Rape is no different for a sex worker I believe a lot of what helped me deal with my rape and the abuse I suffered was my background in sex work.

How My Abusive Relationship Began

Extricating oneself from an abusive relationship is never easy.

They don’t show you that part in the movies. They only show our heroine, generally a perky, smiling blonde, with clean hair and a new lease on life. They don’t show you the loneliness, the confusion, the terrible sense of disgust with oneself. That doesn’t make the final cut.

It isn’t just different for me because I am a pensive brunette, rather than a perky blonde. My difficulties do not stem from the fact that I rarely have time or inclination to wash my hair more frequently than once a week. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely have a new lease on life, but setting up an apartment is never instantaneous and the apartment of my head and heart is a real fixer-upper at this point.

I’ve written about the relationship before, but I never covered the real, lurid details of my relationship with “Stanley,” the man I named after Stanley Kowalski from A Streetcar Named Desire and, were he an actor, I’d say it was a role he was born to play.

Unfortunately, though, Stanley wasn’t the only one who played a role: first I played Stella and then I was Blanche. This summer, when I wrote about the relationship for the first time, the wounds were still very, very fresh. I didn’t want to talk about them and so I varnished them over with remembrances of how I felt at the beginning.

The time has come, I think, to tell the unexpurgated version of the story. People have asked to hear it, and here it is in all its sordid ingloriousness.

Stanley and I were together for three years officially. In reality it was closer to three and a half. During the years we were together and the six months after we broke up, he twisted my head into unnatural shapes and broke my heart innumerable times. My life with him was one of fear and abjection. This is not to say there were no good times; there were plenty of good times because Stanley’s approach to relationships could have been based on a manual for inducing Stockholm Syndrome in your friends and loved ones.

As I mentioned before, our relationship began online, and entirely by accident, at least so far as I was concerned. We were never supposed to be more than Myspace pals. But we went from being Myspace pals to texting pals to flirtatious texting pals and then things were going very fast and we were talking all the time and before I knew it… I was in love with a man I had never even met in person?!

I do think the fast, sloppy beginning of our relationship, was a contributing factor to its toxicity, but this is not a cautionary tale about strange men on the internet or moving too fast in relationships. It isn’t even a cautionary tale about being eighteen and having never been in a really serious adult relationship. It’s a story about destruction, violation, and rebuilding.

Stanley and I had been together for two months before we finally met in person. I was lucky, or unlucky, in that we actually had chemistry. Oh yes, we had plenty of chemistry. During the two weeks he visited, he met my mother, my sister, my roommate, and my best friend, but beyond that, we hardly left my bedroom. Maybe I should have known something was wrong then. It wasn’t easy, persuading him to meet even those few people. But again I will say I was eighteen-years-old and susceptible to the mixture of kindness and orgasms that Stanley offered me.

Then, on Valentine’s Day, two days before he had to go back to Fort Stewart to finish up the last two months of his army service, I saw for the first time what happened when Stanley was anything but content.

I’ve spoken about Stanley’s jealousy before, but I’ve never quite gotten into the ways he used his horrific, towering anger as a weapon to destroy me. That first rage terrified me more than anything I’d ever experienced. This man I loved–this man I had been lying next to every night for the past week and a half–had turned into a monster before my eyes. It was a case of a small misspeech or misunderstanding, I still don’t know which, but Stanley was convinced that I had lied deliberately, specifically to keep him in the dark about an ex-boyfriend still being in Chicago and he refused to hear anything to the contrary.

His rage simmered throughout the day. He barely spoke to me as I hovered on the verge of tears. I was terrified of losing him.

That night he exploded. How could I lie to him like that? How could I be like all the other lying, cheating harpies he had dated in the past? I was a slut, a bitch, and (perhaps most revealing) a “lying-ass female”, just waiting to cheat on him and eat his heart.
I cried and cried. I told him he was wrong, he had no idea, and I cried some more, weeping until I vomited.

If I had been older, smarter, more experienced, something, I would have showed him the door then. I would have directed him to the nearest Blue Line station and suggested that he spend the rest of his leave in one of the comfortable hotels in the O’Hare area. I would have warned him against letting the door hit his ass on the way out of my domicile.

But I wasn’t older, I wasn’t smarter, I wasn’t very experienced, and I was more than prepared to stop being something if he didn’t want me to be. I was so hungry for real affection and I hadn’t yet figured out that real affection does not come from one person changing any aspect of his/her personality that the other doesn’t much like.

Stanley never apologized. Later that night, he got into bed with me and I was so grateful he wasn’t leaving that I forgot to insist he ask my forgiveness. Besides, I thought, none of his insults had anything to do with the fact that I was a whore, they were all aimed at me because I was a woman, and therefore a slut. I could change his mind, if not about all ladies, at least about me. It would be okay, I was sure. The next morning he acted as if nothing had happened and I was all too happy to pretend right along with him.

Things got worse once he went back to Fort Stewart. He accused me of sleeping with his brother, despite there being no evidence whatsoever to support his case. I cried and begged him not to believe such awful things; he turned off his phone. God forbid I ever do such a thing. When I told him about the lewd comments one of my roommate’s boyfriend’s friends was making in my direction, I got no sympathy. Instead, Stanley decided that I must have encouraged him in some way. As far as he knew, I was already cheating. I began to feel great kinship with Desdemona.

I lived in fear of being unreachable. If Stanley couldn’t get in touch with me for any more than fifteen minutes, there was no telling what he would think. I began to take circuitous routes to my various destinations, just so that I could avoid the dead zones in the train tunnels.

I stopped going out. For the most part, at least. It wasn’t fun any more. I had to be chained to my phone if I didn’t want a fight. God forbid I have any fun without Stanley; he would see to it that my fun was ruined. Every time I went to a friend’s house, he would monopolize my attention. When I went to a party, against his wishes, he made sure the entire night was hell for me. I shouldn’t have put up with it, but I did.

