My name is Kyla. On the dates of May 18th and June 4th, I was raped. This didn’t happen in a dark alley, or at a party, or while I was under the influence of drugs or alcohol. He wasn’t a stranger. He was someone I knew and liked. I trusted him. He violated my trust in the worst possible way. He stole from me and left me in a million little pieces. I am still picking up the shards of a life that he destroyed as carelessly as one might throw away a tissue. He treated me like I was disposable.
I became acquainted with my attacker after meeting his best friend/sometimes girlfriend on Twitter. I really liked her. They invited me to hang out late on a weeknight. I learned that he’d broken up with another girlfriend earlier that week. I’d been through the most painful breakup of my life (with the man I’d thought I was going to marry) only weeks earlier. I was still heartbroken. The three of us hung out until 3 am, and they invited me to stay the night and not make the forty-five-minute drive home.
He and I stayed up all night talking. I remember discussing our church. We were both raised LDS. He told me about how he’d slept with a lot of women, but he’d left all of that behind. We confided in each other about our experiences with repentance. He talked about how he almost never confessed any sexual sins to his bishop. I didn’t want to be judgmental. I gave him the benefit of the doubt. I thought I’d be safe with him.
He kissed me the same night I met him, while his friend slept. We spent the next day together. He was charming. He wasn’t judgmental or critical. I liked him immediately. He was forward and aggressive and pushed me to a level physically that I normally wouldn’t be comfortable with, especially with someone I’d just met. My breakup left me in a vulnerable position. Due to the intensity of our first meeting, I assumed that I wouldn’t ever see him again. I was surprised when he asked me on a date the next week. Once again, things went very fast physically. At this point, and several other points, I set boundaries of what I was and wasn’t okay with.
The third time we hung out was the day after his birthday. Something was off. He seemed intent on having sex, even though that wasn’t what I wanted. I reminded him of this. I trusted him to respect my wishes. We went into my room to watch a movie, and I asked him about his Mormon Message. He told me that the last time he’d had sex, this “crazy girl” had lied and called it rape, and she’d gotten his Mormon Message taken down.
Anxiety and fear took over me. I wanted to understand his side, but I know that women rarely lie about rape. I felt like at the very least, there must have been a huge misunderstanding between them. I reminded him again of the boundaries we’d agreed upon. He promised me that he wouldn’t do anything unless I “wanted it”. We started one of my favorite movies. He kept interrupting it. I tried to divert his attention, but he didn’t let up. He became more aggressive. He got on top of me and penetrated me without my consent.
I froze. I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t look at his face. My ability to choose was taken away. In my head, I went somewhere else. I couldn’t believe what was happening. I just wanted it to be over. I thought I was at fault for letting him in my room and for being physical with him when I barely knew him. Afterwards, he said, “I told you I wouldn’t do it unless you wanted it”. He told me that he hoped I never went to my bishop again. He told me that if I told anyone about the encounter, he’d find out. He left. I cried. I wanted to disappear.
I didn’t want to believe that what happened, happened. This was a guy who picked me up from the airport. This was someone who’d held my hand in public. He’d called me beautiful, smart, kind, and wonderful. I didn’t want him to say that I was “crazy”, like the woman he’d told me about. I hid my hurt and confusion. I tried to act like everything was fine, because I wanted so badly to believe that to be true. Anyone who knows me knows that I strive to see the best in everyone. I saw good in him. I didn’t believe he could have hurt me on purpose. In my head, I tried to convince myself that he’d just misunderstood me, that I must have sent “mixed signals”, that I didn’t fight or scream so it was my fault.
A few weeks later, he called at 2 am, drunk and high, begging me to take care of him. He and his friends were house-sitting in the apartment complex where my best friend Maddie lived. I was worried about him, and with my best friend next door, I thought I’d be fine with him for a couple of hours. I planned to keep our physical interactions limited. When I arrived, he was all over the place. He could barely stand on his own. He kept grabbing me. He took me into the room where he’d be sleeping. I was uncomfortable. I told him unequivocally that we would not be intimate in any way. He wouldn’t take no for an answer or let me leave. I said no every step of the way. He ignored every one of them.
The next morning, he told me he didn’t remember anything that happened. I walked back to my friend’s apartment. The shorts I’d borrowed from her had the entire elastic ripped apart. I changed my clothes. I went to breakfast with him and his friends and acted like everything was fine, and tried to eat even though I had no appetite. When I got back, I climbed into my friend’s bed and stayed there for the rest of the day. I hated myself for being alone with him and for letting it happen again.
