As I’ve said before, many of my truths have been recent discoveries and others I’ve been owning for years. But there is one truth that I’ve kept buried for a long time, unwilling to examine it and call it what it was until it was yanked up to the surface by recent online discussions surrounding a figure within the feminist community.
Before I continue, I need to slap a Trigger Warning here for discussion of rape and sexual coercion. Also, I won’t be linking to the aforementioned figure as I refuse to give him any more voice than he’s already had. I will say that if you Google “accidental rapist” at your own risk, you can read the piece that dredged up this horrible memory of mine. The author of this piece insinuates that his sexual coercion was merely an accident, a bit of miscommunication between he and his girlfriend.
Some might agree with that. But as I read it, all I could think was, ‘Just because there wasn’t an explicit no doesn’t mean it was consensual.’ And then a long-buried memory hit me like a sucker punch to the gut. Some 15 years ago I didn’t explicitly say no either.
I was a sophomore in college, living in my first apartment. I had a boyfriend (I’ll call him E), slightly older than me, whom I had met in a history class. We had to do those awful, awkward introductions that everyone hates where you say your name and then offer up a favorite movie or book or quote. This guy let fly with Marx’s “Religion is the opiate of the masses” and my angry, punk rock eyes lit up. I was smitten. We started spending a lot of time together and he stayed over at my place frequently. And we drank. A lot.
One night after we had been drinking, E started in with a request that I had routinely denied on previous occasions. He really really wanted to have anal sex. C’mon, just this once. I’ll go really slow. It won’t hurt. C’mon.
I was beyond hesitant. I didn’t want to. I was scared. But I was also very, very drunk and absolutely incapable of making good decisions in that moment. The pestering continued and I finally caved.
I don’t remember much except pain. And blood. And tears. And humiliation. Afterward I remember sitting on the toilet, tears still falling, somewhat sobered by the pain and the reality of what I had allowed to happen. Allowed to happen. It was my fault. I never said no. I cried but I never said no. I told him I didn’t want to but I never said no. I didn’t stop him. I let him do it. It was my fault.
I took that shame and I buried it nice and deep. I never examined it, never called it what it was. Rape was something different, something forceful and angry and not something that happens with your boyfriend, especially not something that happens if you don’t say no. But that’s exactly what it was. Rape. I didn’t want to. I was crying, for fuck’s sake. I was wasted. I didn’t want to. But he did it anyway, in spite of my hesitance and tears. It wasn’t an “accident” and it had nothing to do with a lack of communication. It was non-consensual and non-consensual sex is rape, plain and simple.
Since this memory resurfaced, I have sat with it for quite some time. There’s been lots of processing. More blame. And then letting go. I’ve decided to share it now, during Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month, because I’m certain that I’m not alone. Sadly, I’m sure it happens every day. A woman doesn’t want to…isn’t comfortable with it…might be drunk, might not…but doesn’t explicitly say no. Her reasons do not matter. What matters is that she didn’t want to and he continued. Coercion isn’t consent. It’s not your fault. And it wasn’t mine.
Resources for survivors of sexual assault:
Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN)
National Sexual Assault Hotline 1-800-656-HOPE
Rape Victims Advocates (Chicago)
Band Back Together – A community weblog for survivors containing tons of resources
Intimate Partner Rape Resources – excellent resource via Band Back Together
Learning Good Consent – download a PDF of this fantastic zine on consent
Becoming Safely Embodied – post-trauma therapy for survivors; information on the methods can be found here and Becoming Safely Embodied group sessions are held in Chicago at the Chicago Women’s Health Center and Live Oak. To find a group in your area, try Googling “Becoming Safely Embodied” along with your city’s name.