Last week on Fusion's Graphic Culture section, we published a nonfiction comic I drew about my friend's college rape and phone call from her assailant some 33 years later (“The phone rang. It was my college rapist.” March 10, 2015). Within just a few hours of posting, traffic began to spike, quickly elevating the piece to the top-performing position on the site.
The response to the story, I'm glad to report, has been overwhelmingly positive. The woman portrayed in the comic, whom I've called Alison, is aware of the story's popularity and heartened by the mostly-encouraging feedback. Several people have written to say “Alison is awesome” or have asked me to “Thank Alison for sharing her story." I have passed those sentiments along.
Some reactions have been tinged with sadness: since the comic was published, several people have confided in me that they, too, have been victims of sexual assault. One friend, just a few years older than Alison, recalled going out on a date with a co-worker in the 1960s, only to be assaulted in her apartment following dinner. (She had to work alongside him for a year afterwards.) A 19-year-old college freshman wrote to tell me of the assault she suffered before the current school year began. Though she wasn't drugged like Alison – her assailant simply overpowered her – there was a similarity to the comic in that her rapist contacted her again, sending her a text message saying, “hey let's fuck when you're in town.” She wrote to me, “Your comic allowed me to finally tell my parents after months of hiding it from everyone.”
There were, of course, a few negative comments here and there. Some have questioned the decision to keep the subjects of the comic anonymous. As noted, the story was not intended to incriminate a specific individual, but to raise awareness of an issue. As with so many of these cases, my friend has no “evidence.” It's not like I can call Carl up and ask: “Can you confirm for me that you drugged Alison's drink and raped her in the '70s, then called her three decades later to masturbate to the sound of her voice?” I doubt such a conversation would produce much useful information. But such limitations and realities don't mean Alison's story shouldn't be told.
A handful of individuals have insinuated that the story is made up, or that it should be treated with extreme skepticism, giving me a small taste of what it must feel like for victims of sexual assault who face doubt or outright hostility for reporting the crimes against them. Some see the comic as Alison attempting to enact a grudge against a man for other reasons, which makes little to no sense – after all, why would she approach me to tell this story anonymously? These reactions reflect the reality that many rape victims, no matter what they do, find themselves in no-win situations.
Fortunately, I've never been sexually assaulted. And because many of those around us understandably choose not to talk about their experiences, it might be easy to think that rape is a relatively rare occurrence. It's not. And, thanks to much of the feedback I've received, I think it's safe to say sexual assault is more common than many of us would like to believe.