Yes, It Was That Bad

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JFP Editor Donna Ladd

When I was a teenager in Philadelphia, Miss., there wasn't a lot for young people to do. On the weekends, we would go "riding around." I would get all dolled up, get together with one or more girlfriends, fill the tank, and we'd cruise.

We first drove in a big circle in the parking lot of the A&J Drive-In (before and after it closed), then about half a mile along Beacon Street, turning left onto Holland Avenue, passing all the mammoth "nice" historic homes and then looping around the Sonic. Then we would retrace our path and start over.

We always hoped to attract the attention of "cute boys" in one or the other parking lots. Sometimes we'd go riding around with them, flirting and maybe necking a little in the back seat, and then come back to our cars. This is what everyone did on the weekends.

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Shining a Light: Sandy Middleton

Sandy Middleton discusses how rape and sexual assault affects victims and the community in an illuminating interview by JFP Managing Editor Ronni Mott.

Sandy Middleton discusses how rape and sexual assault affects victims and the community in an illuminating interview by JFP Managing Editor Ronni Mott.

One night, on our requisite A&J loop, a couple of guys flagged us down and asked us if we wanted to go to a party. One of them was an older football player, who had won various honorifics and even one with Mr. in front of it. He wasn't my grade, and I had never run in his circles. He was flirting with me--me!

It never occurred to us that we shouldn't crawl into their car to go to the party.

Turns out, the "party" was at Mr. Popular's house south of town. And the four of us were the only ones invited. When you're 16, and live in a town where everyone knows everyone, you don't expect to get hurt.

Inside, he turned on music and pulled me toward him. Meantime, my friend had wandered away with the other guy, and I wasn't sure where they were. The lights were dim. Mr. Popular suddenly turned sweet and started saying nice things about my hair or such: stuff girls like. He kissed me, and I could feel him pulling me toward another room. It was the first moment I started to feel fear.

But I let him pull me in there--a moment I've replayed hundreds of times in the decades since. Why did I go?

In his bedroom, Mr. Popular turned the music up and took me in his arms, tenderly at first. Then, suddenly, everything changed. He threw me back on the bed and climbed on top of me, all in one move. I started saying, "no, no, no," and struggled to push him off.

But he was strong. He planted his left elbow close to my right ear, and suddenly that hand covered my mouth, muffling what was becoming a scream. He kept that hand there, and rather expertly pinned my legs with his as he used his right hand to unzip and jerk my jeans down and unzip his fly.

Then, with his left hand still covering my mouth and with my tears soaking it, Mr. Popular raped me.

It didn't take long, and then he rolled over on his back and let me go. By then, I couldn't say anything, but just lay there and sobbed.

He turned his head to look at me and said, "See, that wasn't so bad, was it?"

Mr. Popular then got up, zipped his jeans and left the room.

I was so shaken that it was hard to stand and pull my jeans up, but I managed. I was overwhelmed with shame and anger--at myself, for allowing this to happen to me. Me.

As soon as I could, I walked out into his parents' living room where he was drinking a beer and avoiding looking at me. Somewhere in the fog, my friend and her new buddy emerged, and we all got into the car. He drove us back to the A&J and dropped us at my car.

My life had changed.

It never occurred me to go to a hospital for a test, and I knew no one would believe me if I reported him. He was the big man on campus; he had "picked me up," I had gone to his house (under false pretense, but still), and I had gone into his bedroom. I don't remember what I was wearing, but I was out on a weekend night, so it was probably at least a touch sexy by Neshoba County standards.

For the next 15 years, I would blame myself for being raped. I drank too much, and I did stupid things. It was hard to learn to trust--especially men--and my self-esteem was only surface, and I over-compensated in ways I'm not proud of now. As a result, it was hard to sustain a good relationship, and I ended up in some really bad ones.

I was caught in the cycle that sexual assault too often creates.

My catharsis came when I moved to New York City and finally managed to dump a perennial cheater, and met a remarkable man who helped me restore my confidence in myself, even though I was far from ready for a good relationship, I realize now. (He is still my friend, and my partner Todd's friend, even though we don't see him often enough.)

At the time, I got involved with a small newspaper, even though I had no real idea how to actually do one. But I had heart.

During my virgin voyage into newspapering, I decided to write about being raped. After I wrote my story in a play-by-play fashion (not unlike this one), I let the male music editor read it.

That simple act started my recovery, especially when the guy read it and cried.

I didn't publish my story, though. I wasn't quite ready, nor have I been for all these years, to tell the story publicly. I sure wasn't going to tell it when my mother was still alive.

