The Weight of Rape and the Light of Love

Renee DeVesty was raped by her friends. Here’s her brave story of trauma and redemption.

My story began during an overnight at my best friends’ camp on a lake in Central New York. I was 19 years old, in college and with friends I had known most of my life.

I rode to the camp with my best friend and her husband, who was in the Navy. They now lived out of town, but we were all excited that they were home on leave. When we got to the camp, she told me I could have the best bedroom upstairs since everyone else was sleeping on the first floor. Feeling special, I put my belongings in the room and changed into my suit for a warm day on the boat. That night, I was the first to go to bed.

Sound asleep, I awoke in the middle of the night to the force of a cold, calloused hand across my mouth by my best friend’s husband. He was a big guy and was physically holding me down on the bed. I was frozen with fear and intimidation – I absolutely could not move a muscle. In what seemed like slow motion, I looked into his eyes and wondered… What are you doing? Why are you hurting me? My eyes screamed in confusion, but my voice was silent. It was as if having his hand clamped over my mouth bluntly stopped the flow of words from coming out. I wondered what did I do to make this happen – to make my best friend’s husband want to hurt me? Why couldn’t I scream, where was my voice?

I realized he wasn’t alone when I saw the second face in the darkness – another friend I had known all my life was now on top of me. The pain began shooting through my body as he tore off my underwear. Everything stopped for me at that moment – mentally and physically. My breathing stopped and it felt like even the blood stopped flowing through my veins. I stopped struggling and waited. I just waited for it all to be over… praying they would leave me alone.

None of this made any sense. Where was everyone? Where was my best friend? Why were these guys – my friends – doing this to me? They left immediately afterwards with my best friend’s husband warning me not to say a word. I was definitely afraid of him and immediately thoughts of fear, shame and disgust filled my head.

Incredibly, I began to think this was all my fault, I thought I must have done something to encourage this. And then it hit me: Was it really an attack because I knew them? Was it actually rape since they were my friends? My head was spinning and I was physically sick to my stomach.

The next morning, still terrified, I went downstairs and saw my attackers in the kitchen. I didn’t know what to think or say. My best friend’s husband just stared at me. My best friend appeared to be acting normal. She’ll never believe you, I told myself. This is her husband, she loves him. Silently, I packed my things and rode the whole way home in the car with my best friend and her husband – my rapist. And I never said a word.

I immediately blamed myself and thought if I had only slept downstairs with everyone else, it wouldn’t have happened. My mind could not comprehend this whole scenario, so in order to cope with it, I blocked it out as if it never happened. I shut down completely and decided I would never tell anyone about it.

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A few months later I realized the nightmare wasn’t over. I had become pregnant from the rape. I went into shock again. Being a strict Catholic, I was convinced I was being punished for sure. I felt enormous shame and guilt. I was too ashamed to tell my mother, and too afraid to tell my friends. And who would believe me now two months later… I still could not believe it.

Because of the shame, fear and hopelessness that continually permeated my mind, body, and soul, I made the decision to terminate the pregnancy. Within three months, I dropped out of college.

The rape and then the trauma of the subsequent choices I made as a result of being raped haunted me for years. I found with the rape that my body healed, but my thought process and inner core were deeply damaged. It was no coincidence that the very first relationship I entered into after the rape was extremely violent. I became a severe alcoholic and developed an eating disorder. For years, I had nightmares of being chased and would wake up in a cold sweat fearful it was going to happen again.

This one act that had ended years ago continued to torture me every minute of every day of my life.

I was the one who carried the emotional and psychological burden of being victimized with me. Not the predators who did this to me – I carried it. It was like being transferred onto a never-ending path of self-destruction and depression. Only a survivor of sexual abuse can comprehend the clenching grip of chains shackled instantly to your ankles the second this violence occurs.

Psychologically for the next 12 years, I remained in the fetal position on the floor where they left me – terrified, alone and afraid. My mind, body and soul were imprisoned in the dense darkness of that room and I had no key to unlock the door.

But 12 years is far too long a sentence to serve for a crime I didn’t commit. I was 31-years-old, married, giving birth to my son and forced to rethink living again. At first, I was terrified, but I knew I had to push through the intensity of the pain. I didn’t want this to be his legacy – my life may have been destroyed by this, but there was no way I would allow his to be impacted. The constant, paralyzing fear and guilt were loosening their grip and I  started to move. The anguish of uncovering the old wounds was mentally and emotionally exhausting, but I was determined to overcome.

