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

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Alex, Cassie and I did do some legitimate sight-seeing, but mostly we drank espressos in the Piazza San Marco, rode in a gondola under the Bridge of Sighs, bought Venetian glass earrings and masks in the Mercerie by the Rialto Bridge. We ate pizza for breakfast, gelato for lunch and bottles of Limoncello for dinner.

At the end of our second action-packed day the girls and I hopped a water bus to the Lido de Venezia, a little island twelve minutes south of Venice.

We arrived at the main touristy thoroughfare, the Santa Maria Elisabetta, and immediately found a restaurant that met our spartan budget. We’d just managed to finish our first bottle of five dollar wine when a young, blond-haired, blue-eyed Italian man sat down at the empty seat at the end of our table. He introduced himself, in broken English, as Fabio.

The arrival of Fabio immediately injected novelty and romance into our all-girls trip. Had we been in the States we probably wouldn't have invited him to join us, but getting to know the natives was an integral part of the fantastic story we were weaving for ourselves.

Throughout dinner Fabio charmed us with his enthusiasm and willingness to speak English badly. He seemed to come straight from central casting; the outrageously flirtatious Italian, passionate, but benign.

After dinner, when we were at a loss what to do next, Fabio suggested we allow him to take us down to the beach where we could stick our feet in the Adriatic Sea. e assured us it was walking distance. We immediately agreed. Would the Adriatic somehow be more luminous and magical than the Pacific? We stopped into a liquor store first to purchase two more bottles of cheap red wine to embolden our journey.

When we emerged from the liquor store we noticed two young men leaning up against a telephone booth smoking. Fabio said something to them in Italian that none of us could understand. It was a strange exchange, somehow furtive, as though Fabio hadn't wanted us to see them.

As we moved on I asked Fabio who they were. "Just some friends," he said dismissively. There was something about them that struck a discordant note in our light-hearted evening. They seemed dark and brooding, sizing we women up like pieces of meat.

But soon they were out of sight and out of mind.

The four of us walked away from the well-lit, bustling main streets of the Lido into the ancillary roads which were sparsely populated and under lit. I felt a little uncomfortable walking away from civilization with a boy we barely knew, but shrugged it off. There were three of us and one of him. He was our age, our size, a student like us. It would be an insult to his hospitality to turn back now.

Follow Your Instincts

We emerged onto the frontage road that ran parallel to the beach. It was completely deserted and equipped with only one street lamp. The beach stretched a good half-mile into the distance before it touched the Adriatic. It wasn't luminous or exotic. But dark and frigid under a crescent moon.

"I'm getting cold," said Alex, a note of uncertainty in her voice.

"Come on," said Fabio, his enthusiasm amped up a notch, "I find you somewhere warm."

Suddenly two shadows disengaged themselves from the dark appearing in our circle of light. A gasp of surprise stuck in my throat. For a moment I thought we were about to be mugged. Then I recognized the faces of the two young men Fabio had spoken to in town.

It was an ominous moment. We three girls instinctively recoiled. The boys must've noticed our collective hesitation because they transformed from poker-faced strangers into smiling charmers greeting us in broken English.

Accomplices and Conspiracies

There may be Multiple Perpetrators who Conspire to Commit the Crime. Particularly in Social Settings.

Fabio introduced the young men as Marco and David. They were both dark-haired and dark-eyed. Undeniably handsome. They no longer peered at us from beneath hooded eyes, but reached out their hands to shake ours and asked us where we were all going.

Fabio told them he wanted to show us the beach. We had wine, would they like to come?

Another red flag. Something in Fabio's delivery seemed rehearsed. This thought barely registered, but is remembered now by me years after the fact.

Beautiful Isn't the Same as Safe

Do Not Let Appearances Lull You into a Sense of Safety

I have to interject an observation here, there's an animal instinct hard-wired in our DNA which makes us respond positively to beauty. Had these young men been unattractive the night might've ended there. Beauty equals good. Beauty equals safe. Killers like Ted Bundy were able to lure their victims more easily because they were handsome.

Alex and Cassie looked to me to see what our next move should be. I was, by some biological imperative, the alpha in our trio. This was a pivotal moment where we could've turned back. But I was an "experience junkie," I wanted the story, the adventure and, now I can admit, the kiss that would make me victor in our competition for male conquests. Cassie and Alex read the decision in my eyes and soon we were following the boys down that remote beach even farther away from people and help.

Avoid Secluded Places

Don't Spend Time with Someone Who Makes You Feel Uneasy

As we came close to the shoreline Fabio pointed out several changing cabins that were used by wealthy patrons of the nearby luxury hotels during the frenetic summer months. He knew just which cabin was unlocked, pushed the door open and the three boys went inside beckoning us to follow.

