When Sexual Assault Goes Viral

Art courtesy of Jessica Burkle, WTF Assistant Art Director

On October 16th, the day after the #MeToo movement’s second anniversary as a viral phenomenon, I decided to post a poem about my own experience on Twitter. In all honesty, when I put my story out there, I never considered what could happen. To me, it was something that I needed to do in order to move on, and something that I wanted because I was proud of my poem. I thought it would be seen by the same few people that usually look at my tweets, but somewhere along the way I ended up with 120,000 impressions in a few days. I knew that my life was forever changed. 

The response was not something that happened instantly; it took a few days for my words to reach people, but once they did, I was flooded with notifications. I received endless messages of support, ranging from my friends to people I had never met before. Yet, since Puerto Rico is such a small place, when something as rarely spoken of as sexual assault is revealed people become pseudo-detectives and try to piece the story together themselves. This is how I found myself staring at his face on my feed, his picture captioned with his name, and the message “Rapist, pedophile, manipulator, abuser, liar.” 

I was shaken to my core. I had never said his name, yet people managed to figure out who he is and I had to see his face and name more than a thousand times as people retweeted the post; even on my good days, I can still barely stand to say his name. It turns out the woman who had made the post, an ex-girlfriend of my brother’s, was also assaulted by him. A couple of other girls also shared their stories in the comments under his picture; everyone knew. 

The scariest thing was the girls in my DMs telling me that he too had assaulted them, one even saying he had raped her, and I felt extremely guilty because these assaults all had happened after mine; I felt as if in my silence I had enabled him, but they didn’t see it that way. These women all thanked me for coming forward with my story, some glad that they could walk down the streets safe again, since he won’t likely show his face in public after his crimes were exposed. Their forgiveness healed something in me that had been hurting for a long time. 

It was also really hard to see people I once cared about defending him, saying things like “he didn’t rape her, he only touched her,” or to see grown adults asking why I didn’t go to the police or why I took so long to say anything, or even strangers saying things like “women love to tear men down.” Yet, amazingly enough, every time I stumbled upon one of these remarks, I would read the replies and see at least half a dozen people defending me. I don’t think I would have been able to handle the responses without the friends, acquaintances, and strangers that were there for me, telling me that I owed no one explanations and helping me fight my battles when the pressure became overwhelming.

Now, a few weeks after this all settled down, I can’t help but feel a sense of  vulnerability; I know that everyone knows my biggest secret, but I also feel free. I now know that I can go out with my friends without looking over my shoulder in constant fear, or that I won’t see his face again for a long time. Taking justice into my own hands was the best path for me, but it angers me to no end that I had to resort to that, that the justice system is so broken that from a very young age I understood that they would do nothing for me or people who have gone through similar experiences. Furthermore, I cannot help the anger that rises within me at the knowledge that despite the fact that there are many women with stories about this man, he will never face consequences. He’ll still be allowed to walk down the streets a free man, but we will always have to live with what he did to us. 

Cry all you want, it won’t change what you did

By Rocío Cuesta

I heard you cried

at least, that’s what my mom said. 

Certainly, that helped me find some relief

which was visible in how my shoulders slumped

almost like someone finally cut the strings

that had kept me imprisoned; 

your hollow puppet,

tense, tied to you since age 9

I do not feel guilt for my relief at your tears, No,

because for years I knew your acts were vile,

but as the days went by,

the weeks,

the months,

the  y e a r s,

Doubt crept in. 

As the memories began to blend together,

as the loops replaying in my mind remained 

ignored, unaddressed, unconfirmed,

and you would play the part of an innocent, 

much like I once was 

I began to wonder…

Was I exaggerating?

Is all my trauma based on the melodrama 

of a child?

Only to meet your gaze

and feel ice, gathering in my veins,

and the ghost of your hands,

of your cruel fingers,

exploring, without permission or remorse,

both condemning and reassuring me of the simple truth;

It was real,

It was all real.

Only for this to restart the loop. 

