I originally started this blog post off with an apology. An apology about how I might not be the toughest woman you know, but I’m respected in the tech community, and the headline was clickbait and blah blah blah. I deleted it all, because I am, actually, probably, one of the toughest women you know. And I won’t apologize or make excuses for that.
In many circumstances in my life, being tough wasn’t the right answer – but it was the the only thing I knew. So it’s what I am.
And I’m here to tell you that the toughest woman you know has been raped.
This is a difficult post for me to write. I’ve told the story I’m about to tell you to maybe 3 people in the last twenty years since it happened. At almost forty, I still carry shame about it. And that’s fucking dumb.
I’m going to tell you a story. And you’re likely going to judge me for it. And I’m glad to say that I finally don’t care how you judge me on this. The most badass motherfucker you know was raped – and did nothing about it. Nothing. At all.
I want you to understand why, because it matters. My story specifically doesn’t matter, but if the most badass motherfucker you know got raped and didn’t do anything about it, maybe you can start to understand how so many other women stay silent.
It was 1996. I was working on Wall Street (of all places), as a broker. I was brand new and very young – not even twenty years old yet.
I had gone to college briefly before that, but I wanted to get out into the real world. College sucked, my major sucked, and the only reason I was there at all was to play soccer. Before college, I had been waitressing at an Italian place in New Jersey, and a college soccer coach came in to eat. He noticed my Sambas and asked if I played, or just wore them for fashion – if I played, he might have a scholarship for me. I had been all-state and all-region when I was playing more, so it seemed like a dream come true.
I went to the school on a soccer scholarship, and majored in education of the hearing impaired – I desperately wanted to be a professor at Gallaudet in DC – only to realize halfway through the first semester that as a hearing person, I’d be teaching special ed until I was fifty, because deaf schools didn’t hire hearing teachers. I was disheartened. I still had my bartending job, which I really enjoyed, but I wanted more.
Growing up, my stepdad was a tough critic. Perfection or GTFO. (There’s more to that story, but that’s a whole other blog post.) I was taught that no one handed you anything, and it was up to you to determine your fate. If you fought hard enough, you could do anything.
So I left school to go work on Wall Street. Leaving school pissed off my stepdad, but my mom and he were embroiled in a particularly ruthless divorce, so it became a footnote to him during that time.
I grew up in New Jersey, and had always dreamed of living in the city. As a child, we visited there all the time, and it called to me like nothing else did.
At eighteen years old, I decided I was done dicking around, and started searching classified ads. I had no real experience. I was eighteen, and spent the last year of my life living in a tent in Montana with my sister and then bartending. What the fuck was I qualified to do? Sales, that’s what. And who’s awesome at exploiting young people who work for pennies and might be good at sales? Wall Street.
Regardless of what you’ve seen on TV, when you first start out on Wall Street as a broker, you cold call. That’s *all* you do. And it fucking sucks, but I was good at it. Maybe it was because the men picking up the phone weren’t used to a woman trying to pitch them foreign currency (I was in forex, the most detestable, volatile and predatory of all the things you could be on Wall Street at the time), but I was good at it.
I was one of three women brokers in the firm, out of a staff of about 60 or so. It didn’t bother me. My stepdad was an electrical inspector, and I grew up knowing more about electrical codes for buildings than most of the guys he worked with. I hot-wired my first vehicle at 15, when my stepdad tried to punish me by stealing the spark plugs out of my moped, and I then stole the spark plugs out of his Harley Davidson and popped them into my moped just so I could ride by his office and flip him off. I was used to playing in the boy’s sandbox, so it didn’t phase me much.
Our company had a party, as brokerages in the 90s tended to do. I don’t recall if there was a reason for it or if it was just a good month, but everyone was drinking a lot, including myself.
At that point, I was still paying college dues, though not actually attending classes, so the thought of trying to make it all the way home back to Union, New Jersey in the condition I was in at 4AM seemed insurmountable. It was early in my career, so I definitely didn’t have the money for a hotel in the city. A co-worker of mine offered me a place to crash. His name was Joe Longobucco, and we had always gotten on well at work, with no pretext of flirtation or anything else. He had always been an office buddy, and was never disrespectful in any way to me – so I trusted him.
I am admitting right now, I was drunk. It was a bad decision. I know that. It doesn’t change a fucking thing. Not a Single. Fucking. Thing.
