Jane Doe is legion in America.
You likely know several victims of rape, though they may not have told you of their horrific experiences. Here is the story of one woman who was raped as a child. a woman I know well, who I care about and love. For obvious reasons her name and relationship to me will not be disclosed. Any conversations I describe in the re-telling of her story are paraphrased. Everything I write about here is based on the recollections of the persons I spoke to about her rape experiences, and my own memories. It happened a long time ago, so I don't claim that every detail is accurate to the nth degree, but the the basic story which follows is as true as I can write it.
It all started when she was nine years old.
She was a pretty, gregarious, extroverted child. The only daughter in a family with four sons. Blonde hair, a perky and outgoing young girl, she did not lack for friends. She loved her dolls, playing dress up, taking care of babies and small children, but also playing rough and tumble games with her brothers. She was the middle child, number three, the bridge between her older brothers and her younger ones. I remember her laughter most of all, for she was always laughing. Until the year she turned nine years old.
Her second oldest brother did not like her. Then again he did not like many others in his family growing up. He constantly put down his younger sister, calling her stupid because she didn't get good grades. She had an undiagnosed learning disability - dyslexia - which was not discovered until her high school years or after she attended college (I hedge on this point because my memory is not clear). Her second oldest brother could be charming when he wanted to be, but that was usually reserved for adults, especially his parents. Towards his siblings he was often verbally abusive, and particularly so toward his sister.
The girl had her own room, while the older boys and the younger ones had to double up. And the girl was the favorite of her father, a true "Daddy's girl." The second oldest brother resented this about her. He always said she got special treatment. Perhaps it was his resentment and anger that drove him to do what he did. I do not know. But he was always an angry boy, nursing grudges, free with insults and put-downs. His worst ones, however, and the ones that hit home the hardest, were reserved for his sister.
One summer afternoon, when the rest of the family was either outside doing lawn work or shopping (the adults), or off playing with their friends (her other brothers) or otherwise not around, the girl went to her bedroom. Why she went she can't remember. What happened that day she never forgot.
As I said she was nine year's old. She had a big closet for her many clothes and toys, a walk in closet. She opened the door to the closet and she found her her 12 year old brother, brother number 2, hiding there, naked and waiting for her. A thin, tiny waif-like child, she was no match for his physical strength. He grabbed her, pushed her on the bed and told her if she said anything he would kill her. The threat was real. He had a knife in his hand, one of several he owned.
He made her undress. What happened next, I leave to your imagination, for that is all I have. I can tell you this much. He penetrated her vaginally with his penis and raped her. He was not gentle. After he was finished, he repeated his threat that he would kill her if she said a word to anyone. He called her names, names she had never heard before, words she did not understand, but would come to know all too well: slut, whore, stupid twat, piece of shit. She was in pain. She started to cry. He told her to be quiet and she did what he asked because he scared her. He dressed and left her all alone to deal with her trauma. At some point she dressed herself and left her room.
She didn't have a name for what he did to her that day. She'd never heard of the word rape. She hadn't reached puberty yet, had not had her first menses. She didn't understand what had happened. All she knew was what her rapist brother had told her. That she was stupid. That she deserved it. That she better not tell anyone or else. Confused and alone she hoped that whatever she had done wrong to bring about this assault, whatever "bad" part of her that had led to this "punishment' (for that was how she saw it at first) could be fixed.
She was mistaken.
Over the next three years her rapist brother would roughly repeat the same pattern of sexual assaults against her that occurred the first time he raped her. Sometimes he hid in her closet, other times behind her bed. She never knew when he might spring up and attack her. These were never pleasant experiences. She never wanted them to happen. Each time she experienced great pain, both physically to her genitals and vagina, and psychologically from anxiety and fear that her brother's actions evoked. Each time he threatened her and made her promise to remain quiet. And for a long time she did. For a long time she believed the hateful things he said about her. When she cried in the night she made sure not to sob loudly, to be quiet, to muffle her grief with her pillow. She did what she was told.
Her whole bubbly personality and behavior changed. She became afraid of her bedroom. Often, she would ask her parents or her older brother to come inside with her though she never told them why she needed them to be present with her. She appeared anxious, nervous, melancholy. Her parents chalked this up to girls simply being more moody than boys. It was a phase she was going through. They didn't question the changes they saw in her. No one did.
Her grades at school, never great, got worse. She started eating a lot, binging on her favorite foods, sweet and fatty crap. She gained weight. Her rapist brother told her she was fat. He ridiculed her when their parents were not around. She took to forcing herself to vomit after every meal. Yes, she became bulimic. And so another consequence of this "secret" caused physical damage to her esophagus, and shame, for she hid the vomiting for many years.
