Jay : How long ago did you experience sexual trauma?
Juana : I was raped 7 years ago.
Jay : Can you share with me how it happened?
Juana : Long story short, I ran into an acquaintance from a yoga class at a local bar. I believe he slipped something into a drink he bought me; my guard was down because I knew him, you know? And then I lost control of my body. It felt like I was under anesthesia, I was still aware of things happening, but I couldn't control my limbs. He somehow ended up with my keys and drove me in my car to a frat house nearby, where I would later find out he was a member, and where he raped me for several hours, multiple times. Then when he was done with me, he insisted I needed to leave, and he insisted he wanted to drive me home. I didn't want him finding out where I lived, so - still barely conscious - I pointed directions to a friend's house and waited until he left to knock on the door of my friend's house. My friend then took me home, and my roommate at the time drove me to the hospital for a rape kit.
Jay : Of course your guard would be down. Mine would be too. How long had you known him?
Juana : We'd actually just been acquaintances. We were in yoga training class together for two years with the same mentor. He now teaches at the same university that houses the frat where he raped me.
Juana : He'd never talked to me until the semester he raped me when I took over yoga classes for my teacher while she was gone that term.
Jay : So, once you felt yourself losing control of your body, what were you thinking? if anything? Because you were still aware of things happening. Did you think he was going to rape you?
Juana : No, I didn't. I wasn't thinking, "Oh, no, I'm in danger." I was just thinking, "What's going on?" To tell you the truth, I really don't know that I was thinking much of anything. I was kinda going in and out of consciousness then. When I look back on it, the way things looked to outsiders would've been perfectly benign. He started kissing me shortly after I lost control of my body, and my sweater fell to the floor.
I remember a girl nearby pointed it out and picked it up. I think she handed it to him. I might not have been able to move my arm myself. It was like, all of a sudden, my consciousness kind of went away somewhere else, and I was not fully in my body.
It didn't "look like" a rape was about to occur. You know what I mean?
Jay : Yea, I know what you mean. So when you woke up and he told you to leave, were you still feeling the effects of whatever he'd slipped you?
Juana : I wasn't unconscious the entire time. It was more like, barely-conscious/losing consciousness/lost consciousness/scared/angry/terrified....you know, I was in and out. At some point during one of those times, I suddenly found myself dressed with him saying, "I think you should go home now."
I was still barely conscious. I actually was barely conscious for the rape kit, for the interview with the detective that I did following (or maybe before) the rape kit. Once I got home, it took two days for the effects to wear off. I mostly slept for two days afterward, and don't remember much from that time period. My memory is sort of bits and pieces of what happened.
My memory hasn't been the same since, actually. I used to have a really great memory, and now I can't retain memory properly sometimes and sometimes it's out of sequence, still. I feel like that's probably something to do with the effects of whatever he used to incapacitate me.
Jay : Yea, I would imagine so.
Jay : Can you tell me about your experience with the detective?
Juana : God, it was horrible. lol
Jay : How so? I do know that most aren't properly trained (if trained at all) on how to handle rape crisis
Juana : I don't recall much of the interview, but I remember when we went to follow-up (my roommate and I) with him, we told him I had a bruise on my head that I didn't know where it came from. It was on the top of my head, on the right side, and he told me that it was pointless to take a picture because my hair would cover it. He didn't include that detail in the police report.
During the interview, I remember he asked me when I told him I was raped multiple times, "Was one of those times consensual?"Like, how could it be consensual when I'm barely conscious?
I requested a copy of the police report about a year after the rape, and in the police report, it basically says, "She was very sexually aggressive," and "This poor boy got trapped by this slut." I believe that, because his parents were "somebody" in town, and mine weren't, the police report covered up whatever he did to make it look like I was just lying. Or, it could just be rape culture, that excuses sexual violence like it's no big deal. I can't even tell you how difficult it was to deal with how the police treated this. Like it wasn't worthy of investigation.
Jay : WOW. Ya know, I'm convinced that people don't think at all before they speak. What a jackass! 13:40:03 From Juana
Juana : Ooh, it was hard.
On August 2nd, 2010 - a few months after the rape, I got a call about the toxicology report. The victim advocate assigned to my case said the report showed my "blood alcohol level was really low" and I tested positive for Tylenol. Which I thought was odd, but I don't know enough about toxicology to know what could do that. I don't remember taking tylenol that night. I usually never take medication unless I feel like I'm dying, which I didn't that night prior to going out.
Anyway, she told me two things: the first was that, "I want you to know he was caught beating up a guy and leaving him for dead," and "Do you think maybe you just drank too much?" because the toxicology report showed no drugs present. But when I think back on it, it doesn't make sense. How could I have "low blood alcohol level" and have "drank too much" to the point I was unconscious? At the same time?
Later I got a letter from the State of NM that said, "No crime occurred" and I was ineligible for victims compensation - which could've covered therapy sessions - and that was that, according to the state and that's when things really started going downhill.
Jay : Wait, so , you have a low blood alcohol level AND you drank too much? HUH?
