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Map of a Date Rape: Educating My Daughters and Maybe Yours

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“The thing about being murdered,” writes William Langewiesche in May’s issue of Vanity Fair, “it usually comes as a surprise.”

The same can be said of date rape. When I awoke that bright spring morning of March 21st, 1986 in a pensione in Venice, Italy, I didn’t expect the day to end on a dark, deserted beach with a boy I'd just met pinning me to the ground hissing in my ear that he had “un coltello” (a knife) and that “ho intenzione di ucciderti” (he'd kill me) if I didn't "f--k" him.

Getting dressed that morning I didn't know I'd have an out-of-body experience where I seemed to float above the scene, looking down at the two bodies grappling on the sand below feeling profoundly sad that my mom might never know what happened to me after I died on that beach so far from home.

I’m a mother now. My daughters are 8 and 9. The thought of them ever being in a similar situation is intolerable. Bad things can happen no matter how prepared and careful we are. But when my girls are old enough I’m going to share this story with them and hope they’ll see the warning signs I missed.

 
1. My Story
 
In 1986 I was a privileged 20-year old college student studying journalism in London for a semester abroad along with 22 other students from the University of Southern California.  This was pretty heady, entitled stuff.  I’d left my college sweetheart behind and hoped he’d be there when I got back five months hence.  But it wasn't a great relationship.  I'd spent most of it worrying he was cheating on me with other girls, so once I’d acclimated to living without him, the co-dependent umbilical chord was cut and I felt free in the best possible way.

I danced with friends till all hours at the Hippodrome. I got front row seats at Les Miserables for the 4 ££ student price, sitting so close I could see the actors’ spit fly. I choked down thick, frothy Guinness beers in pubs at Covent Garden not because I liked them, but simply because in England the drinking age was 18. I didn't need a car because I rode the Tube, the Thames, the taxis and the double-decker buses. I walked the busy London streets wearing a black beanie, headphones and gloves with the fingers cut out of them. Maybe I'd get a tattoo of Sid Vicious on my rump?
 
Gone was the preppy, conservative USC undergrad. I was anonymous and free to re-invent myself as the young unencumbered heroine of my own story where risks could be taken, but I would always safe because they weren't real.

2. One Night in Italy

Two of the girls in our group, Cassie and Alex, decided to go to Italy for spring break and asked me if I’d like to join them.  Italy for spring break? Why not? It was cheaper than Fort Lauderdale in the states and it affirmed the new way I saw myself as a Woman-of-the-World. An intrepid explorer.

I’d been to Italy once before with my grandparents as chaperones when I was in high school.  I remembered how gorgeous the Italian men were. For a 16-year old hormone case all of those flashing white teeth, thick-lashed eyes and gorgeous olive complexions about made me swoon.

The British boys hadn't impressed the USC women much. They didn’t seem to value the art of flossing and brushing, let alone the entire field of dentistry. They seemed pale, pasty, spotty and gangly. None of us had had so much as a coffee date with a boy since arriving in London three months prior. We were a profoundly celibate group and admittedly a bit horny. So the three of us struck a deal. The first one to be kissed by a magnetic Italian won free drinks for the remainder of the trip.

The extent of our vacation planning was to buy airline tickets flying us into Venice and then, ten days later, flying us out of Pisa. We wanted to hit Florence and Rome in between using Eurorail student train passes. We didn't have hotel reservations, but hoped to find pensiones and youth hostels we could stay in along the way. Audacious youth!

When we emerged from the plane with our duffel bags Italy seemed to greet us with open arms.  The weather was impeccable, the sun bright, the sea briny, the architecture and history world-class and the men did not disappoint. There seemed to be an unfair percentage of the world's most delectable men living in Venice and they flocked to American college girls like proverbial bees to honey. Alex, Cassie and I did do some legitimate sight seeing, but mostly we drank espressos in the Piazza San Marco, rode in a gondola under the Bridge of Sighs, bought Venetian glass earrings and masks in the Mercerie by the Rialto Bridge. We ate pizza for breakfast, gelato for lunch and bottles of Limoncello for dinner.