So to hear you cried? That after my mother told your parents, they confronted you together, and your first words were a plea? That instead of even attempting to deny, you begged your parents not to tell your siblings what you did? Well, I feel no pity for your display, just as you certainly felt no pity for me as you stole my childhood, my joy, my sanity. You had no qualms when it came to your late night visits to my room, you didn’t care that my brother opened up our house to you, that everyone treated you like part of the family, that since childhood, you celebrated your birthdays at the same party, proudly stating that you were best friends forever. No, you clearly cared about none of that if you were willing to take all that you did. 

So, cry all you want, I certainly did

for years, in the darkness of my room. 

I’d like to say safety, 

but you took that from me too. 

You’re the reason why I have a lock on my door. 

And why, even now, I sometimes can’t sleep without it

even if I know there’s no one at home. 

You’re the reason that I spend,

even now, 

when I’m out with my friends,

most of my time looking over my shoulder

with my feet light, 

ready to run

if, as I catalogue the faces of the men nearby,

I happen to see yours.

It has never been your eyes looking back at mine,

but I can never shake off the feeling that this time might be the one

so, every few minutes,

I find myself looking around,

and I never know I’m looking for you

until I feel an exhale escapes my lips

and I can finally relax… 

For the next few minutes

before I start looking over my shoulder once again. 

You’re also the reason that when I go out to eat,

I always have to take the seat 

that points to the door. 

And I just sit there,

basking in the joy that comes along

with being out with my friends, feeling like I belong.

In these moments,

when I’m truly happy,

I feel it vibrating 

through every bone in my body

Radiating

through every cell,

and I think

You don’t have power over me anymore

And I believe it. 

But then, 

someone approaches the door

and I find my eyes straying to it, 

my body tensing in anticipation,

my brain instantly thinking 

it will be your face that makes its way in.

You’re the reason I will always be on edge, 

never a reprieve in sight,

because if I see someone that looks like you

or simply hear your name, the result is always the same:

it feels like someone poured a bucket of ice over me,

the cold, permeating my skin

finding every atom of my being

and making a home in the space in between; 

I freeze. 

I wish I could say

if I ever saw you, I’d be strong.

That I would march up to you,

and in front of all of your friends and girlfriend,

I’d ask you to leave,

but not before turning to them and asking 

“Did you know your dear friend likes to molest little girls?”

And see you crumble,

but… I don’t think I could. 

Hell, I didn’t even have the strength to tell your dad to stop

as he was hugging me, 

telling me how beautiful I grew up. 

I wanted to lash out, 

to scream at him for having the nerve to touch me 

after everything his blood has put me through. 

I know it’s not his fault…

That he even took my side against you,

Promising to make sure you’d keep your distance. 

I’ve digressed, I guess. 

The point is, 

I don’t feel guilt for my joy

at your breakdown. 

My days of guilt are over. 

Well, maybe not completely

because a part of this,

of what you did,

that I think will never leave me

is the horrific guilt at… 

what is probably my biggest question:

Am I the only one? 

No, 

I don’t think that I am. 

After all, a lot of your other close friends have little sisters too

so maybe, 

Probably…

you did to them what you best know how to do.

And for that, I don’t think my guilt will ever leave

because I now see

That in being silent,

I was complicit in helping you.

But then again, I was a child;

What else could I do?

I’ve done it again…

I do, however, 

feel something dark, deep in the pit of my stomach;

settling there,

making its home in the tundra of negativity 

that you built within me. 

Because it makes me incredibly and indescribably furious

that you had the audacity to cry 

as if you were the one haunted

by nightmares,

by memories. 

As if you were the one who was hurt. 

That angry part of me wants to lash out

because who the hell gave you the right?

Even now, 

after everything,

you won’t face any consequences. 

You had 7 years of my silence,

and even now that I broke it, 

after having to talk through every detail,

with the words tasting like acid on my tongue,

like somehow I was the one betraying you;

Nothing will happen to you. 

You didn’t deny what you did,

but we live in a world 

where a court would rather believe the now 25-year-old man’s words

to the ever fading memories that belonged to a 9-year-old girl. 

The proof has long since been washed away; 

you still have a “bright future” ahead,

you could be the next Brett Kavanaugh,

and I?

I would be left defenseless,

watching you rise.

So tell me,

Why the fuck do you cry?


Rocío Cuesta

Staff Writer, What The F Magazine

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