Why I Haven’t Pressed Charges in 8 Years, and Why I May Not Ever

The Light Seer’s Tarot deck

I had a psych-ward-style breakdown this past December 2nd.

The rape happened on that date in 2012.

That’s given me eight years to get over it.

And I’m not over it at all.

My therapist helpfully pointed out that I was drunk for six of those eight years—implying that, perhaps, the healing will come in my recently-earned sobriety. Still, it’s disheartening to still be breaking down a full eight years later.

I was put on a safety plan. I couldn’t self harm. I had to feed myself. I had to shower and change my clothes each day. I was to call my therapist or 911 or go to my nearest emergency room if at any time I felt unsafe with myself. I was only tasked with doing the minimum to get by, the minimum to keep me out of a hospital. But the minimum felt monumental. Needless to say, I got behind at work.

Three days later, when I returned to therapy, I was on track with my safety plan. I wasn’t quite in a good way, yet, but I was getting there. In the three weeks since then, I’ve been picking up the pieces. I’m not in a hospital. That’s a success, of sorts. I’m not to my full functioning yet, but, by doing the next right thing, and by following the light at my feet—my two mantras—I’m getting there. I’m in a time crunch to get there too: I recently received a promotion at work, which takes effect next month. I’ve got to get it together. The pressure is on. I’m committed. Next month, I will be working two jobs, on top of my weekly 14 hours of intensive outpatient.

There is no statute of limitations for rape in the State of New York. That feels like both a blessing and a curse. I can heal on my own timeline; I can make decisions on my own timeline. But the thought of pressing charges also may never leave me, may never go to rest. It’s weighed heavily on me for some time now. Will it always weigh on me with such acuity?

The first three years I did not press charges because it was out of sight, out of mind—sort of. I didn’t call it rape. I didn’t think about it on a conscious level. But I rapidly declined after that night, diving into the depths of anorexia and alcohol abuse like never before.

It wasn’t until one evening when I was choosing an outfit for a double date with my then-girlfriend, and our friend her fiancé that the reality of what had happened that night came crashing down on me with full force. Among my options was a favorite dress, one that always won me compliments—and as I considered it, I realized that it was the dress I’d worn that December 2nd. The dress that he’d stripped me of, as I struggled to keep it on. Here, now, in my writing process, is where I freeze up. Here is where words escape me.

That was the first time I had a flashback to that night. I didn’t know whether anything objectively wrong had happened, had been done to me, but suddenly I was reliving the terror of that night and re-experiencing that moment of being stripped naked all over again.

I chose a different dress and bought two pints of vodka on my way to the train station.

My legs gave a block from the restaurant where we were supposed to meet for Harry Potter Trivia (which I always lose, by the way). Not because I was too drunk to walk—but because the memories were so overwhelming they rendered me paralyzed. I sat down on a busy sidewalk in Manhattan and sobbed. Passersby stopped and asked if they could help in any way. I told them that my father was ill, which was true.

After some time that way, I composed myself and texted my girlfriend an apology for running so late. I said that I needed a hug.

But when I arrived, trivia was over, dinner was over, and she did not want to give me a hug. Not only had I missed our double-date entirely; I had shown up drunk.

The memories of that night began flooding me from there out. I cried a lot. I drank a lot. I starved a lot. I got the dress dry-cleaned and tried it on, but it was still contaminated. So I shredded it with scissors. It used to be beautiful. Now, it’s in a landfill.

He wrote me an apology of sorts. That’s the gift he gave me: a piece of evidence. Without it, I’d have no case. In a sick way, I am lucky to have this piece of evidence.

Please don’t tell me I’m lucky to have received an apology that many will never get, though. (I’ve been told that before.) He was only saying it because he wanted to see me again. Do that to me all over again.

Besides that, the apology wasn’t for what he had done to me or taken from me; it was for a “misunderstanding.”

Did he misunderstand my cries of no and physical struggle? I digress.

Back to today. Eight years since the rape this month. Two years sober next month. And still crying in therapy like this is something new. Still single and unable to date because the thought of physical intimacy sends me back to that night. I’m sad. I’m lonely. I want to heal. But I haven’t yet. Will I ever?

Ever since I looked up that “apology” email he sent me some years ago, and realized I had some evidence better than my word against his, I have thought that I want this old man to be locked up for the rest of his life, for him to die in jail. I don’t want him to die; but when he does die, I want it to be in jail where he belongs. I want to protect other young women like me from him. I don’t want him on the streets of Manhattan or teaching in a classroom.

Here I am, eight years later. I wish I could forget him. Does he ever think of me? He needn’t. I was unremarkable to him. But me, he changed my life.

I’m triggered badly whenever there is a high-profile #MeToo case in the news. I’m grateful for this movement, grateful that it’s becoming acceptable to speak out about what’s been happening far too long to far too many women. We finally have a dialogue, language.

But I think a trial might kill me.

A year ago at a nice dinner I told a friend that I had decided I would press charges one day. She took my hands in hers and asked me not to. She said I didn’t want to drag my name through the news in that way.

I was hurt. Aside from wishing she would read a “How to support a friend who’s been sexually assaulted 101” guide, or “what not to say to victims of sexual assault” tip sheet, she reaffirmed for me what people think. That’s what she thinks, and she’s my friend. And that’s what a lot of people think—maybe even most people. That I shouldn’t do this.

Of course the thought of ruining my name has plagued me. But even more than that, I don’t know that I could face the defense as they assaulted my character. Or describe in graphic detail exactly what was done to me, to a room full of strangers, to a jury who would decide whether they thought I was telling the truth or not.

I am already afraid of running into this man in the city. What would happen? I freeze up in therapy when I try to talk about this. Here, I have frozen up while writing several times. But to see him in a court room? I very well may collapse.

A trial might break me.

And so, I’ve thought, I’ll table this for now—but when I’m healed enough (please, please tell me that’s possible), when I feel stronger, then I’ll press charges. Then I’ll lock him up. But if I ever feel that kind of peace or recovery, would I really want to open this up again and relive that night all over?

These are hard questions I can’t answer now. There won’t be a statute of limitations. The email isn’t going anywhere. But the memories I relive, I wish they’d disappear.

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