The Triggering Reminder Of My Rape That No One Talks About

Photographed by Alexandra Gavillet.
It took me a long time to understand that what happened to me was rape. When I woke up on that late summer day in 2010, I was just happy to see the condom wrapper on the floor in my East Village apartment. Phew, I remember thinking, at least he used a condom. I was new to New York City and had been out with friends from college the night before. Next to that condom wrapper, I saw my favourite item of clothing, a Diane von Furstenberg batwing silk dress I had been wearing the night before. It was now marred with a fresh rip across the breast. Beyond loving the colour and fit, I thought it was cool that Serena wore the dress on Gossip Girl, and it had been a gift from my mother — there was no way I could have afforded it on my production assistant salary.
Somehow, I frantically got ready for work and jumped in a cab. My phone was buzzing with texts from the friends I had gone out with the night before. "We're pretty sure those guys put something in our drinks last night. We don't remember getting home, and we're both too sick to make it into work. We did not drink enough to feel like this. What happened to you?"
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What happened to me was that I went out with two girlfriends to a bar in the Lower East Side. The three of us were new to the city and were immediately approached by a group of male French exchange students, eager to buy us drinks. One of them, an attractive blonde, introduced himself as Jean-Paul and fetched me a vodka drink, complete with a maraschino cherry. Then, my friends and the group of men sat at a table — and other than the flashbacks that would emerge, that's about all I can remember.
In the months after, memories surfaced. I remembered being in a cab with Jean-Paul and him asking for my address. I remembered fading in and out of consciousness, both in the cab and in my apartment, as he thrust his body over me. One of the most disturbing memories that surfaced, considering our disparity in intoxication, was when he whispered into my ear, "I'm sober." Thanks to the drink he purchased, and lord knows what substance he put in it, I was most certainly not. But I knew I didn't want to have sex with him that night.

I blamed myself. I was too drunk; I'm a whore; I let it happen.

Still, I blamed myself. I was too drunk; I'm a whore; I let it happen. I even briefly tried to embrace it, G-chatting a friend who I knew had a French boyfriend something along the lines of, "Looks like I had sex with a French dude last night!" Because of this denial, I didn't report it (although it's worth mentioning that I have reported a sexual assault, and it unfortunately wasn't a pleasant experience). Thankfully, after over six years of introspection and self-care, my perspective has gradually changed.
I began going to therapy regularly and taking medication for depression, and I educated myself on sexual assault (my career shift into sex writing has allowed me to research and report on sexual assault and speak to survivors). I learned that laws surrounding consent are often confusing and, unfortunately, not in favour of survivors — and that both intoxication and unconsciousness play a role in someone's capacity to give consent. I now know that, whether or not I was drugged, anyone as incapacitated as I was is incapable of giving consent, and Jean-Paul's admission of being sober was predatory. I believe I was raped, and among other things, I believe that motherfucker (excuse my French) literally and figuratively ruined my favourite dress.
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While I was never able to get that ripped fixed — it wasn't so big that I couldn't wear the dress again — that's not why it was forever tainted in my mind. It didn't matter how pretty I thought the dress was, or how comfortable it felt to wear, or how much I loved the way it flowed when I danced. When I pulled it out of my closet, I would be reminded of him on top of me and the feeling of shame, guilt, and powerlessness I felt. Just one look at that dress, and I'd have a flashback. This, it turns out, is a common experience for sexual assault survivors, since certain items can trigger reminders of the event.

I took the dress to a seamstress once, and was told the fabric was too delicate to repair, which felt like a metaphor for how emotionally damaged I felt after being so violated.

But despite all of this, I held on to the DVF dress, even wearing it again after the assault. I loved that dress; it was expensive, and I hated the idea of it being ruined by some predator. I took the dress to a seamstress once, and was told the fabric was too delicate to repair, which felt like a metaphor for how emotionally damaged I felt after being so violated.
Honestly, the main reason I still wore the dress was because it was one of the nicest things I owned at the time, and it's only recently that I've made enough money to build up a wardrobe with other beautiful dresses that aren't ripped or triggering for me. So now, I've stopped wearing it. While, before, I didn't want to give my assaulter the power to take away one of my favourite outfits, I ultimately decided that the best decision for me would be to accept that I'm human, and if wearing the dress causes me pain, it's okay to let it go for the sake of my own sanity.
Now, over six years later, the dress sits in a crumpled ball in the back of the small, messy Brooklyn closet I share with my partner. I haven't had the heart to throw it out, because I had loved it so much before the assault, and many happy memories were associated with it, too. But now, after coming to terms with the fact that I was assaulted and it wasn't my fault, I feel ready to get rid of it. While I know that recovery can be a lifelong process, throwing out this dress is an important step in my own path — I finally know that tossing it is not defeat, it's a sign of strength. And, at this point, both myself and my closet could use the release.
If you have experienced sexual violence of any kind, please visit Rape Crisis or call 0808 802 9999.
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