This story is part of a series called Craigslist Confessional. Writer Helena Bala started meeting people via Craigslist in 2014 and has been documenting their stories ever since. Each story is written as it was told to her. Bala says that by listening to their stories, she hopes to bear witness to her subjects’ lives, providing them with an outlet, a judgment-free ear, and a sense of catharsis. By sharing them, she hopes to facilitate acceptance and understanding of issues that are seldom publicly discussed, at the risk of fear, stigma, and ostracism. To share your story with Helena, email her at email@example.com. Read more here. Names and locations have been changed to protect her subjects’ anonymity.
This story contains details about sexual assault that may be triggering to survivors.
The family I stayed with must have thought it would be fun for me to be taken around by him—he had an accent, played in a band, and he liked The Doors. And he was six years my senior. I was instantly smitten. We ended up spending a lot of time together. Things are different abroad—everywhere we went, I was offered a drink. I looked a lot older than 11, which must have helped. But I also stood out like a sore thumb in a sea of dark-haired and olive-skinned people: I was pale and had natural platinum blonde hair. Even at such a young age, I could tell I was being fetishized and sexualized—I got more attention than ever. And he treated me like a little trophy; by the end of my trip, we kissed.
When I went back home that summer, he wrote me letters—these long romantic missives about how much he missed me and couldn’t wait to see me again. I was 13 when I went back—which would have made him 19. He took me out to dinners and we went to bars together. I had kissed boys before but he was probably my most serious boyfriend. I figured that, at some point, if I was going to have sex, it would probably be with him.
The night before I was to leave for home, he came over to say goodbye. I had packed all of my things so I was wearing a pair of loaned men’s pajamas. It was late—probably nine or 10 at night. The family had already gone to sleep. He sat down on the living room couch and was having a drink. I sat down on the floor next to him.
He was saying: “I’ll write you, I’ll miss you, I love you, I can’t wait to see you again.” And then he sat down next to me and we started kissing. I was okay with that. Then we were laying down kissing, and I thought that was okay, too. He got on top of me. He was tall but slender, so I never felt confined or uncomfortable. I felt fine and I was enjoying the kissing. Then, within seconds, without any notice whatsoever, he was inside me.
I was in pain and we were on an off-white carpet. I wasn’t expecting it to hurt or to bleed, and the physical pain alone was shocking. My mother had talked to me about sex when I was nine, but it wasn’t in much detail—so I basically thought, at that point, that if a penis touched a vagina, you were automatically pregnant.
I pushed him off of me and I got up very quickly. The men’s pajama pants were fly front, I wasn’t wearing underwear, and he was so quick. I held the pajamas close to myself because I didn’t want to spill blood on the carpet. I didn’t see it coming, at all. I went into the bathroom and I cleaned myself up—I used some toilet paper as a sanitary napkin.
When I came out of the bathroom, I asked him, “How could you do this to me?”
And he kind of just shrugged and said, “Do what?” He was sipping on his drink.
I said, “I’m 13 and I’m going to be pregnant.” Up until that point, I had thought of myself as this girl who had everything going for her—I was great at school, and I was popular with my friends. Now I thought my life was ruined. I thought that maybe I shouldn’t have had anything to drink—although I’d only had a couple of sips and definitely wasn’t drunk—or that I shouldn’t have looked or behaved sexily, or I should’ve said no—I didn’t say no—and maybe this wouldn’t have happened.
And he laughed at me. I think that was probably the worst part of it all, him laughing. It was especially cruel. He said, “you’re not going to be pregnant.” And then he got up, wished me a good trip, and he left.
I pulled myself together, went into my room, cleaned up again, and went to sleep. The next morning, I didn’t tell the family. I really liked them and I didn’t want them to think that I was this terrible girl. I didn’t tell any of my friends, and for a while, I didn’t tell my mom, either.
When I finally did, I said it point blank: “He raped me.” And then I told her not to tell dad because I wanted to be able to go back and see the family and spend summers there. I don’t know if she didn’t believe me, or if she thought that since I wanted to go back, it must not have been rape, or I must have been confused. But she didn’t tell my dad, we never spoke about it again, and even though I had been getting my period for a few years—she never took me to the clinic to get checked.
I find myself thinking about the rape a lot even now—almost 50 years after it happened.
Read more Craigslist Confessionals here. To share your story with Helena, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.