Annamarya Scaccia tells the story of James, a former Marine who was drugged and raped by an older woman when he was 19 years old.
James Landrith was 19 years old when he was raped.
He met his friend at a club he frequented near Camp Lejeune, the North Carolina base where he was stationed as a United States Marine. He wanted to listen to music and dance, to relax after a long week.
But his fellow Marine friend, who brought along a female civilian, disappeared. James didn’t see him for the rest of that Friday night in August 1990. He was left alone with this older woman, who was stranded without her own transportation. She asked James to drive her home after the club closed—she was pregnant, he says, and wanted to “have fun” since she didn’t socialize much. He obliged and, as a “thank you,” she bought him some drinks.
James doesn’t really imbibe. The Illinois native usually has one drink and then sips on soda. But after the second cocktail that evening, he was tired, disoriented.
He thought he was drunk. His motor functions escaped him and his sense of clarity lost. He couldn’t understand why, though. It was only two drinks. That’s not enough to knock James out, even if he wasn’t a heavy drinker.
He was in no position to drive her home, despite her insistence. He wasn’t going to risk arrest or discharge from the Marines. So, at her suggestion, they split the cost of a double-bed room in a nearby motel. They’d sleep it off and in the morning, be on their way.
He blacked out quickly.
James wasn’t looking for sex. He loved someone else back home. And neither was the woman, or so she insisted.
But in the middle of the night, James awoke to her on top of him, his penis somehow inside of her. He muttered some words. She enticed him back to sleep.
When he awoke again around 8 a.m., she was in the same position, masturbating while grinding aggressively against his naked lower body. He was still foggy, unsure of his surroundings, or why she was riding him. He didn’t remember anything about this woman, not even her name.
He just met her the night before. He only planned to drive her home.
Unexpectedly, she warned him not to move or use force. “I was kind of surprised, [thinking] ‘You’re on top of me, having sex with me and I’m not to do anything? What does that mean?’” James recalls. “It didn’t occur to me I was being raped. You don’t hear about it happening to men or by women, so I was having difficulty connecting that at first.”
In that moment, he laid back. He didn’t know what to do or what was happening. He just wanted her off of him.
He attempted to stretch out his legs, stiff from the long period his rapist was straddling him. She accused him of trying to harm her, and said if he “did anything,” he would hurt her unborn child. It would be his fault.
“I told you not to be forceful,” she ordered again.
It was a cloaked threat, James says—twisted words he believed meant she’d report him of rape. And he would never harm an innocent third party. He isn’t a monster. So he stayed still, in shock, mentally disconnecting from his body—an outsider witnessing the rape.
He even pleaded with her. He wanted to know if there was anything he could do because he wanted her to stop. But he says she got angry, like he was “disrupting her concentration.”
Finally, his rapist reached orgasm from self-pleasure. James was expected to immediately dress and take her home. “I couldn’t even wash her off of me,” he says with repulse. “Sure, she drugged me and raped me and I’m still supposed to drive her home.”
He did so, entering her apartment and “cuddling” with her on her couch, all on her command. At one point, her legs pinned him down so he couldn’t move.
He wanted to get away from her but wasn’t in a rational state.
“I just did as I was told,” he says, apologetic for the anger in his voice. “I was very compliant because I was in shock. I’m not thinking, ‘Hey, this woman is a predator.’ I’m thinking, ‘I don’t know what’s going on here. Let me do whatever she tells me.’”
Eventually, his rapist “got tired” of him and said he could leave.
For three years, he suppressed that night through promiscuity. He slept with loads of women—interested in them or not. Several were married and several were much older. Sometimes protection wasn’t used simply because the women didn’t want to and he didn’t care.
It was his way of taking back control—of offering his body before someone could take it.
He could have contracted HIV or impregnated someone. An angry husband could have brutally assaulted him. While none of this happened, James realizes his behavior—down to his inability to say no—was alarming.
“It was ridiculous and scary and stupid,” says James, now 42 years old. “It’s not something I’m proud of, but it’s how I handled the situation.”
After marrying his wife in 1993, he traded in promiscuity with overworking and being a 22-year-old father to his 8-year-old stepson. He buried himself in his work, sometimes logging 60 hours a week. He buried himself in his family, going to PTA meetings and visiting relatives. He did everything he could to avoid his rape.
“I just called it a bad night, a weird night. I don’t know what happened and I tried to move on,” says James, who left the Marine Corps in 1995. “I just wanted to be so good at what I did that I just dived into it really deep. That’s something male survivors do sometimes—they become workaholics. I did it textbook.”
James was also submissive with his wife during the earlier years, withholding wanted feedback because he thought agreement would make her happy. He partly attributes this docility to their age gap (his wife is seven years older.) He would defer to her more rather than defend his opinion because he felt she had more life experience—although he faced “a lot of rough stuff already.” It was a mixture of perceived maturity and a trauma that silenced his voice.
In 2008, he could no longer ignore it. While talking to a female coworker at a previous job, an innocent comment sparked a verbal flood of what happened that night. Before, he hadn’t told a soul the whole details. He didn’t want to face the truth. “As long as I keep lying to myself, I don’t have to worry about it and it’s all gonna go away like magic,” he says.
When he did say something, it wasn’t all the way. One time, he revealed it vaguely in response to a friend’s crack about sex with pregnant women (James’s wife was pregnant at the time). His oblique admission was met with jokes.
But he had to confront it that day. Finishing his story, his former colleague told him, without hesitation, he was raped. “It floored me because I knew she was right.”
After that conversation, he researched online resources for rape survivors and scheduled a therapist appointment. He knew there was no way in the world he could heal alone.
His first counseling session was taxing. His rape was, again, a fresh wound. When he sat with the therapist, the room seemed to spin. He was terrified to tell another person what he had only told one person ever.
After the session, he sat in his car for two hours, closed his eyes and cried. “I felt really stupid,” he says. He’s not currently in therapy but plans to return to revisit unfinished themes. “It was just a lot of emotion to dig through and years of denial. It takes a toll on you emotionally, and physically exhausts you.”
He told his wife six weeks later, after an intimate touch from her caused him to freeze. “I felt dirty, and I felt like doing anything would be dirty,” he says. “It wasn’t really about my wife. It was about physical contact at that point.”
James has made progress since starting his journey of healing. It took some years and “a whole lot of introspection,” but now he can admit the rape wasn’t his fault, that he isn’t less of a man because he didn’t fight back, and that, yes, women can do “hideous and horrible things” like rape.
“I’ve stopped believing that I will be 100 percent the same as I was before I was raped…and that is OK,” says James, who’s also a public speaker and blogger on sexual violence and survival advocacy. “How I live going forward is a choice I can control, even if she took choices away from me that night.”
He knows there’s more work to do, though. There are other triggers he has to tackle, such as interacting with aggressive, angry or loud women—women who reflect the personality of his rapist. Around them, he becomes quickly defensive and searches for an exit.
But he knows he can’t do this without help, and cautions the same for other male survivors.
“Stop listening to people who don’t care about your issues and your healing. You will need to take care of your healing and plot your own course,” he advises. “Surround yourself with a few good allies. When you can’t hold yourself up, you may need them to do the lifting.”
Annamarya Scaccia is an award-winning freelance journalist and graphic designer who’s written extensively on sexual violence, reproductive health & rights, marriage equality, constitutional issues, body image, and gender roles, among other rousing topics. Her work has appeared in/on Philadelphia Weekly, Philadelphia City Paper, Prince George’s Suite Magazine, RHRealityCheck.org, TheDailyFemme.com, BLURT, and Origivation. Follow her on Twitter @sitswithpasta.