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.
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.
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.