Featured Writer: Erin O'Connor

Rape Culture

In the year of “Grabbing Her By The Pussy,” ERIN O’CONNOR questions how is it that we still have to testify that rape culture exists?

It’s probably because most people don’t want to believe a crime like this could be normalized in our society. I can’t say I blame them because after living through its consequences multiple times, I still don’t want to believe it. It’s like Tila Tequila's Nazi fetish—I don’t want to believe that so many people are enabling it, but it happened, and I’m super pissed about it.

And I’m not exactly discreet with my displeasure at the current state of things. People often ask me why I’m such an “angry girl,” why I “stomp around in combat boots,” why I’m “so jumpy to the touch.” If they have known me long enough, they know something happened at some point that turned me into a person who carries at least three weapons on her at all times. Seriously, I always look like I’m on my way to a “salty bartender” casting call.

One night, when I was 20 and living in Philadelphia, someone tried to rape me while I was walking home from a party. I reported it the next morning and got a swift lesson on how the world works for (or against) us.

After the attack, as I was in the back of a cop car being driven to the precinct, I remember knowing I wasn’t in trouble, but feeling like I was. The eagle-eyed officer who picked me up had noticed the wristband I was still wearing from the crappy art gallery party I attended the night before. In a quiet and measured tone, he had assured me that it didn’t matter if I had been drinking the night before, but he sure as shit knew it meant I wasn’t the “perfect victim.” Later, he quietly advised me to take it off before I met the detective.

As I waited for the sex crimes detective, my mind scanned its deeper recesses for familiar places to whisk me away from this walking nightmare. I started imagining myself in a scene from SVU. I pictured Olivia Benson bringing me a cup of coffee, coming to my side to softly comfort me as I recounted my story. I pictured myself explaining to her that a dude had groped me, pushed me towards a dark street and tried to rape me behind a big pile of trash bags. I’d tell her how hard I fought, that I kicked myself for walking home in a dress so late at night. In this scenario, she’d shut that shit down and keep me strong when I couldn’t be. And in the end, Stabler would release his legendary rage and slam the guy’s face into the table a few times. I would testify, triumphantly looking my attacker straight in the eyes as I said, “Yeah, that’s the motherfucker.”

Instead, I was met with a bored-looking man who tried to seem sympathetic, but who likely saw my face as a stack of paperwork. Almost immediately, he cited his daughter as the reason sex crimes disturb him. I was a little concerned that he needed to experience the effects of fatherhood to determine that sex crimes were unacceptable, but I didn’t have the energy to unpack that one. When I recounted the moment of the attack, describing that I was scared I was going to die, he yawned. He asked me how much I had to drink, and I realized I had forgotten to take off my wristband. I instinctively low-balled in the same way you do when you talk to your parents and told him I had a couple of drinks hours before the incident. He wrote in underlined letters so large I could see them from across the desk: “DRUNK.” My emotions oscillated from anger to shame, from embarrassment to disbelief, but I tried my best to seem rational and composed. As he remarked on how well I was “taking it,” I detected a mixture of incredulity and condescension, and I was officially over this dude. I sat in that backseat on the way home, thinking to myself, “Why do I feel like I did something wrong here? Was I behaving incorrectly? Or, did he just miss nap time?”

Two weeks later, he showed up with six mugshots, explaining to me that I needed to pick one of them and that the guy who assaulted me was among them (which is totally illegal). I looked over the photos carefully and determined that he wasn’t there. The permanently-exhausted detective said, “We know he’s here.” I looked at him and said with more confidence than I’ve ever known, “I will never forget his face. That man isn’t here.”

About a month later, I was walking on my block with a friend when we passed my assailant. As I froze and peed myself a little (literally), this guy didn’t sweat me at all. I don’t know what angered me more, the fact that he was walking around freely, or the fact that he had no reason to fear a woman he almost destroyed.

I called the detective, but he never showed. I called a week after to see where my case was going, and I was told that it wasn’t being pursued because I was “uncooperative,” and that was the end of it.

I don’t like to tell this story. The last time I tried, a few people with whom I didn’t get along used it to mock me and call me a liar.  So, it took years for me to discuss it again. I moved on and moved away to New York City, where I was raped on a date. I was more quiet, less combative this time. I figured it would happen to me sooner or later, not unlike your wisdom teeth breaking through or smile lines showing up. And I knew what would happen if I reported it.

Since I couldn’t change the system, I changed myself. I threw out all my skirts and got that bitch-face on lock. I shaved one side of my head. I bought a bunch of self-defense weapons. I closed myself off to a world that told me, “Hey, this is on YOU,” but this time, I’m standing here with all the other fed-up chicks saying, “Well, fuck you then. I’m done being nice about it.”


Erin Lynn O’Connor

Trish NelsonComment