Thanks to a mix of societal stigmas, shame and the normal responses to Rape Trauma, I did not tell anyone my story for a long time. Finally, I was unable to ignore my story and I had to deal with it. Dealing with it sucks, but thankfully I’ve come to a more positive place and have moved on. Part of moving on, for me, is to share my story. I’m hoping this type of thing never happens to any of you, but if it does, I want to tell you, there is nothing, I repeat NOTHING you could have done to prevent it. You are bound to make a few bad decisions or even just ill-advised decisions, especially in your youth, and most of the time, the consequences of those are minimal; a bad hangover, having to endure a boring date with no escape plan, maybe even some bumps and bruises from an activity that starts with “Hey guys, watch this!”. These consequences fit the crime. Rape is NEVER a deserved consequence for making a poor choice. Rape is always the fault of the rapist that, unfortunately, the victim suffers for.
I had been on many dates since I turned 20, all very casual, some more memorable than others, none were sexual beyond kissing yet. I had hoped to save that moment for someone special. I thought I was being smart about my dates. I found my dates online, so I insisted on going to public places for the first date. Dinner, movies, the arcade were all normal public places where I could get an idea of the guy’s character before trusting them to more. Up until that night, all the guys I had judged to be “safe” were. I had been over to countless dates houses and they had been to mine and we mostly just talked, listened to music, watched TV and, if the date was really going well, we’d kiss. But that was as far as I was ready to go and not a single one of those guys pushed the issue. I’ll never know if I was right in declining further contact with guys I judged as “unsafe” beyond the original public setting. I’m telling you this first because I want you to know, there are good men out there, and I want you to know that if you are one of those good men, and a woman doesn’t trust you, it may not be you, it may be due to the man who should have been good and safe but wasn’t. It’s not as easy to tell the difference as you might think. I’m sure I made a few misjudgments about guys I thought were “unsafe” after only the first meeting, and I would hope they would understand the consequences to me would be greater for making the wrong judgement on “safe” than to misjudge them as “unsafe”.
In February of 2004, a little after Valentine’s Day, I met a nice-sounding guy named Dave on the internet. I don’t even remember which sites were used back in those days, but he was a local college student who was studying pre-law. He was slightly older than I was but was funny, so I set up a date at a local restaurant that my friends frequented, which gave me a safe place to meet him in person and judge his character. He did all the things I expect a nice guy to do. He paid for the dinner (even though I had offered to pay half, because I always expect I might have to), he had good southern-boy manners saying “please” and “thank you” automatically, and he also had quite the sense of humor and told a bunch of stories that got me laughing. We decided to go to the movies next, I don’t remember which movie, or really anything about it, but we watched in silence, sharing a drink and holding hands only. After the movie, I sat with him in his car and we talked. It was getting late and most public places were closed but we were having a good time and I was enjoying his funny stories. I remember being excited about the possibility of a second date with him. We kissed at one point, and then went back to talking. He asked me if I wanted to go back to his place. I was a virgin still and I told him very clearly that I didn’t want to go further than kissing. His response seemed so genuine when he told me that all he was thinking was that his couch would be a more comfortable place to sit and talk and maybe kiss, that I really did believe him. So much so, I got lost in listening to more stories from him and didn’t pay attention to how to get to his house. I trusted that I wouldn’t need anyone else to get me home. His trailer was not near other housing, but this was the rural south so even that didn’t seem alarming enough to me to pay attention.
I feel the need, at this point, to put a trigger warning. If you are triggered by descriptions of sexual assault, please note that this next part describes in detail, my rape. But I think it is important to discuss what happened because this is a type of rape that often goes unreported, unnoticed by the media but it is, unfortunately, very common.
We went inside and sat on his couch and talked some more, just as he promised. I don’t remember how long that went before we started kissing, which still fell within his promise. Then, he went to reach his hand under my shirt. I made a move to push his hand away and said “no” but he brushed my hand away and kept going telling me “it’s okay”. Each progression further, I kept saying “no”, he kept ignoring me and continuing and telling me “it’s okay”. I know what you’re thinking, because I questioned myself for years why I didn’t do more, why didn’t I fight back? But this was in the days before cell phones had GPS to tell people where I was, so if I had fought and gotten away, how would I escape completely? We were too far from other housing for me to get to someone else safely, and I had just been shown that this guy I thought was charming and trustworthy and a nice, southern gentleman, was not, I couldn’t guarantee he wouldn’t fight back harder and hurt me. Near the end, I quit saying anything. Most people are aware of fight or flight responses, but in listening to many other rape survivor stories, there is one response your body can make for you in high stress that you can’t control, and that is “freeze”. I was basically frozen as he continued, feeling powerless to do anything, even verbally protest anymore. He had removed all my clothing, had kissed and fondled my body without my permission. So just before he penetrated me, he seemed to realize I had stopped saying “no” and asked me if I was ok with going forward. I knew it was going to happen no matter what I said, because so much had already happened without my permission, so I tried to take control of the situation or at least feel less like a victim by saying “yes”. That one word made me feel at fault for years. I succeeded in not feeling like his victim, but I felt like a victim of myself and my poor choices. I wasn’t, he had already raped me before the penetration, that was just the final act, but that’s the danger of the silence about rapes like this, is that women in my position think they are at fault and can’t really call it “rape”, when, in fact, it clearly was rape. After he finished, he asked me to shower and watched me shower, making sure I washed away his sperm. At the time I thought he was just worried because he hadn’t used a condom and he thought washing would help keep me from getting pregnant rather than the fact that he knew a rape kit could not be performed after I showered. I knew more about sexual health than to think showering could prevent pregnancy, but I also knew anything I could do to lessen the pregnancy risk should be done, and so I complied willingly at this point. I worried for the next month about pregnancy and the next several years before I got tested about STDs, but I never told anyone what happened. I felt it was my fault. He called me a week later to tell me he still hadn’t washed his bed sheets, and I thought it was disgusting and yet, was further proof that he didn’t understand I didn’t want it, but I now know he knew all along, and it was just one more mind-game to tell me he knew he had gotten away with it. It was the last I ever heard from him.