After doing a significant amount of self-analysis and counseling, I worked hard to become a Registered Speakers Bureau Member of RAINN, the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network headquartered in Washington, DC. When I shared my story publicly for the first time, I was so nervous I had to wrap my foot around the leg of the stool because I was visibly shaking so much. After I spoke, a young woman came up to me and said, “I wish my best friend heard your story. Maybe she wouldn’t have killed herself from her father’s sexual abuse.”

I don’t think this young woman knew how pivotal a role she played in my life. After that evening, any opportunity that presented itself for me to speak out about my experiences, I eagerly accepted.

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I currently lecture nationally on college campuses because of the extremely high incidence of sexual assault and domestic violence students experience during college years and because of my own experience as a college  student. By opening this dialogue between young men and women, change is occurring. After a 2012 speaking engagement at Colgate University, I received an email stating:

“Within hours of your visit, a few students had already begun to take action by exploring the possibility of SANE-trained nurses in Hamilton, as well as inquiring about putting banners outside of the frat houses saying “Zero Tolerance for Rape.”

Within two weeks of receiving her email and their coordinated efforts, a banner was indeed hanging on the Colgate Campus saying, “Zero Tolerance for Rape.” This passion at the grassroots level cannot be underestimated.

In 2010, I founded The Clean Slate Diaries to give survivors a reason to believe they are worthy of a fresh start. We provide survivors with an opportunity to wipe the slate clean and restore wholeness to their lives using music, art, dance and their voice. Through these mediums and by possibly saying aloud the one thing that has paralyzed them in fear for years – survivors have multiple options to set themselves free in a safe, supportive and loving environment. Even those unable to express themselves are finding restoration by just being in the presence of those who understand.

The vision for The Clean Slate Diaries was carved out of my intense pain and suffering. I started this movement because I believed I deserved a better life – that redemption was attainable despite any circumstances that may have happened. After two years, we have almost 10,000 followers on Facebook, we’ve tripled our attendance and sponsorships, and this April we are collaborating with five Central New York colleges and universities to raise the awareness of sexual assault and intimate partner violence on campuses everywhere. We aren’t going to stop this healing movement until we take this production on the road nationally. The more we talk about the incidence of sexual abuse & domestic violence happening, the less likely it will continue to occur.

My message to survivors is this: YOU deserve to be healed & it was NOT your fault. If we let the healing light of love and redemption fill the crevices deeply etched within us – we’ll get that second chance… and a third and a fourth and a fifth – as many as it takes.

–Photo: familymwr/Flickr

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About Renee DeVesty

Renee DeVesty is a Registered Speaker’s Bureau Member with the Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network (RAINN) in Washington, DC. She has been published and interviewed on local and national media outlets, and she lectures and presents nationally on college campuses and at events and fundraisers for Vera House, a shelter for those affected by Sexual Abuse & Domestic Violence. Renee has more than 25 years experience in the management, promotion and execution of corporate and non-profit events and fundraisers. She is a compassionate and empowering Teen Youth Leader, and a strong advocate and activist for women’s issues.

Comments

  1. Great work, glad to see you have overcome so much and it’s disgusting what they did to you. Just reading it made my foot tap faster n faster with anger towards those rapists.

    Are those signs up around Sorority houses too?

    • We’re working on it!! Thanks for the support, Archy!! :D

      • Glad to see it being addressed, too many times people forget to tell women as a group to not rape as well. Congrats on 10k followers :D

        • Melissa Harrison says:

          Archy:

          You rock. Where can I follow you?

          Melissa

          • Haha only here, I don’t have a blog. Thank-you though, my driving goal is to ensure allllll people male, female, old, young, are educated about their behaviour, prosecuted where applicable but also supported in their rehabiliation and all victims/people most definitely to be supported and protected.

