Trigger Warning: Misogynistic language, Rape and rape culture, including a graphic description
There is an additional trigger warning immediately before the graphic description.
Here are a few statements I would have agreed with as recently as last year:
Sure, we “should” be able to go to parties and drink without worrying about the consequences but we don’t live in that dream world. I’m not saying she deserved it, but she could have been more careful.
She slept with him already – what was he supposed to think? He still should have stopped, obviously.
Letting a stranger into your apartment is dumb. Not that it makes what he did okay but she could have avoided it in the first place.
Reading them now, you and I see the same thing (I hope) – victim blaming rape apology, exacerbated by faux sympathy. The fact that I never actually said these things out loud might be a comfort – except that I said them to myself a lot, which hurt me, and I certainly didn’t speak out when I heard them, an omission which hurt others.
I didn’t see it this way. I am, and always will be, a proponent of personal responsibility. I always examine my role in creating a negative situation, and I encourage others to do the same. Most of the time, that’s a good thing. In the context of rape culture, it is devastating.
Even women who have been victimized can contribute to rape culture. April and I are living proof.
It starts so innocently. We can’t control everything, but we can avoid being stupid… right?
I am one of the lucky ones.
I am lucky because many people who have gone through sexual assault chose to talk about it. I remember thinking those people were very brave to speak up about what happened to them, but now I understand why it was important. Because those people chose to speak up, I have a firmer ground to walk on in discussions to further equality, freedom and progression. Choosing to be brave and do the right thing is not an easy task and it does not lessen the fear. Courage is feeling the terror through your bones and choosing to stand in spite of it. This post has proven to be more upsetting than I thought it would. Even with the support of my community, nothing has quelled the surprise attack from “supporting” friends or strangers.
The most difficult part of surviving sexual assault is the aftermath. Over and over again I heard subtle victim blaming after telling people about what happened. Great progress has been made in regards to the way we think about rape but there is much more work to be done.
Victims don’t usually need other people’s helpful comments to decide that an assault was a result of their mistakes. When those comments come, it just solidifies the lie we have already internalized.
I was sexually assaulted at sixteen. For years, that dark event lived in my mind as something I brought upon myself. I had been stupid. I had set myself up to be easy prey. In fact, I told myself I’d been lucky that it wasn’t any worse, as if it was a credit to my attacker that he didn’t rape me even though I clearly gave him the opportunity. (Apparently he was one of those nice sexual assailants.)
I felt like a dirty, vile slut. No one blamed me more than I blamed myself. When a school counselor reported the assault to the police, they pulled me out of class and demanded a humiliating recount of every detail I could remember, only to inform me that they could never successfully prosecute the man for a couple of common reasons. I remember feeling relieved that I wouldn’t be responsible for ruining his life over something that was mostly on me in the first place.
But the subconscious is a curious thing. If I really believed it had been all my fault, then regaining control over my sexuality should have been simple. It was not. It was years before I had sex with anyone, because I was waiting for someone with whom I felt safe.
(Which shouldn’t have been necessary if my assault was all my fault, right?)
This safe person's name was Victor.
My knee-jerk reaction begs me to tell you I’m a responsible person. “Please believe me! I’m not stupid,” I want to say. Every time I tell this story I feel that kick of defense. “I’m well-traveled; well-read and smart!” But after talking about this for over a year, I feel such revulsion about this defensive twitch because it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter if I had been “stupid” or “increased my risks.” The hardest part of the entire experience was accepting it wasn’t my fault. I was taught to own up to my responsibilities in every way. My parents never let me look away from my contribution to the situations I found myself in. I’m really thankful they taught me that.
But it wasn’t my fault. It was out of my control. Someone chose to harm me and I ask, “What did I do? Did I tease you? Did I mislead you?” For months, I couldn’t stop with these questions about the two sexual assaults I faced and I’m lucky it was only months. People carry that shame around much longer and more intensely than I have.
Unfortunately, I endured two separate sexual assaults last year and I feel both are worth sharing to give you a well-rounded understanding of rape culture. I’m now grateful I have had these experiences so I can show people how very different both situations were and that it didn’t matter what I, or anyone else who has been attacked, did; it happened because someone chose to force themselves on me.