What I want you to take away from this is that this was indeed rape. Despite this guy being a “nice guy” in the eyes of others, despite the fact that he was well-mannered and had a respectable major and not the typical guy you might associate with being a rapist. He was. I also want you to note, I had no bruises, no “proof” of rape. If I had done a rape kit, he had made sure it would come back negative by having me shower. I made some less-than-ideal decisions, I was not perfect. But I said “no” and that was enough to make this a rape. Bruises, making only perfect decisions before, during or after the event, fighting back physically, trying to run, or even the flawed court systems validating that you were indeed raped are not prerequisites for being able to call an experience rape. The only prerequisite is that you did not consent to the act. Consent needs to be clearly given and can be taken away at any point and the opposite party needs to respect when it is not given. No one is owed access to your body besides you. If an act is not consensual, it is rape. It is that plain and simple.
I’d like to talk about what consent is too, because as much as the potential victims need to know their rights, the potential perpetrators need to be informed of which things they might have thought counted as consent but didn’t. Because preventing rape really should start with addressing the parts of our society that normalize rape. Drunk or high people cannot consent, sleeping people can not consent, if consent was given once, it does not give you consent indefinitely. When in doubt, assume you do not have consent and ask for it to be clearly given. Do not get upset if consent is not given. You have no rights over anyone else’s body. I invite you to watch this video where they replace “sex” with “tea” to help show the absurdity of some of what people consider consent or have used in courts to justify rape as a simple “misunderstanding”.
For the potential victims, I know you have heard the message to learn self defense to protect yourself. While I think self defense is a good idea to learn, it’s not a guarantee you will never be a victim. It will, however, give you more confidence and I am behind self-defense instruction for confidence-building all the way. Even if I had known how to fight, and fought off my rapist, I had no safe place to go to when I got away, and fighting back can lead to more injuries from your attacker, or worst case, death. Still, I am for learning how to fight in self-defense because sometimes you will have a safe place to get to and it is worth it, and sometimes it just makes you feel more confident to have another option when some horrible excuse for a human being does not respect your rights over your body. Know that NOTHING you do or don’t do is “asking” for being raped, because rape is not a consequence anyone deserves.
I hope you don’t try to make all the “right” decisions regarding your own body in life. Sometimes you’ll screw up and drink too much, or get high, or injure yourself doing a stupid stunt. Sometimes you’ll forget to study for an exam and get a low grade or you’ll wear a fashion faux-pas or sing loudly in public off key. Life is full of bad decisions. The only bad decisions I want you to avoid are those involving other people’s bodies. It’s not ok to slip drugs into other people’s drinks or force alcohol down their throats. It’s not ok to injure other people (except, maybe, in self-defense) and it is certainly not ok to force anyone to give you access to their body. You only have the right to your body and, likewise, no one else has the right to your body.
If there is one more piece of wisdom I could impart on you, it is not to stay silent. Silence is how my rapist got away with it, because, despite it being a common issue in my college, no one had even mentioned that rape could be something other than fighting back or being unconscious or tied down, so I didn’t know I had the right to call it rape for years. Silence is why I blamed myself for so long. As soon as I opened up, everyone I told was able to tell me how clear it was that it was not my fault. Silence is why rapists may not even see themselves as rapists. In today’s society, they may not understand consent correctly, or they may feel like it was a mere “misunderstanding”, but rape, as I’ve said, only requires that clear consent was not given and one party felt the deed was non-consensual. Do not stay silent. Speak out. Tell your story, if you are unfortunate enough to have one. If you are fortunate to not have a story, don’t stay silent about the meaning of consent and how the lack of it equals rape. The more the message gets out there, the more rapists will be held accountable for their actions, and that is how we can prevent rape.
P.S. For those who have been following my blog, dealing with this is the emotional shit storm I referred to in my last post. I’m happy to say that medication along with therapy and some hard work on my part allowed me to get to this place of empowerment where I can share my story and not feel overwhelmed by emotions. Getting to this place of empowerment does require going through an emotional shit-storm, so if you are a fellow rape survivor, I recommend seeking counseling and possibly having medication prescribed during your journey through the emotions into a place of empowerment. It will help reduce your healing time significantly.
Some resources for helping if you are a fellow rape survivor:
Rape, Abuse and Incest National Hotline
1-800-656-HOPE | www.rainn.org
1-800-230-7526 | www.plannedparenthood.org
National Domestic Violence Hotline
1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or 1-800-787-3224 | www.thehotline.org