"It's warm in here, viene, viene!"

Again I hesitated, prey instincts flaring, but then I thought Oh, what the hell. In I went, Cassie and Alex followed and Marco closed the door behind us. We were thrown immediately into pitch-black darkness. I couldn't tell who was in front of or behind me. It was a jumble of elbows and shoulders intermingling until one of the boys lit a candle with his lighter. I don’t remember who it was, but I do recall thinking this wasn’t the first time they'd brought girls to this cabin. It even made me smile a little. Boys will be boys, I thought.

The bottles of wine were quickly uncorked and we settled in to drink and talk. Initially the six of us sat in a round circle, but inevitably we paired off.

Stay Sober and Aware

I sat next to David. I can't see his face in my mind anymore. I just remember thinking he was gorgeous and wondering why I'd thought he was a little scary before. We conversed in a mixture of Italian and English. I was pleased we seemed to understand each other. David frequently passed me one of the wine bottles and each time, I took a swig. But when I offered it back to him, he always declined. I found out later that none of the boys drank. We three girls -- with a great amount of prompting from the boys -- finished both bottles of wine.

Know Ahead of Time What You Want

As the wine warmed my belly and dispelled my inhibitions I decided David was the Italian boy I would kiss to win the bet with my friends. But a kiss was all that I wanted. I thought it would be safe with the two other couples nearby. Abruptly all of the wine from dinner and in the cabin caught up with me and I had to pee. I excused myself as discreetly as a moderately drunk person can and went just outside the cabin to squat ladylike in the sand.

When I was done and stood to zip up Alex emerged from the cabin looking troubled.

"What's wrong?" I asked her.

"Fabio's been saying he has a girlfriend but that he sleeps with other girls, then he asked me if I have a boyfriend and if I sleep with him."

She said she felt uncomfortable and wanted to leave. I was annoyed. Why was she being so fragile, couldn't she tell Fabio she wasn't interested in sex, she just wanted to enjoy his company? Why did she have to ruin my good time? I'd hoped our evening would evolve like Prom night in high school, three couples making out, but ultimately protected from going "too far" by sticking together.

Alex, Cassie and I weren't close friends. We'd only known each other casually those brief three months, but instinct told me I didn't want to be on this beach without them. I agreed we should leave.

Alex and I returned to find Cassie already attempting to exit the cabin with all three men trying to persuade her to sit back down and stay, grasping her arms and elbows. She practically fell into our arms in a state of semi-panic. My senses were still sodden and her discomfort failed to register.

Alex and I picked up our purses explaining it was time to go. It all happened very quickly, we girls trying to leave and the boys trying to dissuade us with charm, entreaties and subtle body blocking. But a tenuous etiquette to social norms held, allowing Alex and Cassie to exit the cabin, followed immediately by Marco and Fabio still trying to plead their case.

I wouldn't see any of them again on that beach.

Go out with a Group of Friends and Watch Out for Each Other.

David and I were alone in the cabin. I could hear the voices of my friends and the other boys just outside. I had a choice. I could step through that door and follow them or I could turn back to David and collect my kiss. I stepped into his waiting arms.

The kiss was electric.  Hungry, passionate, I felt beautiful, desirable. While I loved my boyfriend at home he hadn’t always appreciated me and at times made me feel insecure and unattractive. It had been three years since another boy had touched me.

I don't know exactly when things began to go wrong and I have no sense of how much time went by, but at some point I realized I couldn't hear the voices outside anymore and the kiss didn’t feel like a kiss anymore. It felt like something hard and sharp forcing me to the edge of a black pit.

I tried to pull away, but David held me tight. My arms pressed to my sides. I stopped responding to the kiss, but David didn't seem to notice. I inched my hands up his chest and pushed steadily expecting him to get my signal and back away.  Instead he pinned me to the wall and held me there with his full weight against me, both my wrists trapped in one hand.

Men Are Much Stronger than Women. Period. The End.

David wasn't physically intimidating. We were the same height and roughly the same size. He might've had twenty pounds on me in muscle mass, but I remember being shocked at how strong he was, how I was pinioned to the wall and couldn't seem to move no matter how hard I tried.

Date Rapists Amp up Their Attack Gradually so the Victim Doubts Herself.

There was a split second, when David planted his feet apart in order to maintain his leverage over me, that I could've kneed him in the groin. Two things stopped me. The first was the fear I might be wrong about what was happening. Maybe he was too swept away by desire to realize I wasn't having any fun and if I kneed him I might feel bad or even worse, embarrassed for hysterically over-reacting.

The second reason I didn’t knee him was because I was afraid I might miss. And if I missed he might really hurt me. I didn't dare to think it, but in retrospect I realize I was afraid he might be capable of killing me.

