‘You’re going to do exactly what I tell you.’ He grabbed my throat. The devil was staring me in the face. Fear washed over my body.’: Young woman survives sexual assault in woods, ‘I refuse to hide. I need others to know they aren’t alone’

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Disclaimer: This story includes details of sexual assault that may be triggering to some.

“July 28th and 29th of 2018 will be days I will never forget. They’re the days I had to survive. The days where I was taken to a remote area of a lake surrounded by dense forest which could only be accessed by boat. The days where I was assaulted, strangled, and raped by two people. They are the days I had to find a way to escape. To make it back to my family.

Flashback to earlier in the year. I was so motivated. It was my 5th year in college, I started out part time while raising my twins. I worked a few jobs here and there, but decided to go full time because I was determined to give my family a better life. I even gave birth to my third child in the middle of spring term, all while still taking classes and was set to graduate at the end of the 2018/19 school year.

Courtesy of Katie Heywood

At some point in those 5 years I became a single mom, which wasn’t something I was unaccustomed to as I started out raising my twins solo. Eventually, I ended up meeting someone, though I didn’t plan on meeting anyone really. At that point in my life, I was not looking for a relationship. It didn’t take long before I fell for him and for the first time, it felt like home. I still miss those 8 months, even though everything got complicated and he broke my heart. When I say he broke my heart, I mean it physically aches the most painful ache your heart can muster. I have had bad breakups, but never in my life had I experienced this feeling.

I couldn’t stand to be at home. It was summer break so I started going out more, hanging out with friends, all the things you’re supposed to do to take your mind off of ‘feeling sorry for yourself.’ But I couldn’t stop thinking, ‘What did I do wrong?’ I tried to reach out, but was told we should go our separate ways. It was devastating.

The very next day I was invited by an old friend to go boating and camping to cheer me up. He said there would be a group of his friends with us. He had been asking me out all year and I kept turning him down. During our time in the car he acted like the ‘perfect guy.’ We made a few stops and he insisted on opening the car door for me every time. It made me feel good about myself. When we stopped at the liquor store, the female clerk noted how beautiful I was. They had a whole conversation about it, while I awkwardly stood there and smiled.

A few miles later we were finally in the forest. He didn’t know where exactly his friends were and there was awful service in the area. We drove around for what seemed like hours, looking at all the campsites accessible by car but still couldn’t find it. Though he knew they had to park their trailer at a boat ramp, we decided to search the area in hope of at least finding their car, which we did. We hung out in the parking area for an hour until one of us finally had a signal and were able to call his friends to come and meet us.

Finally, a boat was pulling up, and two guys were inside. I remember walking up to the boat and instead of introducing themselves, they said, ‘Who the f*ck is this?’ I was confused, because it’s not normally how you greet people you just meet and his attitude quickly changed. He was locking up his truck and his friends told him to hurry the hell up. He responded with, ‘Hey at least I brought you guys some p*ssy.’ My stomach sank, my heart started to race. I had recently been told I overreact…was this just an overreaction to a dumb joke? I brushed it off by flipping him off and saying, ‘F*ck you dude.’ Then I pretended everything was good.

When we got to the campsite it was pitch black, I was told we’d have our own tent, but it turned out to be a lie. There was however another women there, with her 3 year old child, she was dating the driver of the boat. They stayed in a tent together. It didn’t take long before everything went downhill. He was not the same person as the one in the car. His entire tone and attitude towards me changed. I had gone into the tent to open my backpack and grab a shirt because I was freezing. He followed me in and starting kissing me. This is where things went from a little uneasy, to very wrong. He muttered, ‘Will you have sex with my friend?’ I honestly thought I heard him wrong, and my jaw dropped in disbelief. I said, ‘Are you serious?!’ He really was. He wanted me to sleep with both of them at the same time. I immediately said no and left the tent to go sit by the fire. I was so disgusted, I couldn’t believe I was in this situation. I remember thinking to myself, ‘What in the hell is wrong with people?’ and, ‘What can I do to get the hell out of here?’

