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Rape victim's Twitter is a damn painful reminder that survivors never win

Charlotte Hilton Andersen is the author of the book The Great Fitness Experiment: One Year of Trying Everything and runs the popular health and fitness website of the same name, where she tries out a new workout every month, specializing...

Why is Twitter the only safe space for a rape victim to share her story?

Consider this the most depressing Twitter account ever created: A female student from Spelman College made an anonymous Twitter account, @rapedatspelman, so she could safely tell her story without fear of recrimination from other students. While the whole story of her gang rape and the college's lack of action is heartbreaking, one part that really stood out to me was her account of all the questions she was being asked — questions so personal and painful that she could only address them from the safety of a blank Twitter egg.

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That hurts. But it's not surprising. I can say from sad, personal experience that one of the first reactions people have to hearing someone has been sexually assaulted is to ask why it happened to that particular victim. Where was she? Was she drunk? Did he drug her? Were they dating? Were they friends? What was she wearing? Did she lead him on? Was it just kinda rape or like rape-rape?

This reaction is magnified times 10 if it's the victim telling their own story and if they choose to pursue some type of legal action. Then they get barraged with a whole new humiliating set of questions. Why go to the cops? Does she have evidence? Did she try talking to him first? You know there's two sides to every story, what does he say? Is she just crying rape for attention?

All those questions take a serious toll on the victim. Not only does he or she now have to explain the entire story to a court of law (if they choose to report it), but they also have to stand before the court of public opinion. I'm sure part of the constant questioning is natural human curiosity, but I think that a lot of the comments (especially those from other women) stem from wanting to figure out exactly how it happened, so they can prevent it from happening to them, too. They wear their cynicism like an armor of protection. If I can just figure out why it happened, then I can make sure to never do those things, and I'll be safe.

I'm sorry, but life doesn't work that way.

I remember when I was one of several victims testifying against my attacker in a very public case. It was covered by the papers, and even though they didn't use my name, everyone in my small college town knew who I was anyhow. I was deluged with emails from people wanting to know more, offering sympathy and support. But, unfortunately, I also got a lot of hate mail from people who thought I was blowing a small issue up into a serious criminal offense and telling me I was ruining his promising future. (Truth: He was the one who chose to break the law, and he ruined his own life.) 

I still remember one note, in particular. It was from a girl I barely knew, but nevertheless she felt like she needed to tell me that I was "being unchristian" by not forgiving my attacker. She told me that she had talked to him, and that he was so, so sorry, and she knew he'd truly repented and would never do such a thing again. She added that if I pursued this case against him, I'd be damning myself to hell.

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A million things raced through my mind as my eyes blurred with tears and my hands shook. I thought of the many other identified victims in the case. I thought of their stories, so similar to mine, spanning many years. I thought of the police and how they had boxes full of evidence against him. I thought of how he'd never apologized to me. I thought of the night he'd whispered that he'd kill me. And I realized I couldn't be mad at her — she was, in her own way, another victim of his manipulations. The truth was, she reminded me of me.

"Believe him at your own peril," I finally replied. "You're next." And that was it.

She never wrote me back. I don't blame her.

When people find out I was assaulted and chose to take my attacker to court, they often praise me for my strength and bravery. But the truth is, I was neither of those things. I've never been weaker or more scared. Instead, I tell them that the court case was the worst thing that ever happened to me, worse even than the assault that predicated it — because while the assault was horrible, it only lasted one night; the court case dragged on for nearly a year. And during that time I was constantly reminded over and over again how broken I was and how I'd gotten that way.

I was questioned exhaustively, not just by lawyers and cops but by strangers, friends and friends of friends. And never did I get the chance to just tell my story, all of it, the way I experienced it. All of which is to say I completely understand @rapedatSpelman's response; if an anonymous Twitter account had been an option for me then, I would have taken it too. There's nothing more painful than being publicly attacked after you've been sexually attacked. I hope @rapedatSpelman gets the justice and closure she's looking for. I wish her better luck than I had.

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