October 4, 2016
Today marks the ten year anniversary of the night I was raped by someone I trusted. Ten years certainly seems like a very long time. Some may say, long enough to bury the hatchet, or move on. Certainly long enough for many trends and social movements to change. “Slut-shaming” and “victim-blaming” are now a normal part of our collective current vernacular. There are more and more people of all genders speaking out about and against sexual crimes. The level of support and understanding that many victims of sexual assault are now receiving did not exist at the time I was raped. I’m grateful that has changed.
I can’t truly remember the first time someone called me a “slut,” but I do remember my brother calling me one to my face when I was fourteen. It hurt. It made me feel ashamed for basically doing the same things with boys that he was doing with girls. But it didn’t stop me. I learned pretty quickly what many boys wanted from me, and what they would call me once they got it. Regardless, I moved through adolescence and into adulthood with a strong sense of self. I’ve always been rather forward. I’ve never been prudish or timid when it comes to sexual relationships. I laughed at the nickname “Whorey Lori,” and more often than not found myself in the company of men- as friends, lovers and confidants.
It wasn’t surprising to me that my first “real” job was working as a cocktail waitress in a strip club on Bourbon Street. I was studying at Tulane at the time and the money I made there afforded me to live the lifestyle that I desired. I liked the strip club scene as well, I learned more from that job then I did from the 4 + years I spent in college. It only made sense to me that I would continue working in the clubs, even if it was only part-time.
After a certain period of time at any job, a person becomes desensitized to situations that may at first have caused some concern. Just as nurses probably feel overwhelmed when they see their first patient die, it can be the same for walking in on your first customer getting a BJ. But just as the nurse slowly acclimates to the sickness and death that are integral parts of her job, the employee/independent contractor in the strip club does the same with sexual situations. This is not to say that all strippers (or exotic dancers, if you prefer the term) are engaging in unsafe and/or illegal activities, as I have personally known many who are strictly (legal) business. Yet, by the time I was 27 years old and found myself in the position of manager at the second highest grossing strip club in New Orleans, there were few things I had not been witness to.
Picture it, if you will. I’m 27, I’m a strip club manager and in all honesty I was a binge alcoholic. What does this mean exactly? I would go several days without drinking but if I had a night off I would drink until I was blotto. I wasn’t in the best physical health. I am sure I wasn’t in the best emotional health (my mother had killed two people then herself in July 2005, then the storm…). But if I was anything, I was a fun time. I was popular at work. When I closed the club I worked at, I would often go to one of our sister clubs and drink and entertain my fellow managers and their team. I did some stupid shit. I bartended topless and barefoot for a club full of Bourbon Street sanitation workers one morning when they were considering a strike. I was nearly arrested for telling a female cop that “technically I am not exposing my nipples on the street because my hands are covering them.” I hightailed it inside when she went to cuff me explaining that then my nipples would be exposed. One night when one of our clubs was featuring an all male review I was asked to help the guys complete their independent contractor paperwork. I wore plastic gloves because they were all naked and covered in oil. After several guys got aroused while completing their paperwork, I was given the nickname “Fluffer” which stuck for months. All of these things seemed perfectly normal to me. In a sense I felt like I had found my people.
I became very good friends with one of the male managers who worked at one of our sister clubs. We had a lot in common. We were around the same age, liked the same music and films, struggled with similar family problems and had the same general outlook on our job. We would hang out often. Once a week we would watch movies together. It was a flirtatious friendship, but nearly all my friendships are. We were not sexually involved, my mother always taught me “don’t shit where you eat” and I wasn’t interested in him that way.
In retrospect, there were warning signs. Once he and I had gone out with some mutual friends and gotten extremely intoxicated. I’m talking polishing off a bottle of Grand Marnier drunk. One of my dearest friends got upset when we were bar crawling because she said he tried to forcefully kiss her and she wasn’t into it. I honestly laughed it off, saying “He’s just drunk. We’re all so fucked.” She agreed and dismissed it, and I still feel bad about that.
Ten years ago tonight I was at home in bed with a sinus infection. I was sober and the only drugs I had ingested were tylenol cold & sinus. I received a call from him but didn’t answer because I felt like shit. When he kept calling though, I picked up. He was incredibly intoxicated and not making much sense. I was able to deduce that he was at the Three Legged Dog. I hung up on him and called the bartender there and told them to only serve him water and get him some food and I would be over as soon as possible. I didn’t even bother to change my clothes. I left the house in my pajamas, congested and annoyed. He lived across the street from the bar, and when I got there he was already making more sense. He had a shitty day. He was morose and sincerely sorry he had called. He borrowed a movie from the bartender and begged me to walk him home. I obliged and half-followed, half-boosted him up the three flights of stairs to his apartment. I put the movie on and told him that I would stay and watch it until he fell asleep, which I figured would be very quickly.
