What is the issue?
The majority of rapes are date rapes and acquaintance rapes, and one of the main issues is consent. Giving and receiving consent before sex is seen as unromantic, not sexy and excessively inconvenient. Well so is putting on a condom. But since AIDS, we have been forced to think again about the importance of safe sex. Well, AIDS is estimated to affect about 1 in 300. Rape affects at least an estimated 1 in 4 women in the US. 1 in 10 men will commit rape. And we can't reconsider our attitudes about consent? This is more than an epidemic, clearly. It is an emergency.
These women are not being attacked in majority by sociopaths or men with obvious mental health issues. The majority are date or acquaintance rapes. That means, the completely typical guy they know through a friend, who offered to walk them home from a party. The guy who also decided to crash at a mutual friend's house. Especially the guy who thinks its okay to have sex with someone who can't stand up on her own because she had too much to drink.
But let's stop talking about this like it's health class.
One in four is here. In your neighborhood, within your friends, within your family. If you have three hundred Facebook friends and don't know anyone who has been raped, why is that? If you are my friend, or if you are just here reading my blog, you know someone who has been raped. You know me. Honestly, you probably know many women who have been raped, but they haven't told you about it. The main thing that I took away from my encounter with the male police officer who took my complaint was that I had been drinking the night that it happened (read: "intoxicated and unconscious"), so I did not have much of a case. Many of my close friends, who loved me very much, tried to find reasons why it happened to me. Maybe to make themselves feel safer? Maybe to make them feel like this couldn't possibly be something that could happen to just anyone? They know the guy that raped me. Trust me when I say that he is a normal guy. The kind of guy you could be friends with. The guy that I would have been friends with. What does that mean? That surely I didn't realize I had somewhere in there given my consent? I must have had some part in it that I could take responsibility for? It was excruciating to have these conversations with people I trusted, who suddenly had no trust in me that my account was the truth. People that knew me dissappeared. Good people. People that love me and are in my life today. Why? They just plain didn't know what to do or what to say. It's not an issue that is talked about, so of course we have no idea how to respond. That's why you don't know the stories of the many women around you who have been raped. We are told that it is our fault, because we were drinking, because of what we were wearing, or whatever. It is implied that there must have been something we did to deserve it, or at the very least something we could have done to prevent it. And when you share your story, you meet absolute radio silence.
Here is why extensive cautionary measures aren't helping nearly enough: because the majority of rapes aren't by strangers. Thank you, world, for the monthly forwards I get about how I should be more "alert" (aka terrified) in parking lots. I should hold my car keys between my fingers and not remove the flyer from the back window of my car. Thank you, but no thank you. Most girls are raped where they feel like they should be safe- at a friend's house, with a family member, or in their own bed. Locking a door would work, if you knew that your friend who asked to crash on your couch was going to attack you. But you don't. This is why women, and all victims, cannot do anything to prevent rape from happening. Statistically, they are the most vulnerable to it when they feel the safest, and it's impossible to accurately predict which someone you feel is trustworthy will become your attacker. Even behind five locked doors, absolutely stone cold sober, it will still happen because the person that becomes the perpetrator is the one she would have let in anyway.
Don't think for one second that I don't feel terrified, nauseated and alone when I share this story. I live a full, happy and fulfilled life now, and thank God for the fact that I have coping skills to deal with this. Lots of us don't. But it cannot take away the feelings of raw violation that I have and will always have buried deep in a nicely locked up place. Feelings that come roaring to life when I hear the offhand remarks that people make when they hear these recent victims reported as "intoxicated and unconscious" and imply that they should have known better. You are speaking in my presence. I was that girl. I would appreciate it if you would not assume an entire story of your own based on those words. You who do not understand what it is like to have to live on and rebuild.
If you don't know me well, here is some background. I was twenty. I was having a long term, very confusing, on and off sexual relationship with my boyfriend. It's really anyone's guess if we were on or off at the time. Off would have been my guess, but if you had asked us then, we probably would both have shrugged and rolled our eyes. I had just gotten back from a long trip south with my friend Amy. My roommate had invited some people from her class over that night, including my (ex)boyfriend. The drinking probably started around seven. I averaged about one beer an hour, drinking more in the beginning and less in the end. We sat around the coffee table and played a few drinking games, listened to some music and talked. There were seven people there total, including myself. I hardly noticed this guy in particular, but he seemed very nice, funny and just like anyone else. I didn't pay much attention to him, other than the very friendly attitude I would direct toward anyone I met.
I said that I was heading to bed, somewhere around eleven or twelve and said goodnight to everyone. I remember the whole night pretty clearly, especially considering it was ten years ago, but of course the reasons for this are probably obvious. I vividly remember asking if my (ex)boyfriend was coming to bed with me, so that we could talk things out. He was flirting heavily with the girl I had just met and said that he might. I know, I know, ridiculous. I should have just blown him off and gone to bed, but I figured he might come in, so I lit candles (ugh, I know) and laid in bed awake for about twenty to thirty minutes. After that, I got up and blew them out, and took some time to fall asleep, thinking about how crazy mad I was that he was out there undoubtedly hooking up with someone else.