I sat next to the fire in silence for the next 30 minutes, until I decided the only thing I could do was go to sleep. I slept for a few hours until I was woken up with him on top of me. I wasn’t even awake enough to know what was going on, it was well into the middle of the night. His friend opened the tent and came and sat inside. The realization sunk in, my ‘no’ didn’t matter. My unconsciousness didn’t matter. Basically, I didn’t matter. I burst into tears. He looked at me with disgust and said, ‘I don’t like your attitude.’ Panic had definitely set it, I was hyperventilating, my chest was expanding at a rapid pace and I sounded like a dying whale. He kept saying how he wanted me to be ‘his girl’ and how we have ‘known each other for so long’ so it was ok. He said he was confused and wanted to know if I liked him too and I had nothing to be afraid of. When it was over I shouted, ‘Sex is something special!’ He and his friend started to laugh. I started to run, unable to breathe, crying so loudly I knew the people next to us could hear. After all, they were only about 10 feet away. Why didn’t they help? I ran until I felt I was far enough away to try and think about what the hell had just happened.

I was sobbing, snot was pouring out of my nose and I kept rubbing it on my sleeves. I could still hear them, they were by the fire, laughing non-stop. I even heard him say, ‘She was such a nice girl too.’ Eventually it was quiet, all I could hear was my bawling, I couldn’t stop. I was having a full blown panic attack. That’s when he saw me. I couldn’t move. He came over to me and his personality switched again. He spent an hour trying to console me, saying, ‘I would never do anything to make you uncomfortable.’ Saying all of his girlfriends do it and he really liked me. He then said, ‘You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to.’ I told him, ‘I just want to go home.’ I said, ‘I don’t want to have sex with anyone, and sleeping with two guys is not who I am, and not who I want to be.’ He said he respected that. He even wiped the tears and snot off of my face while he was on his knees begging me to not be upset. He said we could go back to the tent and I could go to sleep. And he would take me back in the morning.

I believed him, and honestly at that point, what options did I have? Swim home? It was 3 a.m. and I was trapped. I went back to the tent and his friend looked like he was passed out. I laid my body next to the door of the tent. I was not going to sleep in the middle. He said it was ‘f*cked up’ to make him sleep in the middle so he pushed me over, despite the fact I literally did not want to be between two dudes. I remember feeling frozen, laying there. He kept trying to touch me, saying he had liked me for so long, saying he wanted me to be his girlfriend, over and over. I replied with, ‘I barely know you.’ Then he asked me if I wanted him. At this point I was so incredibly scared but also thinking to myself, ‘I will never ever be with this guy again in my life.’ He got mad that I didn’t answer.

His friend who I thought was asleep started laughing and as a nervous reflex I began to uncontrollably laugh myself, completely terrified as to what was about to happen. He got really angry, as his ego had been bruised. He grabbed me by the throat, looked me in the eyes and said, ‘You’re going to do exactly what I tell you.’ I couldn’t breathe and my eyes felt like they were about to pop out of my head. It was as if the devil was staring me in the face. Fear washed over my entire body. He held my arms and made me look at him while his friend raped me.

My mind went to a different place, all I could do was escape this reality, and escape what was happening to me. His friend finished, rolled over and pretended to go to sleep. Then he told me he wasn’t done yet. My tears turned to anger, I yelled, ‘You just raped me!’ His friend said, ‘I didn’t do anything.’ It was as if he hadn’t heard my cries, and me dodging every attempt from the very beginning.

I grabbed a blanket and my phone and left the tent, my adrenaline was pumping, I had to gain back control. He followed me, so I positioned myself in front of the ‘couples’ tent. I was as loud as I possibly could be and yelled, ‘You are rapists!’ He argued, telling me, ‘This is why you don’t have any friends and why people don’t like you.’ He even said this was the reason the guy I liked didn’t like me back. He said, ‘I  would never do that to someone, I have a daughter and would never want anyone to treat her that way.’ I told him he was a loser, he was pathetic, and I shouldn’t have to say no more than once! I told him to leave me alone.

