Content Warning: This post contains information about sexual assault and/or violence which may be triggering to some survivors.
"The Intern," J.
Note: All survivors who reach out to The Art of Survival are given the option to remain as anonymous as they would prefer in sharing their story. Any specific details about the survivor are shared at their discretion, and not the creators of the page.
I have decided to share this anonymously because this part of my life is too daunting to share openly, at least for now…
When I was 19 years old, I was fortunate enough to have TWO internship offers for the summer. One position was at home in Connecticut, and the other was in Massachusetts. I wanted to live with my boyfriend at the time, so I went against all of my instincts and accepted the Massachusetts offer. The internship was in direct sales. It was pitched to me as a completely different experience, but the bottom line was that it was business-to-business sales. At the time, I didn’t realize the impact that one decision between two offers could and would actually have on my life.
I was paired up with a 26 year-old male employee, I’ll refer to him as S. I thought that he was awesome. We would spend all day “in the field” together. During lunch, we would watch funny videos and just laugh hysterically. S. was funny, smart, and sarcastic. We shared things about our lives with one another. He had played D1 college football, until his girlfriend got pregnant. They ended up getting married after their son was a few years old. His wife had given birth to their second son less than two weeks before I met him. I developed a friendship with this man. We would talk about our families, issues at home, and my relationship. There were moments that I would imagine marrying someone just like him.
One of our mutual interests was country music. I remember “Are You Gonna Kiss Me or Not?” coming on the radio one afternoon. S. started singing it to me. I didn’t think much of it at the time. We always goofed around and he was constantly singing…
About six weeks after I began the horrible internship, I decided I needed to quit. I wanted to return home and be with my family. My boyfriend was upset because he knew that quitting the internship meant moving out of his house and also being two hours away. Overall, he understood and I agreed to spend a few days with him before moving home.
I was nervous, so I chose to quit on a Friday when all of the supervisors and managers would be away at a conference. Another decision I wish I never made. S. was in charge of the office that day.
In the morning, I asked S. if we could talk. We went into an office and I told him I needed to go back home. He was aware of the situation with my family. He begged me not to leave, but seemed to understand after I gave even more details and background. I cried. He asked if I would work the rest of the day, to close out some of my accounts, and then asked if we could talk more after the day was done. He was being so supportive. I agreed.
I came back late and there were only a few people left in the office. I said goodbye to a few of them, but S. was really the only person who I cared about there. After everyone left, he locked the main office door. I didn’t think anything of it; the day was done.
We went into a big room that was used for energizers in the morning and for celebrating sale goals met at the end of the day. We talked for a little while. I cried again. I was vulnerable.
He kissed me. I think I kissed him back for a few seconds before pulling away. “I have a boyfriend…You have a wife! And kids!”
He pushed me up against the wall and forcefully kissed me again.
I pushed him off and grabbed my bag off the ground and began to walk out. He said, “wait, I’m sorry.” I turned around and he said, “let me walk you out.” I was beyond flustered. Did I just cheat on my boyfriend?
So many things were going through my head when all of a sudden I was pushed into my supervisor’s office. He pushed me facedown into the desk and pulled my pants down.
He said, “I’ve wanted to do this since I met you. I’m so glad we’re doing this.” I muffled words through tears. I don’t know if I said no. But I definitely used the word stop while I told him that he was hurting me.
And then I froze. I hoped it would be over quickly. It felt like a lifetime, but I think it was only a few minutes. After he was finished, he gave me some tissues and told me to wipe it up. I did and threw the sticky pile in my supervisor’s trashcan.
I quickly pulled my pants up and grabbed my bag, fumbling for my keys. I went towards the elevator and there was a woman waiting there. Thank God. Say something. Say anything.
I was still frozen.
He was already out of the office. The woman looked at me, knowing something was wrong. He said, “she just got some tough news about her family.” She looked sympathetic. He wrapped his arms around me and squeezed, tightly. He towered over me, more than six feet tall, and was so strong.
He followed me to my car, watching the other woman walk to her car and drive away. I just wanted to get in my car and lock the doors. He said, “I hope that wasn’t the only time we get to do that.” I mumbled something again and said, “gotta go.”
I got in the car, locked the doors, and started driving to my boyfriend’s house. The man who just raped me called me on the way home.
“That was fun.”
I hung up. He texted me a few times that night and throughout the weekend. I gave one-word responses, if anything at all.
I went home to find my boyfriend babysitting his cousins. I picked a fight with him and told him that I just wanted to go to sleep. The only thing that I really wanted was to shower.
