Every time I see, hear or read the name Ben, I think about the Benjamin R. Holland, who I was on the Swimming & Diving Team with at Kenyon College, who had sex with me without my consent.
Even now as I write this 20 years later, I hesitate to use the word rape because of what that makes people think about him and about me. I am still fucking protecting him, wanting to explain the situation to make it fair for him and all the while thinking – WHAT ABOUT ME?!
The truth is that he did rape me and we both knew it.
It was near the end of my freshman year and I had gone to a formal dance with a friend who was a boy, Ben’s roommate. I proudly wore an elegant velvet gown with thin satin straps that my mom had bought me as a gift. It was my first and only time wearing that dress.
The formal dance was hosted by Kenyon’s Beta Theta Pi fraternity at their “temple” in the woods. The Beta Temple was conveniently located just off campus and a great place for underage drinking. I did get drunk there, but was still aware, conscious and in control of myself. Sometime after midnight, my date (Ben’s roommate) asked me if I wanted to leave and watch a movie in his dorm room. It seemed like a good idea to me. Also my feet hurt too much to walk all the way to my dorm at the other end of campus. At some point I was falling asleep and my friend told me that I could sleep in his roommate’s bed because his roommate usually didn’t sleep there on weekends. I crawled into Ben’s bed and fell asleep.
My next memory was waking up and realizing that someone was having sex with me. It took me a few moments to understand what was happening. I realized that the roommate, Ben, had come back, found me in his bed and decided that he would have sex with me even though I was sleeping. Ben was incredibly drunk, according to his account, and I don’t doubt it.
I want so badly to leave the next part out, and I am SO ashamed of this, but while he was raping me, I remember thinking that I hoped my pussy was tight enough for him, I hoped that he didn’t think I was ugly or fat, and I hoped that my breath didn’t stink. These were my thoughts. And it’s sad, because I was concerned that he was having a good fucking experience!
It didn’t last long and I think that he tried to “pull out” because there was cum all over my beautiful velvet dress. I managed to push him off of me, get out of his uncomfortable twin bed and pull my dress down and ask him, “What the hell are you doing?”
He looked at me with this stupid, goofy smirk and said, “Sorry…I just thought maybe you wanted to?” I guess it was just that simple and uncomplicated for him. He found me in his bed and assumed I wanted to have sex without waking me up or asking me.
I left there and ran back to my room barefoot. My dress was ripped and had cum on it. I felt really ashamed. I thought about the “walk of shame” and felt angry about that saying.
The next day, I told some girlfriends what had happened. One said that she would come to the Health Center with me. I told the Health Center nurse that I’d been raped and had unprotected sex. I assumed there was a protocol and that someone knew what I should do. They gave me the morning after pill, tested me for STD’s and told me to come back in 3 months for another STD test.
I asked the campus Dr. (a man) how to report it. Without telling me how or what my options were, he told me that it was in my best interest not to. He said it would bring so much pain and suffering to me and my family. He said that he had seen it ruin the lives of women that reported being raped and that many of them ended up leaving the school. He recommended that I see a therapist instead and handle any upset feelings that I had about it that way.
I decided on my own to confront Ben the next evening. I called him and asked to speak with him. I went to his room and he came out in the hallway. We sat in the hallway and I told him that what he had done was not okay with me. I asked him to imagine how he would feel about someone treating his younger sisters the way that he treated me? He apologized to me and said that he was so drunk that he didn’t know what he was doing. He didn’t know what else to say and neither did I. I felt terrible about myself for being so angry, but I was calm and even kind, on the outside, somehow earnestly trying to help him see the error of his ways and learn from it, at my expense. And I still felt that somehow I should have had more grace about it. I think he was sincerely sorry, but being drunk is just not an acceptable excuse, ever. Period. I wanted his action to have a consequence, but I didn’t know what it should be.
I certainly didn’t want this “situation” to cause me any more pain than it already had. The morning after pill was extremely painful with several days of cramping. And the amount of anxiety that I had about having blood samples taken for the STD tests was horrible. I certainly did not want to worry my parents or get them involved. I did not want to be seen as a victim of rape because to me that meant being judged as being slutty and that I was probably asking for it. I had internalized the voices of those who say such things, even as those words were used as examples of what NOT to say, and what is NOT true, many people are still thinking those thoughts.
I also didn’t want to be the enemy of the swimming & diving team. I instinctively knew that Ben was a much more “valuable” member of the team than I. If people had to chose sides, I thought, they’d definitely choose his side. I got the message loud and clear that being a high scoring swimmer was so much more important than holding a sleazy guy that rapes women accountable. Ben, in my opinion, wasn’t extraordinarily sleazy. He was behaving in similar ways to lots of men I’ve know and heard about, which probably seemed very normal, acceptable and excusable to him. #rapeculture
I didn’t know at the time how it would slowly chip away at me. I didn’t know how hard it would be seeing Ben at the pool every day. I didn’t realize how even 2 and 3 years later his smug, entitled smile sauntering across campus without a care in the world would boil my blood. The swimmers at my school were revered. People treated them like kings, the mascot name was actually, Kenyon Lords.
At 19, I was at a time in my life where I had so much opportunity, so much youth, so much promise. I believed that I could do/have anything that I wanted. I can see now the privilege and the naivety of that age. Maybe this would have happened anyway, but slowly that confidence, resilience and self-assuredness started to fall away. I had a really hard time finding the right help and support.
Looking back I see that I knew myself to be such a strong, confident, capable woman that I faced what had happened to me head on and told the people I needed to tell and did what they recommended I do. I was a good girl. I followed the rules, made people happy and did my best to succeed the way that I thought I was supposed to. Get good grades, work hard, always do your best and don’t talk about your feelings or make them a problem for anyone.
