One Woman Tells Us What It's Like To Be Raped -- And Have Your Town Turn Against You
Sixty percent of rapes go unreported to the police. But what's it like to be part of that other 40% -- and then have your community and friends turn against you? Emma Hanrahan knows only too well -- and today she's coming forward to share her story of pain and survival with MTV News, in the hopes that it will encourage that 60% to break the silence.
As the country embraces President Obama's new sexual assault awareness campaign, It's On Us, we asked Emma to write about her experience -- in her own words.
By Emma Hanrahan
Six years ago on Saturday, September 13, my life changed forever.
I was in my first couple of weeks of college and I was like any other 18-year-old girl: So excited to begin this new chapter of meeting new people, starting new classes -- and yes, even attending college parties and meeting new boys. I had my whole life ahead of me and couldn’t imagine anything that could get in my way.
And then I was raped. And, slowly, my entire world, everything I thought I knew, began to unravel. I was broken and it was the darkest, loneliest feeling I’ve ever encountered. During that time, I thought I’d never be able to pull myself out of that black hole. Would I ever be that carefree, happy girl again?
It was the fall of 2008. I was fresh out of high school: a bubbly, ambitious teenager who was counting down the days until I could travel all over the world. I got accepted into my dream school, an American university in my favorite city -- London. In a nutshell this is how I thought my life was going to unfold: I’d study in London, graduate, meet the man of my dreams, get married and settle down comfortably into my happily-ever-after. However, due to financial issues I had to defer my admission one semester and plan on arriving in London in January instead of September. I didn’t want to miss a beat, so instead of taking the semester off, I enrolled in a local community college to get some of my “have-to” credits taken care of -- and it was only a short drive from my hometown.
The first couple of weeks started off great. I was in school with some of my closest friends, going to classes during the day and attending sporting events and parties at night.
I remember that night as if it just happened. My friends and I were getting ready for a party at the “Soccer House," and we were drinking, laughing, taking pictures and trying on every outfit in my closet -- twice.
The soccer coach owned the Soccer House, just like the basketball coach owned the Basketball House. The team members rented from the coaches and lived in these houses, both of which were right on the border of the campus but not quite next to each other.
He was at that party. I’d seen him before in a couple of my art classes, but never really talked to him. I was dancing and he had his eyes fixed on me. I would be lying if I said I hated it; I was flattered. He was a guy and he seemed interested in me. At the time, it felt good. The night rolled into the early morning, and there were more drinks and more shots and somewhere in-between, without even realizing it, I lost myself.
Later in the evening, the soccer coach showed up -- there had been noise complaints about the party -- and made it clear he wasn't leaving until he cleared every single one of us out of that house. This is the moment that I got separated from my friends. I was waiting at the end of the driveway for my friends when three guys, all members of the basketball team, approached me. One of the guys was the one I noticed looking at me while I was dancing earlier.
Everyone called him “Paris,"* being that that was where he was from. They mentioned that they were having the “afterparty” at their house, the Basketball House, and they wanted my friends and I to come -- or so they said.
I still didn’t know where my friends were, but the boys assured me that they were coming right behind us and told me to walk with them back to their house. So I did.
As we were walking, one of my girlfriends called my phone to see where I was -- they hadn’t heard about this afterparty that I was on my way to, so I handed one of the guys my phone so he could give her directions and I continued talking with the other two guys. Even though my hometown wasn’t that far away, I was pretty drunk and not too familiar with that particular neighborhood.
What I didn’t know at the time was that instead of giving my friend directions, the guy hung up the phone on her. Shortly after that my cellphone died, but I wasn’t concerned because I thought my friends were only moments behind us.
We finally arrived. We walked inside and all gathered in the living room. One of them handed me a beer. They were telling me about all the stuff they bought on a shopping trip they went on earlier that day. Then Paris grabbed me by the hand and said, “Come with us, we want to show you what we’re talking about."
Almost immediately after entering the room I was pushed on the bed, and all of a sudden it went from being fun to being completely terrifying. I was dizzy and confused. Paris was on top of me. I said, "Slow down, I don’t want to do this. I want to go home."
The moment they ignored me and kept going was the moment I knew exactly what was about to happen. One of the other guys was standing right by my head and I remember looking up and seeing the third guy standing at the door, almost like he was keeping watch.
Was this planned? How did everything fall into place so quickly? All of a sudden my pants were ripped right off me and Paris immediately started having sex with me. I was crying "No" over and over again.
I don’t know how I did it and I don’t know how long it took me to do it, but I ended up pushing myself off the bed and rolling onto the floor. I started to run without my clothes or any of my stuff, but before getting to the door, turned back around to grab my clothes and my phone. My only thought was that I needed my mom (completely forgetting my phone had no battery left).
As I grabbed my stuff, one of the guys grabbed me by the arms and yelled, “Where are you going?" I pulled away without saying anything and ran. After getting outside I started walking and putting the rest of my clothes on. I was heading in what I thought was the right direction. I was walking for what seemed like a really long time.
Did that just happen? What just happened? I was confused and all I knew was that I felt completely torn apart. I wanted to crawl out of my skin. I felt dirty, ashamed, embarrassed and was alone standing in the middle of the soccer field with no idea where to go.
My friends must have been looking for me, because a couple of the kids that were at the party were walking toward me. I was quiet; I didn’t know who I could trust. Thankfully the people that found me knew to bring me back to my friends. When we finally reconnected, they didn’t know exactly what happened, but by looking at me they knew it wasn’t good -- so one of the girls called my mom.
I got into my mom's car and without saying anything she knew exactly what had just happened to me. We both started crying. All I wanted to do was go home, but she insisted that we go to the hospital. My mom did most of the talking when we got there. I remember lying on the hospital bed with bright lights and nurses all around me and I just stared at the wall.
