Four Survivors of Rape Rebuild Lives

By MANDY LOCKE

It's a story without an ending. Every page captures how the four sexual assault survivors who've shared their stories with the Gazette navigate through and reshape a world that was once safe and predictable.

Since the attacks, some days have been good, others just bearable and still others hard to endure.

While the experiences of Rose, Caitlin, Beth and Alex, whose names have been changed for privacy, are all very different, their lives are linked by trauma and uncertainty.

"You couldn't be sad, but you couldn't be happy," Beth, who was sexually assaulted by a co-worker a year and a half ago, says, remembering how numb she felt.

"The whole numb thing; maybe that's what I'm in," whispers Alex, a summer worker who believes her supervisor gave her a date rape drug before he raped her earlier this season.

"I felt that way for a long time. The first two weeks, I don't remember too much. You just go. Then after that, it hurts. Then you just go again because you don't want to hurt. I remember telling a friend, ‘What if this is as good as it gets? What if this is how I feel for the rest of my life?' " Beth continues.

Rose, who was held against her will for several days earlier this summer while three men repeatedly raped her, relates to the range of emotions.

"From a month and a half ago until now, it's been a roller coaster. I've been through every emotion," Rose says.

Shock and confusion marked the days following Caitlin's rape by two men last year.

"I didn't really understand what happened to me that night. I couldn't get out of bed for a long time," she says. It wasn't until some months later that Caitlin could even tell her family about the rapes.

The women endured much grief before they found the tools to regain some sense of control.

"There are some days when you just want to crawl in a hole. Sometimes it was the best idea I had. I don't have them anymore, at least not everyday," Beth says.

Aside from the emotional strain of dealing with the rapes, there are concrete losses for these women as well.

When Beth's boss failed to assure her that she wouldn't be working the same shifts as the man who attacked her, she was forced to look for another job. Rose, returning home after being held against her will for three days, discovered she had been fired. Alex quit one of her part-time jobs because she feared she would see her attacker. And Caitlin switched schools when she couldn't avoid seeing one of her rapists every day.

But these survivors refuse to allow the attack to disrupt their lives forever.

"When I finished school for the year, I came here. And next summer I'll go somewhere else. I'm not going to let it stop me," Alex, who left the Island to return to college for her sophomore year, says with confidence.

Rose now carries her pepper spray, emergency numbers and coins in order to feel less helpless.

"I feel stronger now than before I was raped. I feel that I know myself better. It feels like this was a year ago. I've had so many different things," Rose says.

Beth agrees: "It doesn't run my daily life anymore. That took a long time. It's given me strength to get through other things. You really learn who you are."

Exactly one year after Beth was attacked, she wanted to celebrate this mile mark. While she told no one why she celebrated on this particular day, she felt some sense of personal victory.

"I was coming upon the one year point, and I survived the year in one piece. How bad could that be? The rape hadn't won. He didn't win. I did," Beth says.

And Beth continues to find reasons to celebrate.

"I was in Atlantic Connection this past weekend [18 months later], and it was the first time I was in a crowd and didn't get nervous," she says.

Nonetheless, progress for the survivors may not be a straight line.

Beth experienced a chilling reminder of how small the Island is when her attacker moved next door to one of her friends.

Rose started reliving the horrors of her attack at night when she slept.

"I started getting nightmares three nights in a row. When I woke up in the morning, I felt like I had been raped physically. And that followed me for the next four days. I had felt so good emotionally. You are moving on so much mentally, then I got that physical thing. I felt like I had just been violated again.

"It was two opposites, and that just set me right back emotionally. It was disgusting. It was a feeling of disgust. It's been one thing on top of the other. After three weeks, a close family member jumped up and said he didn't believe me. So many levels of healing," Rose says.

As the women rebuild their lives, they learn how to carry the weight of their experiences. With such obvious and dramatic changes in their lives, friends and acquaintances sometimes probe for information they might not be willing to volunteer, and they must decide how much to divulge.

"It's not fun having to explain yourself when it's something that traumatizing, to tell someone you know is not going to understand. One of my friends, her first response was, ‘Why didn't you flag down a police officer?' You don't want to be judged when you are already judging yourself," Rose says.

"Sometimes I want to talk about it. Sometimes I just get really sad," Caitlin says, noting how her mood and willingness to share changes with each day.

But even as these women work to rebuild their lives after the attacks, they are able to offer support and advice to other women. In fact, during a group discussion, each survivor was helped by hearing the stories of the other women.

"It's changed my attitude toward men," Caitlin says. "I don't have much trust. It's hard to trust. I walk with clenched fists."

But Beth offers this: "Trusting and falling in love again is worth it." Beth also admits that counseling has aided her healing process.

"You need someone who can look at you and not tell you how you should be feeling. It's given me a lot more strength," she says.

After the 90-minute discussion, when asked what advice these women might offer the Vineyard community, Caitlin, the youngest of the survivors, answers without hesitation:

"Believe a woman who tells you she's been raped. For those who it has happened to, don't blame yourself."