Why? I don’t know. Maybe he boosted my ego. Every horrible rage, every bout of insults, was alternated with messages about how much he loved me, how wonderful I was, how lucky he was to be with me, how he wanted to spend the rest of his life with me. He never apologized, but when he wasn’t telling me I was a lying slut, he fluffed my ego to such a size that I felt apologies weren’t necessary. He showed how sorry he was in his own way, I thought. I rationalized all of his bad behavior away, “He’s jealous because he loves me.” “He’s paranoid because he’s been hurt in the past.” “It isn’t that he’s threatened by my intelligence, he just hasn’t ever dated a smart girl before, he doesn’t know what to do with me.”

The fact that Stanley never, ever used the fact that I was a sex worker as an excuse for an argument only helped me override my better judgment. If he really didn’t respect me, I repeated to myself, he would use anything and everything he could find to accuse me of infidelity and general sluttishness; since he didn’t use my work, I could still pretend he actually held me in some regard.

It was all bullshit, but I managed to convince myself that things would improve once he came to Chicago to live with me. I didn’t see how they couldn’t; after all, I would be in the same city as he and he would see how devoted I really was, how faithful. When he asked me if I wanted to find an apartment together I was elated: I would be under his watchful eyes all the time, meaning he wouldn’t be able to accuse me of any infidelity. He would see the light. We would be happy. We would forget the hell of the past two and a half months. I couldn’t have been more wrong, of course.

The first three weeks were indeed blissful. I had never been happier. We spent all our time having sex and setting up our apartment. We never fought about anything. It was enough to make me believe we would be okay. And then a little after my nineteenth birthday everything fell apart when Stanley asked to read my old journals and I refused. I had grown complacent and comfortable. I had forgotten how terrifying his wrath could be.

As he stormed out the door, I sat in the center of our kitchen floor clutching every journal I had ever owned and weeping inconsolably. I was sure he was going to break up with me, sure that I was going to lose him, and unable to see how this could be a good thing. I loved him, I loved him so much, but I knew he couldn’t read any of my journals. If he did, I’d never hear the end of it. Already he had shown a distinct inability to accept that people were able to change and I knew that if he read anything I’d written as a young, angry teenager, I would forever be the same little girl who wrote about how much she hated everything–not the young woman who only hated most things.

I also knew he wouldn’t be able to handle a mention of any of my ex-boyfriends, especially ones I still spoke to (however infrequently) and I wanted to avoid another fight about my fidelity and another bout of unsubstantiated accusations which he expected me to disprove. Besides all this, I have a very well-developed sense of privacy. Some things are not for others to read, not when they are first written, not years after they’ve been written, and possibly not even after I am dead. Journals are among those things.

When I’d collected myself a bit more, I walked down the block with my old journals and threw them in an anonymous dumpster. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to hide them properly, and I’d be damned if I was going to have another fight over them. I wrote an account of the fight in the diary I was working on at the time, and hid it inside our mattress.

I hoped that would be the end of the fighting, at least the stupid, reasonless fighting, but in the months that followed it seemed as if we never did much of anything besides fight and have sex. I often thought my throat would crack open, unable to hold the screaming and the crying. We fought about everything. We fought when he didn’t want to visit my friends and accused me of pressuring him into coming along. We fought when I told him it wasn’t a big deal, I wanted one-on-one time with them anyway and he accused me of going to my friends’ houses to cheat on him with the stable of young men they undoubtedly provided for me to choose from. We fought when I decided not to got at all and just end the fight and he claimed that my insistence upon staying home was an admission of guilt. We fought when an ex’s name was brought up, favorably or unfavorably. We fought when I mentioned a male name he hadn’t heard before, or had forgotten he’d heard before. We fought when he discovered I had slept with some of the people I still associated with. I could fill volumes with the things we fought about, but mostly we fought because Stanley was jealous and crazy and I couldn’t bring myself to leave any more than I could bring myself to point out that the logic he employed was insane troll logic, rather than rational human logic… that he wanted to own me the way one owns a guinea pig or a housecat and not be with me the way human beings bond with each other.

I say we fought, but ‘fought’ is not the correct word. Stanley fought, Stanley raged and threw things and accused and insulted. I just cried and told him he was wrong, wrong, wrong.

And I stayed. Why? I don’t know. I was running out of excuses. I wasn’t eighteen anymore, and that was a flimsy defense to begin with. On some level I did love him, sure, I loved him literally to distraction, but there is a point when love is simply not enough. I think that point comes long before you become afraid to mention that you find a celebrity attractive or look in the general direction of a person who might be male, lest you enrage your partner.

I think that point comes long before you destroy all record of your misanthropic, stupid teenage years, just so your partner doesn’t hold your poor decisions and misdirected rage against you, and long before you get to the point where you can’t go to the grocery store without a ball of apprehension knotting your stomach, the question repeating itself in your mind, “If the line is long, and I am not back within forty-five minutes, will he think I’ve been cheating?”

I guess abusers have to start early if they want to properly get their claws into their victims, but we hadn’t even been together for a year before I was reduced to a quivering, cowering, spineless thing, a shadow of the girl I’d been, a girl learning to live on her own, stand on her own, and not take shit from anyone.

The emotional abuse became physical

In the time leading up to my relationship with Stanley, I’d been cramming a lot of growing up into a very short time. While I’d been living mostly on my own since I was seventeen, I was by no means independent. When I was eighteen, I was suddenly trying to go from being a whiny, bitchy, misanthropic child who placed unrealistic demands on her mother to… a grown-up. I was financially self-sufficient and while my money-management skills left much to be desired, I was very comfortable financially and working on becoming comfortable emotionally and psychologically.

Stanley undid all my hard work. He found the holes and unpicked me, the way one would fiddle with a ladder in a pair of tights. It was easy for him, I had so many holes, and I wasn’t the only one. Our relationship was not built to last. It had been thrown together hastily, accidentally, and without care.

Stanley came to Chicago to live with me in May; by June I was seriously wondering if we’d make it to the one year mark. In July we had a disagreement–I don’t even remember what it was about. He told me he was breaking up with me. I was downtown, though I can’t for the life of me remember why, and he sent me a text message informing me not only that I wanted to end things, ostensibly because I didn’t listen to him frequently enough, but that he was perfectly fine with the idea too. The world fell out from under me. I was sure I was going to die; if I didn’t die I would certainly at least have to kill myself.