At the end of our second action-packed day the girls and I hopped a water bus to the Lido de Venezia; a little island 12 minutes south of Venice.

We arrived at the main touristy thoroughfare, the Santa Maria Elisabetta, and immediately found a restaurant that met our spartan budget.  We’d just managed to finish our first bottle of 5 dollar wine when a young, blond-haired, blue-eyed Italian man sat down at the empty seat at the end of our table.  He introduced himself, in broken English, as Fabio.

The arrival of Fabio immediately injected novelty and romance into our all-girls trip.  Had we been in the states we probably wouldn't have invited him to join us, but getting to know the natives was an integral part of the fantastic story we were weaving for ourselves.

Throughout dinner Fabio charmed us with his enthusiasm and willingness to speak English badly.  He seemed to come straight from central casting; the outrageously flirtatious Italian, passionate, but benign.

After dinner, when we were at a loss what to do next, Fabio suggested we allow him to take us down to the beach where we could stick our feet in the Adriatic Sea.  He assured us it was walking distance.  We immediately agreed.  Would the Adriatic somehow be more luminous and magical than the Pacific?  We stopped into a liquor store first to purchase two more bottles of cheap red wine to embolden our journey.

When we emerged from the liquor store we noticed two young men leaning up against a telephone booth smoking.  Fabio said something to them in Italian that none of us could understand.  It was a strange exchange, somehow furtive, as though Fabio hadn't wanted us to see them.

As we moved on I asked Fabio who they were.  "Just some friends," he said dismissively.  There was something about them that struck a discordant note in our light-hearted evening.  They seemed dark and brooding, sizing we women up like pieces of meat.

But soon they were out of sight and out of mind.

The four of us walked away from the well-lit, bustling main streets of The Lido into the ancillary roads which were sparsely populated and under lit.  I felt a little uncomfortable walking away from civilization with a boy we barely knew, but shrugged it off.  There were three of us and one of him.  He was our age, our size, a student like us.  It would be an insult to his hospitality to turn back now.

3. Follow Your Instincts

We emerged onto the frontage road that ran parallel to the beach.  It was completely deserted and equipped with only one street lamp.  The beach stretched a good half-mile into the distance before it touched the Adriatic.  It wasn't luminous or exotic. But dark and frigid under a crescent moon.

“I’m getting cold,” said Alex, a note of uncertainty in her voice.

“Come on,” said Fabio, his enthusiasm amped up a notch, “I find you somewhere warm.”

Suddenly two shadows disengaged themselves from the dark appearing in our circle of light.  A gasp of surprise stuck in my throat.  For a moment I thought we were about to be mugged.  Then I recognized the faces of the two young men Fabio had spoken to in town.

It was an ominous moment.  We three girls instinctively recoiled.  The boys must've noticed our collective hesitation because they transformed from poker-faced strangers, into smiling charmers greeting us in broken English.

4. Accomplices and Conspiracies:  There may be Multiple Perpetrators who Conspire to Commit the Crime. Particularly in Social Settings.

Fabio introduced the young men as Marco and David.  They were both dark-haired and dark-eyed.  Undeniably handsome. They no longer peered at us from beneath hooded eyes, but reached out their hands to shake ours and asked us where we were all going.

Fabio told them he wanted to show us the beach.  We had wine, would they like to come?

Another red flag.  Something in Fabio's delivery seemed rehearsed.  This thought barely registered, but is remembered now by me years after the fact.

5. Do Not let Appearances Lull you into a Sense of Safety

I have to interject an observation here, there's an animal instinct hard-wired in our DNA which makes us respond positively to beauty.  Had these young men been unattractive the night might've ended there.  Beauty equals Good.  Beauty equals safe.  Killers like Ted Bundy were able to lure their victims more easily because they were handsome.

