Kyla Padbury, a 24-year-old college student, was raped by a man she thought she could trust. Hoping to heal and seek justice, she tweeted her experience—and found herself part of a movement.
I was raped by a man I was dating this past May, and then he raped me again in June. In August, I decided to go public, calling out my attacker by name on Twitter. That tweet was retweeted over 200 times, which prompted two cease and desist orders from my attacker and his lawyer, filled with threats.
This all happened before news broke in October about Harvey Weinstein’s alleged sexual assaults, which gave other women the courage to publicly share their stories of rape by powerful men. It's become a topic I speak about all the time now. My initial tweets drew responses from women I knew and women I didn’t know, and even some men, all telling their own stories.
Many of them had never confided in anyone before, and they certainly never went public. I tried to help them and other survivors heal while I was still very much in the middle of my own experience—even though I hadn’t begun to facilitate my own healing and quest for justice.
Sexual assault—and the aftermath
My attacker was somebody I liked and trusted. I’d only hung out with him three times. The first rape happened in my home, and the second occurred at his friend’s house. Afterward, I didn’t want to believe that somebody I liked could hurt me. He was pushy, aggressive, and intense, but I liked him, and I thought he cared about me.
I was also in a vulnerable place, as I’d just gotten out of a long-term relationship with the man I’d thought I was going to marry. My attacker was physically aggressive and forward, and while I did consent to other sexual activities, I never agreed to sex. I never gave him consent. That boundary had been set, but he didn’t care.
I didn’t tell anyone at first. I desperately wanted to believe that the encounters were normal. I blamed myself for his actions. He was so manipulative, I didn’t understand what happened to me. I felt worthless. I was extremely depressed, and I didn’t really know why.
I tried to move on, but I found myself in the dark watching Wonder Woman a month later and I couldn’t get the experience out of my head. I described what had happened as a hypothetical scenario to a friend and asked her what that sounded like. When she told me it sounded like rape, I realized I already knew.
I decided to report the rapes to the police. I figured if this happened to me, it probably happened to others. I thought reporting him could maybe prevent him from assaulting someone else. A couple weeks later, the police had me call him and try to get a recorded confession, but he didn’t admit anything. As I waited for the investigation to move forward, I worried constantly about him violating other women.
I’m not an angry person, but at that time I saw something online in a thread about sexual assault that sent me into a little bit of a rage. Some jerk wrote, “If you don’t report your assault, you’re just as bad as people who sexually assault people.” I did report my assault, and it didn’t matter. People choose not to report because they know what the system is like. That was the final straw. I wrote my story in four tweets and tagged my attacker.
He called me right away and made threats about suing me. I had a police officer call him to tell him not to contact me anymore. A few days later, the first cease and desist letter arrived from his lawyer. It included copies of texts I had sent my attacker previously, when we were seeing each other. The lawyer tried to make the case that because I had texted him affectionately before, I had to be lying about the assault. The letter said they were going to pursue criminal and civil charges against me if I didn’t take the tweets down.
Not the only victim
I was getting varied advice from lawyers and friends about what to do. I took down the one tweet with my attacker's name in it and left all the others that told my story. I wanted my experience documented in case other women came forward with a similar assault story. Within days, I had five other women reach out to me online who had similar experiences with this guy.
The Harvey Weinstein fallout made me realize that aggressors usually don’t stop at one or two assaults. What's going on in the news right now seems to back this up; as soon as allegations are made against one powerful man, other women go public with their experience with the same man. Each time somebody comes forward, it seems like more follow.
The police told me that all five of the other women would have to file their own reports, and then the district attorney’s office would decide if they wanted to prosecute. It’s not my job to pressure other survivors to report, and ultimately the other women declined to speak to the police. Their thinking was, reporting their assaults so long after the fact probably wouldn’t accomplish very much.
I’ve spent time with three of the five other women he assaulted; I’m glad we have each other. We can trade experiences so we don’t have to feel crazy anymore. We are each other’s source of validation, since we have a court system that doesn’t work for victims.
I live in a pretty tight-knit community. My attacker and I are members of the same church. A lot of people know his name now, and our church leaders know about what he did. At least those within my sphere of influence will hopefully be safe from him. I told a lot of friends, but I didn't tell my parents until I wrote those tweets. I had felt like the rapes were my fault, and it was a long road to not blaming myself and recognizing the experience for what it was.
It was pretty amazing to see the #MeToo movement start. Many women I’d been in contact with who hadn’t gone public did at that time, even if it was just writing “me too” without details. It was cool to see this issue being discussed by people who wouldn’t normally talk about it, especially men. After what happened to me, I started talking about it all the time. I haven’t stopped.
Healing—and helping others
It's been months since my rapes, yet I find it hard to trust men now. I can’t remember the last time I had more than four or five hours of sleep each night. I’m privileged enough so that I can pay to see a therapist and take medication. I can afford to cut back my hours at work. I was lucky that I didn’t lose a lot of close friends over this, but I have made a point of cutting off people who don’t believe me or who were neutral. I would highly recommend that to other survivors.
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I’ve been called a liar. People have said that I’m just seeking attention and trying to ruin his life. I still get harassed online. I’ve relived the worst nights of my life over and over, for police officers, lawyers, church leaders, and my online following. I am constantly exposed when I talk about how I was victimized.
But I believe when you magnify your voice, it helps people feel less alone, even if they’re not ready or willing to tell their own story. I don’t regret doing this publicly. Maybe if we keep talking about rape and sexual assault, and working to believe victims, there will be fewer attacks like mine. I think survivors benefit from telling someone, even if it’s just one person, and letting others support them, whether you report or not. I wish there was more to do than believe each other and support each other.