I rushed home in tears. Usually I’m far too proud to cry on the train, but this was a special occasion, and not in the joyous sense. I was still crying when I got home to find Stanley lying on the couch. I sat at his feet for an hour like a stupid, beaten dog, and bawled, full-on, ugly, red-faced, sweaty crying. Eventually, Stanley decided I had learned my lesson. He pulled me onto the couch with him, put his arms around me and told me I would be okay. I blew my nose on his shirt. He decided, in his great largess, to take me back. If I hadn’t been his before, it was settled now, my will was gone.

In retrospect I ought to have noticed that something was amiss just off the fact that we had only been together for about seven months–Stanley had already made me cry more times than all of my exes combined. However, as I’ve said before, my brain was missing. “If it doesn’t hurt,” I told myself, “it isn’t really love.”

The cruelties, the indignities I suffered at Stanley’s hands are innumerable. It began with his jealousy, his insults, his petty cruelty, but it certainly didn’t end there. If I were to list everything he did to me here, you would be either bored or in complete despair before I was even halfway done and this series of essays would be at least twice as long.

When my beloved cat, Marla, made her dislike of him clear, he answered her aversion with terrorization. He accused me of preferring the cat to him when I defended her habit of pissing in his shoes as normal scared-animal behavior. Eventually, when I realized he wouldn’t leave Marla alone any more than he’d stop trying to make me choose between him and the cat, I put her outside. When I came back into our apartment, crying, asking him to please see that what I had just done was for him, for us, that I had committed the unforgivable and been cruel to an animal who loved and trusted me just so that he would love me again, Stanley berated me for abandoning my cat, claiming that I would hold it against him forever (I did hold it against him, even after I found her again and sent her to live with my sister) and that he’d never asked me to do such a thing. This, at least, was somewhat true. Stanley never asked me to put my cat outside. He simply backed me into a corner where I had to choose either him or the cat and I made the wrong choice.

A few months later, on our first anniversary, he shoved me to the ground on a sidewalk in Uptown. He had instructed me to wait for him outside a convenience store and I hadn’t heard him, instead following the original plan of going to pick up my paycheck while he purchased our cigarettes for the week. When he came outside and saw that I was gone, he called me and we cleared up the confusion, or at least I thought we did.

I would, I said, meet him in front of the store after I got my money. When I got there, it was obvious Stanley had been nursing a rage during the few minutes it took me to get my money and go back to our rendezvous point. He started yelling immediately, asking me why I couldn’t ever listen to him, why I had to “run off” like that, and what did I have to hide about my boss. I tried to apologize, I even tried to reason with him, but I didn’t get very far before he came at me, giving me a push to the center of my chest. The blow took me by surprise and I fell backwards, instinctively reaching out with my hands to break my fall. I hadn’t even managed to accept the reality of what happened before Stanley had started off towards the train, leaving me half-lying on the pavement.

In my needy, unbalanced state I was more upset that my humiliation had been witnessed by the crackheads and schizophrenics who inhabit the neighborhood than I was outraged by his behavior and my bleeding hands. Like any good battered woman, though, I didn’t tell anyone what happened. I walked around for a week, hoping no-one would notice my stigmata, and when people did, I simply said I fell down. I didn’t mention how I fell down because the man who claimed to love me so very, very much had pushed me.

I had moments of near-sanity, it’s true. Shortly after the episode in Uptown, I became so sufficiently concerned about Stanley’s mental health that I emailed my mother, asking for advice. She suggested that I deliver an ultimatum: get help or get out. I didn’t follow her advice, I was too afraid, and when Stanley went into my email because he “had a feeling something was wrong” I only became more afraid. I felt invaded, I wasn’t even sure how he got into my account in the first place, but when he insisted that he was fine I didn’t want to press the issue.

Of course he was fine. It didn’t matter that he barely spoke to me unless he was screaming, or that he had all but left off looking for a job, choosing instead to play Modern Warfare 2 as the unemployment checks rolled in. Never mind that he was seriously entertaining the existence of lizard people who ran the government, rather than greeting the concept with uproarious laughter and moving on with his life. And the fact that he stormed out of my mother’s house on Christmas Eve without a single explanation, later informing me that he thought the apartment was full of black smoke? Definitely an indicator of sanity. No, Stanley was fine and fucking dandy, and I try not to be ashamed of the fact that I immediately went about convincing myself of the truth of his argument.

It sounds crazy. It was crazy. I am an intelligent woman, I knew Stanley was not sane, but to doubt him was to invite an argument, and one was already brewing. In Stanley’s eyes, asking my mother for advice was betrayal of the first degree. He never forgave my mother, refusing to even attend events at which she might be present and speaking of her in the worst possible terms at every opportunity. He never forgave me, either. In fact he brought up the way I “talked shit behind his back” every time we had a fight for the duration of our relationship. Never mind that he shouldn’t have been reading my email in the first place; when I pointed out that his snooping was a much bigger problem than anything I had said it didn’t even seem to register. I dropped it, because at least he wasn’t screaming or throwing things, but once again it was a case of my being silent when I absolutely shouldn’t have.

In the years after, he alternated between ignoring me, berating me, and showering me with fawning attention. I never knew what to expect, I was always on my toes. I’ll say this for him, life with Stanley was never boring. No, it was almost like living in a real live horror movie. I was never sure when the monster would jump out from behind this man who I forced myself to believe loved me so much. I got to a point where I blamed myself whenever anything went wrong. He would get around to it eventually; I might as well start with the apologies before they were even necessary. Not that it ever changed anything. If Stanley wanted to have a tantrum, he had a tantrum, it never mattered how much I apologized or how ridiculous I made myself in my acts of atonement. It was like living with a two year old, but a two year old could never kill you, and I began to be legitimately afraid that Stanley might kill me in a moment of fury. To this day I’m sure he would have regretted it afterwards if he had killed me, but I also know that my fear wasn’t entirely unfounded.

I was constantly apologizing for everything. There was a point when I almost felt as if I should be apologizing for existing and not long after that came a point when I was truly sorry for my existence. I wasn’t suicidal per se, but I didn’t think it would be a problem if I simply ceased to exist. I spent days in bed, not getting dressed, not going out, getting nothing done. I hoped I might disappear. Then, I thought, he’d see how good I was to him. If I was gone he’d really appreciate me.