I desperately wanted to believe that these encounters were normal. I blamed myself for his actions. He was so manipulative, I didn’t understand what happened to me. I became extremely depressed, and I couldn’t figure out why. My friends noticed changes in me. I felt like nothing mattered. Every unkind word and criticism I’d ever heard about myself repeated in my head, and I thought they were all true. I constantly felt like a disappointment: to the person I loved who’d broken up with me, to my church leaders, to myself, to everyone.
A week or so later, he and I were at the same party. I was uneasy the entire evening. My best friends, Amber and Maddie, were with me and they noticed my anxiety. A few days after the party, I had him over so I could tell him in person that we wouldn’t be spending any more time together. He was still involved with his ex-girlfriends, he played mind games and told half-truths, and I didn’t like how intense he’d been so early on. I didn’t like the degrading things he said about other women. He even said unkind things about the women closest to him, describing one as totally lacking in empathy and the other as completely insecure. I was nice to him but grateful to see him leave.
I tried to move on, but in the middle of June, I found myself in the dark watching Wonder Woman, unable to get the nights with him out of my head. The missing pieces fell into place. I relived and remembered what I wanted to forget. After the movie, I described the first encounter to a friend as if it were a hypothetical scenario. I asked her what she would call it. When she told me what she thought, I realized that I already knew the truth.
I was a victim of rape. I’d been raped twice by the same man.
For days, I couldn’t feel at all. I could no longer ignore what happened to me. I was numb. When I finally broke, I thought I’d never be put back together. I cried so much that I thought I’d drown.
When Kesha’s song, “Praying”, came out, I listened to it for four hours straight. She has been a hero to me as I’ve watched her face her abuser in court. Her courage helped me to feel less alone.
“Some say, in life, you’re gonna get what you give
But some things only God can forgiveI hope you’re somewhere prayin’, prayin’
I hope your soul is changin’, changin’
I hope you find your peace
Falling on your knees, prayin'”
I reported the rapes to the police. I hoped that I could be helpful in other open cases against him if they existed. From what I know of sexual predators, they don’t usually stop at one victim. I thought often of the woman he’d called a liar, and I became certain that her story was true. I started telling my friends the story.
A couple of weeks later, I called my attacker from the police station to try to get a recorded admission of guilt. I took Amber with me. She heard the whole thing. I was instructed to start with small talk, so that’s what I did. I talked to him about how I hadn’t wanted to go as far as he did. He kept saying my name in a way that made me sick to my stomach. He told me he cared about me and asked if I really thought he would do that. He called what happened consensual sex. I called it “rape”. He was quiet for a few seconds and then he asked, “Why are you doing this to me?”
I am still haunted by those words.
It was easy for me to blame myself for not fighting him. I didn’t know that the human instinctual response to an attack includes more than just fight and flight. Freezing, or tonic immobility, is a common reaction to sexual assault. I know of an FBI Agent who was sexually assaulted in public. She was well-trained, she carried a gun, and she still froze. It isn’t a choice. It isn’t the victim’s fault. Freezing in the moment doesn’t mean it wasn’t rape.
Post-traumatic stress can affect everyone differently. There is no right way to be a victim. It isn’t uncommon for people to take months or even years to realize that they were raped or assaulted. The brain’s response to trauma can manifest in varied ways. Just because a victim doesn’t immediately recognize that an encounter was nonconsensual doesn’t mean it wasn’t rape.
Most sex crimes are committed by someone the victim knows. When that number is put into context, the low reporting rate makes sense. Attackers deliberately manipulate the attachment. Like victims of domestic violence, it isn’t uncommon for victims of rape/sexual assault to continue the relationship with their abuser. Perpetrators are often someone the victim is dating or friends with. A prior sexual relationship doesn’t mean it wasn’t rape. Married people can be raped by their spouses. Knowing someone, caring about them, and even loving them doesn’t mean it wasn’t rape.
I couldn’t control my response to the trauma I suffered. I couldn’t control freezing or taking time to understand what happened. None of it was my fault. It was not my fault that I was raped, and I refuse to ever blame myself again. It was not my fault.
On August 6th, I saw a man post that women who don’t report their sexual assaults are just as bad as the men who sexually assault them. I rarely get angry, but I was livid. Victims should never be shamed for choosing to not report, especially when the system all too often works against us. The investigation into my rapes was still open, but it wasn’t moving forward. I gave up what little hope I had that my rapist would be prosecuted. I was tired of waiting and tired of living in fear that he was preying on other women while I stayed silent. I wrote my truth and I posted it on the app he often used as a hunting ground: Twitter.
