Reporting My Rape Traumatized Me More Than the Assault Itself

Courtesy of Kaitlyn Rosati

Content warning: The following story contains mentions of sexual assault and suicide.

“I’m afraid if I don’t cry, they’re going to think I’m lying, and if I cry, I’m going to appear too emotional,” I nervously said to Meena*, an assistant district attorney.

It had been four months since I found videos online of myself being raped by my ex. In July 2019, the morning I returned to New York from a six-month solo backpacking trip, I woke up to an Instagram message from someone I had met while traveling in Hungary. “Hey, I think this is you,” he said, with a link attached. When I clicked, I found a nonconsensual pornographic video of myself. I knew this had been posted by my ex, Jason, whom I had broken up with the year before. Immediately fueled by rage, I googled “revenge porn lawyer nyc” and called the first one that came up. Having just returned from backpacking around the globe, I wasn’t quite in the financial position to be hiring an attorney, but I whipped out my emergency credit card to pay the $5,000 retainer.

My private attorney told me I could proceed with the criminal route and either go to the police or the District Attorney’s office. But my understanding after that conversation was that the police often don’t believe victims, and that was all I needed to hear to choose to go to the DA.

Fast forward to November 2019, and I was waiting to testify in front of a grand jury at the Kings County DA’s office in downtown Brooklyn.

Jason had no idea I was doing this, so the videos remained on PornHub while the DA and I collected evidence and built a case behind his back. If the grand jury believed me and determined there was enough evidence of his crime, a warrant would go out, and he would eventually be arrested.

I didn’t know it then, but this was just the first obstacle of a tumultuous, two-year legal battle – one that would become the biggest fight of my life.

But before I entered the courtroom, ADA Meena asked me to do one more thing. My perpetrator had cut and edited the video into various clips, so I had to watch the videos in front of the ADA to identify which video was “Tight little pussy” and which was “Fucking my girlfriend’s tight little pussy” when she referred to them by their titles in court. After watching the videos, I signed a paper saying I knew the differences between each.

Shortly after, I took the stand. I was asked to raise my right hand and say and spell my name.

“K-A-I . . .” was as far as I got to spelling “Kaitlyn” before the tears started flooding.

When I finished testifying, ADA Meena approached me with a woman I had never seen before, who would become my new ADA. This is when I learned ADA Meena was leaving the office in six weeks, and my case was being transferred. The news felt like a sucker punch to the gut; I was losing the person who had helped build my case and had been my main line of communication and support to date.

After a few days, the grand jury decided there was enough evidence to move forward with the charges, and my understanding was that Jason would soon be arrested.

However, six weeks later, it was ADA Meena’s last day, and he had not yet been arrested. My case was transferred to that new ADA, who I then learned was also leaving, so my case would, once again, be transferred to a third undisclosed ADA.

I didn’t know it then, but this was just the first obstacle of a tumultuous, two-year legal battle – one that would become the biggest fight of my life.

Weeks passed. Christmas came and went, 2020 rang in, and I heard nothing. I stayed up late every night googling his name with the words “arrest,” “rape,” “Kings County,” and “Brooklyn.” Nothing. I convinced myself that maybe they just forgot to tell me he was arrested.

In late January, nearly three months after I testified and more than seven months since I had reported, my videos remained online, Jason remained free, and I remained left in the dark.

I finally called the DA’s office and demanded answers. I had no idea who my ADA was at that point, and as far as I knew, Jason had not been arrested. I started to question the logic in testifying. I imagined my case file – a big manila folder containing my deepest wounds and darkest days – sitting on a desk collecting dust. What was the point in using my voice to speak my truth in court if it was going to be completely ignored?

Advocating for myself was exhausting, but calling the DA’s office worked. I was finally assigned a third ADA. She assured me an arrest would happen soon.

On Feb. 7, I finally got a call from a “No Caller ID” number. An NYPD officer was calling with an arrest warrant for Jason. He asked me general questions about his appearance, and I answered. He then asked where he might hang out, and I told him I wasn’t sure, but I could try to find out. He replied that he didn’t want this to become a witch hunt.

Our call ended, but almost immediately, he was calling back. This time, he sounded angry. He asked why I went over their heads, why I went to the DA and not them. Taken aback, I told him I didn’t know what to do when I found the video. He then asked, “Are you sure you want to go through with this?”

Shock came over me. I was appalled, insulted, and seething with so much rage that I didn’t know how to respond to him.

Finally, on Valentine’s Day of 2020, a whole week after the phone call with the police officer, Jason was arrested. I didn’t know when exactly it would be happening, but I got a text from the arresting officer that he had been “apprehended.”

I also soon learned that instead of being held in jail, Jason was released immediately on his own recognizance, a word I had to google when I was told this happened. No one had ever mentioned that this would even be a possibility, and he now was free, knowing that I was the one who got him arrested since, upon arrest, he had to sign an order of protection stating he would not contact me. I was the reason he was being charged with five felonies and three misdemeanors, with the most serious being rape in the first degree. What would stop him from coming after me?

