[Disclaimer: I am generally going to be using gendered pronouns while writing this. However, the idea of respect for the autonomy of a person and the idea of yes/no applies to both genders.]
There’s a lot of stuff going on right now in regards to the Steubenville rape trial and verdict.
Now, I’ve begun this entry at least a half dozen times over the last few months. And every time I wonder if I’ll be, as Ms. Jenny Trout mentions in her blog post about the same subject, thought of as bragging or unacceptable if I share my stories. This has gone so far as to make me feel as I must conceal the stories from some of my closest friends and family. But then I realized that I am not the one that should be ashamed. I was forced to do something I did not want to do by someone(s) I trusted. I will not apologize for that.
Why is it in countries which supposedly respects human rights, personal autonomy, and speaks out against rape in other countries, we still teach girls how to avoid rape – that mystical punishment for dressing “improperly” (whatever that means), walking in unsafe areas (whatever that means), and acting “inappropriately” or doing “inappropriate” things (whatever those are) – but we don’t teach boys what rape is, and how to not take advantage of a girl?
When I was fourteen, a boy a couple years older, and significantly larger, than me kissed me. Not only did I not know how to say no, I was also terrified. We were alone at his parents’ house because he had invited me over to hang out after a school function. My parents didn’t know who he was, and we barely knew each other. And yet he proceeded to, following the kiss, slowly unzip my sweater, which opened on the left. He grazed his fingers across my breast. At the time, my thoughts mainly focused on a) how scared I was and b) how it was my fault I was in the situation. Thankfully his mother came home before he’d managed to zip my sweater down too far, but I already felt dirty. I walked home ashamed of what I’d allowed to happen. I’d allowed a strange boy to steal my first kiss, and I’d put myself in a position where he could also have stolen my virginity – a concept that, although I’d known the idea of rape from watching Law and Order: SVU with my parents, and I’d known what sex was, was foreign to me.
Around the same time, my parents and I attended a party thrown by one of their friends. At one point, a man at least three times my age came up to my mother and I and asked if he might massage my feet. I looked at my mother and she said it was fine. I didn’t say anything. My dad found us like that, with a strange man kissing and massaging his 13-year-old daughter’s feet. He was unimpressed. Although I didn’t know why, the experience made me feel ill, and to this day I feel uncomfortable having people touch my feet – though in general, I feel uncomfortable with people touching me at all.
For a few years after, nothing much happened. I kept to myself mostly, scared of what men and boys could do. I dressed extremely conservatively, to the point where the boys in my school thought I was a total prude. I was also called “gay” on a regular basis. Although men – by which I mean men in their +30’s would hit on me regularly – I found the members of the male gender to be intimidating.
At sixteen, I met a guy whom I sort of liked. I appreciated the attention and we begun to hang out. We kissed a little, but I never allowed any serious physical contact. Despite my informing him multiple times that I was saving myself for marriage, he would constantly reach up my skirt and try to get on top of me. On my birthday, he brought me to see Knocked Up, and proceeded to try to get me to have sex with him in a park near to the theatre. We broke up very soon after.
At seventeen, I had my first truly consentual sexual experience, and when I turned eighteen I lost my virginity by choice. When I was eighteen and a month, I experienced my first rape.
The young man in question had been friendly to me in school. He was nice, and I enjoyed spending time with him. I should have known the first time we hung out that I was putting myself in a dangerous position (and even now I can’t help but blame myself for not seeing this rather than blaming him for not respecting my boundaries). The first time we hung out, he tried groping me repeatedly, even though I tried to hold his hands away. He eventually got his way for a brief time before it was time for me to leave.
I’m not sure why I hung out with him again. I think perhaps I was lonely, or maybe I just thought it had been a flook, or that I had asked for it. I hadn’t stopped him, after all. I’d eventually said yes. We met in a park not too far from my house. We had taken walks and talked together, so I was not suspicious. Eventually, he asked to sit down, and we did, in the middle of a soccer field. He started touching and kissing me, and although I said no multiple times, he would not take no for an answer. It was not aggressive, it was not violent, but it was persistent. I eventually let him just to make him stop. This happened twice. The third time we hung out after that was the last. We were in my parents’ house watching a movie with the door open and I had told him that I did not want him doing anything to me, and to not even try. As the credits began to role, his hands began to wander. I said no, but he said, “I’ve been good” and that was why I should let him.
Let me repeat that. I asked him to not try anything, and he hadn’t, therefore I should let him fuck me.
My mother walked in then, and told him he had to go. She didn’t know what was going on, only that it was late. After that night, I avoided him. A week later, I saw his Facebook status; it read something to the effect of “Alright, bitch, you just don’t know what you had, and you’re the one missing out”. It made me feel sick to my stomach.
I have spoken to him once since then. We saw each other at a pub when I was visiting a friend of mine in my home town. He hugged me, and said we should keep in touch.
We have not spoken since.
I didn’t realize at the time that what he did was rape. I thought I was just a whore. That I was asking for it. That I let a man I didn’t want touching me, touch me. I deserved what I got. It’s what he was entitled to for hanging out with me.
My sexuality was not mine to control; it was the property of men whom I encountered, and was payment for their attention.
After that, I left for university.