I had my phone in my hand and tried to record a video on snapchat. I must have told him to leave me alone 20 times in a row; I just kept repeating myself over and over again. He saw my phone and asked what I was doing. I got scared and put it away. The video never saved. He tried to come over and hug me. I shoved him away and ran as far away as I could, this time further than before.

I sat in the dark, crying, in shock, throwing up, and my whole body hurt. Paranoia started to sink in. Was he going to come back? Every sound I heard in the bushes behind me triggered me. I was so overwhelmed with despair I contemplated walking into the lake and taking my life. All I could feel was pain and anguish. I opened my phone and read the last messages from the guy who broke my heart. That’s when I felt completely alone. I stared at the lake for a while, trying to convince myself to just walk in and drown. But I couldn’t move. Eventually the sun came up, and I felt a little more at ease since I could see. By now my rapists were asleep and I knew with the way they had been drinking they weren’t going to get up.

Finally, the couple in the other tent had woken up. As soon as they came out I asked them to give me a ride on their boat to the dock. I lied and told them I had a ride waiting for me. They wouldn’t look me in the eyes. They knew what their friends did. I got out of the boat and started walking up the driveway to make it seem like I was meeting someone until they turned around and left. I went over to my rapist’s car which had a broken passenger window and stuck my hands in to unlock the door. I was able to find a 20 dollar bill and thought I might be able to use it to ask someone for a ride back to safety. But I was too scared to talk to anyone at this point. Any and all strangers terrified me. I was so overwhelmed, I started to throw up again.

I charged my phone in the truck and that’s when I remembered the one little spot of service we found earlier. I walked around for a while until I got a signal. I took a screen shot of my location from google maps and I sent it out for help. Eventually, a reply got through from my sister who told me she was on the way. I told her I had just been raped and needed to go to the hospital. I waited two hours on a hill while scoping out the boat dock, terrified they would come find me. After a while, my mom and sister arrived. By this time all I wanted to do was go home. They tried to convince me otherwise and I snapped at them to take me home. I wanted to pretend like this night had never happened. How could this happen to me? How could I have put myself in this situation? How could I get raped by two people?

I got home and hugged my kids. I went to the shower and started to wash myself off and that’s when the weight of everything hit me. I cried the worst cry I have ever had in my life in the shower. I laid on the floor and didn’t move. I was so tired, all I wanted to do was go to sleep but I couldn’t. I reached out to my best friends and told them what happened. They told me I should go to the hospital. I needed to file a police report.

So, I did. I had to make a choice, one which might risk my health if I chose wrong. It was the hardest decision of my life. I chose my health over everything. After all, I had 3 kids at home who needed me. Three kids at home I was taking care of by myself. I began to take preventative medications so my chances of contracting HIV would be reduced. These medications made me incredibly ill. The nurse told me it would happen, she said they are extremely toxic to your body. I didn’t even look like myself during that time. I dropped down to 135 lbs when I normally am around 150 at 5’8″ tall.

I met with a sheriff at the hospital, going over everything that had happened. The hospital I went to had a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANE) nurse, so I knew I was in good hands. I spent the whole day in the hospital until eventually I was able to go home. The next few days my eyes were bloodshot. At the time I didn’t realize it was from being strangled.

A few days later I met with a county sheriff’s detective who was assigned to my case. We went through everything and I showed him evidence. I was able to use social media to identify the people who were there, including one of my rapists. I didn’t know his name until I found his Facebook account. He admitted what they both did but tried to play it off as if it was just fun which turned a little rough. He also told me he wanted to see me, he cared about me and repeated how he had liked me for long time. I told him I never wanted to see him again and I was blocking him. The very next day when leaving my house, I made it 2 blocks up the street when I saw his truck. There he was, heading to my house. He made direct eye contact with me as his truck passed my car. I drove as fast I could until I found a side street to park on and called the detective. Nothing happened.