I have replayed the events that follow a million times in my head. I have weighed every second to determine who is truly at fault. I dream about this scenario more than I like to admit. Even when I think I have worked past it, it still affects me. The movie was playing. He leaned over and tried to kiss me, and at first I rebuffed him. I told him I was sick. I playfully gave him shit for making me leave my house. But he was persistent and I foolishly went for it. I remember thinking “maybe if I just kiss him, he will leave me alone.” It had the opposite effect. Before I could understand what was happening, he was on top of me. He was pulling down my flimsy pajama pants. I wasn’t wearing underwear. He had my shoulders pinned down and was still trying to kiss me. I was saying “no” sternly but I wasn’t screaming it. I wasn’t doing much of anything, because I was shocked. I remember thinking “this can’t actually be happening.” The entire ordeal ended as abruptly as it started. He got off of me and I ran into the bathroom that was next to the bed. I threw up immediately. I thought my heart was going to beat out of my chest. I splashed water on my face and made a plan. I exited the bedroom, grabbed my keys and ran out of the apartment building. He was calling after me. I got to my car and threw up again, this time all over myself. Then I started to cry.
I felt so ashamed and angry with myself. I thought I was such a strong woman. I figured that if I was ever in a situation like that, I would fight. I would defend my honor. I would kill a motherfucker before I allowed them to hurt me. But I had not fought. I had not screamed. It was not an epic battle where I left with my honor intact. I had been a deer in the headlights. I had been what I thought was weak. I couldn’t believe that someone I trusted, dare I even say loved as a friend, would have done this to me. I felt I couldn’t trust myself any longer. I hesitated with what to do, with who to tell because I wasn’t sure that they would even believe me. I was closest with my father, but I didn’t tell him because I knew he would have the guy killed. Keeping that secret from him is one of the things I regret most now that he is gone, because it changed our relationship.
I didn’t press charges because of my shame. The thought of having to tell a room full of people what had happened was too much for me. I didn’t go to the hospital that night either. I regret both of those decisions.
He kept trying to talk to me. He called me and he texted me repeatedly acting as if nothing had happened. One day after a manager meeting that we both had to attend, he confronted me. He was pleasant and nonchalant “What’s up, are you ignoring me?” My voice was shaking, “Do you remember the other night? I didn’t want to have sex with you. I told you no.” He laughed, “What are you saying?” Then a pause, “Are you saying I raped you?” And just like that he made me feel like the accused one. He walked away from me shaking his head. I think those were the last words we spoke to one another.
In the days and weeks after the rape, I did confide in a few people. For the most part, I did not receive the support I was looking for. No one lost any sleep over what I had told them, and it seemed that sexual assault was just another thing that people in the business were immune to. I was trying to put the entire incident behind me, but there was a problem. I was pregnant. Now you might find yourself wondering who in the fuck could be so unlucky, and I too have pondered that many times on my life.
I had an abortion. I took the pills. I ended up having an adverse reaction and my co-workers found out about the entire ordeal when I had to leave the club mid-shift on Halloween to go to the ER. I had a pro-life nurse who hurt me with a catheter, because she could. I cried alone in the hospital hooked to an IV and wondering how much this would cost me. $3780.00 roughly in money (not including therapy) and a whole lot more in terms of self-respect and dignity.
When I returned to work a few days later I was told that I needed to fill out an incident report and talk with the regional GM. I didn’t understand why I needed to do this because the incident had nothing to do with work, other than the fact that we both worked under the same umbrella corporation. I obliged and my fears were confirmed when I had to recount the ordeal to several people. At one point, one of the people I was speaking to actually made a fucking joke about how he hadn’t lasted very long. I remember nervously laughing, because I didn’t know what else to do. I still feel sick when I think about that. Once again I decided not to press charges, which was the supported decision. I did however leave the strip club very soon after that and transferred to a karaoke bar that the company partially owned. I have not worked in a strip club since then.
I’m a member of several New Orleans service industry facebook groups, and I will often get notifications when someone posts in one. A few years back I got one of those notifications, but it was my rapist who had posted. He’s apparently still out there and simply seeing his name made me sick. After our encounter, before he left New Orleans, he sexually harassed (and perhaps assaulted, though no charges were made) other women who worked with him. I was told that this is why he finally lost his job and moved away. I can’t help but feel partially responsible.
After my rape people said the following things to me:
“It might be hard for you to get people to believe you, because you’re always so flirty.”
“Why would he even rape you, if he asked you probably would have fucked him anyway.”
“Why are you having an abortion, I thought you always wanted kids.”
“There is camera footage from the clubs of you acting really slutty, and that could surely be used against you.”
“Are you sure you aren’t just overreacting.”
“Were you drunk?”
Just recently I was celebrating with a friend and we went out of town and took some psychedelics. We were messing around and everything was wonderful. Then he touched me in a certain way (I’m not even sure how) and I physically reacted before my brain could even register what was going on. He was concerned when I jolted away from him and then I had to say something. Maybe it was the drugs, or the familiarity that I have with him, but I found myself telling him about my rape. And crying. A lot. Talk about a horrible fucking date. But it made me consider just how much impact this trauma has had on me. It made me realize just how much power my shame has held over me all these years. I told him how I hated to even talk about it, and wouldn’t let him look at me while I spoke. I felt weak again but in a new way.
I used to fantasize about how differently I would have handled that situation if I had another chance. I still think about crushing all the bones in his dominant hand so that it becomes much harder for him to simply act without thought. I tried to blame the situation on his intoxication at first, but none of my other guy friends “accidentally rape” people when they are drunk. I wonder if he even understands the depth of his actions. I honestly doubt it.
I’m finally finding the strength to allow myself to be vulnerable. That being said, this is the hardest thing for me to talk about, and I’ve got some fucking tales to tell. Thankfully, I feel stronger than I have in a long time. One decade down, a lifetime to go.