I first met Jack* at a BBQ dinner during my college's Freshman Orientation. He was cracking jokes and making everyone laugh. He seemed like such a fun guy. He was also a Christian—the perfect package.
Within a month we were dating. I was flattered that Jack wanted to pursue me and excited about the way he showered me with affection. He would send me flowers. He'd also buy me cards and write Scripture mixed with professions of his love for me. I wanted to believe he was really sincere. So I blinded myself to how he was slowly changing.
When we first started dating he loved everything about me—the way I dressed, my laugh, my relationship with God, the way I interacted with my girlfriends. But it wasn't long before he started to pick on small things. One day he decided he didn't like my roommate. So I distanced myself from her. One night he didn't like the outfit I was wearing—so I changed. Another night he claimed I was wearing too much make-up. So I went to the bathroom and washed it off.
We'd go out to eat and Jack would smile at other girls. If I confronted him about it, he blew me off. Not only that, he would tell me what he liked about them, and how I lacked in comparison.
I remember one incident in particular. We were in a restaurant waiting to be seated. A woman was sitting at a table nearby with her legs crossed. Jack commented on how long her legs were, then he looked at mine and didn't say a word. But the point was clear. My legs didn't measure up. How could he say my legs weren't good enough? How could I change them? At that point I realized I couldn't take it anymore. I had tried to change everything about myself to please him, and now with something I couldn't change, insecurity overwhelmed me.
After five long months, I decided to end our relationship. Jack was angry over my decision. He felt God had told him we were to be married. I wanted to go to my girlfriends for support, but I had given them up months ago to please Jack. I suddenly felt very alone.
A few weeks later Jack called and invited me out for dinner—as friends, he said. Our time in the restaurant was awful. He was loud and obnoxious to the waiters and to me. When he asked to drive me back to my dorm after dinner, I didn't object. I was more than ready for the evening to end. Unfortunately he didn't intend to drive me home. He took me to a deserted parking lot and raped me.
I remember very few things about the actual rape—the car windshield covered with fog, the struggle, and the moment I felt too overpowered to resist any longer. In that instant I realized there was nothing I could do to stop what was happening. He was simply too strong.
When it was over, Jack took me back to my dorm, told me he would give me a call, and simply left. I was in shock. All I remember about those following hours is standing in the shower with all my clothes on, sobbing uncontrollably, desperately wanting the water to wash away the evening's events.
The Search for Healing
Eight months later I found myself standing in a crowded court room. I had been told that going through the legal process would feel like being raped a second time, but actually it was worse. Even after sharing every intimate detail of the rape, Jack was still found not guilty—insufficient evidence. Case closed.
After that I fell into a deep depression. The college I attended said Jack would be allowed to register for classes. Innocent until proven guilty.
In the months that followed, Jack stalked me. He followed me to my classes, to the cafeteria, to my dorm. The helplessness I had felt during the rape was now multiplying, as I felt more and more helpless on campus.
Finally I reached a breaking point and started contemplating suicide. Around that time I attended a chapel service on campus.
A man named Stephen Arterburn was scheduled to speak. I expected him to talk about some recent missions trip or share his published study on a biblical text. Instead, this man—the founder of New Life Clinics, treatment centers for Christians struggling with depression, suicide, and abuse—spoke on the reality of pain.
Stephen's words caught my attention. He said that even though everything might look OK on the outside, he knew some of us were thinking about suicide. Then he said something I'll never forget: "There's no shame in doing everything it takes to choose life."
I realized that a trip to one of his clinics was exactly what I needed. But the clinic was expensive; my parents' insurance wouldn't cover the costs and they didn't know what to do. However, one of my mom's friends—a counselor—told my parents I'd had an "emotional heart attack." She explained that when someone has a heart attack, you don't wonder what to do; you get her to the emergency room in time to save her life. That put the money issue into perspective for my parents; three days later I checked into a New Life Clinic.
During the first week I sat in the hall and stared at the floor. On the outside I looked emotionless, but on the inside I was screaming with rage. Rage that demanded to know why I was the one in a psychiatric ward instead of the man who'd raped me. Rage that wanted to have my life back. But instead of the rage coming out, it all just brewed inside me—until Mark approached me.
I'll never forget his face. It glowed with a certain peace. He was a fellow patient getting ready to go home in a week. Mark walked up to me, introduced himself, and said, "Me Ra, the longer you deny your pain, the longer it will rule your life. Look around you. All the other patients here are twice your age. Why? It's because we did what you're doing now for most our lives. We ignored our pain and stuffed it down. But one day it exploded, and that's why we're here. Do you see how much you have to gain if you invest yourself into your time at this clinic?" His words burned into me.
That night I couldn't go to sleep. As I thought about what Mark had said, I let my pain and anger surface. Tears finally came, followed by sleep.
For the next few weeks, I went through 8 to 12 hours of therapy a day—sometimes in group sessions, sometimes individually. It was really hard—hard to face my fears, hard to let all my emotions out. But through the process God brought a lot of healing.
The Necessity of Forgiveness
When I came home from the clinic, memories of the rape haunted me day and night. Feelings of being trapped would grip me when I'd least expect it. It took me a while to realize that if I wanted to move on in the healing process, I would have to forgive Jack. If I didn't let go of my bitterness, it would destroy me. So I chose to forgive, but I soon learned it would be an ongoing process.
