I WORK WITH MY RAPIST:
An Open Letter to Corporate America
Dear Corporate America:
As I type this, my hands are shaking so badly I am moving at the literary version of a crawl. We have been inundated with stories, open letters and outrage over the recent events involving the grotesque leniency shown to a convicted rapist. I have been so conflicted over the past few days: brought to tears by the heartbreaking story of victimization, by something that goes beyond my ability to describe-in seeing the public outcry and words of support for the survivor of this crime. Yes, survivor, and there are so, so many of us. The bone deep shame, fear and anger that we experience at this violation, that inevitably rears it’s ugly head when we are faced with the stories of others. To witness such public and overwhelming support truly touches my shattered heart. However, I am also filled with the soul biting rage of one of the voiceless.
Corporate America has also jumped in with a voice of outrage on this crime, and I find that these messages spark my curiosity on how many corporations have sheltered rapists in the act of liability mitigation and self-preservation.
You read the title above correctly. I do, in fact, work with my rapist. Still. My rape did not occur behind a dumpster. It occurred at a corporate event at a high-end hotel. There were no heroes that jumped in to call for help and tackle my assailants. I did have a potential hero that I considered a workplace friend, but he ended up participating in the crime. He fled the company shortly thereafter, leaving one rapist for me to see on a semi-regular basis.
This event was my very first at what I have called my dream job. I am a female in a male dominated industry. I was a single mother for years and struggled, fought and worked my ass off to finally obtain…no EARN a position of responsibility within a large, widely respected international company within my industry. I have largely been treated with great respect, though do occasionally encounter those that seem to harbor a resentment towards women that are successful. I allowed myself a false sense of security. I assumed that the respect and friendship I have enjoyed in career with men by and large would carry over to this new company. I was terribly, terribly wrong.
Some of the details of my rape are similar-alcohol was involved, some are different-I chose fear and did not report to the police. My horror was overshadowed at the moment by a paralyzing numbness and terror over anyone ever finding out. Here is what I did not know: by swallowing this travesty and continuing to attempt to pretend it just didn’t happen, I was killing myself every single day. Anger will always show itself, even if it needs to come out sideways.
In less than 6 months, I was suicidal. I left my home one evening with a box cutter with the intention of slicing my own throat. Why? Not necessarily because I wanted to die, but because I wanted my life or death to reflect what I felt inside. Inside I was dead, and it was a bloody death. THIS is what rape does to us. It is not “20 minutes of action”. It is a box cutter and an alley and a mother of three putting that blade to her throat, because the secret strangles us every damn day and we can’t find the words, so we want to show you.
Eventually, I realized that I could not continue. I was plagued with fear that this horrible thing would happen to one of the bright, shiny young women that I work with. That their joy would forever be tainted. It still wasn’t for me-it was fear for someone else that finally opened my mouth… and I whispered the truth for the first time. I reached out to a senior member of leadership that I widely respected, and said the words out loud. The rest became a whirlwind of “We will protect you”, “we will take care of this swiftly and severely” and “you are so brave’s”. I was assured that I had the full support of a horrified regional HR department. I would be helped, I would be supported and I would be safe.
Enter the corporate attorneys.
My very first interview included such wonderful moments as “If you purchased any of the drinks you consumed that evening on your corporate card, disciplinary action may be taken, all the way up to and including termination.” What??? Concern was shown over who was aware of the crime and I was instructed not to speak to anyone, including family and friends about the situation.
After several months of “investigation”, final depositions were uncomprehendingly, held at a large corporate event that we were both in attendance at. I endured a final session that included questions about my sexual history, birth control methods and of course in depth questions about my apparel. I had to go over again the details of passing out and awakening to penetration. I saw the disgust on their faces, the horror of the few details I could remember about the assault, including the pain. These details were quickly discarded, while in-depth questioning about the outfit I had on occurred. None of my witnesses that viewed my long term innate fear and unwillingness to be around the rapist were interviewed. After my final interview, I had to continue attending meetings with the rapist for the rest of the week. I was reassured that this would be over soon and at least at the corporate level, justice would be served.
Almost a month later, I finally received the final report from HR. At this point I would like you to remember that the only people interviewed in this investigation were myself and the two rapists. Both acknowledged that the event took place, but HR, based on their testimony, determined that I “was not intoxicated enough for it for it to be non-consensual. Due to conflicting testimony, no determination can be made. No action will be taken.” I was given the option that if I was uncomfortable around the remaining rapist at my company, I could seek another position. They had one position open that would be considered a drastic demotion from my position with global responsibility. I asked them if they were out of their minds.
The evening after hearing the determination (or lack thereof), I lost my mind. I raged. I screamed at the VP that had assured me that justice would done. I threatened to go work for the competition and spend the rest of my career dismantling the company piece by piece. I sobbed and yelled and finally found the anger for ME. I thought about killing myself with a “Company XYZ DID THIS” note. I felt as though regardless of what I do in my life or career, I was still worthless and of no value to this company I had devoted myself to.
To my employer: You may not have killed me literally, but you smashed any remaining hope I had. I manage the largest account for you. I travel the world for you. I am widely respected by my customer as “the best in the industry”, but I can be raped by coworkers and then encounter what is blatantly you protecting your corporate self from liability. If you say it didn’t happen, it didn’t happen, right? I even asked you at one point “WHY on earth would I do this to myself? Why would I ever report something so embarrassing and traumatic? This is so horrible, that if I couldn’t stand to live in silence anymore, I would not have told you.”” Your investigation was laughable and was entirely about protecting you, not me. If you had any concern for my mental well-being, you would have handled it completely differently. From my first interview, I knew what you were doing. This is why you sent attorneys. This is why I did not have an advocate and was kept isolated from any and all that could support me. I hoped to God I was wrong, I tried to trust the reassurances. You victimized me a second time, and every time I lay eyes on my still employed rapist.
Corporate America: For every corporate statement that goes out in righteous indignation after you witness such a heinous act, I want you to carefully evaluate your own processes. For every withdrawal of support for those that have made insensitive or inflammatory comments after a criminal act takes place, are you harboring criminals within your own corporate system? I have been asked to help recruit more women into our company. I’ve been asked, how do we make our work environment more attractive to women? Here’s one-protect the women you currently have within your office walls. Workplace violence and rape do occur. It happens every day. Do you think frat boy rapists outgrow their behavior? Protect us. Give us justice. Give us hope. Give us advocates. Give us a voice. Believe us. Help us.
For every silent survivor: Please find your voice. Yell and scream and tell any that doubt you to go fuck themselves. I am with you. I weep for you, I scream for you and I wish to God that I had the courage of many of you. I am here, silently holding up my hands praying that for as far as we have come in denouncing these atrocities, we will go further still. I pray that one day I will show my face and say “This happened to me” without fear and shame. I pray that as survivors we will lift each other up. I pray that there are more Swedish bicyclists and that we will all learn to do the right thing. I pray that liability becomes less of an issue and doing the right thing takes over in our corporate culture.
Even a whisper can become a battle cry. This is what I hope for myself and for every other survivor of rape and violence. May our voices unite and create a roar that cannot be drowned out. May we find strength together that we cannot find on our own.