In fall 2015, senior Shelly Perry had just begun her first year of high school. Instead of worrying about navigating the halls of RBHS, Perry fell into what would affect her for years to come. Her freshman year of high school, senior Perry attended a friend’s party in the fall of 2015. Unlike other party-goers, she didn’t get an alcoholic drink, instead, opting for soda. She sat at a table. Perry watched as her friends danced and talked to another girl she knew. Then, a guy she didn’t know sat down next to her.
Perry had seen the boy around before at other parties but knew neither his name nor anything about him. He looked to be college-aged, so she was passive when he started talking to her. As they spoke, Perry said the boy was funny and nice; he kept complimenting her, saying phrases like, “What’s a pretty girl like you doing sitting alone at this table?” Then, Perry began to feel dizzy.Originally, she thought her tiredness and “not good feeling” was because of her anxiety from being around lots of people. Perry isn’t a big “people person” and prefers being alone. She told the boy she did not feel good and was going to go lie down. But when Perry stood up to leave, she blacked out.
“I was like ‘Oh, no. Not today,’ so I stood back up, and he was like, ‘Here, I’ll help you.’ And so he took me to this room in the house, and I heard the door click behind me, and I was just so out of it,” Perry said. “He grabbed me and put his hands on my butt, and I was like, ‘Hey, don’t do that. I’m not okay with that.’ And he kind of was just like, ‘No, you want this; you asked for this. This is what you wanted.’ And I was like, ‘No it’s not.’ And I was trying to push him off me, but I was so tired. I couldn’t push him off of me.”
The boy began to put his hands down Perry’s pants and insert his fingers into her vagina. She tried to get him to leave her alone, saying things like, “You gotta stop,” but the boy refused.
“No, this is what you want. I’m going to do what I want to you. I’m going to do what I want. You’re mine right now,” Perry remembers the boy said.
Perry continued to say no. The guy pushed her onto the bed in the room and began unbuckling his pants.
Before anything further happened to Perry, the floor outside the room creaked like somebody was walking on the other side of the door, and in seconds the boy was gone.
“I didn’t hear the door open. I didn’t hear the window open. I didn’t hear anything,” Perry said. “He was just gone. I was laying there, and I didn’t have a shirt on. He had taken my shirt off, and I couldn’t move, and I was just so tired, and I was crying, and I was screaming, and I didn’t know what to do.”
“He was just gone. I was laying there, and I didn’t have a shirt on. He had taken my shirt off, and I couldn’t move, and I was just so tired, and I was crying, and I was screaming, and I didn’t know what to do.”
So, Perry just lay on the bed. She put her shirt back on and just lay still. She remembers not moving and being void of all feeling. She stared at the ceiling. Stumbling and dizzy, she did not want to go out of the room and into the crowd because she said she believed people would just think she was another drunk girl and would not do anything to help her. Eventually, Perry thinks she fell asleep because she woke up in the back of her friend’s car, lying across some of the people she came with.
“Are we going home?” Perry asked.
“Yeah, we’re on our way home. We’re taking you home right now,” Perry said her friend replied.
Perry has not seen the boy since that night and hopes he is far away.
For almost two years, Perry was afraid to tell anyone about her experience. To this day, she said her parents do not know. She is too afraid to tell them because she was partying, and she thinks they would send her to a boarding school if they found out.
Perry eventually told her friends about what happened that night, however, and they try to comfort her when she gets “in her head” about her experience. Sometimes, she will have nightmares about her assault where she relives the experience. Her mind travels through the emotions and fears she felt that night, crippling her subconscious.
“I still deal with it, but there’s not really a whole lot that I can do,” Perry said. “You kind of get used to it.”
Perry’s fear drove her to keep silent. She believed anyone she told would think she made up the story for attention. She was scared people would blame her experience on her being at a party or tell her she just didn’t think, or her experience didn’t actually happen.
“You hear on the news all these people who come forward about [sexual assaults] and [people] are like, ‘You asked for it,” Perry said. “‘It was your fault.’”
Perry was wearing a sweatshirt and leggings.“I wasn’t asking for it,” Perry said.
As soon as Perry told her friends, they wanted her to get help. They urged her to speak with a professional who could actually do something to help her recover from the trauma. When Perry shared her experience, however, it had already been two years since “it” happened. Perry doesn’t know the name of the guy who assaulted her, and she doesn’t recall what he looks like because of her drowsiness the night of the party.
Perry still refuses to tell her parents about what happened. They are extremely strict, devout Christians, she said, so they wouldn’t approve of Perry going to parties and being around drinking and risky behavior.
“When you hear something like [what happened to me] coming from a teenager, I feel like it’s not credible. [Adults] don’t really take you seriously,” Perry said. “They’re like, ‘You don’t know what you’re doing. You’re a teenager. You’re making this up because you’re not getting enough attention at home,’ or something like that. They make up some excuse because that’s what every therapist does.”
Perry attended therapy and brought up what happened, but only in a hypothetical situation using someone else and not herself. She said the therapist reacted with phrases including, “Well, maybe that person isn’t getting enough attention at home,” or “They’re being abused,” and “They just want attention.” After the therapist’s response, Perry stopped going to therapy.
Immediately after the experience, Perry said she stopped going to parties for a month or two, her thoughts only focused on her assault. But because she couldn’t cope with the memories, she began attending parties, drinking and engaging in self-destructive behaviors. Perry said her life was fine for a while and her actions helped get her mind off what happened, but the day after she went out partying she would wake up sober and remember all over again. Perry said recalling her experience felt like she was living a nightmare.
“[Endangering myself] wasn’t worth it. I struggled with drinking, and so I cut it out. I haven’t [had a drink] in almost two years. I just don’t do it anymore,” Perry said. “I would start to get drunk, and I would forget it. Then I would be so drunk that I start to remember, so there’s not really a point. So I stopped going to parties, and I stopped putting myself in a position where I could convince myself that it was going to happen again.”
The sexual assault made it harder for her to open up to men than it was before. Perry said she can be friends with them, but it is difficult to let them into the more intimate parts of her life. She feels anxious when new guys talk to her because she’s afraid “it” will happen again. She is scared she’ll get herself into another situation where she feels powerless to escape from a male’s sexual advances.
Despite her fear of new people, especially men, Perry found someone she feels comfortable with. After years of being friends with her now-boyfriend, Perry now feels able to let a male become close to her. Their relationship, however, does not come without troubles from Perry’s past trauma. Sometimes her boyfriend will innocently put his hand on her back, and she will kind of have a “woah” moment, she said. He will ask, “What did I do?” to which Perry will explain he did not do anything wrong.
“I think about [the assault], and I tried to hard to forget about it and forget the memory of his hands on me,” Perry said, “But then [my boyfriend] will put his hand on my back, and I flashback to this moment and this guy is next to me, and his hands are on my back, and I’m not able to move.”
Perry is unsure if she consumed a date-rape drug, but she said every explanation she read online said, “Your drink tastes weird. You get dizzy. You get tired.” Perry said she experienced all of those symptoms and therefore thinks a date-rape drug is probable, but she can not be certain.
“[I regret] going to that party in the first place. I feel like I don’t really know that I have anything else to regret that night because nothing else was my fault. I feel like regrets have to do with something you did, and none of the things that happened to me were my fault. It’s taken me so long to convince myself that it’s not my fault,” Perry said. “Thinking about the story and looking at the situation, I didn’t get dizzy [on purpose]. I didn’t go into that room with him on purpose. I didn’t try to let him put his hands on me like that. There was nothing that I could’ve done. I did what I could. I don’t know that I have regrets. I wish it didn’t happen.”
Illustrated by Moy Zhong.