Trigger Warning: Discussion of sexual violence, first-person account of rape, rape of minors, bullying. Seriously, take care of yourself. *Edited to add: All updates are at the bottom of this post, identified by date*
One might look at the title of the post and immediately question, why now? The answer is complicated. The short answer is: last night I spoke to someone with whom I went to high school. They were thanking me for my work on trauma and abuse and disclosed that they also had been raped. I thanked them for disclosing and for some reason, for the first time in a long time, decided to share my rapist’s name: Ben Ketchum. Their reply came like a gut punch:
At that moment I felt so many emotions all at once. Anger. Sadness. Numbness. But one rose above all the others--clarity. I don't want to stay silent any longer. I am not doing this out of malice. I am not doing this anonymously. I am attaching my full name and reputation to this post. I am speaking my truth and the truth of someone who told me their story firsthand. He had raped me and this incredibly brave person I screencapped above, which means it is entirely possible that he raped others. The person above has asked to remain anonymous and I fully respect their wishes. They have, however, given me permission to share parts of their story. I am honored that they disclosed to me. They will henceforth be known as Really Brave Person.
Let’s start with some history.
I've written and spoken pretty extensively about being a survivor of sexual assault. I wove it into a broader narrative about being bullied in school here. I was interviewed by Devi Ward on her radio show about healing after sexual assault. In 2009 I wrote about how powerful it was to reclaim my voice by sharing my story at Take Back the Night at St. Joe's and how that led me to start researching trauma and speaking out against sexual violence publicly, becoming a rape crisis counselor, and working with organizations to do sexual assault prevention work. I dedicated much of my energy to understanding trauma, specifically acquaintance rape. My rationale was that if I could understand how trauma affects the brain and the body, I could understand my reactions and choices after the rape (not reporting, becoming hyper sexual, becoming depressed, feeling worthless, and, most importantly, the choice to continue having sex with my rapist - we'll come back to that). I wrote academic papers on acquaintance rape and presented them at conferences around the country. My graduate school, "The Traumatic Aftermath of Acquaintance Rape" was accepted to multiple conferences. You can read a version of it here. I actually inserted my own survivor story into the anecdotal portion of the paper, albeit under a pseudonym (Nicole). It was taken directly from a blog I wrote in my LiveJournal in 2007 after taking a self-defense class. During the class I had a powerfully vivid flashback of the rape.
That was the moment I realized that I had PTSD (I was later diagnosed by a psychiatrist). I still struggle with PTSD to this day. I have flashbacks. I (sometimes) get triggered when I hear people's stories--especially when they're similar to mine. Getting triggered, for me, looks like anxiety, numbness, and dissociation. That tendency toward dissociation as a primary response to traumatic events led to being raped two more times, once in grad school and and once while working at the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office. Researchers have found that it is common for survivors of sexual violence to be victimized multiple times.
So when Really Brave Person shared their story with me last night, something clicked inside me. I don't know if it was the similarity of our stories (we both had childhood trauma, we were both self-identified virgins, he matter-of-factly told us that our virginities were gone).
After the incident when I was 13, I didn't know what to do. I didn't identify it as rape until several years later because rape as it was taught in middle and high school was always couched in terms of stranger rape. I couldn't tell my parents because they didn't approve of Ben (edited to add: he was 16 at the time) and I had lied about where I was that afternoon. I continued to spend time with Ben because I was a social outcast and I had few friends and, more importantly, continuing to have sex with him helped normalize what had happened to me. At least this time I was having sex on my terms, I told myself. I also, in my infinite 13-year-old wisdom, decided that if I couldn't be a virgin any longer then I was going to become REALLY GOOD at sex since I believed that my only value came from my ability to sexually please my partner.
If I'm really honest with myself (and everyone reading this), Ben actually raped me more than once, but the second time wasn't with a body part--it was with an object. This memory is a little fuzzier, but I remember being in his bedroom some time after the initial rape. His best friend [redacted] was there hanging out with us. I think one of them was playing guitar. I don't remember what I was wearing, but Ben decided he wanted to start fingering me even though [redacted] was sitting right there. I remember resisting, embarrassed. He somehow got into my panties and I shut my eyes for a second. Suddenly I felt something cold inside me. I asked what it was. He said it was a glass test tube and that if I kept struggling, it would break inside me. I went limp and let him do what he wanted. I remember thinking that it was really fucked up that he did all of that with [redacted] sitting right there watching. I remember wondering why [redacted] didn't try to stop him.