I listened to Tom Waits’ Little Drop of Poison over and over. Maybe, I thought, I’d leave in the fall. I could leave the song playing on repeat. He’d cry, he’d see what he’d done, I thought. Somewhere in my head, though, I knew it wouldn’t be that simple. Even if I could get up the courage to leave, and I wasn’t sure I could, Stanley would never realize it was he who had driven me away. And so I stayed, convincing myself that things would get better, doing more and more elaborate mental gymnastics.

One of the most terrifying things about abuse is how it gets into your head, it turns you against yourself and all your self-preservation tactics are twisted around. They become ways of defending the abuser, not yourself. By the end of the relationship, I could rationalize almost anything away. I was suffering from an autoimmune disease of the soul.
It wasn’t the overt cruelties that caused this, it was the other things, the smaller things. He would withhold not only sex, but all affection whenever he wanted to punish me. God forbid I ever refuse sex for any reason, though. If I didn’t want to fuck him I obviously didn’t love him. If I didn’t love him I was a lying bitch who cheated and talked shit behind his back.

When I went to get an IUD, my cervix proved too small to insert it the usual way. I was still sore and somewhat bloody that night when Stanley tried to initiate sex with me, but I was afraid of what would happen if I pushed him away. Two strokes in, he stopped.

“Did you cheat on me?” he asked.

“No,” I replied. “What are you talking about?”

“You seem kind of stretched out down there.”

“I went to the gynecologist today. You knew that. They pry you open there.”

“Okay,” he said as if he didn’t believe me.

He rolled off me and went to sleep on the couch. I hadn’t done anything wrong, I’d endured quite a bit of discomfort for Stanley’s benefit, but I still felt guilty, dirty even. He was good at that.

I lost touch. I lost touch with my friends, my mind, and my body. There was a point when I realized that I was no longer sure if my orgasms were real, or if I was simply performing because to remain unmoved would damage Stanley’s fragile ego and bring his wrath down on my head. How can one be unsure of such a thing? But I was unsure of the very fabric of reality. I doubted my thoughts. I doubted physical objects. I treasured every beautiful thing I owned the way one treasures a lovely dream. I wasn’t sure if they might slip away from me one day.

Worst of all, I lost touch with my sister. Whenever I spoke to her, I could feel words collecting in the back of my throat, ugly words, words that described everything I was going through: abuse, indoctrination, gaslighting, manipulation, mental torture. I knew they were there, but I couldn’t find the key that would unlock them from the cage behind my tongue. I couldn’t say them, not to myself, not to my sister, not to my therapist.

I complained of Stanley’s cruelties, petty and not-so-petty, to my sister, to my best friend, to anyone who would listen, but I could never find the words that needed to be said: “I am no longer my own. I am a prisoner. I am afraid. I am lost. I am breaking.” I had stopped writing for the most part. Every so often I wrote something small, but mostly I didn’t write, except in my journal, where I did nothing but explain to myself that I was not a prisoner, I was not afraid, my life was perfect and I had everything.

I’m sure everyone knew there was something wrong. I know my sister did. I know my heart was in my eyes when I said, “I love him…” I did love him. But. But he terrorized me. But he terrified me. But he berated me for not sharing my feelings and belittled me when I did. I loved him, but he spat in my face when he was angry. I loved him, but I was always terrified he would hit me with one of the dishes he threw when he got angry.

I loved him, but.

This went on and on. By the beginning of our fourth year together I knew our time was running out. It was obvious that Stanley did not like the person I was becoming. He said he did, but all his actions suggested otherwise. I can’t say I blame him. I had been trying to become an adult, but I was growing the way plants grow in the dark. I had matured in many ways, but without a source of light in my life I was a twisted wreck of a woman. I was bitter, beaten down, and utterly, utterly brittle. I tried to hide it all beneath a veneer of chilly pride, but even that was unpleasant.

I had known the end was near for a while before I really started to regain my sanity. At first I wasn’t happy about it, I really did love Stanley, at least as much as any prisoner can love her captor. Within a month, though, I had not only come to accept the inevitable end of our relationship, I was actively looking forward to and planning for it. I had to find a job; that was the first step. Then I had to save money, and then I could get out.

For the first time I saw the trap I had built for myself. In my attempts to be the perfect wife, I had entirely disempowered myself. Sure, I had little jobs here and there, but they were only enough to make ends meet, not enough to support me. I was reliant on Stanley for everything, from the food in my stomach to the roof over my head. But at least now I could see things for what they were. I saw how I had trapped myself, I saw the indignities he inflicted upon me, I saw his absolute disregard for me and my quality of life, and at the heart of it, his cloying, horrible obsession with me, the thing he insisted was love. For the first time in three years I allowed myself to be truly angry at him–angry without excuses, angry without self-immolation.

I spent a month before we broke up wishing for freedom, planning for my life alone and hating Stanley with every fiber of my being.

No means no, even if you’ve said yes before

When Stanley and I finally broke up, it didn’t feel the way I expected it to feel. I had expected freedom, I had expected joy, but I didn’t feel any of those things. Mostly I felt alone and confused and so, so afraid. My identity had been so wrapped up in being Stanley’s Wife that I wasn’t sure who I was without the title. It was over, I knew, but it was easier to cling to him than to be a person again. Besides, he wanted me to keep clinging… Besides, it was easy to pretend it might not be over forever… Besides, for the first time in our relationship, we had some level of communication. I began to really believe that things could go on like this forever, so long as we just never said we were together. The lack of a title was like a kind of magic, I thought. We could grow old together like this, a couple, but not a couple. We could start a family, strange as the arrangement might be, things would work out.

But shortly after I had become really convinced of the viability of our non-relationship things started to fall apart. He started threatening suicide, not seriously, but in order to hurt me. He started invading my privacy again, reading a journal he found hidden among my clothes, getting into my email again, and trying to go through my phone even as he railed against the government for employing similar tactics with its citizens. He began to accuse me of lying and cheating, though how I could cheat on a man I wasn’t officially involved with, I don’t know. He gave cryptic clues about what he knew, or thought he knew, or wanted me to think he knew, trying to trick me into a confession.

It was back to the beginning, and his habits were intensifying.

