We are survivors, and we are strong

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Editor’s note: The following op-ed includes an explicit description of rape and sexual violence. Many 24-hour hotlines exist for those who have experienced sexual violence and assault. The UC Berkeley PATH to Care Center’s can be reached at 510-643-2005.

We live in a world that empowers grown men to prey on women. No one is safe, not even little girls. I am sharing my story today to illustrate that truth.

When I was 16, I sustained a lifelong physical injury from being violently and repeatedly raped by a 30-year-old man. Because of the three-year statute of limitations, my rapist will not have to pay even a quarter of my medical costs, see the inside of a jail cell or register as a sex offender.

I was an easy target for my rapist’s control and abuse. He knew I had abandonment issues from never having a father in my life. He knew that I was a child, that I had a history of being severely bullied. He knew I had severe depression, anxiety and a history of trauma. He knew I was socially isolated from my peers, so he posed as my only friend. He knew that I was vulnerable and that I was desperate for love and support of any kind. He knew he could groom me to do and be whatever served him the best.

For two years, he groomed me to become his obedient little child bride, forcing me into silence so he could avoid the consequences of statutory rape. He manipulated my attachment to him, threatening to withdraw his affection whenever I displeased him. Most importantly, he guilted me into concealing our relationship from everyone by telling me that speaking up would ruin his life and land him in jail. He used his power over me to drill into my mind that my obligation was to protect him over myself, my peace of my mind and even my health.

Because of this, I stayed silent for years in order to protect my rapist, who posed as my only friend, while I kept the burden of assault, the lifelong injury he inflicted upon me and the manipulation deep inside me. I felt stupid and foolish, and I carried the shame of being naive for years even after I stopped contact with him.

Since finding the strength to break off all contact with him before I entered college, I worked hard to cultivate the self-worth I lacked as a child and adolescent, working through my traumas with my psychiatrist to make sense of my life and finally begin to heal. All this work and self-reflection culminated into the realization that I had to get justice for myself against my rapist — that I had to stop him from harming other girls. After two years, I found the strength to sue my rapist.

After being served with the lawsuit, my rapist has written me endless emails trying to guilt-trip me by telling me that I’m ruining his marriage for serving him with a lawsuit. He insists his actions are excused because he was lonely. He writes emails to me telling me that what happened was my fault. He has tried to pull at my heartstrings, writing emails targeting my soft spot for children by insinuating that I was taking his son’s father away. He knows to use this against me because I never had a father in my life. He wrote me an email titled “Apology-(His name),” which only contained self-pity about how hard his life was.

When emotional manipulation didn’t work in getting me to drop the case against him, he went the route of trying to smear me as a “slut” by telling bold-faced lies about me, even though I was a child at the time. During the deposition, when my lawyer questioned him as to why he believed I was not a virgin, his replies were that my vagina was “loose,” and he completely fabricated that I was a child prostitute. He closed his eyes during the entirety of the deposition so he could lie better without having to look at my face. Through all the evading of responsibility and the attempts to make excuses, to guilt-trip me and to gaslight me, he has not given one sincere acknowledgement for the pain he has caused me.

Throughout the process, he and his wife have treated me like I am a blip that they can’t erase because I’m irrelevant in their life and they just want a clean slate. He has not shown a single thread of true remorse, except for himself because he has to face the ramifications of his actions.

Last fall, after fighting a legal battle with him for two years, I learned that the legal system will never give me justice. My lawyer decided that since I was not a “perfect” victim, there could be a chance I could lose and end owing money to my rapist even though he directly admits to most of his crimes during the deposition.

Since the statute of limitations of three years has passed, my rapist will never see the inside of a jail cell. And he will not even be held responsible for paying a quarter of my medical costs. Not only that, but he will not pay me damages for the injury he has inflicted upon me, because he says he cannot afford it — which is a lie.

This man received a degree from UC Berkeley, attended an Ivy League school for graduate school and has an MBA. He has great earning potential. To top it all off, the very little money that he is offering as part of the settlement comes with a nondisclosure agreement; I will never be able to say his name. I am not even allowed to read him the letter I spent hours preparing to tell him the implications his actions have had on my life. He refuses to show up to face me so I can read the letter to him unless he gets to bring his wife along so he can hide behind her. The legal system will not even force him to face me.

I know that, with this lifelong injury, I will not be able to truly start over. The immediate and long-term fiscal impacts of this injury take a toll on my family’s already precarious financial situation — we have been poor our entire lives. The emotional and mental burdens that I have and will have to carry as a result of both the rape and injury are heavy, lifelong and crushing. I am often unable to get out of bed and to fall asleep at night even on my best days.

Nevertheless, I launched the lawsuit in the hopes that the damages it paid out would give me the chance to seek out the resources to practice resilience and to afford opportunities that would help me move forward with my life. He told my that I didn’t deserve justice because I never got it from my father. I disagreed and pursued justice in a radical act of self-love. One day, I want to become a litigator who can fight for other women who have been sexually assaulted to produce the justice that I, and many other sexual assault victims, too rarely receive.

The legal system has, as it has done to many other victims of rape, denied me that chance to move forward. This is because the court of public opinion prioritizes the well-being of rapists while shaming and vilifying victims. I, like many other victims, can rely on neither the legal system nor my rapist for closure. They will not give that to us. The only person I can truly depend on for closure is myself, and the only way to get closure is to rebuild my life.

There are thousands of women who are suffering through the same. They are your mothers, your sisters, your colleagues and your friends, fighting every day and rebuilding their lives in the aftermath just as I have had to. We are survivors, and we are strong.

Before you dismiss my story as a singular tragedy, understand that there are thousands like me. The internet, these streets and schools — many of these institutions that should be safe are filled with predators looking to use women and young girls to serve their own ends, no matter how repugnant these ends are, as long as no one is watching.

How many more little girls have to be broken before we realize that something needs to change? I dream of a world in which we prioritize teaching grown men to be decent instead of teaching women to be resilient enough to recover from the violence men do to them.

 

Chloe Chen is a senior at UC Berkeley