I met Kevin when we were in high school. We never had a class together, but somehow became casual friends—acquaintances that would share a joke and greet each other while passing in the halls. He was tall, lanky, and completely non-threatening: a nerdy Filipino with glasses, who used jokes to hide his insecurities. We lost touch immediately after high school, and he was relegated to the realm of yet another friendship lost to growing up.

Twelve years later, I found myself working as a rather frightened nurse at local maximum security men’s prison. I had recently exited a physically and emotionally abusive relationship after eight long years, only able to summon the strength to leave after finding myself pregnant. For safety reasons, I left before telling the father that I was pregnant, and received no child support as a result.

As a single mother of an 8-month old son who was struggling to provide for my little family, I had accepted the job at the prison for purely financial reasons.

One day, while going through the multiple security gates and checkpoints, I heard a foreign yet familiar voice say my name. I quickly turned around to find myself face-to-face with a tall, handsome, and muscular Correctional Officer. His uniform, complete with sunglasses and baseball-style cap, did not allow me to get a close look.

I stared blankly at him for several minutes before realizing that his last name was stitched to his shirt, and remembered it as that of my long-lost friend. We greeted each other in a warm embrace in the middle of the security line, and quickly began sharing breaks and lunches together. After a few weeks of these shared, stolen moments, he asked me to dinner.

We went on several uneventful and unmemorable dates. However, I continued to see him on a semi-regular basis. Our conversations centered on work, our brief and limited shared history, and his love of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. He was the first man I dated since leaving my abusive, long-term relationship, and the first time I allowed myself to have “adult time” since having my son. We kissed and had a few make-out sessions during those times. However, I knew I was not yet ready to become intimate with him.

One night after working a late shift, he called me and stated that he was close to my house. He wanted to come over. Given that my son was already fast asleep, I agreed. We spent several minutes laughing and joking on my couch before things became physical. I invited him to my bedroom, where we continued to kiss and fool around as we had several times before. Only this time, he tried to go further.

He continued to test my boundaries, and I continued to resist. A cycle began to develop wherein he would see how far he move his hands, how much clothing he could remove, and how much I would re-direct him. After several rounds of this cycle, a flash of aggression overcame him. He clenched his jaw, and pinned my arms down.

My initial surprise rapidly cycled into a mixture of fear and disbelief as he continued to writhe above me, immobilizing my arms with minimal effort. I attempted to kick my legs frantically in vain for what felt like an eternity before becoming aware of the fluidity with which thoughts passed through my head. Wow, he really is a purple belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, I thought. I never would have guessed that the awkward, gangly teenager that I used to wave to in the halls would have become this strong.

This can’t really be happening. I must be imagining this. I hope all of the noise does not wake my son.

I recalled my abusive ex frequently calling me a whore, and specifically telling me that, “A woman’s honor is all that she has,” and “A woman can never be raped against her will.” “Even if he kills her, it is better than living with the shame of having been raped,” he’d say. And, a personal favorite, “When faced with rape, a woman’s only option was to fight to the death.”

I recalled previous sexual encounters, and felt bitterly disappointed. I had worked hard to keep my “number” low, to be a “good girl”, and avoid anything out of long-term monogamy. This was none of that. Yet, it was another number.

It was over. I really was a whore. I realized that I was markedly and hopelessly overpowered and gave up.

I don’t remember if he spent the night, and I don’t remember what the next several days were like. It’s as if the hours and days that followed never happened.

I do, however, remember calling Kevin sometime later and telling him that I wanted a relationship. He scoffed, but agreed to something, “not exclusive.” A “deal” of sorts. In my attempts to protect myself, to reconcile what had happened, I reasoned that I would be okay if we were, “together.” I specifically remember telling myself that my number of partners had already gone up. I might as well continue to sleep with him.

I eventually summoned the nerve to tell him that I had not been ready to have sex with him that night. He tilted his head back, and laughed. “You gave in.” No, I told him. I gave up. He laughed and said, “It’s not rape if you yell, ‘Surprise!’” He followed that up with several other rape jokes, and said, “Besides, I’m a cop. And, the statute of limitations has run out.”

I looked it up—it had not. I reminded him of all of the times that I told him no. He once again laughed and stated, “It’s all ‘no’ until it’s ‘yes.’”

At around the same time, I began to become interested in a male nurse named Charles who worked at the same prison. Charles was polite, shy, and very complimentary. He was also the doting father of an eight year old boy, and a one year old baby girl.

I slowly distanced myself from Kevin, and began to see Charles. Kevin initially accepted my increasing distance, however, he still insisted on periodically coming over for visits. One night, while chatting online, he told me that, if I were to deny him, he would tie me up and rape me. “Hard.” I attempted to de-escalate the conversation with weak and irrelevant jokes, and ultimately distanced him from my personal life.

In the meantime, I had decided I was not ready to sleep with Charles, though I was seeing him several times each week. One night, he stopped by my house after work. Things became physical, and he began pushing, testing my boundaries.

It felt like deja-vu. I simply could not believe that this was happening again. But, it was.

Charles attempted to hold me down; however, he was nowhere near as strong as Kevin. After struggling, kicking, and repeatedly yelling, “No!” I was able to land a firm, hard kick in Charles’ testicles. He pulled back, reeling in pain. “Stop kicking me!” he yelled. I yelled at him to get off of me, and demanded that he leave my house. He left without further incident, and I quit my job at the prison shortly thereafter.

I quickly found a new job, and life seemed to return to some degree of normalcy, though I had episodes of anger, denial, and self-loathing over all that had happened. What was I doing? What was wrong with me that I found not one, but two men who felt it was okay to do that to me? What message was I putting out there that they felt it was okay to take that from me? What’s to say that this would never happen again?

My rage only increased as I recalled the fact that my son was mere feet away from me during both incidents. My shame and resentment deepened knowing that he innocently slept so closely by as everything happened.

How was I ever supposed to raise a child in a world where this could happen? Where a “friend” could do this? Where a father (a father of a daughter, at that), could do that?

Just as things seemed to quiet down, Kevin messaged me one night, stating that he wanted to come over. I refused. He insisted, and said he was on his way. I quickly began telling him about Charles in an attempt to dissuade him. I also casually mentioned that he Charles had attempted to rape me, stating, “He tried to do the same thing that you did.” Kevin laughed, and stated, “Well, yeah. You didn’t give up the puss. So, he was going to take it. What did you expect?”

I have long since blocked and removed both men from my life. However, thoughts over what happened continue to bother me. I occasionally have the urge to report them, but it is passing at best. Kevin is a law enforcement officer, and, even though I have some of his threats and admission in writing, I cannot imagine what a court would do to me. After all, I pursued him and continued to see him after the fact. And, Charles? He is a good father, and a good provider to both of his children. Do I really want to deprive two innocent children of their father?

Then, like clouds shifting and rolling across an ominous sky, my thoughts quickly shift to self-doubt, self-loathing, and guilt. How in the world could I have let this happen? I imagine what my ex would say and think of me if he knew what has happened since I left him, and the shame is overwhelming.

And then I think of my son, who once told me after I picked him up from kindergarten, “Mommy, Alex told Emma, ‘Nice butt,’ and slapped her on the butt. I yelled at him and told him he needs to keep his hands to himself and never to do that again.”

I try to replace my horror and dismay with the thought of my son. He was a beacon of hope when that five-year-old boy sexually harassed and assaulted that five-year-old girl. My son who knew it was wrong to touch the little girl, and yelled at the little boy for doing it.

There is hope. There is always hope.

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