Once again I began to wonder if he might kill me, but at that point I was so depressed I hardly cared. I knew, on some level, that much of my depression was caused by Stanley, but I clung to him still. Why? Because I still loved him? Because I felt sorry for him? Because I had forgotten how to stand alone? Because I was so depleted that I was no longer sure if I had the energy to go my own way? Because he didn’t have the money to move to an apartment farther away than just downstairs and so it was easy? I can’t say. I ought to have cut and run as soon as I was free.

I certainly didn’t stay for the sex. I no longer wanted sex, not with him, not with anyone, and my reluctance to put out grated on him. He accused me of sleeping with other men and refused to believe that I just didn’t want sex. I found myself agreeing to let him fuck me just to shut him up. I would cry afterwards. I cried because I hated being with him, sexually and otherwise. I would cry because his inability to accept a simple “no” spoke volumes about how he thought of me. I cried because I hated myself for being too weak to just go home.

I don’t know what to call all those times he fucked me when I didn’t want it. They weren’t rape, exactly, after all I did consent–but they weren’t not-rape either. I wasn’t forced per se, but if someone systematically breaks you down over the course of three years and brings you to the point where you are no longer completely sure who you are as an individual, and you forget how to say “no, fuck you, I don’t want you,” I don’t think your consent can be considered entirely voluntary. I guess it was inevitable that after treading the fragile line between rape and sex for months, Stanley would rape-rape me.

We were lying in bed together the night it happened. For once I had found my voice and asked him to please not have sex with me, to just hold me. He agreed, but as I lay in his arms I couldn’t relax. He showered me with abuse. He told me I was immature, selfish, and self-involved, that I was shallow and thoughtless, that I was a coward, too scared to allow myself to see things for what they were. He told me that my love of art and literature was pointless, stupid, that it was just getting in the way of reality, or his version of reality, an ugly landscape of corruption and conspiracy he swore was the true face of the world.

It was then, I think, that I knew the magic I had convinced myself lay in our refusal to put a title to our relationship was gone, if it had ever been there in the first place. I started crying. I didn’t want to cry, I didn’t want to show how much his words hurt me, but I couldn’t help myself. I begged him to stop yelling at me, to let me sleep, to leave me be. I had resolved to go home the next day and never come back, but at the moment I didn’t have the energy for that. I just wanted to be left alone so I could go to sleep and gather my energy for the next day. But Stanley did not leave me alone; in fact he decided this was the moment to fuck me.

Any sane person knows, you should not try to stick your dick in your ex-girlfriend when you have just made her cry. But Stanley was not a sane person and he decided that he and the hard-on poking me in the back really wanted sex. Stanley tugged my underwear down. I could have resisted, I guess. I was physically capable of resisting, but I didn’t, I just lay there saying “No.”

It was so hard to believe what was happening, what Stanley was doing; it all seemed to be occurring in some hazy, false reality. All I could feel at first was disbelief, and you can’t resist something you aren’t fully convinced is happening. Supposedly he loved me so much, at least he was always saying he did. So why would he do this to me? Even as he stuck his cock in me, I couldn’t really comprehend the enormity of this horrible thing that was happening; I couldn’t even comprehend that something wasn’t just happening to me, it was being done to me. It was as if my brain was trying to protect me by refusing to acknowledge the violation.

I didn’t leave my body the way a lot of rape victims talk about, if anything I retreated further into myself and something in me sort of slid down and locked around my perception; it was like shields were dropping into place. I knew this thing that was happening and that I couldn’t name was bad and I knew it needed to stop, but I was, for the moment at least, partially sheltered from the horrible reality of the total violation that is rape.

Even as I was begging him to stop, I was blessedly unable to comprehend that I was being invaded on the most basic level. Even when I started crying and pleading with him to stop, I was mercifully incapable of taking in the full inhumanity of what was being done to me. I considered trying to push him off me, but didn’t. If I tried to push him off me and he didn’t stop, I thought hazily, it would really be rape, there would be no two ways about it and I would have to deal with the fact that I was being raped. This was unthinkable. I knew I couldn’t possibly process such a thing at that moment, as it was happening to me, and so I hoped my tears alone would be enough to make him stop thrusting into me, and therefore somehow make it okay. It can’t be rape if the rapist eventually listens to and obeys the ‘no,’ right?

Finally Stanley stopped, pulled out, and moved to sit on the edge of his bed, his back to me.

“Why do you have to ruin everything?” he asked, as if a sensible person would have let him have a nice rape in peace, without the tears and the cries of, “Stop.”

I apologized. I didn’t say the things I should have said. I didn’t tell him he was a piece of shit, I didn’t tell him he was no man at all, I didn’t tell him he was nothing more than a savage, dumb animal. I was so used to saying sorry that I, the woman he had pillaged, apologized to him for crying as he raped me. I gathered my things, and dragged myself home, still crying, still unable to name what had happened to me.

Curled up in bed, I remembered there was a four-letter word for fucking people without their consent and I wondered if that was what had just happened to me. Was I suddenly a statistic, that one in four or one in three or whatever the number is of women who have been in some way sexually abused or assaulted?

For a moment I considered calling the police. If I really was a rape victim now, they should probably know, right? Stanley should be on a list of rapists; he should be in jail. But if I couldn’t even be sure if it was actually rape, how would the police respond? I knew what happened to girls like me when we called the police on rapists. If we are very, very lucky we go to the hospital, we are subjected to a frightening and invasive procedure, and then we have to go through a long and anguished court procedure in order to see the monsters who raped us get put away. Most of us are not that lucky.

I knew what would probably happen.

Most likely I would call the police, they would come over, hear my story, and ask me what exactly the problem was. I had been in bed with a man I’d not only dated, but actually lived with and practically been married to, for three years. I had been wearing nothing but a tank top and a pair of underwear, essentially asking for it. What, I was certain the police would ask me, had I expected to happen? If I didn’t want to have sex, why hadn’t I been in my apartment, fully clothed and not dressed like a whore in a man’s bed?