June of 2010, I agreed to meet with a fellow blogger. He was in town and we both thought it could be fun to have dinner. I was dating someone and had made it clear I was not interested in fooling around with anyone else. I was supposed to meet with the guy I was dating after I had dinner with the blogger, but when I arrived to my guy’s apartment, he didn’t answer in time. I asked for a ride home from the blogger. He said it was no problem. We were having such a good time in conversation I asked him if he would like to continue hanging out? He said that would be fun. I’m not sure what happened next other than I was exhausted, he offered a foot massage and I fell asleep. The next thing I knew he was performing oral sex on me. (I’m not sure why I had trouble with consciousness as he was doing these things to me. I’ve spoken about it with my counselor; she suggested it was possible I may have shut down in many ways to protect myself. This is rape culture too; having to explain every single freaking reaction I had).
I never left my drink unattended. I’m not sure I was drugged. It’s possible, but I don’t know, and I did not file that I was drugged on the police report.
Many jumped to, “You should never let a stranger into your house. It’s not your fault... but...”
It wasn’t my fault, yet they questioned my decision to ask this new friend into my home. And that was exactly how I thought of him; as a new friend.
That was the first assault. The second happened two months later.
Victor was my boyfriend for six months in 2007. We were completely wrong for each other, but he was a fascinating and remarkable person who added a lot of value to my life during a time of great flux for me. He was so different from anyone I’d ever known before, and he was instrumental in broadening my worldview.
We had a reasonably amicable, mutual breakup and remained friends. I was happy that he had been my first, happy that we’d dated, and happy that we were no longer together. I felt fortunate that he remained in my life. Among his many attributes, he was a good friend and I would have continued to call him that until last September.
April and I share an online diary site. Her initial account did not include her rapist’s name.
It didn’t have to.
Victor was my best male friend. We joked, we loved each other, we had sex for a brief period of time and we suffered the usual bumps of friendship. We challenged each other to be a better human being, to question, to take responsibility for our actions and to be thoughtful. We were very close.
I visited him two months after the assault in my apartment. I stayed in his parents’ home and slept in his room next to him in the same bed. The boundaries were very clear. I was seeing someone and he was interested in someone else. There was no confusion. In the context of our relationship, I did nothing strange or misleading. Even knowing this, I have always hesitated to tell people that last detail because I know where their mind could possibly go. I had already encountered it. Sleeping next to each other did not and does not equal sexual consent.
I continually hear comments like, “Well not that what he did was okay but guys have urges and you know they don’t think with both heads.” Really? He really couldn’t control himself enough to not force himself on me? He couldn’t wait for a resounding yes? He couldn’t accept a no? Comments like that give rapists leeway. Why is there EVER any kind of excuse? Why? They make it sound like a light thing, like a joke and I think it’s because they are too scared to touch it.
Trigger warning for graphic description of sexual assault
He did rape me. Not the first night, nor the second, nor the third but the fifth night. He put his penis in my mouth and kept telling me it was just a dream. He said it over and over again and he finished inside of my mouth. I waited until I knew he was sleeping and then went to the bathroom. I shook very hard. I remember staring out of his bathroom window telling myself firmly to remember that I could taste him because I knew I would not believe it in the morning. I thought I was dreaming. It felt unreal and I was completely detached. There was blackness.
End trigger warning for graphic description of sexual assault.
I recognized him at once. I saw him all over her description. I knew.
How can I describe my reaction to finding out that the man I had loved, the first man I had so intimately trusted after my own violation, had raped our friend in her sleep while she was staying at his house? I can tell you that there was one emotion I was not feeling at all: disbelief.
I never once doubted April’s word. Not for a moment.
It would be cruel to doubt a friend who told you that she had just been sexually assaulted – if you didn’t know the man. But this wasn’t just some random guy – this was Victor, someone I’d loved, trusted, dated and slept with myself. How could I accept such a horrible malignancy against his character and my judgment without a single doubt? How could I instantly cast aside loyalty to an old friend and choose sides so irrevocably?