It’s only now that I realize being raped triggered a deep depression that I struggled with in a big way over the next 3 to 4 years. I also remember now that I shaved my head before returning to school as a sophomore. I went through a phase of not even looking at or thinking about men. I’d find out later that lots of students at Kenyon assumed that I was a lesbian because I shaved my head. I’m not, but I think I did shave my head because I didn’t want men to see me as pretty, sexy, attractive or a sex object. I struggled a lot with my femininity and how to be a self-confident woman when I felt so vulnerable and unsafe around men.
Years later someone pointed out to me that I often hug men with my left shoulder curved in around my heart. It’s true, I do it unconsciously, protecting myself. How do you ever get the feeling of safety and the innocence back? I haven’t found a way. Maybe it was always an illusion.
It’s a doozy though to realize so young that a man can just have sex with you without your consent and then life just goes on like you or your consent never mattered at all. I was in the wrong place at the wrong time and he was drunk and he raped me. If I wanted to punish him for that action I would have had to tear apart my life to do so. So I just swept it under the rug. I do not know if he even remembers who I am or has any idea how he has robbed me of a feeling I was never able to get back.
And if I had reported him, then what? What would I get other than a bad reputation and to stand in my shame before everyone else and be judged and talked about behind my back? So instead I’m still very bitter about it all despite all the therapy and healing work that I’ve done.
In retrospect, it clouded a lot of my experience in college. I felt unsafe at parties, unsafe walking around campus, unsafe at diving practice, unsafe to drink too much (though that’s probably a good one)…I felt unsafe all the time! How can you ever feel safe when a man can just rape you and then just say sorry and you are supposed to just move on.
And I’m aware that so many women have been beaten & raped violently by their husbands, brutally raped by strangers, drugged, manipulated, brainwashed, gaslighted or any number of horrible stories that have come from the mouths of so many of my amazing women friends. I’m also aware of all the smaller, more subtle ways that it erodes a woman’s spirit to not be listened to, taken seriously, stood up for, looked in the eyes and not in the chest, considered during sex…the list goes on and on and on. These stories and secrets are often shared by my friends and sisters in privacy, in safety and with many years of therapy, self-help and struggle behind us as we take responsibility for healing our own lives from this inevitable sexual trauma. My heart aches for myself, and for them too, and for all of us. Why is this ever even something that happens? Yet it does all the time.
I have managed to live all my 40 years without ever hitting anyone, raping or violating anyone sexually, physically…why would any of this ever be ok, excused or condoned. It just has never made any sense to me.
I did go to counseling in college. I tried all the counselors that the Kenyon College Health Center employed and I’m sorry to say they were very unhelpful, and probably just inexperienced and underprepared. The eating disorder that I struggled with in high school got really bad again and they literally did not know how to help me. At some point I realized I was the only one that was going to be able to help myself.
In the late 90’s, Keyon College was about 40k per year and had a great reputation. I know that my college, and many others like it, have a long history of actively trying to suppress reports of rape and sexual violence because it’s bad press for them, even as they make a point to teach students rape and sexual assault awareness.
I feel sad that no one stood up for me. It’s ironic that the people I told, the campus doctor, the counselor and my diving coach were all men and they all had the same advice for me to move forward and let it go. I doubt if any of them had ever been raped, ever had any training in how to handle sexual assault cases. If I read between the lines of their counsel to me, it feels a lot like Brock Turner’s dad saying, “It’s a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action.” And yes it has been a steep price for me to pay. For Ben…I doubt if he ever thinks about it.
I thought twice about protecting his name, and then I decided not to. Ben R. Holland could have thought twice about raping me, and he did not. As for the people who were employed by Kenyon College to ensure my health, safety and wellbeing…well those coaches, counselors and doctors failed too. I credit myself for protecting my own health and safety and for dedicating my life to doing everything I know how to do to be as happy, healthy and peaceful as I can be. It’s 20 years since this happened and I have moved forward in so many ways, and also, it will always be with me.
This is just one example of myriad ways my body and wellbeing has been violated, disrespected and used selfishly by many different men. It’s so common that I couldn’t even begin to list or categorize all the ways it has occurred. I’ve gone to great lengths to surround myself with kind men that are doing their best to be good humans, feminists and make a positive difference in our world. Even these men are prone to minimize, misunderstand and not hear what we as women have been going through our whole lives.
Almost no one knew about this story until now. I have written about it a few times for my own therapy and told a few friends. Recently, I decided to tell this story publicly because it’s time we all speak up, speak out, name names and call out those that stood by and silently condoned this kind of bullshit behavior. It needs to stop. If I can help only 1 person with my story then it is worth it to me to share it.
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Sending love, Abby. Thank you for your bravery. I am so sorry this happened to you and I totally get how it has impacted your life from your beautiful sharing. Your story resonates with me so much & points out so clearly how #rapeculture operates. Claire.
Thank you, Claire!
Thank you so much for sharing, for creating a safe place for others. ????????????
I’m holding you in my heart. My hope is that in sharing this difficult story you may receive peace and understanding. Love from me.
Thank you, Bear! And thank you for being a welcoming, safe, kind and inspirational presence in my life. I’ve found a lot of healing in improv and performing. I credit you with fueling my creativity and confidence in that realm.
I’m grateful for your strength in sharing this and so sorry about so much. Sorry about how common this was, as I started to read I remember at least two other similar stories from late 90s in Gambier, and those are just two people I was close to.
No one was validated enough in their concerns and no one was heard enough about the pain this caused. I wish I could do more than this to validate and hear you but I’m sending love and awe of your strength.