  2. Cuzzin, I am extremely proud of you. I am sorry for the pain you experienced, but am glad you turned it around so that it did not define you. I understand completely.
    Bless you…Love you…G

  3. I am so sorry for what you went through and am so proud of what you have done to turn things around. Love you cousin. Vicky

  4. Renee, I am so proud of you as a sister, a friend, and a voice for those who have not yet found theirs. You are the first span in the bridge to healing for so many. Thank you for YOU! Preach on sister, preach on, until everyone gets the message!
    Love ya
    Reta

  5. Reta, this is just beautiful and heartfelt – thank you for taking the time to comment! You’re an angel!! Love you! :D

  6. Did you ever tell your friend whose husband did that to you? I was raped by a friend in college. Nobody believed me when I told them.

  7. I hope your friend and her husband sees this. Maybe that’s not the best way to display your feelings about it but I wish they would see it to give him something to think about and for her to question him about it

  8. Renee, your story brings tears to my eyes. Not only for your suffering and betrayal, but for the way in which you have found empowerment and the gift of healing you offer to others. I wish to particularly commend you on not having turned your pain into hatred. You are clearly not pursuing a sexist agenda of vilification against men in general, as so many female rape victims do, but one of healing and education. Huge respect from me.

  9. Joanna Schroeder says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this story. I think we can help survivors cope by showing them that they are not alone. Also, as bystanders, I believe we are more likely to believe a woman when we hear other women’s personal stories of having been raped.

    There are times when I wish I believed in Hell or some sort of not-earthly being to punish or somehow reconcile with people who go unpunished for such horrific crimes. I know it doesn’t change the fact that this happened to you, but I guess it makes me feel less helpless.

    Lots of love.

  10. Joanna Schroeder says:

    Also, what a breathtakingly beautiful title.

  11. Melissa Harrison says:

    Thank you for sharing your strength, and the story of your determination to overcome such horrific trauma.

    I have so much respect and admiration for you and your amazing ability to turn something so devastating into a way to help others.

    I cannot even begin to imagine how difficult it must have been to tell your story – especially over and over again. Telling the story can be just as awful as living it was. The story, though, is what truly helps others see that they are not alone. The story is what sparks the healing power of what you are doing.

    Thank you.

  12. Thank you so very much for your courage.

    I spoke out about the nineteen years of incest by my father. Of course, almost all my relatives on my father’s side don’t speak to me.

    You give me courage to keep on keeping on.

    I am so sorry that happened to you. So very sorry.

    May all your best dreams be fulfilled and positive blessings rain down on you and your family.

    Peace.

  13. Thank you for sharing your story. It brought tears to my eyes. You are living proof that out of every evil, something good can come.

    Rape and sexual abuse are such huge problems, for both women and men, young and old, rich and poor. As far as we have come, we have much, much farther to go.

    Just a couple of weeks ago, I sat in the lunchroom at work as CNN played a story on the horrific gang rape and murder case in India. A coworker commented that she was glad she lived in the US, where “we don’t let things like that happen.” It was all I could do to keep from either walking out, or yelling “how can you be so ignorant?” I sometimes think I should get on my knees and thank god every day that I have not been a victim of rape. I have three people close to me who were not so lucky,

    One is a friend since childhood who was sexually assaulted repeatedly by her Uncle when she was a young girl. She is hearing- and speech-impaired, and thinks her uncle may have chosen her as his victim out of a belief that she would not be able to tell anyone what he was doing to her. He died when she was 12, before she got a chance to tell. Indeed, it would take 15 years and considerable counseling before she had the courage to tell her parents what happened. It nearly tore the family apart; to this day, there are relatives who believe her and support her, and those who do not believe her and no longer speak to her.

    A second friend was assaulted, violently, at age 14 by her mother’s live-in boyfriend at the time (Mom was one of those who attracted losers like a magnet attracts nails.) He hurt her so badly she had to be hospitalized, and she will never have children because of what he did to her. Blessedly, he was arrested, tried, and sent to prison. DNA later tied him to the assaults of three other girls in two states. Lord willing, he will never leave prison, though he is technically eligible for parole (and has been denied every time.) My friend remains haunted and scarred physically, mentally and emotionally from the assault, and believes she will have nightmares about her rapist until the day he is put in the ground.