At some point, I don't know precisely when, she realized that what her brother was telling her was not true. That what he was doing to her was wrong. Perhaps she couldn't bear the anxiety and fear anymore. Perhaps she couldn't stand the physical torture she experienced each time he penetrated her. Perhaps someone, a teacher or relative or friend, convinced her she was not the "bad girl" she thought she was. Or perhaps her innate courage and spirit reasserted itself. So, despite all the threats by her brother, she decided she could no longer keep what he did to her secret. She went to speak to her parents.
They didn't believe her.
Part of this was due to the fact that she didn't have the language, the right words, to explain what her brother did to her. Perhaps her parents simply couldn't accept that one of their sons, whom they loved, could possibly be doing the terrible things that their daughter did her best to describe. Perhaps they were in denial. Perhaps they felt she was exaggerating. After all, she had a reputation in her family for being high strung, and a person who embellished stories about herself. The things she told them couldn't possibly be true. Or so they told themselves.
They did question her second brother, her rapist, but he denied the rape charge. He admitted "rough-housing" with her on occasion and to some of the verbal abuse, but that was all. He knew the right words to say, the right attitude to assume before them. They believed him. Why would he lie? How could the son they loved, an over-achiever at school, a bright hard-working boy who never shirked from any task assigned to him, possibly be the monster that their daughter suggested? So, after a rebuke for the verbal abuse he dished out to her (which they had witnessed and so did believe) they ended their inquiry. Their daughter must have made the rest of it all up. Whatever had happened must have been conflated by her imagination. It was a fantasy, nothing more.
And so the rapes continued, just as brutal as before. Except this time, the second brother added to her torment. See, he said. They'll never believe you over me. Don't even think about going to them, again. The terror continued. The pain continued. Her bulimia continued. And her downward spiral continued.
She turned twelve. Now she began going through puberty. And just when she thought things couldn't get worse, they did.
Her oldest brother, son number one, five years her elder and the one sibling she was closest to, betrayed her as well. One day when everyone in the house was gone except the two of them, he called her down to the recently finished basement of the house, where his new bedroom was located. His door was shut, but he asked her to come inside. He wanted to show her something. She opened the door and froze. Before her stood her naked oldest brother. He exposed himself to her.
You can imagine what she thought. Now there will be two of them. She did nothing, just stood there. For some reason, though, he didn't attack her. He appeared satisfied merely that she could see him. As soon as she could, she asked to leave. Surprisingly, to her, he let her go. Still, she was scared witless. Who could she trust now in her family? No one, that's who. Not her parents, not the rapist brother and now not even her favorite older brother. I can't imagine the terror she felt, even though it has been described to me.
And then it happened again! The older brother, emboldened I suppose by the first experience, exposed himself again to her. This time, the girl broke down sobbing and ran away.
Apparently, that was not what the oldest brother expected. He dressed himself and ran after her. He must have understood at some level that he had done something reprehensible. He felt ashamed and expressed remorse. For some reason his sister decided to trust him. She told the story of the rapist brother. He asked if she had spoken to their parents and she said yes she had but they hadn't believed her. And whatever his flaws, her oldest brother realized that what he had done was far worse than he originally believed. He told his sister how sorry he was. And then he said he would go with her to talk to their parents and confess what he did, and help her explain to them what her second brother had been doing to her for the last three years.
And so the two of them went and told her parents what the oldest brother had done. And he also told them about the second brother's rapes of his sister. He backed her up. He told them he believed her. And then the parents met with all three of their older children. By all accounts it was an ugly and uncomfortable scene. However, eventually, the second brother admitted what he had done. Both sons were reprimanded and punished. Their sister finally was finally vindicated.
Happy ending, right? No. With rape there is never a happy ending.
The girl became a young woman, and she continued to suffer from the trauma she suffered. Her bulimia remained an issue well into her thirties. She had a tendency to pick abusive men for boyfriends. She struggled with what feelings of loathing and poor self esteem. She had nightmares for years about the rapes. Perhaps she still does. The times I speak to her we don't talk about that anymore. I know she was in therapy for many years, both individual and group. She still expresses great anger at the brother who raped her, who she has effectively cut out of her life after a number of attempts at reconciliation, all of them undertaken by her.
Eventually she met a kind, loving man who became the love of her life and they married. Unfortunately, they never had children. An OBY-GN who examined her told her that the damage that had been done to her vagina and uterus when she was a very young girl would make it highly unlikely that she could ever have children. After more than one miscarriage, she and her husband made the difficult decision to not have children, though both of them loved children. Instead they poured those feelings and energies into being the best aunt and uncle for their many nieces and nephews. She also became the proud owner of many rescue dogs over the years, and is a devoted lover and caretaker of her pets.
I don't know how Jane Doe's life will be affected by her experience as a rape victim and the focal point of a infamous trial. I do know, however, that for the rest of her life, no matter how well it may turn out, she will never completely overcome the effects of the physical and emotional scars she suffered and likely will continue to suffer. I can only wish her the best.