At school, I met someone whom I would eventually come to love. We spent ages talking about life and philosophy and politics and music. We cuddled without him trying to touch me intimately. And eventually, we kissed without him trying to have sex with me. At some point, however, he decided he couldn’t do it. He cared about me, but also had feelings for another girl, and therefore could not continue our relationship. He asked me to stop him if he ever tried anything on me again, because he didn’t want to do anything like that with me. The question I should have asked was, “Don’t you have any self control that you can just not try to touch a woman you don’t want to?” but what I said was ok.
One night before he was going to leave to travel with his parents, we were lying in his bed talking. A comfortable silence fell.
I felt his arm slide around my body. I felt his hips move closer to mine. I felt his erection at my back, and I felt his hand try to grab my breast. I moved his hand back down, but he tried to force it back up. I said no, firmly, and turned to him, but he fought me. Luckily, I am fairly strong for a woman, and have done some self defense training, and so I eventually managed to get my arms around him and pin him and tell him no. Being restrained seemed to calm him down, and he began to cry. He apologized again and again for trying to touch me, and I comforted him.
Not even a year later, we were hanging out with a friend of his, having a few glasses of wine and talking. Now, I don’t like to drink, so I only had a few glasses. He, however, had around two or three bottles. Enough, he later said, that he blacked out. I, being a considerate girlfriend, brought him to bed, got him a glass of water, and tried to go to sleep. It started happening again. He groped me, more forcefully this time, saying that I’m his girlfriend, that he’ll be upset if I don’t, that it would mean that I don’t love him. I said no. He continued, climbing on top of me and trying to get inside me and telling me over and over that we do it all the time so what’s the problem. I said no. He got sad, saying I hated him, begging me, telling me how much he loves me and all the while pushing my hands away and trying to fuck me. Eventually I gave in. I told him to get it over with quickly, and he went so hard he bruised my cervix. I was in pain for days afterwards. He finished, climbed off of me, and fell asleep. I cried in his arms.
The next morning, he didn’t remember anything. I told him what had happened, and to never let it happen again. I didn’t call it rape. I just said he’d gotten rough and forceful. I couldn’t yet let the word “rape” cross my lips. He asked, “Are you sure?” “But you said yes, right?” “Did I force you?” “Are you saying this because you’re mad at me?” All sorts of things. I told him I forgave him, but to never let it happen again. He made me promise not to tell anyone, and to never talk about it again. Years later, when we broke up, he got mad at me. “Why did you never talk about it?” he asked. Because, I said, you told me not to, and I respected your wishes. What I didn’t say was, “I respected your wishes, just like you should have respected mine.”
I also didn’t mention that the mere thought of that night was enough to trigger a massive panic attack.
I would eventually break the promise to never talk about it; his mother asked me about it, hoping that I would tell him it wasn’t his fault, that it was mine, that it wasn’t rape. When I told my closest friends, they helped me work through it, and realize how wrong the whole situation had been. They made me realize that I shouldn’t feel guilty, and that yes, “rape” was the word I needed to use.
The panic attacks are not so bad now.
The last time I talked to my ex, he still didn’t entirely believe that he had raped me, and if he did, it was my fault anyways. He was drunk. If anything, he said once, I raped him.
Later, his mother would ask me, “Why didn’t you leave?”
“I didn’t leave,” I wanted to tell her, “because I didn’t know how. I didn’t leave because he said if I didn’t, that I didn’t love him. I didn’t leave because I was scared what would happen if I did. I didn’t leave because I was his girlfriend, wasn’t it his right to have sex with me? I didn’t leave because I didn’t realize at the time that my boyfriend could rape me. I didn’t know I had the right to say no.”
I didn’t leave, dear reader, because I didn’t feel like I could. I didn’t feel I had that right.
There were other instances over time. Since the end of that relationship, however, I have been far more protective of my body. It is my body, and I have a right to do, or not do, with it what I desire. There have been other instances in my life that were not rape, but were close enough; men trying to finger me in clubs, men trying to force their way into my personal space, men trying to guilt me into having sex with them. Why? Because they assume they have a right to my body. Maybe they think that because I smiled at them, I was clearly coming on to them, and I should honour that obvious flirtation with sex. Maybe because they bought me a drink, and that therefore bought them a right to fuck me. Maybe because I have breasts – which is obviously my fault – and because my breasts attract men, and therefore I should let them do whatever they want. Because my body is attractive to them and therefore they should be able to take what they find to be attractive.
Because it’s my fault they find me attractive, it’s my responsibility to relieve them of that want.
This, reader, is utter bullshit.
I had trouble writing that sentence because I wasn’t entirely sure how the hell to word it to make it make sense. Because it doesn’t make sense.
Why does it make sense that it is my job to stop a man from raping me? Why does it make sense that it is up to me to make myself as unattractive as possible, and never put myself in a “dangerous position”? What the hell does that even mean? I’ve had men try to take advantage of me when I was dressed conservatively. I’ve had people follow me and talk to me in the street walking home from school. I’ve gone to clubs with friends dressed in jeans and a tshirts and yet they still separate me from my friends and make me feel as if it is my responsibility to guard my sex with my life rather than theirs to understand that when I mean no, I mean no. That just because he’s horny and he got that way by looking at me dressed in my sweater and jeans and no makeup – or even in my skimpiest, sexiest dress! – I don’t have to do any goddamned thing about it? And he has no right to make me.