Then there was the small matter of my profession. In the eyes of a lot of the world, sex workers, especially whores, can’t get raped at all, and we certainly can’t be raped by men we were previously involved with. No, there was no hard record of my past profession but Stanley did know about it. What if there was a trial and he brought up what I did when we first met? I knew a rape victim’s previous sexual history is inadmissible as evidence, but that doesn’t mean it can’t sway a verdict. The likelihood of my winning this one was so low as to hardly bear thinking about. And so I took a shower, resisted the temptation to squirt every caustic cleaning product I owned into my vagina, and tried to get some sleep.

When I woke up the next morning, I didn’t immediately remember what had happened. As I gradually became more conscious I started to remember why I felt so awful, and the complete confusion and despair of the previous night was replaced by sleek, hard anger. It didn’t matter if Stanley had actually raped me or if he’d violated me on a lesser level, what he had done was not all right. I didn’t know what to do, but I realized that whatever I did, I couldn’t put my life on hold just because something bad had happened to me. To do so would be to let Stanley win, and that was unacceptable to me. I would get on with my life at any cost, and that meant going to visit my sister the next day, as planned.

On my way to the train, I ran into Stanley. I acknowledged him with a nod and kept walking. He caught up to me as I was on the escalator going up to the train platform and immediately began insulting me.

“See how shallow you are?” he said, “You can’t even walk beside me when I’m broke.”

If I hadn’t been so angry I might have laughed, the accusation was so ludicrous. I was legitimately speechless for a moment, before I could reply.

“No,” I said, “I don’t care about your money or lack thereof. What I care about is that you stuck your dick in me when I said I didn’t want you to and then you kept going when I kept protesting and still kept going even when I started crying. There’s a word for that.”

I reached the top of the escalator and walked down to the end of the platform. Stanley didn’t follow me, but when I got on the train and sat down I realized he had been composing an angry text message, accusing me of trying to make my life “into a Lifetime movie” and painting myself as a victim, when in reality, at least in his reality, I was the one who had ruined his life and mistreated him. I didn’t point out that he had raped me, I hadn’t even admitted it to myself yet, but I did tell him what he did was in no way right or good and was, in fact, an enormous violation.

It took me a long, long time to accept the fact that Stanley had raped me at least once, maybe even more than that. I referred to it as “violation” or not at all and I tried my best not to think about it. I didn’t see how I could have been raped if I was still functioning at least fairly well. I didn’t want to be a “rape victim.” I was not a victim. Something horrible had happened to me, yes, but I was not a victim. Victims are broken, I told myself, and while I wasn’t entirely okay, I was not broken.

Rape is no different for a sex worker

After Stanley raped me, I can’t honestly say I was okay, but I was certainly doing better than I would have expected, considering. People I know who’ve been raped dealt with the experience by holing up in their rooms, not eating, cutting off all but the most necessary social interactions, and generally withdrawing into a pattern of self-destruction. I did none of that. I got things done, I behaved normally in social situations, I even went on dates, mostly with very disappointing men who bought me dinners and tried to get me drunk in hopes that I would go home with them, something I never did. They were good practice for being social, I guess, but that was all they were: practice. Frankly I was disgusted at the very notion of sex and fearful of where a sexual relationship might lead. Rationally, I knew my fears were likely unfounded, but I didn’t feel like testing it. Other than that, though, I was mostly fine. Sure, I had some unresolved anger, but it wasn’t anything I couldn’t handle. If I went the rest of my life being functionally asexual, I didn’t think that would be a huge tragedy.

I believe a lot of what helped me deal with not only the rape itself, but also the abuse, was my background in sex work. Rape is, of course, no less horrible for a whore than it is for a civilian woman. Abuse is, of course, no less horrible for a sex worker than it is for a civilian woman. Violation is violation is violation and an invasion of something so deeply personal as one’s body or mind is, I think, the worst violation one can experience, but I was no stranger to having sex with people I would normally have had no interest in fucking. The difference here was that this time I’d been forced. I wasn’t being paid, I wasn’t gaining anything, and I had made my unwillingness very clear. I hadn’t said “yes” and meant “if you have to,” I’d said “no” and meant “no.” But just as I had been able to put my work sex into a box in my brain that separated it from my pleasure sex, I was able to put this act of sexual violation into a box and move on with the business of living my life. The experience was horrible, and I can’t think of anything I’ve experienced that’s worse, but it wasn’t life-endingly horrible. My life has, for the most part, been very happy; it isn’t difficult to give me the worst experience I’ve ever encountered.

Despite the fact that I was functioning fairly normally, I knew I had to deal with what had happened. I took more time off of work and tried to get my head together, but ended up drinking a lot, finding I could only really dissect what Stanley had done to me when I wasn’t completely sober. It was easier to go over everything in my head when my thoughts were wrapped in warm whiskey blankets and the memory of the violation and betrayal was dulled. It took me a long time to finally call a spade a spade and say he had raped me; it took me even longer to actually confront him about it.

I thought about how to go about making this confrontation happen for a long time. I planned out scenarios in my head and rehearsed righteously angry speeches in front of the mirror. I wanted very badly to march downstairs, beat on Stanley’s door, and give him a piece of my mind, but ultimately I was still too frightened of what Stanley could do to me and instead drank half a bottle of whiskey and texted him.

I am not proud of this. Such a missive would, I think, have carried more weight had I written out a letter on stationary or better yet done what I originally wanted to do and beat down his door to call him a rapist to his face.

But I didn’t do those things. I just texted him and finally told him everything I should have told him the night he raped me. I told him he was a rapist, I told him he was a pathetic excuse for a man, I told him he was no better than a dumb, brutish animal, and I told him he deserved to be summarily executed, but that ultimately death was too good for him. He didn’t dispute any of this, but he didn’t apologize either, simply giving excuse after excuse.

“I thought if I kept going you would eventually start to like it.”

“I only got angry at you afterwards because I felt so bad about what I’d done.”

“I know, why do you think I want to kill myself so badly?”

As if any of that would make what he’d done okay. If anything, his excuses made everything worse. He seemed to think I ought to forgive his unforgivable actions.
I finally managed to bully him into an apology, but I questioned its sincerity. The fact that I had to insist on his contrition decreased my sense of victory, but I still counted this as a win. He was sorry, and I could be finished with him. I blocked his phone number and resolved to keep moving forward.

It was not easy to move forward, though. I wasn’t really sure where to start. I spent a lot of time fantasizing about killing Stanley and wondering what the hell I was going to do with myself. I had been intending to return to work, but with my constant, paranoid distrust of men, I eventually decided it might not be the best idea.