About 6 years ago he added me as a friend on Facebook. I was surprised but declined the friend request. Later I changed my mind--maybe he wanted to apologize. He messaged me (I wish I still had the message, but I don't) and asked how I was doing. I was in grad school and had just finished writing my first paper on acquaintance rape. I told him that. He said something to the effect of "wow, and here I only thought it was statutory rape." I unfriended him that second. About three years ago I ran into him in the supermarket near my house. He approached me and made small talk. I dissociated through it and went home and cried in my boyfriend's arms. To this day, he still follows me on Facebook. Seriously. This screencap is from this morning:
I honor every person (of any gender) who has ever survived sexual violence. Every survivor is entitled to make their own decisions regarding reporting, contact with their rapist, their healing journey, and to whom they are comfortable disclosing. If someone in your life is a survivor, I wrote a post about supporting the survivor in your life here. If you are a survivor reading this and you would like resources or someone to talk to about what happened, I highly recommend RAINN's Online Hotline.
I am eternally grateful to the folks in the sex positive community who have reached out to offer their support. It means the world that I have a community standing behind me, supporting me in sharing my story.
I have been contacted privately by another woman who shared that Ben raped her while she was in high school. She gave me permission to share her story anonymously (we're going to call her Brave Survivor) and I am honored that she disclosed to me. This now brings the count to three: me, Really Brave Person, and Brave Survivor.
I was also messaged by another woman who shared the following *note, the screencap below is not a disclosure of assault. This woman is lending her voice to say that although she was not assaulted by Ben, she had an unsettling conversation with him that she felt called to share*:
These latest revelations are intense. But hearing from Brave Survivor this morning reinforced that I made the right decision in naming him. There may be others out there and I hope, by reading this, you know that you are not alone. I'll be adding to this post when/if additional information comes to light.
I woke up to a message from a girl who is a friend of my family. She shared this:
I asked her if she knew how old Ben was at the time or if she remembered how old she was. She is four years younger than I am and Ben is three years older, so I am estimating the math here:
I'm offering this without comment other than to say that I am honored that she chose to share with me and I am grateful that this incident in the woods didn't go further than Ben asking inappropriate questions and making her feel uncomfortable.
Another 3/11/2015 update:
I just received this email from a person who wishes to remain anonymous but gave permission to share her message.
This. This right here ^ is why I chose to name him. I will continue to post things that people share with me (with their permission) about their experiences with Ben.
I just received another message from someone who had an incident with Ben.
I am relieved to read that she successfully fought Ben off. As you can see above, she requested that I share her story. I do want to clarify though, I am not a sex therapist. I am a sexuality educator and writer, not a licensed therapist.
I will continue to add these disclosures as I receive them, with the disclosing person's identity withheld if requested.
Another 3/12/2015 update:
I am speechless. I never anticipated that so many people would come forward and share their experiences. I am overwhelmed by the bravery of these folks, reaching out to me and telling their stories. Breaking the silence. I'm watching the power of vulnerability manifest in real time.
It's also been triggering for me. I've been having flashbacks and a lot of anxiety. I'm grateful for my support network, my wonderful partner, and for every person who has messaged me via email and on Facebook expressing their support and solidarity.
This morning I received this message on Facebook. It was lengthy so I broke it into three screenshots. I am honored by these women who are coming forward and disclosing their experiences.
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Is that him? Word really needs to get out at Penn state if it is.
So, all the cold cases that get reopened due to eye witnesses coming forward or being found years or even decades after the fact should remain closed because those people didn’t testify at the time of the crime? Is there a statute of limitations on when someone victimized in childhood has a right to speak about their own experiences? I think the Catholic church would be very happy to hear that.
It’s all to familiar, fault lines written by tongues bitten by silence. Thoughts formed when we weren’t searching for violence in our questions, our suggestions… it’s all. to. familiar. What was she wearing? Was she walking alone? She shouldn’t have drunk so much, she should have been more careful, she shouldn’t a… she should a.. sheeeee… like it was her fault.
Like gender violence isn’t a mans issue. Like men can’t help themselves, like the responsibility for ones own actions doesn’t fall on ones own shoulders. Like men don’t have the power to change how men act.
And I remember as a young teen learning the facts…. one in three, one in three… Made me sick.. How could men like me do this? They couldn’t. I thought, they couldn’t. They must be monsters. They must be monsters. Monsters in the masks of men. Monsters in the masks of men, rearrange their faces until I can no longer see myself in them.. Monsters.
And I remember going to a party in East Vancouver and seeing a patch on my friends jacket that said " stop rape", the message so clear, so Inarguably simple, and yet it left a bad taste because it jarred me from my place of comfort. Because it reminded me of the reality that we all face. And that initial reaction, my initial reaction was me choosing silence, therefore allowing for violence, and that is a clear case of the culture of rape. And I remember in the dressing room cheering along as a teammate proclaimed that in victory we had raped the other team… Or in the lunch room when my boss made a sexist joke and I said nothing, or yesterday when I pulled on an article of clothing and referred to it as a wife beater.
This culture of violence touches us all. And by dismissing perpetrators as monsters, it allows us not to analyze our own actions.