I've alluded to it here and there, but it wasn't until this year, when we decided to focus the Chick Ball on sexual assault, that I knew it was my turn to come out, so to speak.

8th Annual JFP Chick Ball to Fund Rape Crisis Center

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I meet many young women who blame themselves for being assaulted. I meet women and men who excuse men for not being able to control themselves if a woman flirts, dances a certain way or even wears sexy clothes around them. ("Boys will be boys.") And almost everyone I talk to about sexual assault manages to blame the victim, without even knowing it, just as they do with domestic abuse. They ask about her role first: why she/we (a) dressed sexy or (b) went with him or (c) didn't scream loudly enough or whatever other excuse they can find not to ask: "Why does he rape?"

Rape is a crime of violence and power, not of sex or passion. It is time we all talk about it, and often. Let's start here: No means no--no matter what. Men who refuse to take "no" for an answer should go to prison.

My rapist didn't go to jail or prison, and I pray he never raped again.

Even as I know he probably did.

Donna Ladd will host the JFP Chick Ball this weekend to raise funds for a rape-crisis center. Get details at jfpchickball.com.

Comments

SouthernGirlLegal 2 years ago

I take my hat off to you for coming forward. Being raped is not anything to be ashamed of and I am so very glad that you told your story as eloquently as you did. Perhaps it will help a victim understand that their life is not over and it can be reclaimed.

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donnaladd 2 years ago

Thank you. ;-) I hope it makes a difference, too. And I'm not ashamed; haven't been for years. But I had to get there. With better support and a community willing to deal with sexual assault head-on, it wouldn't have taken so long.

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emmawynters 2 years ago

I appreciate the courage it took to be so open. You always write so clearly and powerfully. I will pass this along to friends of mine who have been through the same thing.

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donnaladd 2 years ago

Please do, Emma. And thanks much for the kind words.

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emmawynters 2 years ago

Hey, Donna, I wrote a new song last night inspired by your story. I will perform it at the chick's ball along with the one I wrote about domestic violence.

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emmawynters 2 years ago

You're welcome! I was so inspired by your story that I wrote a new song along the same lines that I will perform at the chick's ball.

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multiculturegirl 2 years ago

Donna I know your story will make a difference for someone. It is important that we tell our stories so that we know we are not alone. I made a blog post about the experience my family is going through right now on the Jackblog its called Through the Looking Glass. I hope our experience helps someone too.

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AlexManuel 2 years ago

Oh, Donna. I hate to hear this happened to you. I hate even more how unsurprised I am, how unsurprising it is when any woman I know or respect or admire tells me she has been raped. I hate how I feel "lucky" to have only escaped with an attempted rape, myself. The fact it's that common is just a ludicrous failing of society to actively discourage and punish such an act, and a failing to acknowledge women as worthy (of respect, of love, and of trust -- especially trust).

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donnaladd 2 years ago

Yes, it's much more common than people know—precisely because people don't feel like they can speak up. We can change that as as society, in part by sharing our own experiences. Also by challenging people who excoriate women with sexual and violent language just because they agree with them. Don't forget all that the culture of online harassment and stalking is what helps enable these kind of criminals now. Be part of the solution, all.

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cvg 2 years ago

Thank you, Donna, It is so sad that things like this have to happen to us. I know, for I have been there too. In your article, you said everything just right. I also was in a very abusive marriage and stayed for 37 years. I finally ran away and I went to a recovery program, called, Celebrate Recovery, and it made all the difference in the world for me. Now, I speak for and to, people who find themselves in that situation. Many hugs, from me. My name is Carol.

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donnaladd 2 years ago

Thanks much, Carol. Hugs back. ;-)

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Will 2 years ago

"My rapist didn't go to jail or prison, and I pray he never raped again.

Even as I know he probably did."

And this is exactly why you should name names. There is no reason to protect him, no reason to let "bygones be bygones" just because it happened long ago. If he did this to you, then he did this to others. He might still be doing it now. By naming names he will no longer be able to operate under the cloak of anonymity, and maybe some of his other victims will be empowered to speak out as well. There is a criminal on the loose, and people should at least know his name.

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donnaladd 2 years ago

I wish that was possible, Will. It's been decades, there is no physical evidence, and he would probably sue me if I revealed his name. I would probably lose because I can't prove it at this point. So I'll have to settle for telling my story in hopes that it can save some other victims.