“My name is Kyla. On May 18th, I was raped by someone I liked and trusted. I reported him, but it didn’t matter. It took me a month to overcome fear and admit what happened. By that time, any physical evidence was gone. He manipulated me by telling a story of another girl he’d been with, who told her bishop she’d been raped. He said, ‘Isn’t that crazy?’ I reported even though I knew it was too late because I wanted my story to be told. That was my choice. This happened in the apartment I was living in. I couldn’t sleep after that without dreaming of scorpions in my bed. So I just didn’t sleep. My life is now forever changed. I am suffering every day, but I am grateful to be alive and to have the support of my friends. I know what you are, and now so do the rest of us.”
I named my rapist and tagged him in the post.
The response was immediate and overwhelming. I received huge amounts of support and encouragement. Many other women who’d experienced similar situations shared their own stories publicly, and hundreds shared theirs with me privately. I also had someone offer to play the keyboard while Amber recorded me singing “Praying“. This song means so much to me. I am still so incredibly grateful for the amount of support and belief I received. I’ve met so many strong, brave, amazing people because I chose to share my story.
My rapist took down his Twitter account within minutes. He called and left a message threatening me with legal action if the tweets weren’t down within fifteen minutes. A police officer told him not to contact me anymore. I left the tweets up.
My rapist’s friends attacked me online and questioned my story. Text messages of my conversations with him were posted. I was called a liar and attention-seeker and accused of trying to destroy his life because he didn’t want to date me. One of his friends even said that I’d “wanted it”. The woman who introduced me to my rapist wrote that my story trivialized the experience of “real victims”. She answered anonymous questions about me and my story as if she were an expert, and continually attacked my character. My rapist’s sister told people that maybe I “just didn’t say no”. It was so disappointing to see women, even so-called feminists, take his side. I can’t understand why anyone would support a rapist. I don’t understand why they don’t see me as worthy of belief. “Nice guys” can be abusers. “Nice guys” can be rapists. Their respectful treatment of some doesn’t negate the harm they do to others.
I received threatening, aggressive cease and desist letters from his lawyer. They included copies of texts I had sent my attacker weeks before I was raped. The letters also included a brief exchange of messages with a former friend where I told her about one of my encounters with him before I was raped. I was devastated. She went out of her way to help my rapist and his lawyer and acted as if the previous physical activity was relevant to my being raped. The lawyer tried to make the case that because I had texted him affectionately before and because we’d had a prior relationship, I had to be lying about the rapes. The letter said they were going to pursue criminal and civil charges against me if I didn’t take all the tweets related to my rape down. Almost everyone I talked to, including several other lawyers, advised me to take the tweets down in case of a lawsuit. I left the tweets up anyway.
I am indebted to my friends, especially Amber and Maddie, who fought for me while fear of a lawsuit kept me from fighting for myself. When my texts were posted, they reminded everyone that none of these messages changed the fact that I did not consent. They fiercely defended me. They refused to allow my rapist’s supporters to intimidate me or change the narrative.
Within a week, I was contacted by five other women who had been violated by the same man. Four were sexually assaulted, and one other, the one he told me had lied, really was raped by him. She’d told the truth. Finding these other women gave me strength and courage. Eight other women who’d spent time with my rapist told me that even though he didn’t assault them, they weren’t at all surprised by my story. I stopped second-guessing myself. I no longer have any doubt in my mind that my rapist knew what he was doing. Hearing about the experiences others have had with him makes me certain that he is an unrepentant, serial sexual abuser of women.
An attorney in my community represented me for free. I am so grateful for her help. She wrote an incredible response to the cease and desist letters. She chastised his lawyer for his unnecessary aggression and the empty threats he’d used to intimidate me. After finding the other victims, I stopped being afraid of legal action. I didn’t care if he sued me. He would never win. A plaintiff can’t win a libel case when the defendant is telling the truth.
I didn’t give in to their demands. I left all of my tweets up except for one that including his name. His name had been posted by his friends and mine, so I was sure that it would remain public. I was satisfied with this solution, one that I came up with. I wanted to show him that I wouldn’t back down. (I eventually reposted his name and picture. I haven’t been contacted by his lawyer again.)
