A rape victim in her own words.
On my fourteenth New Year’s Eve, the only desire I knew was the desperate longing that the boy I liked might touch my hand as he walked by. I was petite and pretty then, or at least I thought I was, with long, straight black hair and dark brown eyes set against my tanned Indian skin. On that New Year’s Eve, on one of those chilly Houston evenings, I secretly wished for smoldering looks. I could never have imagined that my dreams would soon be shattered, my mind poisoned, and my body violated.
That night I was sexually assaulted by two boys I trusted. Looking back, I remember shuddering, but most of all I remember the paralysis, the terror, the intrusion, and the pain. I have a vivid memory of myself in that cold room saying, “I need to go. I really need to go,” and how those words carried no value. My body felt so heavy, my muscles so weak. I used every bit of strength I had to pull myself away, but it wasn’t enough. Their hands overpowered me and I couldn’t break free. I closed my lips and bit them as hard as I could. Staring into the boys’ eyes I thought were so beautiful just a few moments before, I wanted to be somewhere far, far away. My blood was boiling, my skin sweating; all of this seemed like a fever-induced hallucination. Two salty tears began to stream down my face.
And then two hundred tears.
When I used to think about what my life might someday be like, I never once pictured myself as a victim. I desperately wanted to push this night away and pretend like it never happened. Days later, I had to face it when my parents decided to press charges. Luckily, my mom and dad never blamed me, but instead wanted to send the two boys to jail. I felt disgusting, ashamed, and dirty. After the assault, I constantly trembled and shook. I no longer felt young. My childhood was further from me than I ever imagined it would be at 14.
As this legal case became part of my daily life, I was constantly reminded of the events of that New Year’s. I began to shut down. That night took away my innocence, and I unraveled with the constant flashbacks. I needed control. The only way I found it was through food. Restricting my eating became my coping mechanism throughout the yearlong legal battle that never went to trial. Due to a lack of evidence, it turned into a classic case of he-said-she-said. I didn’t think I could muster the strength to face everyone in court. I just wanted to be like every other teenage girl again and go back to having crushes on boys and playing volleyball with my friends.
I became consumed by an obsession with calories, an obsession with making myself disappear. My friends never knew I had been to a rape clinic or that I had spoken with detectives. I was too ashamed to tell anyone, so I began to isolate myself. I spent the year in solitude with these disturbing memories. I lost my trust in everyone and lived in fear. For the rest of high school, I chose to push away the trauma, but I woke up years later still broken.
Avoiding reality almost destroyed me. I am now 22, and it took me years of therapy to finally accept that this assault was not my fault. Every choice is a step, but it’s up to each of us whether we make it a step forward or a step back. I had to face the darkness so it could set me free.
Neesha Arter recently completed her memoir Controlled and contributes to the New York Observer and New York Magazine.
Published in Teen Vogue