rape, sexual violence, rape prevention, "until you've been raped"

You Have No Idea

By Brittany “Beebs” Burton

Until you’ve been raped, you have no idea what it’s like.

You don’t know what it’s like to walk into a crowded room and automatically note where the exits are, just in case someone decides to attack you.

You have no idea how guilty it feels to be grateful that your amazing new boss has a secretary. Because at least that means there’s someone there to hear you scream.

You have no idea what it’s like to hear someone say the word: r-a-p-e. How much it actually. physically. hurts. The acid you have to swallow back down. What kind of images it brings to the front of your mind. Images you thought you had pushed so far back they’d fall out. Images that make you realize, in that second, he is burned into your memory. Images that will be there on your birthday, and your holidays, on your wedding day, and every other normal day in between. Images that will never leave.

You have no idea how horrible it is to have to present about sexual assault to rooms full of people. How hard you’ll try to convince them that they should just be decent  and kind. But you’ll do it. Because you’re scared that if you don’t, no one else will. And then how will they ever learn?

You have no idea how terrifying it is to think that if someone else had felt as passionately as I do now, back then, I might have had no reason to be writing this essay. That I could be sleeping without these reoccurring nightmares and making love without fear.  And that I could be crying for people and things far more pressing than some boy who wouldn’t listen when I said no.

You have no idea how much it pains me to remember myself as one of those people who assumed I’d never have to worry about it or that it didn’t matter. Mostly because I grew up in the same rape culture as you, but also because we don’t consider that bad things ever happen to “good” people.

You’ll never know how many times I’ve questioned what I could have done differently. If maybe I deserved it or had it coming. You have no idea how many times someone can replay the details of ten minutes in time. You’ll never get why I do any of the things I do, or say the things I say. Why I’m so dramatic and moody one minute, and lighthearted the next. And you’ll probably think, at least once, that I’m a psychopath.

You have no idea how exhausting it is to feel this way. To get so emotional about a stupid comment, or a situation, or one word. When you feel like screaming and crying and talking and falling, all at the same time. But all you can do is put your head down and pray to a God that you’re not even certain exists anymore, for things to get better, for things to change.

You don’t know what it’s like to consider your life ahead, to plan accordingly. To wish for only boys when you have children so you can teach them to behave like gentlemen. To wish for no girls, because God forbid they ever have to live in a world where it’s normal for a woman to feel the way I feel.

You have no idea how defeating it is to hear universities tell their students that they can take rape defense classes, to know that they provide education on how to “party smart,” and that they teach girls to “respect themselves so others will respect them too.” But that they don’t teach a class for men on how raping someone ruins a victim’s life.

You have no idea how frustrating it is when people–strangers, family, and friends–tell you to find something you’re passionate about. To “be the change you want to see in the world,” but then have them shut you out, or judge you, when you try. To be the one they look at and pity, to be the one that makes them uncomfortable, or to be the one who forces them to recognize the realities of these crimes.

And most importantly, you have no idea what it feels like to write this. And don’t get me wrong, no one should have to. But so many of us do.


rape, sexual violence, rape prevention, "until you've been raped"Brittany “Beebs” Burton is currently a Residence Director at Lake Forest College in Illinois. A survivor of sexual assault, Brittany works with universities to prevent sexual misconduct on college campuses by researching, writing, and presenting to students, community members, and peers. She has been previously published in Perspectives, an Upper Mid-West Region Association of College and University Housing Officers (UMR-ACUHO) seasonal magazine, discussing women’s issues in the 2012 presidential election and the appropriate ways to educate students on political platforms. Brittany has also presented her thesis research on benchmarking institutional sexual misconduct policies and procedures at the UMR-ACUHO annual conference, to her colleagues in the profession of Student Affairs.


  1. Lizzie

    August 21, 2013 at 11:55 am


    All I can muster up is “Thank you.” Your piece brought me to tears as I fell in-step with each emotion and experience you shared. My rape happened over 3 years ago and I am still seeking outlets and ways to cope with my stress, triggers, and emotional roller coaster moments. I’ve spent so much time trying to hide how I’ve been feeling and putting on a stronger mask so that others won’t pry. After reading this article, I realize how important it is to let others in, and to properly grieve and address my rape–not giving an absolute f%^& what others think of my process.

    I cannot thank you enough.

  2. Chip

    August 21, 2013 at 4:41 pm

    Brittany, what a great message you have written here, so many people focus on the statistics of rape and sexual assault and don’t focus on the people themselves. It’s awful that we live in a world where women have to be afraid of walking by themselves. Or that women should have to worry about whether or not there is something put in the drink handed to them. It’s awful that we have people who are so selfish that they would rather hurt than love just in order to get a feeling of accomplishment. Just know that there are those of us who truly want to make this world a better place and who will be fighting right alongside you.

  3. Anne

    August 21, 2013 at 4:43 pm

    I love you Beebs! You are an inspiration and I am lucky to have had the opportunity to get to know you. I hope we will be able to see each other again soon. I think I need to arrange a trip to see my family in Chicago and you will be on my list of people to see 🙂

  4. Pam

    August 21, 2013 at 9:50 pm

    Britt, you a one powerfully strong woman. Thank you for sharing. Victims of abuse need outspoken people like you to advocate for them. Some are just too stressed and you are the God send. I am very proud of you.

  5. Katherine

    August 22, 2013 at 9:26 am

    Thank you. Mine happened over thirty years ago. I married, had a child, was widowed. Life continued and to all outside views, I am absolutely fine. But. It is there. It is always there.

    And most people? Have no idea.

    Thank you.

  6. pretzel_salt

    August 22, 2013 at 9:41 am

    Thank you very much for writing this powerful and eloquent piece: I have never read anything quite like it. It inspires me to also always try to speak my truths, even in the face of dismissal. I will share this with my friends.

  7. Demetria

    August 24, 2013 at 10:31 am

    Thank you for your vulnerability. You words have so much power. Know that you are surrounded by love and definitely supported! xo.

  8. Jane

    August 24, 2013 at 11:12 am

    Thank you so much for sharing! I was raped nearly 25 years ago. Only in the last few years have I been able to talk about it and not feel fear anymore. Don’t get me wrong I still get flashbacks and have asked myself “what if” a million and one times. We need more voices to speak up and silence the naysayers and those who have never walked in our shoes.

  9. Pingback: date rape, aftermath, rape on college campuses | The Feminist Wire

  10. Peter Everts

    August 26, 2013 at 11:36 am

    Thank you for sharing a terrible and altering experience. The violation of a person by another person is the ultimate violation of humanity. Personally, I believe it begs the death penalty. Condemnation of rape and dismissal of any “excuse” must be supported by society and law and universal shame attached to perpetrators without exception. “Good old boy” bullshit must be exposed as the violent, misogynist garbage it has always been.