With this recent Brock Turner (Stanford rapist) case and the amount of frustration (among other emotions) I feel… I think it’s time I speak up. I’d like to share my experience with sexual assault and rape culture and what I think we can all do to work together and have constructive compassionate discussions. My hope in sharing this, is to help others understand rape culture and their role in it (whether intentional or not), and to empower myself. This is my story. This is what I think. And I’m here to tell you I matter, just like every other victim.
My Sexual Assault
Rather than “rape” I like to talk about my experience as “Junior.” So henceforth “Junior” will be used instead of the word “rape.” This makes it easier to talk about (for me) and helps me externalize the experience – I am not Junior, Junior is something that affected me. I find naming experiences or emotions also makes them easier to talk about with others.
I was in my fourth year of college when Junior happened. I had gone to someone’s house to study. I was very confused as I started getting all of my school work out to study and this man-child starting touching me rather than getting his school work out. I didn’t understand what was happening and I was scared. He was a very large and strong rugby player. I had a crush on this person at the time but was not interested in being sexual with someone I barely knew. (The crush ended very shortly after my arrival.) We had been on a date previously in which he had also forced his hands on me, though not to this degree. At the time I didn’t know how to say no and only knew I felt gross afterwards. I thought that this was my fault. I thought that’s how dates were supposed to go. I had never been on one before, so I sadly didn’t know better. So fast forward to this experience a couple weeks later and I wasn’t any better equipped for it.
“Don’t you want this dick?” “Am I big enough for you?” “Do you think I’m sexy?” “Come on I really like you, it’s not just a hook up. I really like you.”
No. No. No. I kept saying no and he kept pressuring me. Eventually I gave in because I didn’t think I had another option. I didn’t even dare think of what would happen if I got up to leave, because if my words didn’t stop him, then what would? I was paralyzed by fear and acted in a way that I thought would keep me alive. I laid there until it was done. I said, “You can stop now.” And he finally stopped. I hated this man after this and what’s more – I hated myself. I thought it was my fault. “I should’ve…” Should’ve what? Said “no” 8 more times?? I drifted away from this man and became very angry. He never understood. He had no idea what he had done. He had no idea that he was a rapist. I pushed this memory away for a long time. I kept it hidden until it came out one day with my therapist 2-3 years later.
I am grateful for this experience because I have learned. I have learned to never tolerate that again. I know what to do if I am ever in this situation again. I am grateful for my therapist explaining what consent is. Not saying “no” doesn’t imply “yes.” Giving in without saying “yes” doesn’t imply consent. Feeling that giving in is your only option, that walking away isn’t an option – that’s sexual assault. Feeling that “no” isn’t good enough, and that walking away might get you killed or seriously injured, that’s sexual assault. I used to (and still do) get so angry at men who catcall and judge women based on their appearances. My mom has asked, “Have you been raped? I only ask because you get so angry, I can’t imagine why this topic angers you so.” I always told her no. I didn’t understand that I had been raped. Now I understand. I understand the immense fear I felt that night. I understand why I reacted the way I did. I understand it’s NOT MY FAULT. I understand that I AM NOT THE ONE TO BLAME. I’ve been blaming myself for years. Because I didn’t understand.
Rape looks very different depending on the people, circumstance, presence of alcohol or not… etc. The fact remains: Consent is when you soberly say “yes,” and not because you were too afraid to say “no.”
To this day I fear going out alone at night. I refuse to go to the bathroom alone when I’m out with friends. I walk past large bushes with my hands up, ready to strike if necessary. Over the years I’ve started avoiding parties, meeting new people, skateboarding, going places alone, and going out at night.
I’m so tired of the fear I feel. I’m so tired of the frustration I feel when others say my fear is irrational. I’m so tired of having to protect myself. I keep my eyes on positive things, I don’t let it overtake my life, but I won’t tell you it hasn’t changed how I interact with the world.
So how can we work together to dismantle rape culture?
I’d like to start by addressing some uncomfortable feelings that may arise:
This conversation may be uncomfortable. You will likely feel bad and think “But I didn’t rape anyone” or “I just wanted to keep you safe.” I understand. I know it’s hard. Those feeling and thoughts are human. You did the best you could and I know that. Now it’s time to have the conversation so we can make changes together…even if it’s hard and uncomfortable.
First things first, catcalling is fucking terrifying. I imagine the person following me home and forcing their way into my house. I live in intense fear for the rest of the day. That’s not irrational, it’s an innate fear response to something very real. I understand this man probably doesn’t understand why he’s even yelling out of his window and likely doesn’t intend real harm. THAT DOESN’T MAKE IT OKAY. It’s not coming from a place of kindness and mutual respect. So the next time a friend is upset about something a person (likely male) yelled at or said to her, please know that she likely has very real and rational reasons for being upset. You don’t have to understand it, but do know she/he has reasons for it, and they are rational. Validate those feelings.
Second, compassion will save us. Whether discussing racism, gender, sexual orientation, or rape culture, recognize a person’s experience is THEIR experience. That means it’s not yours to judge. Interpret others’ stories as truth. Imagine for a moment that you are that person, imagine what it must feel like for their story to be true. This may feel uncomfortable, but it is necessary. It is necessary that we try to understand where others are coming from, so that we may find the common humanity within us and work together.
Third, ask what you can do to help. Someone may not want your advice. In fact, they will likely not want it. I’m already going to therapy, making sure that my friends know where I am at all times, and carrying pepper spray. I’m doing everything I can to heal and be a person in this scary and magical world. What I need, truly, is others to change and be open to having this discussion.
I have found that talking about rape culture is similar to talking about racism: people get offended, they act from a place of shame, they get angry and frustrated, they blame others. I hope my experience and these three “tips” can help set you off in the right direction as you embark on a journey to dismantle rape culture. You are powerful. You matter. You have a voice. You have the capacity for compassion. Use these powers for greatness, even if that greatness is “just” a conversation.