For Part 1, click HERE
Teressa and I met back in High School through a mutual friend, Kim. The three of us (Teressa, Kim and I) are friends to this day though time and distance separate us. It's the kind of friendship that we can pick up where we left off even though its been years since we were last together.
Teressa's story needs to be heard. Rape and sexual assault affect far too many women.
The more we speak of it the more women will break their silence. If we speak of it we can begin to heal. If we speak of it we can hold perpetrators responsible and have the opportunity for restorative justice.
[S]: Teressa, describe yourself before you were raped and how it changed you?
[T]: I trusted people before it happened. Inherently, in my nature, I found it very easy to trust people. Even if people made a mistake I would give them the benefit of the doubt and think, 'This is a one off; it's not going to happen again.' Afterward, even family members or people who had never let me down became suspicious to me.
Before, I enjoyed being around people. After “the incident,” (that’s what I find myself calling it) I was anxious around people…incredibly anxious around people.
[S]: It's hard to say the word, rape, isn't it? Even I find it hard to say. It's such a vile word.
[T]: Yes. Before I was raped I would go out with friends and I would drink, but in a novel way. Then, for a period of time afterward, when I was in a social situation, I would drink because I was so anxious which put me at further risk. Drinking relaxed me so I didn't feel that anxiety, but then it lowered my inhibition.
Afterward, I also went from one train wreck of a relationship to another with boys and men who didn't respect me and didn't treat me well. Really, for most of my adult life.
[S]: What about your self-image? How did you feel about yourself beforehand compared to after?
[T]: You know, I think I was fairly unique as a teenager as I had a positive view of myself; maybe it’s because I was in sports and physically active. I didn't think I was over-weight or under-weight. I felt good about myself as a person, for the most part.
Keep in mind that depression started before I was raped. That started when I was about 14 or 15, so I had already been dealing with that for 2 or 3 years before it happened. And, afterwards, I started having serious body image issues to the point of bulimia and anorexia. I still struggle with that. Even thought I've talked with a therapist about the rape I haven't yet opened up to a therapist about my body image issues.
That's because it's embarrassing to me. I talk to Matt [her significant other] about it. He encourages me to eat and even if I'm not eating large quantities of food he makes sure I'm eating well-balanced meals so I'm getting the proper nutrients and vitamins that I need; which, is better than nothing, I guess. My issues with body image are, to me, an embarrassing byproduct of what happened.
[S]: Is your negative body image a direct result of rape?
[T]: Yes. I can tie those two directly together. As a teenager, I don't know how I thought about it or rationalized it, but now, from an adult perspective I can see how I changed from someone who felt like a person, like a human being, into someone who felt as though I were a sex object. When you're a sex object you should be attractive and pretty and trim and fit and all of the, um, everything we see on TV…everything that is propagated in the media. I am so disturbed by the misogynist culture in our country.
Beyond body image is self-esteem. I went from having self-esteem to not even understanding what it was. I didn't believe in myself anymore and didn't think I was capable of achieving things or doing anything that was of value. I lost my sense of self.
[S]: I met you shortly after your return from Oregon and I can see in you all the things that you just described. I met a person who was struggling with her body image. Many of the choices you made then, and me too (but for different reasons), was risky behavior, and now, I can trace that back to the violence you suffered.
A few years ago, I asked you what it was like to suffer from anorexia/bulimia. I had asked you to help me understand why you would deprive yourself of food. You had said that, for you, it was something you could control.
[T]: That's another piece of it - a huge piece. Body image is a sort of camouflage for the real reason behind my eating disorder. After I was raped, I felt like the only way I had control over my body was to control what I put into it.
[S]: What prevented you, at the time, from going to the police? I think it's true that many, many, many, many women and girls suffer in silence. The statistics say that 1 in 4 women are sexually assaulted. I would argue it's probably much greater than that.
[T]: I would, too.
[S]: As women, we don't talk about sexual assault. For whatever reason, there's a sense of shame because it's such a private part of ourselves, so, I understand why women don't go to the police, but for you, what were those reasons that you didn't?
[T]: There are a myriad of reasons. One of the biggest was due to the fact that I was drunk when it happened. Who's going to believe a drunk teenager? All my credibility was gone because of the fact that I had been drinking. I would also have to admit to my family that I went out, I got drunk, I put myself in this situation and, at the time, I believe I had done something wrong.
