Animals of Prey
“Today’s my birthday!” I said with the excitement of a small child.
My friend had brought me—from a bar—to the apartment of a guy she liked, and while it wasn’t how I wanted to spend the night of my birthday, I figured I might as well make conversation with his roommates while I waited for them to finish hooking up in the next room.
“Oh yeah?” One of the guys smirked at me.
“Yeah I’m 21 now.” I said as if I was officially one of the big kids.
“21? Well, you have to have a drink then.”
He disappeared into the kitchen.
I collapsed onto an air mattress in the middle of the living room. I was too exhausted to stand, but my friend told me it would only be a few minutes. He came back from the kitchen and handed me a drink. I tossed it back trying not to show how vile it tasted. I offered them some, but they shook their heads and exchanged an amused look with each other. I melted back into the air mattress. Soon, everything went dark.
I’ve had to relive the details of what happened that night a thousand times; but no one asks what it felt like. I was helpless and disoriented when I woke up to that same roommate on top of me. It was like being reborn as an infant then slowly regaining my physical and mental abilities. I tried to get help, I needed help, but instead I was assaulted again. Pure fear and adrenaline gave me the strength to escape that apartment complex. I ran like I knew at any minute the plug could be pulled and I would collapse again. I will never know what they gave me, but I think my body knew it had to make it back to my boyfriend I stood a chance of surviving.
I remember the Uber pulling up to his house. It was half past six on a beautiful summer morning. He was standing outside looking prepared for the worst. I collapsed in his arms sobbing. He held my arm looking at my bare wrist; the Apple watch he’d just gotten me for my birthday was gone. Quickly putting the pieces together, he slid his hand down my back feeling me over my dress. “Honey, where is your underwear?” I couldn’t speak. “Did somebody hurt you?” The corners of my vision blurred and darkened around him like vignette on a picture. All I could see was his face looking down at me. He was panicked.
“Breathe—Sierra? Sierra, look at me!”
I felt the world slip away from me in a way that I can only imagine is what death feels like. Everything went dark. Then, as if someone just switched the lights back on, I shot up in his bed. I quickly scanned the room, preparing to fight if I had to. Mike, a firefighter who had been stationed with my dad years ago, was standing in the doorway speaking into a walkie talkie.
“It’s the Captain's daughter,” he said.
I was horrified. I glared at my boyfriend from across the room.
“Why the fuck would you call 911?!” I shouted.
I couldn’t stand the idea of my dad finding out what had just happened to me. I knew it would break his heart.
“Honey, you had a seizure.” He was sitting at the end of the bed. I could tell he was terrified, but his voice always had a way of soothing me.
“Sierra, can you tell me what year it is?” Mike asked, approaching the side of the bed.
I paused, drawing a blank—I didn’t know.
They carried me into the ambulance to take me to the hospital. I know I’ve never had a seizure and I have no underlying conditions that could have caused one.
I had my blood drawn at least three different times that day, however, none of those samples would be used to tell me what was in the drink they gave me. I later learned hospitals do not have the ability to test for date rape drugs. The police department can test for them in a specialized lab, but the reason rapists use them is because they are undetectable in the body after only a few hours.
The nurse at the hospital called the police, and after attempting to give the officer my statement, I rode in the back of his hot, unventilated cop car all the way to SART in a different town. Due to lack of funding, it is the only location available to perform a forensic exam on rape victims. There, I sat half naked in a room full of cops while I waited for the forensic examiner. My bladder burned with a urinary tract infection from being raped and my head throbbed from dehydration. None of that mattered, though, because my body was evidence. By the end of the day, the exam had still not been done. At that time, I was more concerned with my health than any potential investigation so I left. My best friend drove me to Planned Parenthood so I could get prophylactics to protect me from STDs. My clothes were all in evidence bags, so I walked barefoot wearing just the beige sweatsuit SART had given me when I left. I was still wearing smudged makeup from the night before and my eyes were nearly swollen shut from crying. The receptionists looked horrified. They immediately rushed me back into the exam room and got me apple juice and snacks. I was still munching on my Nature Valley bar, attempting not to get crumbs everywhere, when a nurse knocked on the door.
“One of the front desk ladies noticed you didn’t have any shoes, so she wanted to give you hers,” she said.
Three months later, I sat across the table from my detective in the district attorney's office. My parents sat quietly next to me. We were getting ready to discuss the future of my case with the DA. Halloween decorations were strung from the ceiling and the table was still speckled with glitter from the office’s Halloween party.
“I’m gonna have to be on call all weekend," the detective said casually.
“Why is that?” I asked. He never answered when I texted him on the weekend.
“Halloween gets pretty busy for us.” He responded as if he were talking about working retail on Black Friday.
I’d never thought about tragedy lurking in the shadows, waiting to strike, on every holiday or special occasion. It makes perfect sense, after all, I was raped three months ago on my twenty-first birthday.
I felt a heaviness in my chest thinking about the young woman that was getting ready to go out that night not knowing that Halloween would forever be a reminder of her trauma. She would soon find herself in an interrogation room across from the Detective. She was about to find out exactly what it means to be an "intox" rape victim, which is, if you’re too drunk to consent, you’re too drunk to be credible.
The day after the assault, I was asked to go to the police headquarters to speak with a detective. I sat across a rectangular table from the detective for the first of many times in a small, dark gray interrogation room.
He asked me, "How do you know you were unconscious?”
I was taken aback.
“Well, I mean, I woke up to him having sex with me. I don’t remember anything before then.”
Then he asked, “How do you know you ‘woke up’?”
He then explained that there are these things called blackouts (AKA consenting without remembering). I didn’t even want to press charges at that time, but this infuriated me. What happened to me was no blackout.
“Look, I believe you. I’m not the one you have to convince. Unfortunately, at the end of the day, it’s just a game of ‘He said, She said’.”
What he meant was that my voice and my experience did not matter. Cases like this will most likely never even go to court because they know that, in San Diego even after the “Me Too” movement, a jury will almost always side with a rapist.
I went home, somehow feeling even worse.
How do I know I was unconscious??? Fuck you detective, how do you even know you ARE conscious?!?! I relived the trauma over and over again, feeling the fear of slowly becoming conscious to a stranger inside of me. I had to put words to it. I had to articulate it in a way they’d understand.
A few weeks into the investigation one of my victim advocates told me she wanted to prepare me for what I could do if my case didn’t go to court.
She asked me, “What does justice look like to you?”
I stared blankly at her hoping we were thinking the same thing. Hammurabi's code? An eye for an eye? What if CCS is actually a group of vigilantes that roofies and castrates rapists who don’t get convicted? I smiled at the thought of it. Of course that’s not where she was going; she gave me some scripted bullshit about how I could get justice by being happy in life. It was the first of many times I’ve been offered healing as if it’s a consolation prize. My mom tells me she’s afraid I’m fighting a battle I can’t win. I know that the people who care about me wish they could snap their fingers and make me “happy” again, but it’s an unrealistic expectation. There is nothing that can erase what I experienced, and nothing can soothe the anguish of knowing they are still out there raping other women. To me, happiness is fleeting; it’s circumstantial. Strength, however, endures. It can’t be broken. If this is a game of “he said, she said” then I’m going to make them hear my voice.
To view Sierra's visual Truth, click here.