I found other ways to occupy myself. I spent a lot of time with my family. I did a lot of writing and sewing. I occasionally taste-tested gum for the Wrigley corporation. I spent a lot of time alone, and by November I had gained a sense of peace I didn’t know was possible. I felt completely and totally alive again for the first time. I could run all my errands in one day and never have to take a nap, something most people take for granted but was practically miraculous for me.

I still didn’t really have an interest in testing the limits of my growing mental health. I continued to go on stupid dates with boring men, but my heart wasn’t in it.

Then, something happened. I stumbled upon a blog full of beautiful, beautiful writing. After a brief correspondence with the writer, it became clear that the blog was by none other than a Starbucks barista who I’d been pining over six months ago. We exchanged phone numbers, and quickly set up a time to meet. The date went from casual tea-drinking to cocktails and miles and miles of walking to me tipsily agonizing over whether or not to ask him to come home with me. I was worried about a few things, first I was afraid he would think I was easy, and second, perhaps more importantly, I was afraid of the fact that I actually wanted someone for the first time in months and still more afraid of how I would react if that someone did actually end up in my bed.

But I’ve never been good at denying myself, and I took him home.

As soon as we walked through the door of my apartment, the reality of what I was doing hit me. I was terrified. I felt sick, and ran to the bathroom to throw up. There wasn’t any vomit, but I’m sure I looked quite pale and green when I reemerged.

“Are you all right?” Daniel asked.

I wasn’t really sure how to answer that, I hadn’t told anyone except my sister and beloved fake brother about what Stanley had done to me. I wanted to have sex with him, but at the same time, I was really afraid it could be too much too soon. I considered what would happen if I sat this man (who, in all honesty, I barely knew) down and told him the whole epic, ugly story of my last relationship. In his position I probably would have bolted for the exit, and so I just said “Yes. Yes, I’m fine.” “

We don’t have to do anything you aren’t ready for,” he said, “I don’t want to force you.”

That, somehow, was all it took. Maybe it was the words themselves, or his tone, or his body language, but somehow my fear evaporated, and suddenly I just wanted.

It wasn’t until the next afternoon, after we’d gone to a Mexican bakery for breakfast and then he’d gone home that it occurred to me that I still hadn’t told him exactly why I had acted so strangely the night before. My original plan had been to go on several dates and eventually broach the topic when I felt like it was a good time (and definitely before we did anything more than kiss). But said plan was suddenly useless and I had never thought to make a plan B.

And so, in the middle of a completely unrelated conversation I said the words everyone dreads hearing, “I need to talk to you. It’s important.”

I probably could have handled things more gracefully; in fact Daniel seemed so distressed by my insistence that I needed to talk to him in person that I decided enough was enough, and instead of waiting until our next in-person meeting I wrote an essay and emailed it to him. I’ve always been better at writing my feelings out than I have at speaking them, and displays of strong emotion in front of people other than my sister make me uncomfortable, so perhaps writing it was the best way. What mattered more, though, was Daniel’s response.

I have gradually learned that there are a lot of ways people respond when you tell them you were raped, but the most common by far tend to be something along the lines of “you poor dear, come here and let me coddle you,” “THAT BASTARD!! HOW COULD HE DO THAT?!” or, “how are you still just going about your life? You must really be hurt inside to put on such a brave face.”

While I recognize that everyone’s experience of the aftermath of rape is different, these responses are not helpful to me. I do not want to be coddled; I have enough anger of my own and do not need the anger of others. I’m going about my life because, well, that’s what I do. I didn’t want any of these responses from Daniel. What I wanted was exactly what he gave me, an acknowledgement of the shittiness of rape, a congratulations for functioning at “an incredibly high level,” a compliment on the essay, and not a single assumption that I might be anything less than okay.

His reaction to my story said more than anything else. Here was a man who would support me as I worked to fix myself, but not try to mold me into his idea of what a whole human was. A month late,r I left him alone in my house while my friend Britney and I went out to pick up wine. My journals and computer were both sitting on my couch and it would have been the easiest thing in the world for Daniel to go through one or both of them while I was gone. There is always a tiny flicker of doubt the first time you leave someone alone in your house, but when Daniel asked if I was sure I didn’t want him to go with us I found myself saying, “no, I trust you.” It came as a shock at first, what my mouth was saying, and then even more of a shock when I realized it was true and I did.

I had spent so much time in the last four years being afraid and distrustful, not only of Stanley, but of men in general. I hardly trusted my male friends, always worried that if they showed me too much affection in front of Stanley, he would assume I was cheating on him. The ability to say “I trust you” and mean it was something I’d assumed I’d lost forever, and the fact that I’d gained it back was a huge and wonderful shock to me.

Not long after I realized I was once again capable of trust, I started considering going back to work. I had concluded that if I was capable of trust I was also capable of sexualized interactions with strangers, and the inactivity of unemployment was starting to turn my brain to mush. The more I thought about it, the more important work became. I had proved to myself that Stanley had not broken me, I now wanted to prove that he hadn’t stripped me of my livelihood either. I’ve written about my latest return to sex work a few times now, and it’s been difficult to talk about it without also bringing up the fact that I was raped.

Rape isn’t just something you can casually bring up, but it is so deeply important in the story of this new return to the sex industry. At the fetish house where I work now, I don’t have sex with anyone, but naturally the interactions I have with clients are sexual in nature, as they are paying me to fulfill their fantasies. As with any sex work, I am renting out my sexuality again. The thing about renting something out, though, is that you can’t rent out something you don’t own or can’t control. Returning to sex work is the last piece of my recovery puzzle.

Having the last piece, though, doesn’t make me magically better. It’s a process that will go on for who knows how much longer. I am still angry. I still get a lot of feelings that are hard to sort out when I read things about rape or watch certain movies or episodes of television shows. I find myself cheering really hard, either out loud or in my head when I hear about women exacting bloody revenge on the men who raped them, and I almost cried from happiness when I heard the Steubenville rapists were facing at least some justice. I am angry that I live in a world where I can’t even publish Stanley’s real first name without potentially facing serious consequences, and I am angry that he never had to face consequences, but I don’t think about it as much as I used to.