Juana : They just had happened to tell me they caught him beating up a guy between when the rape happened and when the advocate called me on August 2nd. And, I know, right? It doesn't make sense that I was "too drunk" with "low blood alcohol level."
Jay : I want to ask you about that process? How was your advocate? Did she show up when you went to the hospital for your rape kit?
Juana : I don't think the rape kit was actually done in a hospital. I think it was done in an office where the interview with the detective happened after. The advocate showed up in the office, and she and the SANE nurse were there, as well as my roommate, who'd brought me. The nurse and advocate both said something about my eyes, and I was freaked out by that. I said to my friend, "What's wrong with my eyes?" And she said they were moving back and forth like someone who'd been drugged. They said I presented like someone who was drugged.
Jay : Your roommate seems like she was very supportive throughout your process.
Juana : Yes, my roommate was wonderful. She's been a really good friend of mine for years.
One of the things that was weird to me about it was that the advocate had an engagement ring on, and when the nurse showed up, she showed off her engagement ring. "He just proposed on Sunday" or something like that. I was like, "Here I am having the worst night of my life and here you are going, 'Hey, look at my cute ring.'"
Like, I get it. At the time, I thought, okay, people have their own lives to live and whatnot. That's cute, your ring is nice. But it really struck me. I'm someone who has always deeply longed for a partner who loves me deeply and has had a lot of trouble finding that supportive person; I talk about that in my blog, too, growing up in an abusive household. And it was just to me, like almost a little signal, "Look - look what she has that you're never going to."
Jay : It's unbelievable that she would even think talking about her engagement ring would be the right place/time
Juana : I mean, she also asked me if I just drank too much when we talked on the phone that August......like.....*shrug*
It was shortly after that phone call in August, where they basically told me I had zero proof I was raped and they weren't gonna do anything because the report came back to "confirm" I was a liar that things really started to go downhill.
Jay : It's completely unacceptable for someone to do that when you are going through a crisis. And even if you drank all the alcohol at the bar, that doesn't give someone the green light to violate your body and no one should ever ask that question. Ever.
Juana : Exactly. It was horribly unsupportive of the legal system. I started not being able to sleep. I started having nightmares. Sometimes I'd wake up in a cold sweat from nightmares. I would sometimes see my rapist in my dreams and one time, I dreamt he'd cut out my genitalia, along with the genitalia of at least six other girls (in my dream, they were all blonde and thin, and they wore long white nightgowns and we were all running away from him in this big house with a bunch of rooms). It was frightening. So, things kinda kept on like this for a while.
The advocate didn't share any resources for counseling, I didn't get any help finding a place to go for help. I was just on my own, and I was trying to find a job, an apartment, and having car trouble. And I barely knew anybody there. The people I knew in Portland were just acquaintances.
Jay : What made you choose Portland?
Juana : I went for belly dance. The semester I left NM, I was subbing my teacher's classes, like I said. And I realized I'd kind of hit a plateau where I was. I wanted to learn more to be able to teach better, and I also was teaching yoga (although I kind of fell into that last minute because her other sub changed her mind). This was a small town that didn't offer anything like what Portland had to offer in terms of learning opportunities. So I decided around March that I wanted to move to Portland. I'd already been looking for a place to move to, because I hated living in that NM small town, and I decided on Portland because there was a teacher there I wanted to study under.
Jay : Belly Dance sounds cool. Do you still dance and teach yoga?
Juana : No, I haven't danced in years. And I actually had a hard time doing yoga after the rape, because it reminded me of the rapist. Because we did yoga together in class.
In my writing, I talk about experiencing PTSD symptoms and how the lack of support from people made the PTSD worse, to the point I became suicidal. And I also talk about how that changed and what started the healing process. I try to talk about that as much as I can, because I remember how hard it was for me to feel like nobody believed me and people thought it was my fault.
Jay : I'm glad you brought that up because I want to talk about your healing process. How did you know you had PTSD?
Juana : Well, I had no idea for almost a year after the rape that that's what it was.
Jay : What were some of the symptoms you were experiencing aside from nightmares?
Juana : Um, I experienced hyperawareness (like being startled by a cyclist just minding their own business).The nightmares.Self-blame, like it was my fault.I felt silenced.I had flashbacks frequently.I kind of spaced out - disassociated - sometimes.I had just a deep sense of sadness and loss. Like grieving parts of myself that had left me when I realized I wasn't as safe in the world as I thought.
Jay : Yea, I understand.
Juana : At the very, very lowest point, I think I disassociated (like had an out of body experience, kinda), and cut into my thighs. And I cut, "If I tell, you blame me." in capital letters across my thighs. That was the moment it dawned on me that all the hardship I was experiencing was connected to the rape, and to not being believed. I hadn't even considered all those symptoms could be because of the rape.
Jay : What did you think the symptoms were from initially?
Juana : Honestly, I didn't know. I didn't know what was happening to me. Nobody had even told me I could have these symptoms and that it was actually a legitimate thing. I just thought I was forever broken and damaged and would never have a "normal" life anymore. That this was just who I became and it was permanent.
