My Body, My Shame, My Voice: Rape and letting go of guilt



by Erin Bagwell
Founder of Feminist Wednesday
Producer of
Dream, Girl

When I was in the seventh grade I used to babysit for this family down the block. They had two kids, I was Red Cross certified, I loved babysitting, I loved making money. One night after babysitting the dad of the family drove me home alone. I had brought my own Charlie’s Angels barbie for the job to share with their little girl because I had just seen the reboot of Charlie’s Angels and my Cameron Diaz barbie doll was awesome.

Sitting in the car on the way home I clutched my barbie doll in one hand and my twenty dollar bill in the other. The dad turned, looked at me and asked me with a creepy smile if the Cameron Diaz barbie doll had any underwear on. I looked at him uncomfortably and shrugged, I replied that I wasn’t sure. He asked if I could check for him and I blew off the request saying something along the lines of “ew gross.” I felt a weird shift from that moment on, like he was treating me as if i was older than I actually was and I felt immediately uncomfortable. I remember telling my mom that I didn’t think I should babysit for him anymore but I never told her what he said or how he made me feel.

Junior year of high school I was cast in a school play as a french maid. Not a literal french maid, but a red-satin-dress wearing upper-class french maid. My character was blonde and ditzy and a lot of fun to play. I pranced around on stage with the best outfit and my clip-on hair extensions for extra umph. At the time our social studies teacher was in charge of the stage crew. During one of my social studies classes he told my all-girls class what a knockout I was in this dress and how everyone should see the play because of how great this dress fit my body. I was mortified. I looked at my notebook the whole class (and many after that) and avoided eye contact at all times. The day it happened I went home to tell my mom and she was also mortified. She wrote him a nasty note, and he had to apologize to me shortly after.

My sophomore year of college I was friends with a boy a year older than me, and went to his house one day to hang out after class. I had a crush on him, and was excited to spend time alone with him. So I went over. We went up to his room, and he raped me. I wasn’t drunk, it wasn’t violent, it was just painfully silent. Paralyzed with fear, I was forced to lay quietly on his bed until it was over, tears trickling down the sides of my face. When he was finished I bolted out of the house to my dorm, where I sobbed alligator tears in my shower trying to scrub away what happened, while my roommate made me a cup of tea. I never told anyone what happened, especially my mom.

I don’t think I ever told anyone what happened because unlike the other two experiences I mentioned above, I felt like what happened this time was my fault. And to this day I still feel an immense amount of shame and guilt about it. I never used the word rape. But that’s what it was. I still I beat myself up replaying the situation; I should have fought back, I should have screamed, I should have raised hell. Instead I became a shell of myself, a silent ghost.

And through the silence of carrying this burden my voice has continued to be lost, surrendering itself to thoughts of guilt and shame. But over the last couple of months something has shifted, and I have started to feel different about my story. I started to feel less alone, and I started to feel stronger. If Lady Gaga can share her experience of something that not only happened to her, but to one in five women on college campuses, then perhaps it’s okay to speak up. Perhaps it was time I gave that ghost a voice.

So yesterday I got up the courage, voice shaking, tears streaming to tell my mom about what happened. Sobbing I let out the story I have been hiding most of my adult life. I was met with was sadness, support, anger that it had happened, but most of all love. I was greeted with a safe space to talk, to cry, to be vulnerable.

I am not the girl I was eight years ago, and I’m not a reflection of something that happened one day in my past. I am a loved woman, worthy of the freedom from this pain and this shame. And in this vulnerability I feel power. I feel relief, and I feel grateful to share my story. It’s time to stop being silent, and time to let myself heal. What happened to me never was or is my fault. And everyday that I shed light and love on this situation I give myself permission to move on. I am not alone, and together we can make a difference, and change the narrative of what happens to one in five women on college campuses. It might have taken me eight years to share this story, but I own it now. And I welcome you to a safe space to talk, cry, and be vulnerable.

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by ErinFeminist Wednesday