Local Rape Survivor Receives an “Award” for Being Raped
Two years ago, after Rilla Perkins woke up in Goodale Park, half naked, in shock and confused, she did what most survivors won’t do: reported her rape.
The night before, she’d been on the job at a bar in the Arena District. She thinks someone may have drugged her, explaining her memory loss, but just going through that traumatic experience can also have that effect, referred to as Rape Trauma Syndrome.
The next morning, on June 14, 2015, after waking up at the entrance of Goodale Park, Perkins ran to a friend’s house nearby and got a ride to the hospital. There, Perkins told her story to a bored detective, got prodded, swabbed and photographed by detached hospital staff members, and was sent home without a shower. The detective overseeing her case dropped her a card and said he’d be in touch with news.
Over the next two months, Perkins tried several times to contact the detective, but no one answered or returned her calls. At that point, it seemed the only one with any stakes in Perkins’ case was Perkins herself. Depressed and scared, she quit her job after being told she would have to return to the Arena District for work at least once a weekend. Soon after, she lost her second job and the car she was leasing.
Another month passed before the detective reached out to let her know that her attacker’s DNA wasn’t in the system, and her case would remain inactive, a fact that still weighs on her mind now.
In February of this year, she received a letter from the Ohio Victims of Crime Compensation Program and an “award” of $80. That word — award — appeared at the top of the letter and 17 more times throughout, a surprising trigger for Perkins, who had been raped two years prior.
“To get that letter — it was kind of an extra slap in the face,” she said. “Words can be so triggering. Things have a certain effect on us, whether it be words or an action.”
Seeing the word “award,” to Perkins, read more like “Congratulations on your rape.” Obviously aware of the dual meaning of the word, Perkins simply wants it to be replaced with another, like “compensation,” for example.
While her friends, family, and other survivors have been supportive of her initiative, some have accused her of blowing it out of proportion, “But I know I’m not,” she said.
“Trigger” has itself become a contentious word. Defined as a stimulus that transports a person back to the event of their original trauma, it’s been morphed into a casual insult toward people deemed too sensitive.
“‘It’s not a big deal,’ they say, or I’m taking it in the wrong context,” Perkins said. “But we all have certain reactions to certain words. It’s very real.”
To get started on the change, she launched a petition, “I Was Given an Award for Being Raped,” which has gotten 833 supporters at the time of publishing. The goal is simple, but the process is harder than first imagined. What she thought would take little more than a phone call — getting one word replaced with another — might actually require legislation.
She’s engaged with groups Action Now and Ohio Now as well as a community of survivors for support. Changing a law can take years, but she’s invested, prepared to get thousands more signatures when the next Pride Festival comes to Columbus this June. Along with her supporters, she’s planning a rally, not just against the word “award,” but for other survivors.
The morning of June 14, 2015 was a turning point for Perkins, who was also molested at age 5 by her babysitter’s son and from ages 7 to 12, by her neighbor. Scared into silence, she didn’t tell anyone about the assaults until four years after they had moved away, when she was 16, in a letter to her parents.
Throughout this fight, Perkins has been approached by other survivors who’ve felt empowered enough by her story to tell their own. In that, she sees her experience almost as fate, to make her a voice for others.
“What’s the point in keeping it in, besides letting it destroy your inner soul and your inner worth?” she said. “Because we don’t deserve that, and I didn’t deserve that.”
“I’m done letting this keep going,” she continued. “I’m done letting someone like that get away with it and then be able to do it to someone else. It’s gotta stop.”
For more information, or to sign Rilla Perkins’ petition, visit www.change.org/p/i-was-given-an-award-for-being-raped.