I've not gone so far as to think I deserved what happened, but I did do something wrong and something bad happened. Just as I'd been warned not to drink because something bad might happened. Well, it did. I didn't want to disappoint my family.
I was also terrified of telling my dad though I knew he was the one person who would, without a doubt, no questions asked, believe me. He would have been so angry at the rapist that I was scared he would do something crazy.
[S]: Does your dad know now?
[T]: He does.
I wanted to tell him to explain my erratic behavior when I came back from Oregon. I wanted him to understand that it wasn't him. It wasn't something he had done. It was something that had happened to me. He actually did ask me why I didn't tell him after it happened. I gave him the explanation that I gave you which was I didn't want him to be disappointed in me and I didn't want him to be put in a situation where he felt where he needed to retaliate for what happened to his little girl.
[S]: What would you say to your rapist if you ever saw him again?
[T]: He was a friend of mine; somebody I trusted and I wouldn't have a statement so much as a question. I would ask him why he thought he had the right to do that to me? He took so many things away from me. He took away my ability to trust. He took away my sense of innocence. He took away my sense of safety. All of which are things I still struggle to regain.
I'm not angry about it anymore, however. I used to be very angry about it, but I'm passed anger now. If anything I want to understand why a person believes that they have the right to violate another person.
[S]: Are there positive things that have emerged as you've worked through the ramifications of what happened?
[T]: I'm talking about what happened.
I'm not a silent victim.
Even though many years have gone by I'm not hiding what he did. In talking about it, I feel empowered because I am breaking the silence.
In talking about it in therapy, I am able to seek treatment for the proper issue rather than treating symptoms. Now, we can address the root problem.
[S]: What are positive things you've seen in yourself develop in this process of healing?
[T]: Strength...personal strength. Perseverance. A lot of things that I thought I had lost I haven't lost. I still have them.
After this happened, I didn't finish high school, but I eventually got my GED. This winter, I’ll begin nursing school. I'm improving myself and these are the things I didn't think I deserved. I didn't believe I was capable of those things.
[S]: What is your greatest struggle today? In terms of your emotional and mental well-being?
[T]: Depression is still my greatest struggle. These days; however, I feel more confident and am able advocate for myself as I undergo treatment and treatment changes. I'm drawing lines and saying, "I need this...or that"
[S]: What are you most thankful for these days? Besides Matt…
[T]: We adopted a puppy...
[S]: Who's adorable, by the way.
[T]: I'm really thankful that we were able to rescue him and I feel a sense of pride that, not only am I able to take care of myself, but I'm able to take care of another being. Ty is kind of my, oh, I don't call myself "puppy mom" or something lame like that, but he depends on me and I take care of him. I'm proud of this and I'm thankful that I'm able to do this.
Also, I'm thankful that I'm in the best place I've ever been and I want to stay here. It's a choice I make. It's me taking charge of my life instead of life taking charge of me. It's a cliché, but it's true.
[S]: On a litter note…imagine you, Kim and I...back in the day...what is the first thing you think of?
[T]: I pictured us at Java Jacks Coffee Cafe in Minneapolis.
[S]: Yes! The non-existent Java Jacks in Minneapolis. It closed a while back, right? The only time I ever played hooky when I was in school was to go to Java Jacks. (Mom, if you're reading this, sorry). I do remember feeling guilty the entire time.
[T]: Kim and I were such a bad influence on you.
[S]: I wouldn’t go that far. I had fun. Though I do think I was along for the ride more than anything most of the time.
[S]: So, what are you most proud of?
[T]: I'm really proud that I started painting again because I lost my desire to do anything artistic for a really long time. I'm so glad I've found that well inside me, again.
[S]: Your art is a beautiful reflection of who you truly are.
Thank you, Teressa. I'm so glad you've shared your story and I'm excited to see what the future holds for you.
[T]: Thank you very much. That means a lot....
My prayer for Teressa, and all victims of rape and sexual assault, is that each will be brought to wholeness. If you are a victim, there are people around you willing to listen. Seek out a pastor, a therapist or someone you trust and share you story if you are able. It can be the first step towards healing.