A few days later, I moved home and our relationship slowly deteriorated.
For months, I tried convincing myself that I just cheated. It wasn’t until October that I fully realized what had happened on that Friday in June. I was listening to a speaker present on sexual assault. I was there to write an article for my college newspaper. I heard it over and over, “no means no.” And that’s when it clicked.
It happened to me.
After the event, I went to work on a group project with one of my friends, T. He was a year older than me. We had connected earlier that year because we had the same major and advisor. I trusted T. That night, he said, “what is going on? You’re not yourself tonight.” He then asked if I wanted to go for a walk and get some fresh air. We went outside and T. said, “you know you can tell me anything and I’ll be here for you.” I then shared what had just clicked for me and my life changed once again.
The next day, T. told our advisor what happened to me. Our advisor’s wife (another professor at a different institution) happened to be on campus that day. My advisor asked if the three of us could talk because they didn’t want me to be uncomfortable if it were just he and I.
I shared everything. My advisor asked if I wanted him to step out, so he did and I spoke with his wife for a while.
Then everything happened very quickly. I began meeting with a counselor. A few weeks later, I decided that I needed to tell my boyfriend. T. drove me to my boyfriend’s apartment and said to let him know when I wanted to be picked up. I assumed it’d be the next day. After dinner and a movie, I decided it was time to tell him. I sat down and bravely began sharing my story. My boyfriend immediately reacted poorly.
“I can’t believe you would cheat on me! How could you do this to me? And how could you stay with me for this long? I knew something was wrong but you never would tell me.”
I burst into tears. I texted my friend and he rushed to pick me up.
“I can’t believe you’re leaving with [T.]… are you going to sleep with him too?”
About a month after I shared this story, I was hired as a mid-year RA and it was one of the best things that ever could have happened to me. I was blessed with a support system that I never could have imagined. Residence Life staff, my advisor, the Dean of Campus Life, faculty members, friends, and my fellow RAs were all incredible during this time.
I was clear from the beginning. I didn’t want to get the police involved. I didn’t have any proof. I threw the tissues away. I answered his phone call, responded to some texts, the woman in the elevator had no idea what had occurred…
They supported every choice that I made and didn’t question any of them. The way I was supported through this situation is one of the main reasons I am working in higher education right now. I am forever indebted to the wonderful individuals who were there for me.
I stayed in a relationship with my boyfriend until the following summer. I tried to make it work. He had apologized the next day… apparently his ex-girlfriend actually had cheated on him, and made up a story about being sexually assaulted. She later admitted to making it all up, and he couldn’t differentiate between her false story and my truth. Our relationship was never the same and I knew I would never be able to have a healthy relationship with him. He blamed himself. He felt like he shouldn’t have encouraged me to move to MA, to stay at the internship for as long as I did, etc. The two of us played the “if only we…” game quite a bit.
I was raped five years ago this June. Since then I have earned my BA and M.Ed. in Higher Education Administration. When the anniversary of that day comes around, I will be wrapping up my first year as a student affairs professional! I will always carry this experience with me, but I have become stronger. I am tough. I am proud of the way that I have played the hand I’ve been dealt. I may be anonymous on this blog, but there are people who know this story, my story, and I am proud that I had the courage to share it with them. The most important thing is that I am not alone, and neither are you.
If you would like to connect with me, please email the wonderful people of Art of Survival. They know how to get in touch with me and I am more than willing to speak with anyone who needs or wants to.
Thank you for being a part of my journey by reading this chapter of my story.
About the art:
When I first connected with this survivor about their story, they sent along several powerful Maya Angelou quotes for inclusion in the art. It was so difficult to decide which to choose, but the message that really stuck with the survivor was the following:
"I chose the quote because so much that happens in life is completely out of our control. Naturally, we change based on these circumstances, but we should continue to persevere, even while dealing with and processing these experiences."
After re-reading their story, the one message that really stuck out to me was resilience. And with that message, an idea of the mangrove tree came to mind. This survivor had already shared that marine images and calming colors were important, and being a native Floridian, I've lived around these resilient trees most of my life. Not only have they evolved to adapt to saline climates, they also create an interlocked island of roots that support the trees, as well as the wildlife that call mangroves home.
This survivor has survived a threatening, unwelcoming environment, and evolved to tell their story. By telling their truth, they also built a network and a diverse support system that has helped this survivor heal. I'm so thankful for this survivor for sharing their story, and I hope they remain resilient and strong.