By Carina Lauren Hermann
This is my sexual abuse story.
Exactly 20 years ago, while attending the University of Montana at 19 years old, I was raped.
It was by a fellow student on a first date, so I summarized it as a “date rape.” I am writing about it now, for several reasons. One, I had a discussion with my brother a few weeks ago and after coming home after that talk, I went online and saw the Missoula news feed on my Facebook page and the story of the recent trial, in which the woman who had claimed to have been raped lost.
I shook my head at the line of Facebook comments. One said, “She probably did that to get attention!” There were those, I am sure friends of the man, who were relieved he had not been found guilty and could return to his life. A question that arose from reading the article was if he was found innocent why any temporary suspension from the team? In any case, I do not know what happened — only God does — but I do know that women in almost all cases don’t do such things for attention.
I truly don’t know any woman in her right mind who would do such a thing for attention. To bring that to the public and report such an event takes immense courage. But in either case, it prompted me to write this letter. Whether the man is guilty of that crime or not, regardless of legal outcome in this case, I believe with all my heart it will be at some point between him and God.
I can’t judge either way, as I was not there, but I know most sane women do not make up stories like this for attention. This is not the kind of attention most women want at all.
I am writing my story to create some awareness about the effects this has on a woman. I had gone to that man’s house and things went too far. I am crystal clear that I said, “No, stop,” repeatedly, and yet he continued. A part of me sort of checked out and just was waiting for him to stop. The me now, at 39, would poke someone’s eye out if they crossed a major boundary like that. But then I just froze, and it seemed really surreal to me.
I remember walking into his living room, pausing at the couch, and thinking, “Did I just get raped?” I left and saw him one more time on campus, walking carefree. I almost went up to him and confronted him, but he didn’t see me. I just walked away.
Before that, when cars or trucks passed me and whistled or made smooching noises, I would just ignore it. But the next time a truck of drunk guys whistled at me while I walked home from downtown Missoula, I went home and went straight into my bathroom. I quickly and angrily chopped off my lovely, long hair. I cut it above my shoulders. And that was that.
Although at that time and for years later I knew it wasn’t my fault and I didn’t blame myself, in some ways, it was a straw on the camel’s back. I went abroad that next year and developed anorexia for six months.
When I had to get around family and could no longer get away with being stick skinny, I started developing other obsessive thoughts. I started having anxiety, which for a woman of a naturally peaceful nature, was not natural. For the next decade and a half, I did pretty well. I had a huge interest in the arts, acting in particular, and studied it endlessly. I had a good social life and a nurturing boyfriend.
But there came a day, when a stranger planted some words that threw me in a tailspin. I started imagining that event in college was my fault, and I completely lost my peace. It was as if I lost all steering in my mind. I began to obsess about how on earth I deserved that and what I could have done. On and on this went for years. I stopped feeling like myself. I lost my joy. I stopped acting. I lost most of my confidence. I no longer felt beautiful.
Even now, although things have gotten better, just writing this letter and getting up the will to do it, has left me feeling raw for days.
What has gotten me through all this pain has been The Lord. I believe in God with all my heart and soul. I know he has and is in a process of restoring me. In thinking of that man, I know what he did is one of the most cowardly acts a man can do. And in my case, it went unreported. I have never seen or spoken to that man again.
I have even prayed to forgive him. He cost me much. My only hope for him is that he is honest with himself, and I know even though a legal system didn’t hold him accountable, it doesn’t take away that he still is. From the standpoint of my soul, I would only hope that in some point in his life he repents and gets right with God, if that is possible. I would want someone to know who does that how much pain they can inflict on someone who does NOT deserve that.
I am thankful I am getting to a place with everything in myself where I know it was NOT my fault and I am still beautiful, still 100 percent woman, and in a healing process. When I lived in New York, I went to a free self-defense class with a girlfriend, and we had fun. Protecting oneself can be an instinct many of us don’t grow up with.
Women are often taught to be polite and not make waves. But I would tell any young woman if anyone crossed that boundary to cause a big scene, punch, kick, bite, whatever, and get out of there and report it. Whether or not the man is convicted, as I said, will at some point be between him and God. And you will know you have done what you need to get the splinters out quick before they have a chance to get lodged in and maybe one day be infected.
In closing, Missoula was a great place to be other than that — to grow, and have friendships and find interests and passions. There are so very many wonderful memories I have of that place, my professors and that beautiful countryside. I truly wish that hadn’t happened to me, though, and my only message to women would be to be cautious, and if someone seems to be crossing the line — fight like heck to get away.
I believe if a woman reports an incident, her voice should be heard and taken seriously; otherwise, what message is she being sent? I know Missoula has some programs, and this is a live part of its conversation in the community right now. I’m glad there is support out there.