Jane Doe, a 24-year-old woman in Ohio, was sexually abused by her older brother from the ages of 11 to 17. He was indicted on seven counts of rape, entered into a plea deal for sexual assault, and spent four months in prison, according to documents reviewed by VICE. Starting in December, Jane began to meet with members of the Ohio Legislature to tell them her story, in hopes that they would add an exception for rape and incest survivors like her into the six-week abortion ban, SB 23. (They did not. Clinics are suing the state to block the law from going into effect.) She asked to remain anonymous out of respect for her family.
It’s really scary, as an incest survivor, telling someone what happened to you. During the Me Too movement, everyone was celebrating this moment where women could say, “Hashtag me too!” And I felt like I still wasn't allowed to say it, because of the situation and the context. I’m still screaming inside, after all this time.
I didn't understand what was happening to me when it happened. When you're a child, and you don't really know what sex is, you don't understand when someone is abusing you. I was a kid, and I didn't realize the implications or the consequences of my brother raping me. I was groomed into thinking what was happening to me was normal.
I was 11 when the grooming started, but it didn't reach the level of assault until I was 12 or 13. It’s hard to keep those dates straight. You don’t think about the differences between washing a load of laundry one day or the next—you do laundry so frequently it just runs together in your head. The abuse was literally that frequent. I think about those instances all at once, and it’s all so overwhelming. By the end of those six years, I was probably assaulted upwards of 100 times.
Once I got older and I started to understand a little more of what was going on, I was really terrified of becoming pregnant. I wasn’t on any kind of birth control, and I knew my brother wasn't using condoms. I didn't know what to do. If you go ask an adult for birth control, they’re going to assume you're having sex, and I didn't want to invite that conversation when I wasn’t mentally prepared for it. I couldn’t even tell my mother. I didn’t get pregnant, but it’s only by extreme luck that it didn't happen.
If it had, I would have had to find some way to deal with it. I would have gone straight to Google and found a way to induce an abortion. Back then, I would have just found the solution that was most easily accessible to me, and that could have been the most dangerous method. But I was so desperate. You can't spend six years of your life not being in control and have someone tell you now you have to not be in control for another nine months.
That’s what Ohio is doing to women now, in banning abortion without exceptions for rape and incest survivors. Before 2016 I had never really given a lot of thought to politics, but after 2016, it was all I could think about. Donald Trump was elected, and I knew these kinds of laws were coming. I could feel a pit in my stomach that this was on its way.
In December, I saw that my state representative and senator were co-sponsoring the “heartbeat bill.” I thought, I need to be going to the State House, sitting with these legislators, having the one-on-one conversations and that human connection. I want people to hear what I have to say and to know the emotions I’m feeling are true and real and valuable to the conversation. I just needed to show up and try, even if they didn't agree with me.
As the bill made its way out of committee and onto the floor for a vote, I went to almost every single senator's office [Editor’s note: there are 33]. I had an emotional breakdown in every office, reading my brother’s indictment word for word, looking in their faces, trying to get them to understand how much pain I was in. There’s a tendency for Republicans to say that rape and incest are such rare things that they shouldn't even factor into the conversation about abortion. But if it happened to me, it can happen to anyone.
Let me tell you: When you sit down with the person who is supposed to represent you and tell him the most painful story of your life, and he’s looking at his phone and not the tears running down your face, it starts to feel a little hopeless.
There was a moment with my own state senator, Republican Andrew Brenner, when he mentioned something about, “That’s why I believe in guns and safety.” And I said, “I was a child. You don't fix a child being raped by giving that child a gun. That’s so dumb.”
He just kept saying that he’s pro-life. So I responded, "I understand you think abortion is morally wrong, and I’m not trying to change your mind on that. But what I am trying to open your mind to is that it is equally morally wrong to force a victim of rape and incest to carry that baby to term." He said there was some logic to that. And I thought that maybe, just maybe, I’d gotten through to him—maybe he would vote for an amendment adding exceptions for rape and incest to the bill.
When the amendment came up in Senate, I was running from my job to the State House, because I wanted to be there when it happened. But Brenner voted no. I saw on Twitter that Republicans rejected it, and ended up passing a bill without exceptions for survivors like me. In that moment, in the middle of the street, I felt more alone than I’d ever felt before.
I tried to share my story with the legislators writing the laws, and they didn’t care. It didn’t matter to them. But I will keep speaking out and find ways to keep fighting.
I definitely can’t stop caring, because then these men win. I’m going to continue being an advocate in Ohio. I’m not going to let them run away from these uncomfortable conversations. I may not be mentally capable now, but one day I am going to run for office, and they’re going to regret looking at their damn phones.
State Senator Andrew Brenner did not respond to VICE's requests for comment.
Correction 5/30/19: This story has been corrected to reflect that Jane Doe ran to the State House the day an amendment for rape and incest exceptions came up for a vote in the Senate, not in the health committee. We regret the error.
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