Soon after telling my story, I watched the #MeToo movement start. Many women I’d been in contact with who hadn’t ever gone public before did at that time, even if it was just writing “me too” without details. Suddenly, everyone around me was hyper-aware of an issue that affected me every day. I saw men completely shocked as they realized how universal these experiences were to so many women. After what happened to me, I started talking and writing about sexual violence regularly. I haven’t stopped. I was interviewed by Health.com about my story, and the article was published on November 20th. You can read it here. I’m very thankful to Sarah Klein for choosing to help me tell my story.
I’ve spent time with some of the other women he assaulted; I’m glad we have each other. We can trade experiences so we don’t have to feel crazy anymore. We are each other’s source of validation since we have a court system that doesn’t work for victims. After the article was published, three more of my rapist’s victims found me. This takes the total up to nine. Several of them, like me, were so manipulated that it took them time to understand the experience for what it was: sexual assault. I imagine there are more out there who just haven’t found me yet.
This is my aftermath. I failed two of my summer classes because I couldn’t get out of bed. I’d planned to graduate with my bachelor’s degree in the spring. That will no longer be possible. I am postponing school so that I can take more time for recovery. I’ve stopped taking voice lessons for the first time in six years. I had to be tested for pregnancy and STD’s. I rarely trust men who I didn’t already know prior to the rapes. I live in constant fear because my rapist knows where I live, where I work, where I go to school, and who my friends are. I experience severe anxiety when I see a car like his. I have panic attacks. I’ve struggled for months to sleep more than 4-5 hours a night. I see a therapist weekly. I see a doctor often. I take the same pill for post-traumatic nightmares that soldiers do after returning from combat. Since the night of the first rape, I have been living with the worst depression and PTSD I’ve ever experienced.
The loss of my spiritual self-worth was acutely painful. My belief in God is central to who I am. My most vivid memory of the attacks is the beginning of it, because, in those first agonizing seconds, all I could think was: “It doesn’t even matter anymore”. In an instant, I felt in my bones that I no longer had any worth. I felt dirty and ashamed. Before the rape, I attended church every week. Afterwards, I rarely showed up, and when I did, I left early. I felt utterly unworthy. I couldn’t feel God’s love for me. When I finally realized that these attacks weren’t my fault, I was still afraid to go to church because I feared being blamed, labeled, and excluded. I still fear being seen as “damaged goods” because of what happened to me.
I’ve since started to return to activity, and I’m grateful for that. In John 14:18, Jesus says “I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you”. I’ve spent a long time feeling unbearably alone, but I know that I’m not. I believe in a Savior who understands my suffering and who wants to help me heal. I believe in Heavenly Parents who know me, value me, and love me. I believe that I am worthwhile.
Even in my darkest moments of despair and suffering, I have hope. I still listen to “Praying” every day. The pain has stayed with me. Everywhere I go, I carry a backpack full of rocks. Every single thing I do is more difficult because of that weight. Healing can be a very long process, but I am willing to work for it, no matter what it takes. I believe that my life is worth living. I will never be the person that I was before this, but I am working to love the woman I am becoming. I am a survivor.
To my attacker: You heard my voice break and saw the tears on my face as I spoke these words. Now, I’m going to repeat them.
I do not regret doing this publicly. I’ve relived the worst nights of my life for police officers, lawyers, title ix officials, church leaders, and so many strangers. I am constantly exposed as I go into detail about my victimization at your hands, but I do it because you will continue to cross paths with other women. You pick on the vulnerable, and the people who are willing to give you the benefit of the doubt.
You are a rapist and a predator. You destroyed my life, and I haven’t seen a single bit of remorse from you. “Why are you doing this to me”? I think about those words all the time. You stole my happiness, my positivity, my ability to trust, and my self-worth. You are not the victim here. You can lie to your friends and your family and you can even lie to yourself, but you can’t lie to God. He sees you and your failure to treat me like a human being. Your soul is never going to change until you accept responsibility for the huge amounts of pain and suffering you’ve caused.
Sexual violence is an epidemic, and while we may never be able to completely wipe it out, we can support one another and fight to create systems that can help us. I tell my story so that others with similar experiences might be empowered and better understand what happened to them. I tell my story to protect people from this man and others like him. I hope to encourage others to seek support and continue their road to recovery. I want to magnify the voices of those who have felt afraid, alone, worthless after rape and assault.
To my fellow survivors: You are not alone. You are not what they took from you.
I will listen to you. I will be your friend. I believe you. I support you. I stand with you.