Content Warning: This story contains descriptions of a traumatic sexual assault that may trigger or distress some readers. The characters in this story are fictional. Please be aware and take care of yourself while reading.
Riley sat alone in her dimly lit corner office at DC's most respected law firm. Staring at the Apple computer screen in front of her, Riley could only hear the hum of the air conditioning. It was well past midnight on a Friday evening. She and another fellow lawyer, Eve, were the only ones left in the building. Riley felt trapped as the darkness outside pressed against the windows. Riley, one of the firm's most gifted and successful lawyers, had been here many times, working late into the night on cases others had taken on but ultimately gave up. But tonight was different. The silence and darkness pressed in on her like suffocating hands, a weight that threatened to crush her spirit. Her soul felt like a shattered mirror, reflecting fragments of pain and memories.
Taking a deep breath and closing her eyes, Riley tried to shake off the feeling of being trapped, watched, and vulnerable all at once. But it was her past trauma creeping back on her, the night of her sexual assault while attending a prestigious law school a decade ago. Images flashed before her eyes, a chaotic blur of faces and hands that left her feeling violated and broken. As much as Riley tried to push back the trauma, she couldn't live another day with it. Riley stood up from her executive desk and took a deep breath. Riley knew what she had to do. Riley needed to talk to Eve, her close friend, colleague, and the firm's other successful lawyer. Riley knew she could always trust Eve since the day Riley started her job at the law firm two years ago. From day one, Eve and Riley had become best friends and protective sisters for each other in the cutthroat world of law. So much so that Eve and Riley always spent holidays together and traveled to New York City for the annual law conference. To Riley, Eve felt like extended family, even as Eve had gone to Yale Law School while Riley had come from Harvard Law School.
Walking down the quiet hall to Eve's office, Riley hesitated momentarily before knocking on the door. "Come in," Eve replied in a welcoming tone. Riley opened the door and stepped into the room. Eve looked up from her desk and saw the distress on Riley's face. "Hey Riley, what's wrong?" Riley felt tears welling up in her eyes. She tried to speak, but her voice felt caught in her throat. Eve stood up and walked over to Riley, touching her shoulder. "It's okay, Riley. You can tell me." Riley took a deep breath and looked up at Eve. "I need to talk to you. About something that happened to me in law school. I wanted to tell you sooner, but I was too scared and let it weigh on me for too long."
"Riley, of course. Here, sit down," she said, gesturing to the comfortable armchair in front of her desk. "Would you like some water?" Riley shook her head, her gaze fixed on the floor. "No, Eve. I need to talk to you," Riley said barely above a whisper. "I know you're busy, but this darkness, here and inside me, is too much." Eve stood up from her desk, crossing the room to sit beside Riley in the armchair. She took one of Riley's hands in hers, squeezing gently. "I'm here for you, Riley. Whatever you need," she said, her voice full of empathy.
At that moment, Eve asked gently, "Riley, if you ever feel ready to share what happened, know I am here to listen. You are in control of your story." Riley took a deep breath, feeling hope ignite within her. She knew she didn't have to share her story until she felt ready, but Eve's sympathetic support made her feel seen and heard. Deep down, Riley felt empowered to reclaim her narrative on her terms.
Content Warning: The following scenes describe a traumatic sexual assault that may be triggering or distressing for some readers. Please take of yourself if you decide to continue reading.
Riley's voice shook as she recounted the events of that night, her words faltering as she struggled to find the right way to describe the indescribable. "It wasn't just one guy, Eve. It was a whole group of them. And these weren't random men. They were men - fellow students - I thought at the time I could trust with my life. But something on that night changed my world and the way I look at men forever. Before I knew it, these same men surrounded me and threw me down like a pack of wild animals going in for the kill. They took turns violating me, one by one. One. By. One. To them, I was some amusement park ride for their sick, fucked up pleasure. Over and over. And over. And over. I couldn't even tell you how many there were, Eve. I felt like I had lost control of my body." Riley shook her head, tears streaming down her face.