Part of it was knowing April, knowing that she would never lie to me (or anyone else). Part of it was the pathetic excuse for a confession he sent to her, days later. In his own cowardly way, he did admit to what he had done. He never denied that he had forced himself on her, and although his admission was laden with caveats and qualifications of every kind, I still considered it a tiny island of mercy in an ocean of betrayal. He spared us the special hell of what if.
Mostly, though, it was knowing him. Knowing that as wonderful as he was, he had pushed my boundaries many times. Sexually, spiritually, emotionally – he tested them constantly. He bragged that he didn’t accept complacency from anyone, including himself. I knew Victor was willing to drive me to the edge of security, but I had trusted that he would never push me off it – that he would, in fact, hang onto me so I wouldn’t inadvertently fall. He claimed that his respect for people, women especially, was paramount.
And it bears repeating that I trusted him with everything, and he forced me into nothing. He could be controversial and contradictory, but the idea of forcing women seemed to disgust him.
Yet once he did… it fit. The line between push and force suddenly seemed so obviously, brutally thin. I saw him take what would not have been offered willingly as clearly as if I’d been there myself.
It’s a poor excuse to say men and women cannot be platonic, ultimately. It gives him a way out and that isn’t right. What else is my fault? Did I give him incentive because I’m pretty, or is it because I’m ugly and that makes me weaker? Is it because I wore heels with a zipper on the back a day before, or is it because I hugged him too much? Is it because I had sex with him the year prior? Did that encourage him more? Is it because some might label me a slut because I’ve had sex with a lot of people? Does that make me an easier target? Or is it because I’m a nice person and I’m friendly? Is it because I slept in the bed next to him? Did that encourage him? Oh crap, you know what it was? Too much cleavage and he just couldn’t control himself.
What about the children who are raped? Do they have any kind of blame? Am I less innocent in the crime against me because I’m older and I should know better? What about spouses who rape the other? I mean, wow.. Now there are two people who have a solid sexual history! Oh wait, but she should’ve run out of the house before he got to her. She knew he was mad and she should have left sooner.
Shall I continue?
Here’s a thought: I was raped because Victor decided to rape me. He knew I did not want him and he decided to have sex with me anyway. That is rape.
The horrifying knowledge that Victor was definitely guilty prevented me from looking at this rape the way I looked at all others – and irrevocably changed the way I looked at all others.
April could not possibly have seen this coming. She went to his house and slept in his bed with the expectation that it would be platonic. I’ve done the same thing – it’s been years, but I have shared Victor’s bed at times with the understanding that we would not have sex, both before and after we started having sex. He always respected that boundary, even when he pressed on it.
I always looked to the victim, before. Poor victim – but she could have avoided [doing something wrong] and avoided her rape. I couldn’t do that here. For the first time, I was looking at a situation where I saw no way April wouldn’t have been raped… unless Victor hadn’t decided to rape her. I could not see how anyone could find fault with her choices – his was clearly the only one that mattered.
Needless to say, that wasn’t how other people saw it.
I understand the urge to find what I contributed to it. We want to help each other keep our risks low. It’s out of love, I understand, but the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
Many people commented or hinted that I did nothing wrong but I had increased my risks by staying with someone I previously had sex with. Someone I know told me that rape is a hundred per cent wrong but he was not sure the victim holds zero accountability. I think those words right there articulate the struggle with this issue. How could one person not have any responsibility if they are involved in a situation? In so many scenarios, people hold some type of responsibility. This friend of mine used the example of someone walking through a bad neighborhood late at night all by themselves. If that person is mugged, the mugger is completely responsible for the crime, but did the victim hold any accountability? Didn’t they increase their risks? This example never sat well with me and I think it’s because “I’ve been there.” Each situation is different, but in the real world, this doesn’t make any sense. He readily admitted this opinion was theory-oriented and my arguments were from practice. I’ve been robbed in broad daylight on a Sunday afternoon in a family park. A few months ago there was a story in Tacoma, WA about girls and women being groped on the bus in broad daylight. People I did not know very well (they were my sister’s friends) slept over at my house and nothing happened. It’s true that attacks happen when the victim is vulnerable, but is it the victim’s fault if they are unaware they are vulnerable?