    The third victim is one of my cousins, who while working as a counselor at a church camp when she was 17, was physically dragged into the woods and raped by a fellow counselor. She went to the police, filed a report, submitted to a physical exam, told them exactly who her attacker was….and NOTHING was done. The police called it a case of he-said/she-said and refused to forward the case to the county DA, claiming there was “little likelihood of conviction.” It wasn’t surprising, really. Her attacker was the son of a prominent and respected church pastor in the bible-belt town where she grew up; my cousin, alas, was the daughter of a single mother and regarded as “trailer trash” from the wrong side of the tracks. Church members lined up in support of the rapist, calling him a “good boy” and basically calling my cousin a harlot who “tempted him to sin.” Some actually even tried to claim my aunt was partly responsible for the rape, because she dared allow her daughter to wear makeup and jeans. Eventually they were basically forced to leave town. The rapist has never met justice, and probably never will; in fact, 12 years after the incident, he has now taken over for his father as pastor of the church. My cousin wonders how many other girls he has raped. She now struggles with drug and alcohol addiction and remains bitter and contemptuous of anyone involved with organized religion. I do not know if there will ever be “healing” or “closure” for her.

    We may not have women being gang raped with iron rods on a daily basis in the US, but we are not as far away from that level of brutality as we might like to believe. We need to talk about rape, even when people don’t want us too. We need to we need to name the rapists, blame them and shame them (instead of blaming and shaming victims) and bring them to justice. Ultimately, we need to teach everyone, men and women both, to respect their fellow human beings and to understand that YOU DO NOT HAVE THE RIGHT TO TAKE ANYTHING FROM ANOTHER HUMAN BEING BY COERCION OR FORCE NO MATTER HOW BADLY YOU WANT IT OR THINK YOU DESERVE IT. I believe a lot of our problems with rape stem from the fact that we refuse to see our fellow human beings as people with hearts, minds and bodies that can be hurt, just like us. Too many of us are selfish, we think that the world revolves around us and that other people exist only to be used up and thrown away for our pleasure. Rape is only an extreme form of this.

    We need to teach young people to have respect for themselves and their bodies and to be clear about what they want, and don’t want, especially in relationships. We also need to teach our hormone-driven teenagers especially that if you sense you are getting ‘mixed signals’ from a date, STOP. Back off. Think. Ask. Where do you really want to go from here? If you don’t feel comfortable talking with the person you are with about what they do and don’t want sexually, then maybe you should not be getting intimate with that person. Just a thought…this might prevent a lot of “date rape” cases.

    We also need to face the reality that, yes, there are those who will lie about being raped. It happened a few years ago in my own community when a woman claimed that she was sexually assaulted while in a restroom at her child’s school. The school’s custodian was even taken into custody and questioned. It was all over the news for a few days, with people wringing their hands about sexual predators at schools, then all of a sudden, the police announced the case was being dropped; the woman’s story began to fall apart and eventually she admitted it had never happened, she had made it up in the hopes of getting her husband back (he had recently left her.) Lying about rape is just as shameful as blaming the victim, and should be treated as such. Every time someone is found to by lying about a rape it prevents real victims from coming forward out of fear that they will be accused of lying. And let’s also be realistic; we will never fully prevent rape, because there will always be psychopaths among us, so we need to be careful out there. But that does not mean we should not try to make it far, far less common than it is now.

  14. Catherine says:

    You left one thing undone: Why didn’t you go after those bastards who did that to you? Name them. Accuse them publicly. You are hiding their sin and encouraging them to continue to commit their crimes in the cover of night. WHAT ABOUT JUSTICE?

    • Catherine – justice has been done: I am at Peace. I reclaimed my life, I walk proudly, I have no fear.
      They know who they are and their crimes cannot continue because I spoke out and continue to raise awareness in the prevention of these crimes.

      Nothing is left undone for me. Nothing.

    • Catherine, respectfully, what you are talking about is not justice, it’s revenge. Justice does not come our of rage, nor does it punish. Justice is about healing, rehabilitation, protection and a better future. She defends, but does not attack. Her scales are not ‘an eye for an eye’, they measure an appropriate response to produce a better outcome. Her sword is not a weapon of violence and coercion, but an instrument of truth. She is blindfolded so that she does not look with her mind but with her heart. What Renee is doing IS justice.

  15. h my goodness Renee, I am so sorry you had to go through this! Wow, “so sorry” just isn’t enough. I am SO PROUD of you for doing this. You are amazing cousin!!!!

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