I hadn’t seen him since he tried to rape me more than twenty years ago.
I thought I’d never hear anyone talk about him again. But a college classmate told me that the guy who violently attempted to rape me reached out to the classmate on Facebook.
Shock. Disbelief. Anger. Fury. Confusion.
Wait, what? I know my classmate didn’t just tell me that this man who pinned me down to a bed, smothered my body with his until I couldn’t move and left purple-blue-black bruises on my chest, arms and legs for weeks now wants to chat it up with my homie on Facebook ? This can’t be real. Right?
But it was real.
I shouldn’t have, but I looked at his page to see if that was him. It was. Damn. There he was smiling in photos looking like the boy next door and not the beast that he is.
I was angry. Hot. After I saw his picture and told my friend, again, what happened that night when I was a 20 year-old college student I felt like someone just bashed me in my back, knocked all of the wind out of me. All the memories from that night came back fresh. For a moment I was stuck in the pain of 1993 and here he is smiling on Facebook today like that night never happened.
I always said if I never saw him again in life that would be too soon. And it was. After seeing his face I felt a suffocating rush, a wave of rage and it was about to crush me. I could not breathe as I thought about how I begged him to stop like I had never begged anyone for anything in my life then or since. I sat still as I recalled how I pleaded with others in the house to please help me. No one did. But I boxed my way out of that room. His plan to rape me failed.
Then my guilt of not reporting him rose up and rolled around in my stomach. Ugh. Lawd. I always felt horrible for not going to the authorities. But I honestly did not think it would do any good.
I didn’t think anyone would believe me.
Back then it seemed like no one ever believed black girls when we spoke up about sexual assault and harassment. Just a couple of years earlier it seemed like all of black America hated Desiree Washington for “putting that boy (Mike Tyson) in jail.”
Even a few of my own relatives talked about the “fast-tailed girl” who should have never been around that grown man by herself in the first place.
If people would easily dismiss one of black folks’ most beloved young women, a Miss Black America contestant, why would they believe me?
Two months ago when President Obama released a report from the new White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault I couldn’t help but to think about my own experience. I was more than happy to hear that the President of the United States, the father of two black daughters, realizes that rape is a crisis on the nation’s college campuses and it’s everyone’s responsibility to seriously combat it.
What if prominent black male leaders used their voices to talk about the safety of black women and girls back in the early 1990s? Would I have felt safe to come forward then? News of President Obama’s task force also highlights how rape and rape culture still exist on college campuses at an alarming epidemic level. One in five women is sexually assaulted in college, according to President Obama’s task force.
I study social media and how people use it, especially people of color. But I never thought about how social media has the potential to disrupt our lives by unexpectedly unearthing evil people and painful events. I’ll never forget what he did to me that night and how alone I felt in that house full of people while fighting for my life. Those memories are vivid and clear. But seeing his picture on Facebook brought on a special mix of outrage and angst.
I wonder how many other women and men end up seeing the faces of their attackers on social media decades later. I don’t know. But social media is reintroducing people into our lives from our past in ways I would have never expected.