Fearing for my life, I once again whipped out my emergency credit card to live out of a hotel. I assumed I was safer there than in my own apartment. My new ADA had told me the time between the arrest and sentencing was the “most dangerous” for a victim. She advised me to be “extra vigilant.” Vigilant? What did they want me to do? Hire a bodyguard?

His first court date was set for March 19, 2020, so on March 16, when the entire city shut down because of the pandemic, I correctly assumed court was not happening. But when it was rescheduled to May, then June, then August, and again for Oct. 1 – the day I was in a doctor’s office being prescribed Lexapro – I couldn’t help but wonder why I even reported the incident. Why put myself through this? Jason was able to live a free life, while I was being diagnosed with severe depression, severe anxiety, and PTSD, a mental illness that would affect me for the rest of my life.

The Oct. 1 date was then rescheduled to late November, and the night before, I got an email stating my ADA was changing for the fourth time. My expectations were low, but to my surprise, Jason finally had his first court appearance the next day. Afterwards, my new ADA called me and asked, “What would justice look like to you?”

I couldn’t help but laugh. Justice was a foreign concept. Justice would have been not living my life the past 16 months in purgatory, between a state of not wanting to be alive but also not quite wanting to die. Justice would have been getting a phone call to keep me updated on changed court dates instead of looking up the information online myself. Justice would have been arresting him sooner after I testified in front of a grand jury, at that point more than a year ago. Justice would have been this never having happened.

In February 2021, I learned that finally, a plea deal was offered to Jason. The DA offered to drop every charge except rape in the first degree in exchange for five years in prison and registering as a sex offender.

Before I could pop a bottle of champagne at the prospect of him behind bars, my resurrected hope was interrupted by learning Jason was exploring the possibility of hiring a private investigator. The ADA told me this was fairly standard, and my private attorney told me that because there was so much evidence against him, one of his best options was to try to destroy my credibility.

Then, one morning in late March, my private attorney called me. I was notified that Jason had died by suicide. Just like that, my almost-two-year legal battle was over.

When the case ended so abruptly, I felt a strong sense of abandonment. There would be no more attorney phone calls (or lack thereof), no more updates, no more waiting and wondering how this was going to end. How was I, with the blink of an eye, supposed to go back to who I once was, how my life once was?

From the day I found the video to the day I learned of Jason’s suicide, my body had gone through the wringer. Not only had I been violated beyond belief for the entire world to see, but I gained close to 70 pounds, lost hair to the point of balding, and got on antidepressants. I became irritable, defensive, and extremely paranoid. I didn’t want to be in my own body anymore. I stopped recognizing myself.

As time has passed, I’ve realized my bigger scars are not from the assault, but from reporting.

As time has passed, I’ve realized my bigger scars are not from the assault, but from reporting. When I first found the video, my instinct told me to hire an attorney, so I did. Jason did something wrong, so I would sue him, and he would either go to jail or have to pay me a lot of money. I did not know that by moving forward with the DA’s office, I was in effect agreeing to put myself through a process that would re-traumatize me over and over and over again. I had no idea a police officer would ask me questions that would make me feel I was ruining Jason’s life, that I would have to ask a friend to help me download my own rape videos onto a hard drive just so I could relive the trauma by rewatching and identifying them with the ADA. I didn’t know I’d have to dig up memories from a severely abusive relationship to recount them to an ADA, while simultaneously being careful about everything I said because she represented the state, not me, and any information I provided could potentially be used against me. I had no idea someone would possibly hire a private investigator to surveil me, making me too paranoid to send a text message.

According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), two out of three sexual assaults go unreported. I thought by reporting what happened to me, I was doing the right thing. Surely, with all of the evidence – videos, his profile picture attached to his PornHub account, and an IP address pointing directly to him – it would be smooth sailing. Instead, when I went to authorities for help, it would end up feeling like they took gallons of gasoline, doused my old life, and set it on fire. Five years later, I’m still left wafting away the smoke. And I’m considered lucky to have made it as far as I did; not many people can say their rapist gets arrested. When a system is broken, you can have neatly stacked evidence, witnesses, and be the “perfect” victim, and it still won’t be enough to efficiently find “justice.”

In the early days of my case, I once said justice would be him never getting to do this to anyone ever again. On one hand, I got that. But at what cost? He’s gone, but it almost killed me, too. I have since learned that justice in the hands of others, especially the legal system, is merely a concept.

Justice means something different for everyone, and for me, I found justice in myself. For close to two years, waiting on the system dictated and narrated every aspect of my life. Now, I wake up every day and choose myself. I’m traveling again, I enjoy eating again, I’m able to sleep without being interrupted by nightmares of Jason trying to hurt me.

I never thought I’d see the day my case ended, and yet, here I am. I survived it, and I’m still surviving every single day.

*Names have been changed

Related: The Adult Survivors Act Allowed More People to File Sex-Abuse Suits. Here’s 1 Woman’s Story.

Kaitlyn Rosati is a food and travel journalist. Previously, she interned for UN Women and briefly attended law school, both of which were largely fueled by her advocacy for victims of gender-based violence. While these days Kaitlyn’s work focuses more on finding the best hidden dining gems at various destinations around the globe, she still speaks at universities and college campuses to raise awareness about sexual violence, particularly cyber sexual abuse.

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