When a Pittsburgh woman told law enforcement that her ex-boyfriend raped her, she triggered a process that often ends in disappointment for survivors — but she also set in motion an effort to hold the system accountable to survivors.
by Alexandra Ross, PublicSource
Content warning: This story contains references to sexual violence.
Hope and John broke up in fall 2022, but he still lived in the Pittsburgh house they rented with another roommate for a few months afterward. During that time, Hope said, he was insistent about getting back together. He repeatedly touched her or kissed her on the head, even though she asked him not to. It was “not overtly sexual, just romantic and controlling and explicitly outside of the boundaries that I’d set,” she explained.
In an interview with PublicSource and in civil court documents, Hope shared that John eventually persuaded her to go on a date in early February. The two twentysomethings went out to a new bar, where she had two drinks, and a restaurant, where she had a third. The two ended up at another venue and continued drinking. She estimates she had eight drinks that night — much more than her usual intake, especially after eating little during the day.
By 11 p.m., Hope was dizzy and asked John to drive her home. She told a friend over the phone that she’d be going straight home, but John instead drove to a local park. From there, the alcohol begins to fade Hope’s memory, but she remembers how he parked, pulled her into his lap and forcibly kissed her, grabbing her neck and sides. She remembers how difficult it was to fight him off. Eventually, he drove them home and had to help her into the house.
She remembers sitting on the couch, and then being on the floor without her clothes. She remembers him grabbing her roughly, and later reported bruising to her legs in a court petition. The next morning, John told her he was stressed he didn’t use a condom and she said she was upset he had sex with her when she was not in a clear state of mind, Hope related in court documents.
“I slept a lot of that day,” Hope said. “I was really in shock. I kept falling asleep. I didn’t move around very much.”
PublicSource is withholding the names of the woman and her alleged assailant under standard journalistic practice in situations involving sexual violence, referring to them instead as Hope and John.
Hope reported the attack to city police about a week later. By then, Hope and her roommate had confronted John, told him to leave their shared residence and changed the locks. But John had not stopped texting and trying to contact her, and Hope feared for her safety. Around a week later, she went to family court and got a temporary protection from abuse order.
By reporting her attack to law enforcement, Hope triggered a process that often ends in disappointment for survivors — but unknowingly, that was also her first step in an effort to hold the system accountable to survivors and answer for why justice is not always sought, let alone served.