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I confronted my rapist after 14 years. Here's what he had to say...

Jeannie Vanasco was raped by her close friend when she was 19.

08 Oct 2019

Being raped by someone you care deeply about - and trust - is unthinkable. For Jeannie Vanasco, it was a horrific reality. At 19, Jeannie was raped by one of her closest high school friends, a boy named 'Mark'. “You’re dreaming,” she remembers him saying over and over again as he sexually penetrated her whilst she lay sobbing. Now, for the first time since college, Jeannie has confronted her former friend about the incident 14 years ago and penned a book about her experience. Mark agrees to talk on the record and meet in person. "It's the least I can do," he says.

In Things We Didn't Talk About When I Was a Girl, Jeannie details her friendship with Mark before and after the assault, asking the brave and urgent question: Is it possible for a good person to commit a terrible act? Jeannie interviews Mark, exploring how rape has impacted his life as well as her own. She examines the language surrounding sexual assault and pushes against its confines, contributing to and deepening the #MeToo discussion.

Within her memoir, Jeannie examines and dismantles long-held myths of victimhood, rape and the trauma of sexual violence. Here, she shares an extract with GLAMOUR.

Theresa Keil Photography

I’ll call him Mark. Mark had been my best friend throughout high school and into college. When we were nineteen, he carried me, passed out from drinking at a party upstairs, into his basement room. I woke up, on his bed, to him pulling off my jeans and underwear. He told me I was dreaming; his fingers pressed so far inside me I felt dizzy. I felt scared.
“It’s okay,” he said while I cried. “It’s okay. Everything is going to be okay.”

He sounded like he was putting a child to sleep. I told myself this was happening to someone else.

He took his fingers out of me and started masturbating over me.
I briefly opened my eyes. The way his eyes fixed on nothing, he looked blind.

After he finished, he stumbled away. I slowly sat up, looked around. He was passed out on a cot, or a couch, in the corner. I got dressed, ran upstairs, and found my friend Amber. I told her what had happened.

“That’s rape,” she said.

“No, it’s not,” I said. “He only used his fingers.”

The following day, or maybe a few days later, he apologized. He said he’d been really drunk. I quickly said I forgave him. And for the next fourteen years, I avoided him.

And then: Trump.

After the release of the Access Hollywood tape—where Trump brags about sexually assaulting women (“When you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.”)—my nightmares about Mark worsened.

I believed, or at least hoped, that Mark might actually admit, on record, what he did—unlike the teacher who sexually assaulted me in high school, or the friend who raped me in my twenties. And a book would give me a concrete reason to interview Mark, interrogate Mark, confirm that Mark felt terrible—because if he felt terrible, then our friendship mattered to him. And I missed him. I missed the friendship we once had. I suspected he did too.

Also, I wanted him to describe the assault as significant—because if he did, I might stop feeling ashamed about the occasional flashbacks and nightmares. Over the years, I questioned whether my feelings were too big for the crime. I often reminded myself, He only used his fingers. Sure, I could have censored my antiquated, patriarchal logic (sexual assault only matters if the man says it matters), but I wanted to be honest in my memoir—because I doubted I was the only woman sexually assaulted by a friend and confused about her feelings.

And then, before calling Mark, I learned about a new definition of rape. Mark assaulted me in 2003. Back then, according to the FBI’s definition of rape (the carnal knowledge of a female, forcibly and against her will), Mark hadn’t raped me. As of January 1, 2013, however, according to the FBI, Mark had raped me. The new definition: Penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.

The definition had changed, but the action remained the same. I still felt uncomfortable labeling it rape.

I called Mark, told him that I was writing a book about that night, and he agreed to speak on the record.

“It’s the least I can do,” he said.

I eventually—during our second phone conversation—told him the new definition. I told him that I’d been thinking so much about his body, what part he used, that I hadn’t considered my body, the part that he violated.

“I’m sort of processing being, legally speaking, a rapist,” he said.

“Which I’m not proud of. Yeah. So, which I guess is fair.”

From then on, when we spoke, he used the word rape.

“It’s so messed up,” I told him, “that I feel grateful to you for acknowledging your betrayal of me and agreeing to all this.”

“You can be,” he said, “but you don’t have to be grateful to me.”

I’m still sorting through my feelings. I wish I could say I found resolution. But I can say this: I no longer make excuses for him. I no longer blame myself.

He admitted, “I knew what I was doing was wrong while I was doing it, and I did it anyway.”

I blame him.

If you've experienced sexual violence of any kind, please visit Rape Crisis or call 0808 802 9999.