Men… Take your masks off.
Men, take responsibility.
Men, open your mouths wider, show more then your teeth.
There is a softness in your throat waiting to be freed.
Men, we are responsible for the vast majority of violence.
Men, it’s an epidemic.
Men, don’t think that it has to be this way.
Men, if you could make the world safer for the women you love, for all women, children and men, wouldn’t you?
Men, you can.
Men, we need you to be courageous. To speak up and be more then a bystander.
Men, put your masks down.
Men, let’s look each other in the eyes.
Men… Let’s talk.
The above was shared by a friend who helps run the hu-MAN Up planet project initiative, operating in the Lancaster, PA area. Their website: http://www.hu-manup.org/
Would that more towns and cities have citizens banding together to end rape culture!
For the naysayers/victim blaming: The topic of rape is far too complex to simply state that, “you should have reported it.” This is not the first time that this has happened and it is not a unique situation. Furthermore, statements such as these: (1) show your ignorance to the complexity of rape and the experience of the victim, (2) show your ignorance to how these situations are handled in the legal system, and (3) does not contribute to bringing justice or resolution to the situation. Although your comments do: (1) make it much more difficult for rape victims speak out and seek justice, (2) encourage that rape is a justifiable act, and (3) support the notion that the justice system could never fail.
As I imagine, most of the individuals protecting Benjamin’s reputation in these comments are his friends, which is natural to want to protect your friend. HOWEVER, realize that you are not neutral to the situation. In fact, you are bias, which means the possibility of you contributing rationally and meaningfully to the discussion at hand is extremely low. Moreover, protecting your friend and lashing out on the victim by telling her what she should and should not have done has nothing but have negative repercussions.
I am not brave enough to publicly name my rapist.
Why do we tend to become detectives, judge, and jury when someone makes such a statement? Our job as the general public is not to berate those who feel abused until they deny their abuse to ease our discomfort. Our job is to sit in our discomfort and allow that discomfort to shift our behavior until our society does better to protect its citizens.
You are such a brave person, Ashley. I have a new found sense of awe and respect for you (on top of what I had before) and having been there tonight at your really great class – I’m speechless. You’re amazing and strong. If I can be of any support to you, a shoulder or an ear, I’m here for you.
I believe you. Contrary to the beliefs of far too many people, it is not necessary to have courtroom level evidence of guilt before believing survivors of rape and sexual assault. This is, after all, not a courtroom, so the standard of evidence is lower. Your experience counts as evidence, no matter how much Rape Culture enablers deny that fact.
I support you.
I’m sorry you were raped by that douchebag.
Thank you for sharing your story.
@valarie: Aaron is completely right. Ashley needs no additional evidence. She was there. Would you need more evidence if someone punched you, or would you feel able to post “X punched me, OMG!”
Attackers of all sorts frequently cultivate a “good reputation” so than when they choose to attack, no one believes their victim. See the leader if the Christian home school publisher ATI, catholic priests, and Jimmy Savile.
Her testimony is evidence. The testimony of other women is evidence. Perhaps you don’t know this, but when someone asserts they witnessed something happen – and a victim’s own recollections of the crime against them are witness testimony – that is evidence. There isn’t “absolutely no evidence”. There is a pile of evidence in this very post.
I am so very sorry this happened to you, and to other women. I just wanted you to know how brave of you this was, and that I support you. This country disgraces me with its attitude towards rape, and I can only hope that one day women will get the justice that all women past and present have not gotten.
Never once did they take my side. I was interrogated. My body, mind and trust had been taken advantage of, by people I assumed were good friends. And here I was, sitting in a police station, a place that I thought was supposed to protect ME…and they were protecting my ATTACKER. I asked them if I should go to the hospital to get a rape kit. They told me it was probably not a good idea, as evidence was probably gone by now. I offered them the condoms and wrappers. They didn’t want them as evidence. I sat in that office for 5 hours…having them constantly reform the same question over and over again. The same question that it was me who was lying. I asked them if they were going to contact him. If they were going to do anything about my report. They said we’ll look into it. My best friend’s sister was with me, by this point…and she asked when we left if I wanted to go to the hospital anyway? I was exhausted mentally, physically and spiritually. I told myself, that I had gotten through 3 prior rapes, I could get through this one too. I told her no, just take me to a pharmacy to get Plan B. I called that police station every day for 3 weeks. They never followed up on my report. My attacker was never brought in for questioning. My attacker was never arrested and there was never ANY legal justice. So, for all those stating to go to the police and report. It’s not that simple. It’s not that simple because a lot of the times…they don’t believe you when you report. It actually made me glad that I never reported any of my other rapes. Because the last one, not only was I taken advantage of by my attacker, but I was let down by the system too. I now had two vicious attacks to get over.
Enjoy your day ; )