Shattering the Silence of ‘Acquaintance Rape’: Jessica Harris Shares Her Story

Lisa Barr, editor of GIRLilla Warfare:  It’s no secret to you, my readers, that I have three teenage daughters, and my eldest is heading off to college in the fall. The issue of “Acquaintance Rape”, so bravely discussed here by Jessica Harris, 23, hits close to home — my girls; my fears. I asked Jessica not to hold back — GIRLilla Warfare readers want the truth, and most importantly, we want the tools NOW to guide our kids before a potential tragedy occurs, and we also want the knowledge of how to deal with the trauma should our child get assaulted. Here’s the reality: 1 in 5 college women and 1 in 10 college men are victims of Acquaintance Rape and 90% of them KNOW their attackers. During Jessica’s freshman year of college, she was sexually assaulted by a group of young men whom she knew. 
Jessica, here’s to you — our deepest gratitude for your bravery, your resilience, and your openness.

By Jessica Harris

As I kneeled there with Dan’s hands gripping my head in place, my gaze fell to the print etched into his forearms. Was it really just last week he showed me these tattoos of his mom and sister’s names? And now he was forcing me to perform oral sex on him by restraining me with those same arms?!  I thought we were friends …

When we arrived to the apartment 30 minutes earlier, Dan said he “needed” to talk to me, so I followed him to one of the bedrooms.

When I entered the room, Dan immediately threw me onto the bed. Realizing what he wanted, I rushed to escape. Dan was already standing in the doorway with his arms and legs outstretched between the frame. I remember sizing up the space between his limbs, convinced that it would be my path to freedom. As I lunged towards the opening, Dan knocked me down and I collapsed onto the floor. While he pulled me up, he pulled his shorts down. It was then he forced me to perform oral sex.

I’m sure you’ve heard of the concept “fight or flight,” but there is a third option for responding to trauma that is much less talked about. That option is FREEZE, and freeze is literally what I did.

Once Dan was done with me, he left the party and left me in a frozen state. My brain and body completely shut down as I lost all awareness. I remember my friends asking to leave, but I was having such an out-of-body experience, I could not grasp what they were saying. It was as if their words remained in my ears, never making it to my brain to be processed.

I wandered aimlessly through the apartment until my classmates, Darnell and Victor, grabbed their friend James and led me to the other bedroom. One of my girlfriends tried to intervene, but James was quicker than she was; he slammed the door in her face and locked it behind him.

I was trapped. Again.

Thankfully, I don’t remember much of what happened in that room.

What I can remember is the feeling of my weightless body being moved around the room. I was nothing more than an object to them; something they could pass around and dominate.

When my friend finally found a key to the room, my pants were undone and I was slouched in a chair with Darnell standing over me.

I eventually reported my assault to Campus Security, and later to the police when my university gave the men “two-a-day” practices as punishment. Unfortunately, the crime was never taken to court. Rape is a private crime; it rarely happens in front of people. That means it is always going be a “he said, she said” situation, which does not bode well for a victim in a justice system that rules “innocent until proven guilty.” I did however receive my own personal victory, when I graduated from my college in May 2014.

There is absolutely no way I would have been able to go through what I went through without the constant love and support from my family – especially my Mom.

From the first moment I told her what happened, she has been behind me every step of the way. She never doubted, questioned, or judged me. My entire family’s support has allowed me to transition from a victim into the strong survivor I am today.

Five Ways you CAN protect your child:

1. Have open and honest conversations about the truths of Acquaintance Rape. I understand that this is a distressing topic – no one gets that more than I do. However it is your job as mothers to prepare your children for this big scary place called Earth. If having an awkward conversation with your child is going to protect them, then that is your duty.

2. Encourage responsible drinking. Let’s be honest, many kids drink before they’re 21. Knowing that, it is important to encourage your children to be smart drinkers, for their safety and for the safety of others.

3. Make a safety plan with your child, should they ever fall victim to a sexual predator. Talk with your child about who they would feel comfortable confiding in and possible follow-up steps.

4. Discuss the importance of good friends, and how they can best determine Who To Trust.

5. Make a pledge. Promise your child that should they ever be in this awful situation, that you will listen to them, BELIEVE them, and be there for them.

Five ways you can help if your child IS assaulted:

1. Try your absolute best to believe them. Sometimes I think I almost understand why people don’t believe rape victims … the act of rape truly is UNbelievable. But that doesn’t mean it’s not our reality.

2. Encourage them to go to the hospital and report the crime to the police. These steps can be very traumatic for victims, so allow them to make these decisions in their own time. Get copies of all police reports and hospital records.

3. It’s important for victims to still be able to have healthy relationships, so look for signs of alienation and isolation. Being violated in such a personal way makes it incredibly difficult to maintain connections with people, let alone build new ones.

4. Meet them where they are at. Every victim responds to the assault differently; there is no blueprint on how to recover from rape. Listen to them.

5. Most importantly, do not place any blame on the victim. No matter what they may be wearing, drinking, or doing, it is never acceptable to sexually assault them without their sober and voluntary consent. No one asks to be raped, I know I didn’t.

LB:  Jessica Harris will share her story at Deerfield High School, in Deerfield, Illinois. Called “Shattering the Silence of Acquaintance Rape” — she will speak on Thursday, March 12, 7:00-8:30 p.m., Deerfield High School Auditorium, 1959 N. Waukegan Road. The program is targeted to seniors, juniors, alums AND their parents.  It is presented by Angles in partnership with Deerfield Parent Network.  Program is free.  For more information, please visit: http://www.deerfieldparentnetwork.org/shattering-the-silence-of-acquaintance-rape.html.


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