Renee DeVesty was 19 when she was raped. Unable to face what happened, she kept quiet even when she became pregnant from the rape. After years of burying the past, she's now speaking out to dispel the shame rape victims feel and to encourage women who've been sexually assaulted to see themselves as survivors on a path toward recovery.
It's been almost three decades since I was raped -- not by a stranger, but an acquaintance. The man who held me down was someone I knew and trusted. It happened among people who were lifelong friends; and like so many women, I was terrified, confused, and blamed myself for far too long. I'm telling my story now because I am ready for this with every bone in my body. I've been waiting to heal for 30 years. It's time for the silence to be broken.
I'd gone for an overnight trip to my best friend's camp on a lake in upstate New York. There were 10 of us who'd gathered there, all 19 years old. We had all attended school together, lived nearby and knew each other most of our lives.
I rode to the camp with my best friend and her husband. They had married young because he had joined the Navy. Though they now lived out of town, they'd returned for the weekend while he was home on leave. When we got to the camp, my best friend told me I could have the best bedroom upstairs, since everyone else was sleeping on the floor. Excited, I put my belongings in the upstairs room and changed into my swimsuit for a day on the boat.
Back then, the legal drinking age in New York state was 18 and we'd been drinking on and off all day. When evening came, we were all hanging out on the deck enjoying ourselves. I wasn't much of a drinker and after being on the lake all day, I was the first to go to bed.
"It Didn't Make Any Sense"
I awoke to a feeling of pressure. When I opened my eyes, there was my best friend's husband standing over me, one hand clamped against my mouth while he held me down with the other. He was a big guy and I was frozen with fear and intimidation; I absolutely could not move a muscle. His buddy, another friend I had known all my life, was now on top of me also holding me down and grabbing at my underwear. It was the middle of the night; I was half asleep and thought I must be dreaming.
Soon, it became evident I was not dreaming. It was real, but psychologically, it didn't make any sense.
"They Were My Friends"
Where was everyone? Where was my best friend? Why were these guys -- my friends -- doing this to me? It was all over quickly and they left immediately; but before he walked out, my best friend's husband warned me not to say anything or he'd deny it.
I was definitely afraid of him. I was raised a strict Catholic and immediately thoughts of fear, shame and disgust filled my head. I began to think this was all my fault. I thought I must have done something to encourage this. And then it hit me: Was it really an attack because I knew them? Was it actually rape since they were my friends? My head was spinning and I was physically sick to my stomach.
When I awoke next morning, I was still terrified, and it got worse when I went downstairs and saw my attackers in the kitchen. I didn't know what to think or say. My best friend's husband just stared at me. My best friend appeared to be acting normal. "She'll never believe you," I told myself. This is her husband and she loves him. Silently, I packed my things and rode the whole way home in the car with my rapist. And I never said a word.
I immediately blamed myself and thought if I had only slept downstairs with everyone else, it wouldn't have happened. Or if I didn't wear my swimsuit, I would have been safe. My mind could not comprehend this whole scenario, so in order to cope with it, I blocked it out as if it never happened. I shut down completely and decided I would never tell anyone about it.
A few months later I realized the nightmare wasn't over. I had become pregnant from the rape. I went into shock again. Being a strict Catholic, I thought, "How could God allow this to happen to me?" I was convinced I was being punished. I felt enormous shame and guilt. This was 30 years ago. Practically no one went to counseling then or openly sought help for such things. I could not tell my mother, and I was too ashamed to tell my friends. And who would believe me now two months later? I still could not believe it myself.
Because of my shame, fear, disgust and the belief I had no one to turn to, I regretfully made the decision to terminate the pregnancy.