Alex and Cassie looked to me to see what our next move should be.  I was, by some biological imperative, the alpha in our trio.  This was a pivotal moment where we could've turned back.  But I was an "experience junkie," I wanted the story, the adventure and, now I can admit, the kiss that would make me victor in our competition for male conquests.  Cassie and Alex read the decision in my eyes and soon we were following the boys down that remote beach even farther away from people and help.

6. Avoid Secluded Places/Don't Spend Time With Someone Who Makes You Feel Uneasy

As we came close to the shoreline Fabio pointed out several changing cabins that were used by wealthy patrons of the nearby luxury hotels during the frenetic summer months.  He knew just which cabin was unlocked, pushed the door open and the three boys went inside beckoning us to follow.
"It's warm in here, viene, viene!"

Again I hesitated, prey instincts flaring, but then I thought "Oh, what the Hell."  In I went, Cassie and Alex followed and Marco closed the door behind us.  We were thrown immediately into pitch-black darkness.  I couldn't tell who was in front of or behind me.  It was a jumble of elbows and shoulders intermingling until one of the boys lit a candle with his lighter.  I don’t remember who it was, but I do recall thinking this wasn’t the first time they’d brought girls to this cabin.  It even made me smile a little.  “Boys will be boys,” I thought.

The bottles of wine were quickly corked and we settled in to drink and talk.  Initially the six of us sat in a round circle, but inevitably we paired off.

7.  Stay Sober and Aware

I sat next to David.  I can’t see his face in my mind anymore.  I just remember thinking he was gorgeous and wondering why I’d thought he was a little scary before.  We conversed in a mixture of Italian and English.  I was pleased we seemed to understand each other.  David frequently passed me one of the wine bottles and each time I took a swig.  But when I offered it back to him, he always declined.  I found out later that none of the boys drank.  We three girls - with a great amount of prompting from the boys - finished both bottles of wine.

8.  Know Ahead of Time What you Want

As the wine warmed my belly and dispelled my inhibitions I decided David was the Italian boy I would kiss to win the bet with my friends.  But a kiss was all that I wanted.  I thought it would be safe with the two other couples nearby.  Abruptly all of the wine from dinner and in the cabin caught up with me and I had to pee.  I excused myself as discreetly as a moderately drunk person can and went just outside the cabin to squat ladylike in the sand.

When I was done and stood to zip up Alex emerged from the cabin looking troubled.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“Fabio’s been saying he has a girlfriend but that he sleeps with other girls, then he asked me if I have a boyfriend and if I sleep with him.“

She said she felt uncomfortable and wanted to leave.  I was annoyed.  Why was she being so fragile, couldn’t she tell Fabio she wasn’t interested in sex, she just wanted to enjoy his company?  Why did she have to ruin my good time?  I'd hoped our evening would evolve like Prom night in high school, three couples making out, but ultimately protected from going "too far" by sticking together.

Alex, Cassie and I weren’t close friends.  We’d only known each other casually those brief three months, but instinct told me I didn't want to be on this beach without them.  I agreed we should leave.
Alex and I returned to find  Cassie already attempting to exit the cabin with all three men trying to persuade her to sit back down and stay, grasping her arms and elbows.  She practically fell into our arms in a state of semi-panic.  My senses were still sodden and her discomfort failed to register until later.

Alex and I picked up our purses explaining it was time to go.  It all happened very quickly, we girls trying to leave and the boys trying to dissuade us with charm, entreaties and subtle body blocking.  But a tenuous etiquette to social norms held, allowing Alex and Cassie to exit the cabin, followed immediately by Marco and Fabio still trying to plead their case.

I wouldn’t see any of them again on that beach.

Story continues at:

The Woman Formerly Known As Beautiful/Map of Date Rape (3)

Shannon Colleary Blogs at:  The Woman Formerly Known As Beautiful

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