Weeks went by which turned into months. I still heard nothing on my case, I was constantly told they were trying to get in touch with the guys. And they always told me they were going to interview witnesses who in my opinion played a part and didn’t stop a damn thing from happening to me. But nothing ever panned out. The police told me the DA didn’t want to arrest them until after seeing a grand jury. We found out my rapist was on probation for an assault charge, he also had other priors dating back over the course of around 10 years. He got called to court for violating his probation and was sentenced to 2 years in prison after failing to report and refusing to take a drug screen.

After pushing to have my case taken seriously, we finally had grand jury trial in March of 2019. The only thing they were charged with was rape 1. The rapist I didn’t know made bail, since he paid the $10,000.

Courtesy of Katie Heywood

Since then it has been nothing but a whirlwind of unknowns.

In Oregon, rape 1 is a measure 11 crime, and has a mandatory minimum sentence of 8.5 years. The DA gave them a deal without consulting with me, offering the friend ‘3 years and being registered as a sex offender.’ He offered the one I knew, the one who orchestrated the whole thing, 2.5 years and being registered as a sex offender. Both have private attorneys. Both have rejected the deals. Now they are pushing to have the charges dropped by making me go on the stand at the pre-trial hearing. Since they are putting me on the stand, there will be no more deals offered as they have rejected the ones they received and are just continuing to degrade me and put me through hell.

The pre-trial hearing was supposed to be in October and everyone showed up, including the witnesses they subpoenaed to testify against me. But my rapist in prison didn’t. His lawyer said he feared for his safety and didn’t want to be transferred to the county for court. After dancing around for a while ultimately they asked to have the hearing rescheduled. The only date for the amount of time available isn’t until March 2020… I was devastated all over again. Wondering if I am ever going to get the justice I deserve. The pre-trial hearing was rescheduled for March 5th, 2020.

On Monday December 9th, my rapist was released from prison after getting time served and making his bail. The only thing they gave him was a no contact order. They wouldn’t even consider giving him an ankle monitor despite the fact he was on probation when he and his friend raped me.

I am terrified, but I refuse to hide. I found out he bad been dating someone for a month before he raped me and she was sticking by his side through the whole thing. He proposed to her while in prison because they are ‘living the dream’ according to both of their social media accounts. She is also the one who paid his bail.

I tried to reach out the guy who broke my heart, I told him what happened. He read my message and didn’t respond. I was devastated yet again. I was expecting to at least get sympathy. Instead, I got nothing. There were things I needed to tell him. Things he should have at least known, but I was so angry. How could my life not matter? So, I dealt with my problems alone. I was re-diagnosed with PTSD and I have had a slew of symptoms. I’m never comfortable and have nightmares of the events which play out in my head. I have nightmares of seeing the guy who broke my heart and in these dreams I can never get to him. In these dreams he is lurking in the background and I can’t see his face, but I know it’s him. I can feel it. I wake up devastated all over again. Heartbroken all over again. At some point I started to question who I even was. I didn’t know anymore. I felt like something was wrong with me. I felt like dying.

Though time has gone on, I still haven’t heard from the guy who broke my heart. I never got the proper closure I deserved and never got to say the things I really wanted to say. But here I am. Stuck somewhere on this journey of healing. Feeling trapped between victimhood and survivorship. Somedays I feel empowered, other days I feel incredibly depressed. But I show up everyday regardless. I believe my justice will come. I know my story will make a difference. I know my voice is important and I matter, my life matters, even if others failed to think the same.

Since everything happened, I have taken a break from school. My life is currently on hold. I hope my story can make a difference in someone’s life. I hope that some light can be shed as to why victims don’t report rape. But to also let others know – they aren’t alone.”

Courtesy of Katie Heywood

[If you are also a survivor of sexual assault, please call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 or click here for more free resources. There is help and hope. You are never alone.]

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Katie Heywood. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.

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