love and enjoying sex; where young girls are sold on the black market as prostitutes; where 200 million African girls are circumcised when prepubescent, removing external genitalia in 27 countries. As a matter of fact, these were all current issues, far more grave than mine.
In time, my comparison with these victims enabled me to see more clearly. I became an activist for female assault victims. I began to talk about my sexual attack. Quietly, then more loudly when no one paid attention.
An excerpt from Bluewater Walkabout: Into Africa, Finding Healing Through Travel
As a matter of fact, this wasn’t my first rape or sexual assault. A college boyfriend date raped me when I was a virgin. For a long time, I didn’t understand what making love was about since sex was equated with violence, betrayal, and fear. Later, when I married my husband, I began to learn the true meaning of love. I emerged out of the darkness and back into the light.
As a consequence, for nearly four decades I was too broken to tell of my trauma from sexual assault and rape—until the writing of this book. At this point, I told my best friend first, simply because she was in town and my sister wasn’t.
“Leave out the mickey and rapes. Keep it a secret,” she said, strangely enough.
“Why?” I was incredulous.
“It’s tragic. I only want to read happy books.”
“Rape and sexual assault are an epidemic. According to the Dept. of Justice and the CDC, 1 in 6 women are raped and sexually assaulted in the USA, not to mention the horrific genocide rapes occurring in the Middle East and Africa. A rape occurs every 107 seconds in the USA; 20% of college women are raped before graduation. What if my telling saves even one life? The more we talk about it, the more others can too. Our shared stories bring power to the victims.”
“It’s still too negative,” she said.
I next told a loved one. She told me of similar experiences. I was aghast. How did I not know? We had shared our youth together. “Why didn’t you tell me when we were kids?”
Sexual assault: “I was too ashamed.”
“I was too ashamed,” she said. “I had no one to turn to. You know how it is. People would have said it was all my fault. I couldn’t face their betrayal.”
It was terrible. I should have seen her pain. She would forever be an intimate part of my adult life. I would protect her at all times. Look after her. Support her. Be more involved in her life.
I next told Amy Ferris, a memoirist, and author of Shades of Blue, at a writing conference. Grimacing, she shared a similar story. “Sexual assault predators are dirt bags,” she said.
“Castrate them all. Like other countries do,” said her friend, who was standing next to her. I laughed.
“Amen, Sister!” We high-fived. How many more victims were amongst me?
I next asked my friend, a former military officer, if I should write about it. “No. Keep out the mickey in your book,” she said.
“Are you kidding? Are you telling me you’ve never been harassed when you were young? Think about what we’re covering up. It only proliferates if we don’t speak out.”
“Okay, right. Yes, put it in,” she said. Then she looked down at her napkin.
Sexual assault: what happened later.
At this point, I recall wandering a railroad track at twilight one day, going somewhere, and nowhere. Depressed over my boyfriend’s sexual abuse, I was lost in despair. Still, dark thoughts entered my mind when I normally pushed away the darkness and rode the waves of positive belief. Even this was too much for me.
As a result, in my senior year with only one semester remaining until graduating with a high GPA, I dropped out. No one could stop me. I couldn’t run fast enough. I never looked back.
In addition, according to Mother Jones, an estimated 26,000 reports of rape and sexual assaults took place in the military in 2012. Only one in seven victims reported their attacks, and just one in 10 of those cases went to trial.
Finally, according to mental-health experts, the effects of military sexual trauma and sexual assault (MST) include depression, substance abuse, paranoia, and feelings of isolation. Interestingly enough, victims spend years drowning in shame and fear as the psychological damage silently eats away at their lives. Regrettably, many frequently end up addicted to drugs and alcohol, homeless or take their own lives.
Presently, bewildered with the various responses I received, I asked a successful business woman, VP of a wealth management firm, and a friend of mine. “What do you think about leaving the mickey out?”
Sexual assault: “It’s not your job to save the world.”
“Leave it out. It’s not your job to save the world.”
Accordingly, bewildered, I consulted a spiritual mentor.
“Of course. You have to leave it in! We enter this world and choose our experiences. It’s our greatest sacrifice. You must then learn how to rise above it and teach others. Only then, will you have sought your greatest accomplishment in life,” she said. “You, indeed, will save lives.”
At any rate, in sharing my trauma, I knew that if I told it enough times, I would no longer feel the pain and punish myself for it.
Meanwhile, my self-discovery rang true in the end.
Sexual assault: my Memoir
Strangely enough, the more I talked, the easier it was to share. In sharing, we empower other women to speak out. The most recent figures point to 1 in 5 women being raped today. In fact, the conversation needs to happen. Ultimately, as we go deep in telling our story, one girls’ life will be saved – saved from a drug overdose or self-destructive behavior. Moreover, the evidence is clear: Endure sexual trauma and the chances of emotional problems is assured unless help is found.
Still, after my sexual assault, I ran and couldn’t run fast enough. I quit my job as a real estate broker, closed up my apartment, skipped town.
Afterward, I landed well. Consequently, within a month, I met my future husband and was sailing to the Bahamas to explore hidden pirate caves, snorkel pristine reef, and embrace the good life of freedom. Incidentally, we are still married today after 35-year together. Our two sons share our family business. Consequently, I am blessed.
In conclusion, adventurous travel set me free.
No doubt, it will set you free too.