And that’s what it comes down to, doesn’t it? Victims can avoid being assaulted by not doing things wrong. If a woman is assaulted, she must have been doing something wrong. It’s rare for a woman to do absolutely nothing that others decide is questionable before, during, or after a rape. In my opinion, April’s was such a case – and after watching people of both genders blame her anyway, I realized that we find fault in the victim’s behavior because that’s the person whose behavior we’re trained to examine, even when it makes absolutely no sense.
It’s not like Victor was a stranger. He was someone she trusted like family. It’s not like he was confused about her consent. He waited until she passed out and then bragged about it the following morning to his younger brother. He joked about having drugged her.
Still it was her fault. There is always a reason it was her fault, damn it. We’re going to keep going over the situation until we find one and make you see it.
We’re going to pin a man’s criminal action on your deplorable decision to share a bed with him.
In both of my experiences, trust had been earned. I felt I had covered my safety bases pretty well. I wish I could find something I did wrong. I would have loved to have found it because then I would know to never do it again. But I can’t find anything and that leaves me feeling helpless. Sometimes, people are terrible to each other and it is a hard pill to swallow that even those close to you could abuse you in a heartbeat.
Victor was upheld in our community. We adored him and often looked to him for leadership. He was our defender in so many ways. He was trusted. It devastated many of us.
I am so blessed to have people like Phoenix as friends. A few weeks after he raped me, she flew out to spend the weekend with me. We sat across my kitchen table and talked about it all. We began to work through this issue together. It was scary and strange but despite that we had the time of our lives because we were learning. We bonded through these terrible circumstances and unexpected questions. Thank goodness for her and my friends who worked tirelessly to reassure me I had done nothing wrong.
I can learn from this, I thought at the time. And I have.
Sometimes the most important lessons in life are the most painful.
Confronted for the first time with an assault I couldn’t possibly rationalize, I finally realized how irrelevant that entire line of thinking is. Victor’s actions created the rape, not April’s. He decided to rape her – and if a man decides he will rape, he rapes.
Yet everyone wants to know why she decided to share a bed with him. As if that was what mattered.
I contributed to this. That much, I own. It’s important to me to take responsibility for the harm I caused, the attitude that didn’t change until my first lover raped one of my best friends. I wrote off countless victims (including myself) by focusing on what they could have done differently. Never once did I question what the rapist could have done differently.
How obvious it is now. Rapists rape. Nothing else matters. Drinks, skirts, neighborhoods, skin, sluttiness – they’re all tools. They make it possible, even easy, to excuse the inexcusable. They shine a bright sparkly spotlight on the wrong person.
Even if they had been “risky,” April’s actions didn’t matter because Victor committed the crime.
No rape victim’s actions matter because the rapists commit the crime.
I want women to take responsibility for their safety. But when men choose to violate that safety, they take that responsibility away from her. By definition, they remove her ability to keep herself safe.
And when we hear of a rape, we decide that she should have somehow retained that ability anyway. We put the responsibility right back on her. Never do we leave it with the one who took it.
Victor forced a burden on April that she will carry for the rest of her life. No one can change that. She could not stop him. That night, she had no choices.
She has choices now.
She has chosen to bear this darkness with courage and dignity. She has chosen to allow it to change her perspective on rape culture. She has chosen to help me, and others, do the same. She has chosen to let this evil change her for the better. She refuses to be silenced.
I am honored to stand with her.
Certainly no one wants or intends to hurt victims who are already hurting enough. It’s a difficult subject to handle, but I think we can progress through this by talking with each other respectfully. Phoenix and I have worked very hard in our honest dialogue and sharing questions with the rest of the world because we both, unfortunately, understand this injustice on a deeply personal level. We held each other’s hands last year and stood by each other. That is what this is about; doing the right thing for ourselves and for a better world. Though progress has been made there is much more to be had because there is still a great injustice continuing on in this topic.
Last month I attended the Seattle Slutwalk. There was a speaker who could hardly get over her jitters. She kept saying, “I’m so scared right now” and we’d cheer her on. We told her we loved her. I’m sure we all meant it. I know exactly how that feels because no matter how much we rationalize everything is fine if we don’t feel fine something is wrong. She shouldn’t have been scared. I shouldn’t be nervous writing this out to you.
I shouldn’t have to say I did not contribute to being raped.
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