Barbara Johnson

Barbara Johnson

Barbara’s Story

June 20th 2016. I was taken to the hospital in a towel and with fractured heels. I had fractured my heels jumping off a loft to get away. The towel was found in my landlady’s place.

To this day, everyone with whom I have shared my story has been extremely supportive. While I am thankful for the support it is tinged with guilt as I do believe that part of the reason for that is that I am perceived as having done the “right” thing. I fought back, I called the police, I had a rape kit done, I pressed charges, I talk about it.  I am perceived as having done what I can to change things which is what is expected of survivors. Because as a society we expect survivors to step up and change the system.  We tell people to “report or things will not change” and so we are inherently placing the blame on them for things not changing.

That is unfair because doing what is perceived as the “right” thing is not always possible, nor does it always help the survivor… In my case it was just a fluke. I got lucky that my brain switched to fight mode because it just as easily could have gone another way. The truth is I only called 911 because I was not sure where he was, whether he was going to try and get into where I was hiding. And even as I was talking to the operator, I was rationalizing what had happened as “not that bad”, telling her I did not need medical care, that I just wanted him gone. I only asked for an ambulance when I realized how much pain I was in. Once that ball was rolling the rest was…straightforward.

The rest was straightforward, but far from easy even though most of the people I interacted with that day went out of their way to look after me and help me. The way the system works it felt like my only worth was as evidence, not as a person.  I was told that if I decided to have a rape kit done it would be free but that I would be responsible for anything having to do with my feet. I was not allowed to have anything to drink until the forensic nurse had swabbed my mouth. And while I made the decision to have a rape kit administered, it was painful, physically and emotionally. Because when you get a rape kit you are poked, prodded and photographed wherever you were violated. I had my friend there, the forensic nurses were doing their best to make me comfortable, the troopers were working on getting a warrant and, yet I still felt like nothing. With the current system, the responsibility lies with the survivor at every single step, yet we are not given any power or agency.

I decided to share my story because it felt like a lot of people think that if survivors reported assaults things would change. And that makes me so angry. Because not everyone can report, because not everyone should have to report, because it’s putting one more thing on the shoulders of survivors. And because it does not always make a difference. I am not trying to discourage anyone from reporting being assaulted, on the good days I believe there is value in doing that. But I think we need to stop talking about what survivors need to do, because what they need to do is look after themselves and heal. Instead we need to talk about what society needs to do.

I am also in a position where I can openly share my story. Not everyone is.

[This piece was written in the Fall of 2017]