We took the Path train back to his apartment in Jersey City. I think we had been back at his place for no more than 5 minutes before I passed out. I wasn’t out for long, maybe 20 minutes. But it was apparently enough. He had offered me his bed to crash in, and I took him up on it. He said he’d sleep on the couch, which looked uncomfortable, but he swore he’d done it a dozen times before and it was fine.
I woke up to him fucking me. Actually fucking me. My fancy pants-suit that I felt so grown up in buying was strewn on the floor, and the first thing I saw when I woke up was this man, this co-worker of mine, fucking me. I was fully dressed when I went to sleep. I looked down at my own naked body in horror to see what was happening. He was actually inside me, fucking me. This wasn’t a dream. This was really happening.
Let me make this absurdly clear. I was unconscious. I did not give consent. I gave him no signals earlier on in the night that I wanted to have sex with him – NOT that it would matter because it abso-fucking-lutely would not have mattered.
I laid there for another minute or two, trying to comprehend what was happening. I had been drinking, but I wasn’t so drunk that I couldn’t understand the situation. I didn’t know anyone in Jersey City. I didn’t have much money, so I couldn’t get home easily. And more importantly, I blamed myself. I convinced myself, in that 5 minute time span, that this was my fault. And I waited for him to finish. Because he was my co-worker, I was starting a new chapter in my life, and the last thing I needed was to make waves in a male-dominated field and get fired for being a whore or a troublemaker or both. So I let my rapist finish raping me without complaint. I closed my eyes and laid there quietly crying as he finished having unprotected, non-consentual sex with me.
I left shortly after that and found my way back to the Path train, and eventually to my apartment. I was filled with shame and horror and wanted him to die and felt so stupid and guilty and everything else you’d imagine. I’d see him the next day at work. and the next, and the next. What the fuck was I even going to say to him? How do you even start that conversation with someone who has violated you in that way?
Fortunately, I didn’t have to figure that out. A week or so later, I heard him *bragging* about having “banged” me at an office gathering after work. (Evidently, that was an achievement.) I heard him tell a very different story than the one I remembered – and I waited until as many co-workers were around him as possible. I walked up to him, picked him up off the floor by his collar (he wasn’t a large man), and told him very matter-of-factly that he was a rapist, and if he ever spoke a word about it to anyone, I’d have him arrested, and then killed.
I wish I had a better ending for this story. I wish I could tell you that I pressed charges. I wish I could tell you anything at all beyond what I’ve told you. But I can’t, because at 18 years old, being broke and on my own, I didn’t dare stir up more trouble than that. Don’t get me wrong – if that motherfucker so much as looked at me again, I’d have beaten the shit out of him – but these things are always so much clearer when you’re out of danger.
I didn’t write this for me. While I get a modicum of catharsis from finally telling this story twenty years later, that’s not what this is for. This is for every woman who has been in a similar circumstance – but more importantly, for every male ally who thinks this shit only happens to women who can’t defend themselves. I could absolutely have physically fended Joe off. He was 5’5 tops and I could have fucked him up beyond all recognition.
Rape is more complicated than that. Sometimes when you have the physical capacity to defend yourself, you are paralyzed by other ramifications. I didn’t tell anyone about this because I feared for my job, and I feared for my professional reputation, which could have been destroyed simply by the suggestion that I was a whore that wrongfully accused upstanding men of rape. The amount of damage he could do to me long after he was done raping me far outweighed the benefit of saying something, when I knew the response would be that I was drunk and I should have known better.
And that’s why I’m telling you this story. A lot of good men look up to me as a leader in the tech community. They look at me as one of the toughest women they know – and I need them to know that it happened to me. And if it can happen to me, it can happen to any woman they think is too tough for that. The strongest women you know are not exempt. Being strong isn’t enough. Being drunk isn’t an excuse. Every good man needs to be an advocate, and every young man needs to understand that another person’s body is not theirs to do with as they please simply because that person didn’t say no.
Was I naive? Yes. Did I make stupid decisions? Yes. Was it rape? Absolutely. Did I deserve it? No. No one ever does, regardless of their naiveté or stupid decisions. This is never, ever okay. Ever.
“Date rape” isn’t some more-innocuous form of rape. It’s not Rape-Light(tm). It’s fucking rape, and it’s time we start talking about it for what it is. And if it took me twenty years to write about it, odds are pretty good that someone you know, that you love, right now, has gone through something similar.
I am not the exception, I *am* the rule, and this shit matters.