The Date Rape Story I'll Some Day Share with My Daughters

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"The thing about being murdered," writes William Langewiesche in the May issue of Vanity Fair, "it usually comes as a surprise."

The same can be said of date rape. When I awoke that bright spring morning of March 21st, 1986, in a pensione in Venice, Italy, I didn't expect the day to end on a dark, deserted beach with a boy I'd just met pinning me to the ground hissing in my ear that he had "un coltello" (a knife) and that "ho intenzione di ucciderti" (he'd kill me) if I didn't "f--k" him.

Getting dressed that morning I didn't know I'd have an out-of-body experience where I seemed to float above the scene, looking down at the two bodies grappling on the sand below feeling profoundly sad that my mom might never know what happened to me after I died on that beach so far from home.

I'm a mother now. My daughters are 8 and 9. The thought of them ever being in a similar situation is intolerable. Bad things can happen no matter how prepared and careful we are. But when my girls are old enough I'm going to share this story with them and hope they'll see the warning signs I missed.

My Story

In 1986 I was a privileged 20-year-old college student studying journalism in London for a semester abroad along with 22 other students from the University of Southern California. This was pretty heady, entitled stuff. I'd left my college sweetheart behind and hoped he'd be there when I got back five months hence. But it wasn't a great relationship. I'd spent most of it worrying he was cheating on me, so once I'd acclimated to living without him, the co-dependent umbilical chord was cut and I felt free in the best possible way.

I danced with friends till all hours at the Hippodrome. I got front row seats at Les Miserables for the 4£ student price, sitting so close I could see the actors' spit fly. I choked down thick, frothy Guinness in pubs at Covent Garden not because I liked them, but simply because in England the drinking age was 18. I didn't need a car because I rode the Tube, the Thames, the taxis and the double-decker buses. I walked the busy London streets wearing a black beanie, headphones and gloves with the fingers cut out of them. Maybe I'd get a tattoo of Sid Vicious on my rump?

Gone was the preppy, conservative USC undergrad. I was anonymous and free to reinvent myself as the young unencumbered heroine of my own story where risks could be taken, but I would always safe because they weren't real.

One Night in Italy

Two of the girls in our group, Cassie and Alex, decided to go to Italy for spring break and asked me if I'd like to join them. Italy for spring break? Why not? It was cheaper than Fort Lauderdale in the States and it affirmed the new way I saw myself as a Woman-of-the-World, an intrepid explorer.

I'd been to Italy once before with my grandparents as chaperones when I was in high school. I remembered how gorgeous the Italian men were. For a 16-year old hormone case, all of those flashing white teeth, thick-lashed eyes and gorgeous olive complexions about made me swoon.

The British boys hadn't impressed the USC women much. They didn't seem to value the art of flossing and brushing, let alone the entire field of dentistry. They seemed pale, pasty, spotty and gangly. None of us had had so much as a coffee date with a boy since arriving in London three months prior. We were a profoundly celibate group and admittedly a bit horny. So the three of us struck a deal: the first one to be kissed by a magnetic Italian won free drinks for the remainder of the trip.

The extent of our vacation planning was to buy airline tickets flying us into Venice and then, ten days later, flying us out of Pisa. We wanted to hit Florence and Rome in between using Eurorail student train passes. We didn't have hotel reservations, but hoped to find pensiones and youth hostels we could stay in along the way. Audacious youth!

When we emerged from the plane with our duffel bags Italy seemed to greet us with open arms. The weather was impeccable, the sun bright, the sea briny, the architecture and history world-class and the men did not disappoint. There seemed to be an unfair percentage of the world's most delectable men living in Venice and they flocked to American college girls like proverbial bees to honey.

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