One night I needed to use a restroom at a grocery store. It was in a very obscure place at the back of the store. To get to it I had to go through a set of double doors, around boxes of stacked food, through another door, down some stairs, down another hallway, and around the corner. As I walked down the stairs, all I could hear was a radio playing and a man yelling at one end. I couldn't see him; I could just hear him. I began to wonder if he could see me. What if something happened? Would anyone hear me over the blaring radio?
I feared being raped again.
In that moment of fear, I had to choose to forgive—again—the man who had raped me.
In the weeks that followed, my desire to let go of my pain and hurt was tested over and over. Sometimes I'd step into an elevator and realize the only other person in there was a man I didn't know. The familiar feeling of being trapped would wash over me. I'd have to force my fears to stop, take a deep breath, and choose to forgive again. I'm relieved that these moments of fear come less and less now, but there are still daily situations that can instantly leave me feeling vulnerable.
It's hard to admit I'm sometimes scared and feel out of control. Sometimes I think admitting this makes me more vulnerable. But the truth is that not being able to admit it is what really makes me vulnerable. For a while I told myself I would have to be my own protector since I felt God had failed me the night I was raped. But as I tried to protect myself and be tough on the outside, bitterness grew within me. It became like a wall to everyone who wanted to love and support me.
I didn't want to grow up to be a bitter woman after all the counseling and prayer I'd invested in my healing. Yet, as long as I hung on to bitterness my healing was always one reach too far. Forgiveness was the only way to get rid of it. Not only did I have to forgive Jack, but I also had to forgive myself for not seeing the warning signs of an abusive relationship.
Forgiveness has been a lot of hard work. I've had to tackle some tough questions. Like many children who become a Christian at an early age, I believed in God because my family did. But I didn't know God intimately. For the first time in my entire life, the rape left me feeling abandoned by God. I wondered how he could let something so awful happen to me—his little girl. I didn't understand that bad things can happen to good people.
I may never know why this happened to me on this side of eternity. But even though I don't have all the answers, I've learned that God will never leave me—and that he can take a broken heart and mend it back together again.
Name has been changed.
Me Ra Koh is now married and recently gave birth to her first child. She is the author of Beauty Restored: Finding Life and Hope After Date Rape (Regal). You can find her book at your local bookstore or online at amazon.com.
Date Rape: The Warning Signs
Although there is no completely accurate description of a typical date/acquaintance rapist, experts have identified several warning signs to help you recognize potential danger before it happens. Girls should beware of a guy who:
• Acts immaturely; shows little empathy or feeling for others.
• Displays anger or aggression, either physically or verbally. The anger may not be directed at you but may come out during conversations. He may make negative comments about women. He might use vulgarity, show rudeness toward others,and the like. He might also think of women as adversaries.
• Behaves in a macho manner and brags about his strength.
• Has a short temper.
• Shows physical aggression, through slapping, grabbing, twisting arms, and so on.
• Acts excessively jealous and/or possessive. Be especially suspicious of this behavior if you've only recently met him or are on a first or second date.
• Ignores your wishes. Attempts to make you feel guilty or accuses you of being uptight.
• Becomes hostile and/or increasingly more aggressive when you say no.
• Tries to separate you from your friends and family by convincing you to spend more time with him and less with them.
• Insists on being alone with you on a first date.
• Demands your attention or compliance at inappropriate times, such as during class, or interrupting one of your conversations with someone else.
• Asks personal questions and wants to know more about you than you want to tell him.
• Believes that all males and females fit traditional stereotypes.
If you are with a person who exhibits any of the above behaviors, be very cautious and take your time getting to know him. Be a good listener, paying careful attention to remarks that may be warning signals.
Many acquaintance and date rapists plan to rape and then set out to find the victim. They often test a potential victim. For example, a rapist may try placing a hand on a potential victim's thigh. If she does not react, even if she obviously feels uncomfortable, the rapist may identify her as easy prey.
A date rapist may also try to get a potential victim to trust him and then invent some reason for her to come to his house or apartment. The date rapist is usually very manipulative and tries to con an unsuspecting victim.
Many date rapists are repeat offenders and are skilled at identifying weaknesses in potential victims. The rapist is looking for a woman he can control, because his primary motivation is power rather than sex.
Some date rapists exhibit a Jekyll-and-Hyde personality. They may appear to be great guys. But when under stress or when they find a vulnerable victim, their personalities change.
What to Do If You Are Raped
• Tell someone—a parent, a friend. You need support, and you don't need to be alone.
• Do not shower or clean yourself. As soon as possible, go to a hospital or clinic. They'll be able to treat you if you have injuries. They'll also help you preserve evidence in case you press charges.
• Call the police or a rape crisis center. One of the following organizations may also be able to help you:
Minirth Meier/New Life Clinics: 1-800-637-7974
Rapha Treatment Centers: 1-800-383-4673
The Center for the Prevention of Sexual and Domestic Violence: (206) 634-1903
Adapted from Beauty Restored by Me Ra Koh, Appendix II, page 5 (Regal Books, 2001).