My university opened its annual “What were you wearing?” exhibit yesterday in recognition of Sexual Assault Awareness Month. This year, I contributed my story (excerpted from the longer version below). I left the event somewhat disheartened that so little has changed over time, but also hopeful that such events will continue to raise awareness that the survivors of sexual assault are never to blame…that is 100% on the perpetrators!
Originally posted July 2014:
I love the infinite potential for variety in language…I saw a post somewhere this week that went something like “Tear and tier are pronounced the same but tear and tear are different…arghhhh!” Some words have a varied array of meanings depending on the context. Others are more simple. Take the word NO for example. NO just means “NO”. It doesn’t mean “convince me, seduce me, coerce me, force me,” or more recently, as in a horrible news story I read this week, “drug me so I don’t have the ability to object. NO just means NO –
“a negative used to express dissent, denial, or refusal, as in response
to a question or request”
Reading the news story, I was reminded of the story of a young woman I knew in college. One summer night when she was 21, she went out on the town with her girlfriends. They had dinner and went to some clubs. There was plenty of music and plenty of alcohol. She was having a great time laughing and dancing. They ran into a group of young men…friends of one of her friends. She began talking to one of the young men. He was tall and good-looking…recently discharged from the military he said as he rubbed his hand rather sheepishly across his very unfashionable crew cut. She didn’t mind – she liked him, he made her laugh. As it drew near closing time, and people began to couple off, the young man asked her if she’d like to come back to his place for a while. She wasn’t a fool, she knew the language and she was attracted to him, but she was confident that things would go no further than she was willing to go. She didn’t really even know how far she was willing to go at that moment. When they arrived at his apartment, one he shared with two other young men, they listened to music in the common room for a while. When his roommates came home she followed him to his room for more privacy. Kissing led to petting, petting led where petting leads, and not much later, she was past the point she was willing to go. She said wait…she said stop…she said no, but he wasn’t listening and he was much larger and much stronger than her. Before she knew it, it was over.
She rolled to her side. As she lay there wondering if that had really just happened, he pulled her close, kissing her shoulder and whispering in her ear that she was welcome to stay the night, or he could drive her home. She murmured something about walking home and quickly dressed. He insisted he’d drive her…it wasn’t safe for her to walk alone he said. She couldn’t understand why her safety would be a concern – he had just raped her…or had he? Rapists were violent strangers with knives who assaulted women in dark alleys, not good-looking, charming friends of friends. He wasn’t violent, he didn’t have a weapon. He hadn’t really even hurt her physically.
She thought about all of it as he drove her home. When she went inside, she didn’t stand under a hot shower and scrub her skin raw or curl into a ball and weep uncontrollably as is often the depiction of victims in film. Oddly, she didn’t even feel particularly violated. Mostly she felt stupid. SHE had gone out that night. SHE had been drinking. SHE had worn a miniskirt and sheer summer top. SHE had gone back to his apartment. She wondered if SHE wasn’t as responsible as he was.
She never reported the incident. She wasn’t sure there was anything to report. She told her friends what had happened and he became X-the Rapist to all of them. When she ran into him in the same club sometime later she was shocked when he tried to renew their “acquaintance.” Obviously, his version of what had happened between them was completely different than hers…he was clueless to the fact that he had used his superior size and strength to force sex after she had repeatedly said NO. She stared at him for a long moment and then turned and left the club. She never saw him again.
If it seems like I know an awful lot about what this girl was thinking, it is because SHE is ME. I don’t write this now to gain condolence or comfort. I made my peace with it a long time ago. It is one of the events in my past that have shaped me into the woman I am today. I tell the story because of the shock and dismay I feel when I see stories like Jada’s (linked above) and realize how little things have changed.
Sexual assault is defined as any non-consensual sexual act which is forced by one or more persons on another. Forms of sexual assault can include rape, sexual harassment, or any other form of unwanted sexual contact. In the US rape is, in many places, further divided into Date Rape, Acquaintance Rape, Drug Facilitated Rape and Statutory Rape. RAINN cites that 2/3 of sexual assaults are committed by someone known to the victim. Clearly, the message is not getting through.
When this happened to me in 1990, victim shield laws were fairly new and such things as date or acquaintance assaults were just beginning to be taken as seriously as violent, forcible rape. The cultural context that made my assailant think his actions were fine and me think they were my fault has changed, but obviously, it hasn’t changed enough. We all need to educate our children, regardless of gender, that NO very simply means NO. It doesn’t matter how someone was dressed, it doesn’t matter how far things progressed to that point, it doesn’t matter if the partner is male or female. NO means NO period. Full stop.
I honestly don’t know how to address the type of individual who thinks it acceptable to steal consent completely by drugging a victim…or the depravity of people who queue up to watch it happen in person and on YouTube.
It’s a serious subject for a Sunday, so I thank you for allowing me to speak my piece.