I suppose one day I’ll really be over it. I’ll be able to read about rape without feeling my chest tighten, and watch rape scenes in movies without feeling stiff and sweaty. I’ll probably always cheer really hard for ladies who bring the men who raped them to justice, though, and I can only hope that eventually they get to recover too. Ultimately, recovery is victory, and I am winning.

P.S. Protect yourself from the coming data-powered panopticon by getting a VPN.

Cathryn Berarovich is something of a renaissance sex worker; she is currently employed as a pro-domme but has held numerous interesting jobs in the industry.

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Zayna
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Zayna

My first boyfriend’s way of thinking and character traits were rather similar to “Stanley’s”. I’m certainly not a submissive, naively needy person (or whatever the stereotypical woman in such a relationship is generally portrayed to be), quite the contrary – I was very aware of how messed up he was. Yet I assumed that I could be the woman who proves herself to be different. I did not want to change him, but to support him despite his severe mental issues. I knew I was strong enough to bear his crazy logic and actions without it affecting my mind, so in a sense I felt like I was protecting women more fragile than me. I soon came to the conclusion that this was not the kind of person I’d want to spend my life with. However, I still spend a lot of time with him, trying to help him graduate from university. He beat me up twice (leaving me bruised and with a few tiny scars, and him with two broken teeth) because I wouldn’t leave his flat without trying to calm him down after he felt like a failure for not being able to solve an exam question. That finally made me realise that, even though I can bear the pain, I don’t deserve it and need not take it upon me in his stead.

T.342G
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T.342G

I applaud you for writing this. I was in an emotionally abusive relationship for almost two years with someone who is just like Stanley was. I am usually a strong, intelligent, and social person who puts her friends and family as a priority. However, I slowly got sucked into this world Stanley 2.0 created. It always starts out great and they tell you all these wonderful things. I realized a lot of the reason why I decided to be in a relationship with him and put up with his shit was because I was in a bad place emotionally. It’s important for us women to self-reflect and work things out instead of pushing them away. Because then when a man comes along who tells you great things and says he understands, you start to believe everything they say and get sucked into their world. Then they how their true side.

My Stanley constantly hounded me about my phone. He screamed at me for an hour once for not picking up the phone when I was in my own bathroom after he had dropped me off. I knew it was ridiculous and I fought as much a I thought I could but I would try to reason it as “he’s just overprotective” “he’s concerned about my safety” “he just needs me.” I think that was another issue, I kind of liked being needed by someone. It was suffocating though. I lost all my friends that I had made the first two years at university and lost one best friend because he manipulated me into thinking she was not a good friend. While still talking to her and pretending everything was great between them, the narcisst that he was. I was expected to act like “a good Christian woman” and he tried to make me into what I was not. I finally got myself out of that hole and it took me a long time to rebuild myself. The only thing I regret was not telling him everything that he did to me and make it clear that he was an abuser. He needed to know that. Maybe one day I will tell him.

I.N.
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I.N.

I just had a revelation. I am currently studying the neurobiology of mental conditions. And one thing hit me as I was reading your account: the state of ongoing anxiety, the state of constant unpredictable threat you were living in. I don’t think it gets emphasized in narratives of abuse very much, but I strongly suspect it is common to all of them. Effectively, abusive relationship may also be creating a state of an anxiety disorder in its survivor. And that means your emotional processing is sensitized, amygdala (the part of the brain responsible for threat processing and much of emotions) is on continuous hyper alert.

And if there is one thing neurobiologists know about anxiety disorders, that show up repeatedly in multiple studies: it is that a sensitized and hyperactive amygdala is extremely good at shutting down your thinking parts of the brain, the prefrontal cortex. So all that stuff about shame, and guilt, and how can an intelligent person not see this – well, that just may be how! Your very capacity to think may be diminished by this constant anxiety – and that would happen to anyone who has been placed into that state.

I have never seen such a description before, I will go search the literature to see if such a mechanism has been described and applied to abusive relationship. But the reason I am sharing it, is that I think it may be a powerful in providing an potential explanation for this mind-boggling state of affairs, and might lift off that blame that both the survivors and the society often throw around.

YarghMatey
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YarghMatey

While I did not lose myself so completely, given that I was 16 and still living with my Mom, my first serious relationship twisted me in similar ways. The apologizing, always the apologizing, and the inability to confront the abuser on their obvious lies or borderline insanity.

My boyfriend claimed to have cut himself on many occasions, but there were never any marks. He conjured up catastrophes such as the deaths of grandparents when I tried to break up with him. Anything to keep me sorry.

I was so lucky that the friends I’d pushed aside to accommodate his jealousy were still there for me when I had to end it. I still loved him, but I realized I was on very bad path. They swooped in and escorted me to and from classes, because I was so afraid that if I ever talked to him, I’d be sucked back in.

I was left with a lot of trust issues. I mean, the one person I’d let in used everything he knew about me to manipulate me. I dated a lot, had a kid and was married and then divorced, but it was years before I’d let anyone in for real. In fact, I’d say it took over 10 years before I allowed myself to really fall hard for another person. Luckily, I finally have figured out what I want and need (and what my daughter needs) and it’s working out very well.

I do feel lucky that there was no physical abuse, as this same guy went on to hit his next girlfriend. Though, I think the only reason he didn’t try that with me was that we were in martial arts classes together. While he was a belt ahead of me, I always won our sparring matches. Of course, I’d have to apologize for that later, and for doing better in school. Because it made him feel bad, you know.

This essay was a painful read, but thank you so much for writing it. I still have such a hard time understanding the mindset of someone who stays with an abusive partner, despite having some first hand experience. It’s amazing how much you can come to doubt your own mind in the face of a master manipulator.

Tami
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Tami

This is chillingly similar to what my friend is going through. I’m so glad you got out. I need advice, though: my friend and her “ex” are no longer living together (he left to “punish” her), although they talk frequently, still hook up, and she still seems very much under his influence/worried about his reactions to anything she does. Should I encourage her to cut off all contact, or just be relieved they’re no longer living together and hope she’ll come back to herself? I played Bad Cop once before and talked her through leaving, but two hours later she went back to him and didn’t speak to me for months.