The opportunity to hurt him passed. I continued trying to push him away. I told him I wanted to go. He kept saying all he wanted to do was kiss and that he'd let me go in a minute and I wanted to believe him. What I didn't know then was that he was buying time so that Fabio and Marco could get my friends far enough away that they wouldn't hear me if I screamed. And I didn't scream. I desperately hoped he would come to his senses. I felt myself getting weaker and weaker as I tried to push him away, now with my forearm against his throat.

I don't remember how I managed it, but I knew I had to get out of that cabin at all costs. Somehow I must've caught him off balance because I managed to fling myself out through the cabin door where I could be rescued by my friends.

But they were gone. The beach was completely deserted. That's when David tackled me from behind, knocking me face-first into the sand, rolling me over and climbing on top of me, imprisoning me once more.

Engage Your Vocal Chords

I didn't realize it, but from the moment the kiss turned bad I hadn't engaged my vocal chords. I had whispered, "no, no, no, let me go." But I hadn’t actually made a sound anyone but David could hear.

Years later I went to my friend Laura's self-defense course graduation and I learned there that when women are attacked they frequently become paralyzed and don't speak. I learned that engaging the vocal chords loudly actually ignites adrenaline which allows women to fight back. Women are often raped and killed without making a sound.

My struggle with David continued on that empty beach. I wonder how long we were there? It had to be longer than five minutes in the cabin. It would've taken at least that long for the others to hike up the beach to the road above and disappear. But was it ten minutes, twenty? Half an hour?It seemed like a lifetime.

There was still a small piece of me that hoped David would stop. I was so weak and out of breath from straining to break free that I could hardly move. It's how I imagine hypothermia must feel to someone struggling to stay above water in the ocean, until their body gives way and they drown.

David tried to kiss me again and I bit his lip. This infuriated him. He held my head down and bit me twice on the chin, drawing blood. Then he put both of his thumbs in my eyes and pressed as if he would gouge them out, muttering unintelligible threats in Italian. I lay very still. He took this as acquiescence and ripped my shirt open, buttons flying everywhere and shoved his hands under my bra. Then he reached down and ripped my jeans open, breaking the zipper.

I began to struggle afresh. This is when he told me that he had a knife and he was going to kill me if I didn't fuck him. This was when I left my body. My spirit wanted to be anywhere other than where it was in that moment.

I didn't actually see scenes from my life, but I thought about everything I'd achieved, graduating high school with honors, being senior class president, entering college with 8 credits thanks to AP exams. I thought about the plans for the future, my future. The one I’d worked so hard for that might come to a blunt end at the hands of a stranger.

And I thought of my mom. How devastated she'd be. Would they ever find my body? Would she always wonder what had become of me? It seems strange that I thought of my mom. We hadn't lived together since I was nine years old. She didn't loom large in my life anymore. I've come to think that when we are terribly frightened we just want our mom.

I used to say I'd never "allow" anyone to rape me. I said I'd fight to the death first. Not true.

I quit trying to figure out how not to get raped and started thinking about what I had to do to stay alive.

I tried to help David pull my jeans down. They were stuck. I'd put on weight over the last three months and they wouldn't budge with David lying on top of me. He sensed I wouldn't fight him anymore so he levered himself off of me and jerked me around onto my hands and my knees, his pelvis pressed against my backside as he pulled my jeans down over my hips. This was the first time my arms were free and his weight wasn't pressed against me.

That brief moment of physical freedom unleashed something primal in me. I had one rational thought, if he has a knife, why haven't I seen it?

I pushed up off the sand and threw my fist back trying to hit his crotch. I made partial contact and felt for the first time that I surprised him. A wild, hysteria and a refreshed panic to get free overtook me. Sensing I was going to fight again David threw his arm around my neck from behind. Suddenly I found my voice and screamed "Rape!" for all I was worth. Adrenaline shot through me.

I'm not a martial artist, or slick or cool -- this wasn't a scene from Charlie's Angels,, it was just plain good luck that when I tried to throw his arm off of my neck my elbow caught him smack on the nose. I saw blood spurt and then I saw nothing but sand and that distant streetlamp as I ran headlong up the beach.

beach

Photo by Steven Damron. (Flickr)

Running up that beach was like the recurring nightmares I'd had about being chased by someone I couldn't see and not being able to run. My legs felt like they were wading through molasses, my jeans were down around my thighs and my vision was blurry. I found out later that when David put his thumbs in my eyes he'd shoved both my contact lenses behind my eyeballs.