On a tangential note, I really wish you and others wouldn't post under the cloak of anonymity. I've found that the power, and the rewards, of our words are so much strong when we have the courage to use our real names. I encourage you and others to try it.

Thanks for writing.

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donnaladd 1 year, 12 months ago

I'm humbled and saddened at how many women have said publicly or to me privately in the last 24 hours that they were raped as well. This is clearly an epidemic in our state and beyond; I urge all of you to talk about this; I am honored to use my story to help start those conversations.

Ronni Mott has more sexual-assault stories coming in the future, and we're going to continue this effort past Chick Ball, including with a gospel event we're doing with Rev. C.J. Rhodes of Mount Helm. Let us know if you'd like to help with it, and please get in touch with Ronni if you'd like to tell her your story (with or without your real name) or write a piece about it yourself for print or online. I also invite you to share your story in these comments if you'd like. The catharsis of sharing it with others is very real, and your story is likely to touch a victim or even a would-be rapist.

Thanks to all of you. It's been an amazing 24 hours since this story went public. Thanks to all of you for your bravery in sharing your stories out there and with each other. It's such an important step.

Now, come to Chick Ball: jfpchickball.com for more details. It's a fun event for men and women with a very serious mission at its core. For only $5 or a donation of an item, you too can be a philanthropist. We welcome you with open arms and lots of bling.

We've got this, Jackson.

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amandahawkins 1 year, 12 months ago

Thank you for having the courage to share your story. You have helped more women than you realize.

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donnaladd 1 year, 12 months ago

That warms my heart. Thank you, Amanda, for posting.

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Marlon 1 year, 12 months ago

I read your story this morning and my first thought was how hard it must have been to keep this bottled up for so many years. Fifteen years of blame and guilt is a heavy burden you shouldn't have had to bear. My second thought was "thank God no woman in my life has had to go through that."

Then it dawned on me. If the statistics are correct than more than one woman I love, respect and admire has faced or suffered a rape. Maybe they've never felt like they had a voice or even felt like it was their fault. That saddens me as a man.

My view of rape has always been the CSI, Law & Order SVU version. Vision of torn clothing and battered faces and bodies. Your story showed me that it's not that simple. It may not be as violent, but it's just as damaging.

I hope more women (and men - didn't think that percentage was as high either) find the courage to fight back and I hope more men realize exactly what rape is.

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donnaladd 1 year, 12 months ago

Marlon, thank you for your wonderful comments. It was very hard for that first 15 years: I told a few people but usually in anguish after a great deal of wine. After I wrote that piece, it gradually became easier. I stopped blaming myself and, as a result, the answer started melting away, and I could talk fairly openly about it. Now, the experience is part of who I am and has made me stronger. I almost feel sorry for the guys who post nasty stuff about under cowardly fake names in order to try to silence. They have no idea the strength I've gathered inside by now, in no small part thanks to this incident when I was a teenager -- and my resolve to have a strong voice and help others find theirs.

I can't say it enough: There is courage and power in speaking out using your real name. It helps you become stronger, and I encourage everyone to try it, even a baby step at a time. Own who you are and what you believe, and use your experiences to help others and to speak out against those trying to hurt others. There is so much power in numbers of people standing up and saying: "I am __, and here is what I believe.

And Marlon: You're right. You know women who have been sexually assaulted. And probably men as children and perhaps as adults.

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lisa 1 year, 12 months ago

Donna, When I was a nieve teenager and being raised by a single parent who was doing her best to raise her children alone. I was working after school and was approached by a older customer who happened to be a police man in Philadelphia. He talked sweet to me and since I longed for a daddy figure without realizing it, I agreed to meet him in town in a hidden spot where he raped me. I would sneak out after mama was asleep to meet him many times. My self esteem was so low. I've struggled for many years thinking it was my fault and to this day still wonder if it was. I not good with expressing myself but thank you for coming forward. You made me feel brave enough to express my pain. Thank you.

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donnaladd 1 year, 11 months ago

Lisa, I'm so sorry to hear about this: I can only imagine how many similar stories happened to women in our hometown. Bless you. Hear me: It was not your fault. Draw strength from knowing that and, if possible, from using your story to help other women (and men). Big hug.

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CeCeLoves 1 year, 11 months ago

Ms. Ladd, thank you so much for sharing this. The more we share and challenge the myth that it was our fault, or we wore the wrong thing, etc., the more we raise the curtain on this. Kudos for your courage and commitment to ending sexual violence!

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donnaladd 1 year, 11 months ago

Thanks, CeCe. I really appreciate it!

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