Jay : Do you still cut today?
Juana : I'd never cut before then and I never regularly cut since then. It was just like a wake up call. Like a little someone inside me was saying, "I need your attention!!"
I don't cut today, I guess I should say.
Jay : How did you begin to manage PTSD?
Juana : So I had a boyfriend from about mid-August of 2010 to around early January 2011, and around December, I'd told him I was having suicidal thoughts and needed help. In his "infinite wisdom," he decided to call the cops on me and they came to my apartment banging on the door. THAT DID NOT HELP.
Jay : LOL @infinite wisdom!!! OMG that made me laugh out loud!!!
Do you think he called the cops because he didn't know what else to do? What do you think he should've done?
Juana : Maybe. I can't pretend to know what's in his mind.I think he should've listened to me, and helped me seek out a therapist, like I asked him to multiple times before that.
LOL!!! I'm glad I could make you laugh, haha! About a week or two later, he called a suicide line and told me, "Tell them you're suicidal," and handed me his phone. As he handed me the phone, I saw a message come in for him saying, "Sweetie, I'd really love to see you tonight." And I was, like, "Okay, I'm too psycho for you, that's good to know. Fuck you."
Jay : Oh wow.
What'd you do once you saw the text? Did you go through with the call with the hotline?
Juana : Ooh. Hard times. But it was for the best, because when I called them, I said I could voluntary check myself into the hospital for an overnight stay, and it was during that stay that I talked to a nurse there who treated me with such amazing compassion. At that point, I was just concerned with saving myself. I knew nobody was going to do it for me. I had to take charge of my own healing and not depend on others to help, because they were not going to be helpful.
I knew I was on my own then when I saw the text. And so I checked into the hospital. The nurse who talked to me told me after I explained the entire story, "All these symptoms sound like symptoms of PTSD. Based on what you're telling me, and HOW you're telling me, I have every reason to believe you can get better."And that just changed everything."I have every reason to believe you can get better." You can heal. You can do this! You can pull through. I have faith in you and I'm here to listen. It was, like, "Thank you!! That's all I really wanted, you know?" Just for someone to listen and to know that I wasn't "damaged goods" and that I still mattered, that my life was still worthwhile and I could heal.
Juana : His name was Sean. I still remember. He had red hair. 🙂
Jay : Yea, I know. I think that's all anyone that experiences trauma wants to know. I think there's always this fear (at least for me it was) that we'll never FEEL normal again.
Juana : Yeah. Like the sense that you're just empty and done. Just feeling used up and thrown away, like garbage.
Jay : Yea
Thank you Sean 🙂
Juana : Yes! Thank you, Sean!
And it mattered that he was a professional.
Jay : What do you mean when you say it mattered that he was a professional?
Juana : It mattered *so much* that he was a professional, because up to then, all the people who were supportive of me were just a couple friends. A friend - also, ironically, named Shan - and my roommate at the time. But they were both long-distance and it was harder to find support in person.
Juana : That he was someone I knew in a professional setting, like a nurse.
The detective and victim advocate - both professionals - didn't help. The head of the psych ward and all the other nurses or people in hospital didn't help.
Jay : I understand. Because all the other professionals clearly weren't doing their jobs. I get it.
Juana : It mattered that someone who was a professional in a helping capacity could validate what I felt.Because I'd tried to see therapists and other people, and they just made it worse.
Jay : Yea, totally understand.
Juana : Yeah, so someday I hope to advocate for survivors and push for people in these professional roles to be trained in how to support survivors. I have a petition right now, but it hasn't gained much traction.
Jay : Wait what do you mean, YOU ARE advocating for survivors right now. every time you share your story, you are advocating for someone else to share theirs and get the help they need. I think I'm at a point where I want to take my experience and put it to good use for the world. I'd love to advocate for others and I'd love to work in some kind of way to push for changes in how people respond to survivors of sexual violence.
Juana : Yeah! I guess I am.But I want to do more.
Jay : There's never anything wrong with wanting to do more 🙂
Juana : I want to be able to help more people and to connect with others who are doing this work, too, because it's so important we really bring to light how survivors of trauma are discarded by society. I also want to work on prevention, not just intervention after the fact. This crime is unacceptable, and socially, we just let it happen. We set the stage for perps to get away with what they do, and that's not right.
Jay : Yea. It's extremely important to have open dialogue like this and to break the fear and shame that comes with it. If there's anything you could say to someone who has experienced sexual trauma, what would it be?
Juana : I really strongly feel that victim-blaming was a hugely negative factor in my experience. If I could go back and give myself immediately post-rape "a piece of wisdom," it would be that "You still matter. Your life is valuable. You can still do amazing things in life, and I want you to know I'm here to support you. You need to know you are *so capable* of supporting yourself through this, because you have a lot of strengths, even though it doesn't seem like it now. Just trust in yourself and don't let what people say about this make you doubt yourself."
Jay : I love that. Thank you so much Juana for taking out the time to do this.