Eve's face turned pale as Riley's words painted a vivid, haunting picture of her past. "Oh my god, Riley, I had no idea. I'm so sorry. I can't even imagine what you must have gone through."
"It gets so much worse, Eve. Worse than you could imagine. The assault was unimaginably horrific. They did unspeakable things to me, and I froze with fear. I felt so alone the whole time. Nobody would care if I disappeared or died, but only be headline gossip for the whole world."
"Riley, I can't even imagine what you went through, but please know I 100% believe you and am here for you. You don't have to share anything else if you don't want to,' Eve said.
"No, you don't understand, Eve." Riley continued, "Those assholes robbed me of something. Something I'll never get back," her voice grew more desperate. "My body was violated in ways I can't even describe. And the pain, both physical and emotional, is something that still haunts me. It's a constant reminder of what they did to me."
"Riley, hey, it's okay. I'm with you. I believe you. Stay with me. You're not going through this alone. I'm here."
She clenched her fists, her body trembling as she fought to suppress the memories that threatened to engulf her. "They laughed, Eve! All of them were laughing! It was the sound of pure evil. And it's been haunting me ever since. I can't escape it, can't forget it. It's a constant reminder of the monsters they were. They did unspeakable things to me, over and over and over again. In my mind, it felt like an eternity. And when they had enough, they left me alone and shattered. That laughter, Eve. That deranged, evil laughter. It's something that will never leave me."
They sat silently for a few minutes, Riley's hand still clasped tightly in Eve's. Then, finally, Riley spoke again, her voice barely holding it together. 'After it was over, I just wanted to die,' she said. 'I felt so dirty and broken. Used and violently violated. These monsters stole from me the only thing I had complete control over and could guard with my life: my body, my identity. Nobody came to my defense. I felt alone that night, like discarded trash nobody wanted." Riley's voice gradually grew more intense. "My hopes, dreams, feelings, thoughts? My body?! It never mattered shit to those bastards! Because in the eyes of this fucked up patriarchial world, my body is not - and never was - my own! As if I'm supposed to be fucking grateful that this happened to me! Or that I asked for it. Oh, right, because I'm a woman. And we all know this world thinks women are supposed to 'please men but keep our mouths shut over our feelings!! Goddammit all!!" Finally, the weight of it all was too much. The walls of trauma crumbled around Riley internally. Riley cried as she had never cried before.
Eve quickly reached across the desk with one arm to get Riley into a protective hug, "Riley, it's okay, it's okay. I'm here. You're safe. Let it all out. I've got you. Riley, I've got you."
The gravity of Riley's trauma hit Eve like a runaway freight train. In that quiet moment, darkness had lost its suffocating hold on Riley, and she felt renewed. Riley was free. She had reclaimed her narrative. Riley took a few minutes before she continued. "I couldn't tell anyone. I didn't want anyone to know. What happened to me that night is something I would never wish on my worst enemies. I felt so violated and vulnerable at that moment I didn't think I could ever trust men again. Thank you, Eve. For letting me explode."
Throughout the night and into the early morning, Eve sat with Riley like the protective sister Riley considered Eve to be. Riley felt a sense of peace come over her. She felt heard and understood. She knew the road ahead wouldn't be easy, but she also knew she wasn't alone. "I want you to know I believe you, Riley. What happened to you was not your fault. You didn't deserve it, and it wasn't okay." Riley felt a lump form in her throat as she looked back at Eve, grateful for her unwavering support. "Thank you," she whispered.
"We're in this together, Riley. No matter what happens, I'll always be here for you." Riley felt a glimmer of hope stir within her, a newfound sense of strength and resilience as a lawyer. As the sunset slowly appeared, she knew that the darkness of her past couldn't hold her down any longer. Riley had a friend, an ally, a beacon of light in the dark. And with that knowledge, she felt ready to face whatever the future held - professionally and personally.
Survivors of sexual assault are not alone. It takes immense courage to share one's story; we must listen with empathy and support without judgment. Believe in survivors, stand with them, and advocate for their healing and justice.