I kept expecting him to grab me before I could reach the street. I remember sobbing "this isn’t funny anymore."; Already angry with myself, blaming myself for being a victim who'd wanted to have a fun adventure. A girl who wanted to be kissed by an Italian boy so she would have a romantic story to tell. My name could've preceded so many missing girls … NATALIE HOLLOWAY, MEREDITH KERCHER, JENNIFER LEVIN to name a few.

I achieved the street finally pulling my pants up and stepping under the streetlamp where David and Marco had appeared so suddenly an hour or so earlier. And here was David again, materializing under that streetlamp like an evil specter. He'd cut down the beach laterally and run parallel to me probably hoping to cut me off before I reached the street.

Now he was walking toward me, arms outstretched.

"Amico, amico." Friend, friend.

I was so exhausted I couldn't run any more or scream. I just stood in the middle of the road as he approached me. I must've looked dead because my mind went blank. Until he tried to put his arm around me as if to say, "let's let bygones be byegones."

Under the light with the possibility of a car or people coming by his power to hurt me was diminished. He touched me on the shoulder. Anger and fierce hatred coursed through me. I was completely unhinged. If I'd had a gun I would've shot him dead without hesitation.

Rape isn't just a physical act. It's a spiritual one. It's meant to completely dehumanize and destroy its target.

I ducked under David's arm and started screaming, "Get the fuck away from me or I'll kill you! I'll kill you!"

David saw the madness in my eyes and I could literally see him decide I wasn't worth the trouble. He disappeared into the night as quickly as he’d come.

I made my way back up the narrow, dark side streets of the Lido and emerged onto th Santa Maria Elisabetta thoroughfare. Cassie and Alex stood on the sidewalk, flanked by Marco and Fabio, nervous, indecisive expressions on their faces.

When they saw me, I could tell what I must have looked like from their horrified expressions. My hair was matted with sand and blood (mine? His?). My shirt was in tatters, my bra fully exposed. The zipper of my jeans sagged open and my pants were still down around my hips. My chin was bruised, the blood crusting where David bit me. My blinded eyes were wild.

Fabio and Marco instantly disappeared into vapor. As though they'd been a hallucination.

Make a Game Plan With Friends and Have a Signal if You Need Help

Cassie and Alex ran to me. They hadn't wanted to leave me alone on the beach, but Fabio and Marco pressed them, suggesting I probably wanted to be alone with David. The girls didn't know me well enough at the time to be sure that wasn't true.

They shepherded me to the nearest restaurant bathroom where they helped me dig out my contact lenses and put them back in properly. They helped me pull my clothes back together and wash some of the sand out of my hair. Slowly we made our way back to the pensione where I showered until the house matron yelled at me to get out and stop wasting all that water.

The next morning I discovered bruises in the shape of fingerprints up and down my arms, the bruises on my chin were already turning purple. There were scratches on my ribcage. My entire body was sore, as if I'd been lifting weights in a Mr. World competition.

I didn't report the attempted rape. I didn't have a clue what any of the boys' last names were, or even if the first names were real. And I don't know if I would've recognized them in the light of day. My defense mechanism and denial were already kicking in and their faces were a blur. If I hadn't written about the story in my journal the next day -- discovered by me and reread last week -- I probably wouldn't have remembered many of the details of that night.

In the United States, only 40 percent of sexual assault survivors report the crime. Of those, a mere 7 percent go to trial. Only 1 percent of rapists are convicted. As I write this the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) may not be renewed by Congress.

If David had jumped out of the shrubs, a stranger attacking me, I think I would've fought immediately. But the way this attempted date rape happened was so incremental and stealthy that I felt complicit. Like many women, I felt I owed this boy something because I went down to the dark beach with him.

Rape Is Not Your Fault

Over the next months and even years I blamed myself for the attempted rape. I should've listened to my instincts. I shouldn’t have gone down to the beach with boys I didn't know. I shouldn't have drunk any wine. I shouldn't have wanted a kiss. I was too flirtatious, too bawdy, a slut. I deserved it.

I had every stereotypical victim's reaction; the same reaction many juries have. All too frequently rape begrimes a woman's reputation. There are still many countries around the world where "honor killing" of rape victims is allowed due to cultural and religious beliefs.

Regardless of circumstances, I know how fortunate I am that David ultimately wasn't successful in raping me. Through luck or some guardian angel I'd managed to get away. I suspect that, had he succeeded in raping me, the devastation and shame would've been far greater. As it was, for the next 10 years, I panicked every time I found myself alone with a male acquaintance, or a man I didn't know. In an elevator, an office break room, the library stacks, a stairwell.

My confidence in moving freely through the world was dashed, my trust in men destroyed. It was a loss, but ultimately I became more street smart and savvy, far better able to protect myself and take necessary precautions to stay safe. And I hope that's what this story will do for my precious girls and perhaps yours too.

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