On Route 96, Port Arthur is a typical, dusty, small Texas town, defined by its oil refinery. Along the highway, there’s a Super 8, a Holiday Inn, and a strip of budget hotels for travelers and business people passing through town for a night.
My parents and I were staying at one of them, though we weren’t just passing through. We had moved to Port Arthur from our home in Hawaii for three months so that my mother could take on a temporary assignment over the summer as a nurse anesthetist. I was 16 at the time. Bored by the hotel. Angry at being uprooted. At having no friends and nothing to do. I was aware that as a child of Filipino immigrants, I was different, and that the people who hung around Route 96 in Port Arthur didn’t look like me and I didn’t look like them.
I was also becoming aware of myself as a young woman. I was aware of my dark skin, my long, silky hair. I enjoyed the way my clothes fit my new form, and the way the boys around me admired me. I played with makeup to see how I could manipulate the contours of my eyes and cheeks, the shape of my lips. It felt liberating and empowering to enter this next stage of my life, to feel more like a woman than a girl.
But before that summer was over, all that would crumble, as I’d face the most disempowering experience of my life right there in that hotel. In a room, somewhere. I don’t know which one. I just know it wasn’t mine, and I wasn’t alone.
For most of the time we’d been staying at the hotel, there’d been a crew of construction workers working on a project there. They’d hang around the courtyard by the pool in the evening, drinking and laughing. I was curious. It was my first real exposure to young male bravado and testosterone. If I thought they couldn’t see me, I would peek at them through the curtains in my room. From a distance, it felt safe to just wonder about it all.
Then one night my father wanted something from the hotel lobby. He sent me for the first time, unchaperoned. I couldn’t believe it. My dad came to the states on political asylum from the Philippines in 1971, where he later met my mother who had also moved from the Philippines. Conscious of the color of their skin and religious affiliation, he and my mother had always kept a low profile, and their experiences with racism made them even more cautious of the world around them. They kept my sisters and me on a tight rein. I was always accompanied by one or both of them, no matter where I went.
That night at the hotel, I rushed to prep for my spontaneous adventure, slipping on an outfit that always made me feel beautiful: jean shorts, a baby blue tank, and platform sandals. And of course, a freshened-up pout of my favorite lip color, Revlon Schmutz. I stepped out of the room and walked down the hallway, just by myself, feeling giddy, capable and confident. The ruler of my own world.
On my way back to the hotel room, I lingered in my new freedom, feeling more in tune with the hotel’s surroundings than I had in the past several weeks that we had been there. The color of the stair railing, the plants in the courtyard. I smiled, feeling almost goofy to be walking alone with a big, toothy grin, when suddenly, someone asked my name. I recognized him—it was one of the construction workers that I had often seen in the courtyard. He was young. Blond. Rugged. His skin was red, burned from working in the sun all day. I remember thinking he was handsome.
“Adrianne. My name is Adrianne,” I replied.
And then it all goes dark.
I don’t know what happened immediately after. And I don’t think I ever will.
My next memory is of a white van. With plastic floors. I remember the plastic floors.
And then a hotel room.
Two men watching. Drinking beers.
And the heaviness of his body on top of me, and then another body, and then another. Raping me. If I close my eyes I can still feel the sweat from his neck dripping on me. I don’t remember fighting. I don’t remember even feeling scared. I remember a painting of a horse on the wall and the strokes of the brush I could see in the paint. And feeling nothing.
The next morning, a hotel guest found me, sitting on the curb in the hotel parking lot, conscious but dazed. It was a young boy, maybe 12 or 13 years old. Your dad has been looking for you, he said. I remember gazing up at the hotel, and seeing my father standing on the third floor, hands gripping the railing, as he stared out blankly into the distance ahead. His sunken eyes, the deep anguish of his fixed look. To this day, that vision of him continues to stay with me.
I was quickly taken to the hospital, where the doctor told my parents and me that I had been raped. I remember crying, and the gentle nature of another woman in the room—an advocate from the hospital’s rape crisis program, who hugged me as I sobbed. The doctor told my parents that I needed to go to the police station. So I did. With my parents. My heartbroken, traumatized parents. And that’s where I told my story, a story the men listening to did not believe. As I spoke, two middle-aged white male officers sat across from me in a cold, cinderblock room, as my father paced back-and-forth behind them. Though we sat at eye level, I felt the officers looking down on me with each disapproving question they cast my way. How old are you? Aren’t you a bit young to wear makeup? Your shorts are very short, aren’t they? Would you say you were flirting with the men? Who else even saw this?
And then these words: You need to take a polygraph test.
Those words. They made me feel like I was the one to blame. This is the same behavior that we are continuing to see today, from people in positions of authority, most recently with the vicious, new Texas state abortion law, to not only question rape victims’ stories but to treat the victims as criminals. All the while, so many rapists are getting away with these horrific and evil acts. It is a blatant war on innocent women, girls, children.
When we left the station, the officers’ questions continued to haunt me, bringing up many of my own: Was this my fault? Were my shorts too short? What if I failed the test? What was this doing to my parents? I was terrified, and I didn’t have the language at the time to communicate how I felt. The next day, when we went back to the police station to take the polygraph test, I told everyone—the police, my parents—that it was all a lie. I can still hear myself, as I choked back tears, whispering, I am so, so sorry. I’ll never forget hearing my own voice, wrapped in fear and trauma. But had anyone been listening more closely, they would have heard a child’s desperate cry for help. I wanted it all to go away.
We never pressed charges.
A few weeks later, I started a new school, in a new city in Texas, and one day, I realized that my period was late. I didn’t have the means to get a pregnancy test, but I could sense changes in my body and I knew that I was pregnant. I had no friends and no place to go. I couldn’t tell my family about it.
So in the middle of the school day, I went to Planned Parenthood on my own, where a provider told me that I had had a chemical pregnancy, an early miscarriage that usually happens before a pregnancy reaches five weeks.
It killed me knowing that I had been carrying my rapist’s baby in my body. Which of the three men it was, I didn’t even want to think about. But that feeling of relief was immense—I was grateful that the life that had been growing was no longer there. And I remember thinking, that if I had still been carrying the baby, that I would have—without a doubt—chosen to have an abortion.
I am grateful for Planned Parenthood for being there for me, and I am grateful for the safe and legal option I would have had to terminate my pregnancy if I had made that choice at the time.
Surviving this trauma has been a constant effort throughout my life. But now as a mother of a young daughter and being six months pregnant with my second, as I look at the near-total abortion ban that was passed in Texas this week, and the number of Republican governors who have already called on the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Roe vs. Wade, I feel it necessary to publicly bear my pain, and share this story for the first time, in such detail. Because no woman, and no young girl, should be treated as a criminal for deciding what is right for her body and her life. To put any person in this position, but especially one who’s been the victim of a man’s violent attack, is unconscionable.
Through all of this struggle, there is still hope in my heart. That those listening to my human pain—the men in uniform, our neighbors, our friends and family members, the men and women in judicial robes, and yes, especially the men in Congress—will understand that having the right over our own choices, our bodies, and our futures has deep implications to our lives. Not theirs—ours.
To all the survivors out there—women and girls, trans men, genderqueer, and nonbinary people, there is power in telling your truth. Even if it is hard, your truth is worth being heard, and you are worth being seen. We must fight to be visible. Through our struggle and through our solidarity, we can create a world that allows us to be free and prosper.
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