The next four hours consisted of having every inch of my body investigated and scraped for evidence. My clothes were completely removed and placed in a bag, and it seemed like nothing remained private at that point. I know it's procedure and the doctors were just doing their job, but at the time I felt so violated, like my body didn’t belong to me anymore.
The police arrived, took my statement, and after more than four hours of being examined, I got to go home.
At the time, I didn’t want to speak to anyone -- I didn't want to be there. But it was really important for me to do what I did -- to go to the hospital, even though it was so hard. It's really difficult to make any kind of case even with the rape kit and the evidence -- but without it, it comes down to “your word against mine.” My mom encouraged me to step forward -- and I’m glad that she did, even though at the time I didn’t really understand why I had to. I definitely would tell any girl to go to the hospital right away -- no matter how hard it seems.
I had a lot of support from my family and I decided to press charges. It was a huge investigation; every kid at that party was questioned, including my rapists.
Pledge to take a stand against sexual assault over at It's On Us.
It was hard for me. I found peace many nights at the bottom of a cheap bottle of wine. My confusion and loss of self consumed me, while flashbacks and nightmares became a ritual in my already messed-up schedule. I had uncontrollable panic attacks that caused me to rarely leave the house. I spent many long days in my room not talking to many people at all.
The rape kit result came back and DNA was found, enough to at least make an arrest on Paris in the winter. Despite changing his statements drastically a few times, though, he gained the support from a majority of the school -- and town for that matter. The school didn’t feel it was necessary to remove Paris or the other guys from their classes -- even after the arrest. I couldn’t bear the thought of attending class every day sitting next to the guys that raped me, that broke me, that took everything from me, so I withdrew from school after only a couple of weeks.
To learn about rape culture and what you can do to combat it, head over to Look Different.
In the meantime, the town started taking sides -- everyone did. These guys were star athletes -- basketball players -- and it seemed like everyone supported them. It didn’t take long for the blame to be put on me. The basketball coach even confronted me at a game once with his players in tow -- including two of my attackers -- and as a result I was thrown out of the game. And banned from campus.
People I thought were my friends dropped me in a second to jump on the “FREE PARIS” bandwagon -- including some of my former roommates. There were flyers at school, kids wore T-shirts in his honor and even brought huge signs to his court appearances supporting him.
It drew attention from the local newspaper and radio stations, and people even wrote letters to the editor voicing their support for this man who took my entire life from me. Everywhere I turned "FREE PARIS” punched me right in the gut. I received threatening text messages from players and people I didn’t even know. I was harassed walking down the street; there are still blogs about me on the Internet created by students just to say awful and hateful things about me.
That’s the issue with how society as a whole thinks about sexual assault: They blame the victim. They blamed me. I was at a party. I was drinking. I was wearing a tank top. I was asking for it. Hearing those things over and over again –- you start to believe them. So many people told me that I was a slut. That I wanted it. It was really hard to not feel that way. I think that that just confirms that how people think of sexual assault and how they treat victims of a crime is backwards. We need to stop blaming the victims and start blaming their attackers.
And for those of us who have been attacked -- who have been hurt by these people -- know that it’s not your fault. You can be totally drunk. You can be complete naked and have the words “have sex with me” all over your body. The minute you say “no” it means no. Even if you had sex with 100 people before, if you didn’t want it then and said that you didn’t want it then -- or you were too drunk to say that you didn’t want it -- it’s still rape. It’s still assault.
I got to the point where I was in such a dark place with my memories and my community's nastiness that I had to try to put the whole thing behind me. I offered “Paris” a plea and he took it, and because he was arrested he lost his visa and was sent back home and not allowed to return. The other two guys were never arrested; “Paris” claimed they were never even with us.
Now that I think about it, I wish that I would have gone all the way with my case and made sure that they got what they deserved and got that conviction. At the time, I gave in. I was scared. I wish that I hadn’t. So that’s one thing that I live with. I would tell any other girl to keeping pushing. I know that it seems hard at the time, but in the long run, pushing means keeping one more person like that off the streets.
The harassment continued for years, despite letting Paris off easy. The next few years went by filled with unbearable pain and emptiness all at the same time. The only thing that helped me pull myself out of that place was talking to people in the same situation as me. I hooked up with the RAINN organization. I read other people's stories -- people who had gone through what I had and come out on the other side OK. People who told me that there was a life past everything I was enduring then.
It helped me to see that there were people who had gone through this and had successful lives –- people who were happy. Whether it’s RAINN [Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network] or any organization like it, it’s important to talk to someone who has been through that situation and who’s on the other side of it. If you can see into the future you can help yourself get out of that dark moment that you’re in.
One of the reasons that I stopped feeling the way that I did was because I ran across another girl at college a few years later that was going through what I went through. I told her my story and about how I was better then than I had been before and that made her feel better. And it made me feel better that she felt better. Helping other people and guiding them –- that was the only way that I felt better.
What happened to me may have changed me, but who I am today is someone I am proud to be. I WAS a victim -- now I’m a survivor, a mother, a fighter and an inspiration. I am strong.
* Some names have been changed.
Emma is an exceedingly brave person. First, she fought to bring her rapist to justice despite her community's doubts, then, she agreed to tell her story -- however painful and hard to recount -- to all of you. We can all follow her example by not standing idly by when we witness or hear about instances of sexual violence. Make your voice heard.
And if you or someone you know has been affected by sexual violence, call the 24-hour National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (1-800-656-4673), or visit Rainn.org.
To learn what you can do to stop sexual assault and take the pledge, head over to It's On Us.