Monthly Archives: February 2017

Sick as Secrets

Lena told me that a fellow student at our affluent and well-regarded district high school raped her friend Shelley (not her real name). I am hoping that Shelley’s parents will somehow find this post, recognize their daughter in it, and reach out to her without judgment.  In Shelley’s view confiding in anyone about this trauma is a step down the slippery slope of having her parents find out, which feels to her like the worst thing in the world. But as I write this I am betting that her parents love her more than she understands and will find a way to help her heal.

I have to admit that I don’t know exactly why Shelley is so afraid to confide in her parents. I have never met Shelley but I do understand that we keep secrets for all kinds of reasons–for example:

  • because we are afraid of being rejected by others.
  • because telling the truth will make us appear sick, weak, or inadequate.
  • to protect ourselves.
  • to protect others that we love.
  • to keep from getting into trouble with others or with the law.
  • to avoid feeling painful feelings such as rage, terror, grief, guilt or shame.
  • because of loyalty.
  • because we have been threatened with some punishment if we tell.
  • We keep secrets from ourselves when the secret is out of character for the person we want to be. (Source:

I’ve known Lena to keep secrets from me, and for that reason (alongside many others!) I understand that I am not in a position to judge other parents.

What Happened

I think you will gather from what I write that Shelley was soaking in pain before the apparent rape. Smoking weed (quite possibly laced with something else) until limbs turn to rubber and speech slurs almost beyond intelligibility—needless to say, when kids feel a need to alter their normal consciousness to this extent, they are finding something hard to face. But imagine the fresh stab of pain, shame, and abandonment after this incident with Brian (not his real name), how much more toxic her secrets have become for her, how much less likely it must feel to her that anyone can help.

Here is what Lena says happened, as told her by Shelley. Shelley got together with a few trusted friends and they got really stoned. In their debilitated haze, the kids decided to walk over to Brian’s house. In spite of considering Brian kind of unsavory (she had told Lena this on several occasions) Shelley followed along.

While lying on a sofa at Brian’s, Shelley’s body began to feel rubbery and her speech became slurred. She was much more stoned than she thought. Brian commanded her to get off the sofa. With her phone, she filmed him standing over her telling her to get up. In the film she told him to get lost. He didn’t get lost. He picked her up, allowing the phone to drop to the floor. He brought her upstairs. He put her on the bed and took her clothes off. He took his own clothes off. She tried without success to tell him to stop but he did not listen. He raped her. Her body was not obeying her and, though he is not a large person, she was unable to fend him off.

Shelley did not confide this to any of the kids with whom she got high that night. She told only Lena, who was horrified. Lena already couldn’t stand Brian. She has known him since middle school and she thinks he is a sexist bastard, quick to demean feminism and women’s rights, ever prepared to “mansplain” gender roles. He has hit on Lena whilst fixating on the size of her breasts. He has followed her around when she was in the company of queer friends, hoping (they assumed) to catch them in some kind of act. While still in middle school he humiliated Lena by spreading rumors that she was hitting on him, which she denies.

I hopefully inquire whether Shelley might be willing to talk to me about what happened, but not surprisingly the answer is no. Apparently, Shelley is generally low on trust for adults. She certainly doesn’t want to have to explain the weed  to anyone.

Brian, on the other hand, is not keeping this a secret. He spreads around that he has slept with Shelley five times, the first time well before Shelley and her friends ended up at his house that night.  Shelley denies this and Lena is convinced that Brian is the one who is lying.

Lena is distraught but she feels that her hands are tied.  She confides the story in her history teacher, Ms. Deutch, who in turn tells Dr. Y.

I love Dr. Y. I don’t know that many other high school principals but I am convinced that a cooler one, one more interested in the welfare of students and dedicated to creating an environment to serve their wellbeing, couldn’t possibly exist. Dr. Y calls Shelley into her office. She apprises Shelley that Shelley could press charges against Brian, that the violation was that serious.  But Shelley doesn’t recognize Dr. Y’s concern for her. Shelley is furious with Lena for exposing her to adult scrutiny.  In an added layer to her dilemma, Shelley also feels responsible to protect Brian from getting into trouble for raping her.

Lena herself is pretty beat up by this situation. I assure her that she showed her care and love by confiding in Ms. Deutch, and that the message that this could rightfully end up a police matter might at the very least combat Shelley’s own trivialization of a terrible wrong.

Shelley is, unfortunately, one of many teens who feels too alienated from her parents to request desperately needed help. How far can the consequences of hiding our eyes from such pain go? So, if you know any parents who might recognize their own daughter in Shelley, please send them the link to this post. Thanks.