Date rape leaves scars, unanswered questions

Reader columnist Barbara Parsons, photo by
Reader columnist Barbara Parsons, photo by The News Tribune

Ten years ago I was raped, and I lost my innocence.

Not that innocence. I lost the innocence of a middle-class American raised to think government agencies protect “good” people from “bad.” I lost trust in police. I lost trust in the basic goodness of human beings. The drugging, rape and robbery were horrible; however, the dysfunction of those who should have helped, but who instead re-violated me, was the more painful offense. It’s the one I carry every day.

Newly divorced, I had begun to date using an online dating site. I reminded myself that my date didn’t have to be a doctor or a lawyer. I should be open-minded.

Jake was younger, a working man, but we had mutual interests. He offered a choice of two restaurants for a first date, then shared that he knew the bartender at the place I’d chosen. When we got there, he left me to wait for a table while he got us drinks from the bar. The one he brought back was disgusting, but I was raised not to complain to a host.

Once we were seated, the waitress who played go-between looked at Jake accusingly and said the bartender “told me everything.” She was shaking when she delivered the second drinks. Later, she cried as she boxed up our pizza, but I was too out of it to do more than record her reactions as odd.

At home, Jake helped me inside. After those 1 1/2 salty-bad drinks, I weaved, stumbled, passed out and sat up again. My border collie tried to attack Jake. It’s the last thing I remember until I woke up hours later, feeling thirsty.

I pulled Jake from my jewelry box, patted him down, kicked him out, scrubbed myself and my house, checked every lock and window, and fell into a troubled sleep.

I told no one about it the first week. When I finally did tell, a doctor friend said the rape drug GHB is salty and leaves the user parched. He suggested I go to police, but I resisted, wanting to put the night behind me, knowing I had no material proof.

I finally visited the police, not because I thought I would gain personally but because I wanted Jake stopped. A male officer listened politely, then tried to assure me this sort of thing was common in women who have just begun to date again. I must be careful whom I brought into my house, he said. I might come to regret it later. I had to be smart.

He promised to call when he had more information, but wouldn’t commit to interviewing anyone at the restaurant, even though they were my best hope.

Worn down by his indifference, I left in tears. Weeks passed without a call. I realized there wouldn’t be one.

Lucky me, I had another opportunity to stop Jake. Though drugged in the big city, I lived in an adjacent small town. The police chief had coached my kid’s soccer team; we were in PTA together. Steeling myself against their reaction, I appealed to the four-man station blocks from my home.

Three male cops sat with me around their lunch table and listened respectfully, comparing what I said to the report I’d made earlier. Then they, too, told me I needed to be more careful whom I invited into my home. They didn’t need to tell me I had no evidence. I volunteered it. But I knew the waitress would cave if interviewed. So, I asked them if they would talk to her, but they shook their heads, sadly, as if giving me bad news.

I offered up Jake’s contact information sent to me by the dating website. “I don’t know how to use the Internet,” the primary officer said, straight-faced. He wouldn’t take the paper from my hand. The chief nodded cordially to me as I left the station.

Later that afternoon, I returned with evidence of the value of my stolen ring. The officer met me in the parking lot, pleased. When I asked him why his attitude was different, he said, “Well, stealing your ring was a felony.”

“And rape isn’t?” I said. I don’t believe he answered.

I filed reports and was given case numbers at both police stations. The cases were not followed up with me.

Stand-up comedians, movies and sitcoms make light of what I went through. They feature coerced sexual activity and shaming of sexually active women (but not sexually-active men).

The men in power — and mostly it is still men in police departments, the military, and on college campuses – have been raised in this culture. Too many of them are predisposed not to believe women’s reports of acquaintance rape, even though scholars concur false rape reports happen only 2 to 8 percent of the time.

Studies show law enforcement’s willingness to believe a victim’s story is influenced by factors such as her age, whether alcohol was involved, whether the woman invited the man into her house and whether she reported the attack immediately. Those precise factors seem to have contributed to my perceived lack of credibility 10 years ago.

As a society, we have begun to confront the rape culture on school campuses and in the military. But the vulnerable young women who are usually victims have even less credibility and resilience than I had as an educated, white, 43-year-old woman with no criminal record.

Years later I worry: If I was not a believable victim, then who is?

Barbara Parsons is a college English professor and writer who lives in Tacoma's North End. She is one of six reader columnists who write for this page. Contact her at bbparsons@live.com.