In the middle of the night I was in bed with, I thought, my boyfriend. I thought he had joined me sometime earlier when I was sleeping. We were having sex, but I still had my eyes closed, reluctantly pulling myself out of my dream and beginning to wake up. I would say sex in the middle of the night, especially the way things were, was unusual, but in my experience at the time, not really cause for alarm. I said his name, not for the first time, and I was answered. He said "I am not ___". That woke me up in a heartbeat(duh) and I completely freaked out. I did not feel afraid of this guy, I was too angry. I screamed at him to get out of my bed, out of my room, to leave me alone and go and get my (ex)boyfriend and send him in. He tried to soothe me, saying, "Come on, come on, don't be weird about this," or something to that effect. I looked at him like he was nuts and screamed at him that I would feel however I wanted to feel about it and that he needed to stop talking and get the *&%$ out of my room. He left, finally. I just sat there and tried to quell my own panic. Then he came back into my room. He said my (ex)boyfriend would not come in and that there was nowhere else in the apartment to sleep, so he had to sleep in my room. I said, "Fine, if you won't leave, then I will," and I got in my car and left. One of my friends saw me getting ready to leave and asked to come. I parked down the street and cried and told her what happened and she was shocked and sympathetic. I took her back to the apartment and went across town to my cousin's house, I had a key and let myself in. My cousin came down and I told her the whole story (for the second time) and then went to bed.
In the Morning
I knew I didn't want to press charges. I knew what that would mean- having to defend myself over and over again against a guy who seemed to be an upstanding citizen. I didn't feel that I had the support system at the time that I would need to be interrogated by a defense attorney, lose all my friends in a town I had only been in for less than a year, be headline news and have to cry for days in front of a courtroom full of people. I told the whole story (for the third time) to a male police officer, who directed me to the rape crisis center and reminded me many, many times that I had been drinking and therefore did not have much of a case. I took a shower. I spoke to some people close to me, and relayed the story several more times. A few were completely amazing. Some believed me, and didn't know how to act, what to do or what to say. Some didn't believe me and said that perhaps I just didn't remember what happened clearly enough. I had friends that spoke to him about what happened, and argued in his defense. It was the most painful and depressing thing that had ever happened to me.
You know what the strange thing is? Before I was raped, I thought the worst part would be the physical attack, the paralyzing fear. Although I am sure that would have been absolutely traumatizing enough, that wasn't an issue in my case. The worst part for me was the knowledge that after the time I had spent trying to grow respect and trust in my romantic relationships, building up a sense of value and self worth... that someone could come along and just take what they wanted from me and treat it as cheap and worthless. I felt like I had been treated like trash- disposable. Something to be used once and thrown away without a thought about me being a complete person- with a childhood, a mother and a future. That frail, empty, burglarized pain still echoes through me. Someone actually thought that they had a right to try their luck- to come into my room, not knowing me at all, and turn back the covers while I was fast asleep. It still makes me want to cry.
As Promised, Here is How You Can Help
- Both men and women need to make the two C's part of our safe-sex checklist: condoms, and consent. Both are sometimes inconvenient and can feel like a buzzkill, but they are essential to safe sex. This is a problem so huge that we cannot possibly go overboard with consent. A girl who has had too much to drink cannot give consent. Same with guys. So don't have sex when you or your partner has been drinking too much. "You're okay with this, aren't you?" and other heavily coercive language is not okay. There are sexy ways to ask if someone is interested in going further: "Do you want me to stop?" can be hot, I'm telling you. Try it. You have to pull back if they say slow down. You have to be ready to stop physical contact at any time. This means every time, even in long term relationships. Ever heard of a safety word? Killing the mood is nothing compared to the consequences of STDs or date rape. Neither are ever worth the risk.
- Men and women need to make changes in the way they talk to their peers about this issue. Men, if you have ever been in a conversation where a friend of yours has referred to a girl as a "tease", you need to let them know you don't buy into that. Women, if you and your friends are referring to other women as sluts based on their outward behaviors or what they are wearing, put a stop to it. We have all taken part in conversations like these, I know I have, and it's a part of the problem. If you don't know why, get educated. But in the meantime, these little changes can make a huge difference, and the safety of our loved ones is well worth it.
- Women: choose the women you know to protect you over the men that you don't.
- Men: if you see a guy leading an obviously drunk girl away (and I don't care who he says he is), intervene and get that girl a cab or into the arms of her friends. Do not fail.
Everyone is different in the way that they grieve, but showing support of some kind is infinitely better than dissappearing or pretending like it didn't happen. Here are some ways you can offer support:
- Show them how angry you are, and make sure that you tell them that it should not have happened.
- Make sure they know that you in no way hold them responsible for what happened to them, even if they feel responsible. Continually remind them that it is never okay for someone to do this. Not ever.
- Do not make contact with their rapist, ever. Do not listen to his side of the story, do not suggest a reconciliation or an opportunity for redemption. This is their business and you are are either completely supportive of them or you are not. Showing sympathy towards the rapist can make the victim feel undermined and alienated. Many times suggesting contact or referring to the rapist can threaten their very delicate sense of safety and make them panic.
- Offer to go with them to their local rape crisis center, or to get together with them after counseling sessions for a treat- a coffee, a movie or an ice cream, something to distract them.
- Comfort them as if they had suffered a death. They may grieve in really unusual ways (for example, being afraid of public places, physical contact, or social situations), but if they are a close friend, pick them up essentials at the grocery store, bring them flowers and sit with them. Bring a movie. If they aren't a close friend, drop off a meal and a hug, and keep coming back. Sometimes rape victims feel rejected by society, or that people see them as damaged. They aren't sure who to trust. Reminding them every few days or every week that you are there, and willing to listen and be with them is reassuring. My friend Amy did that for me, and remembering her kindness during that time can still bring me to tears, even ten years later.
- Support them if they want to press charges, and support them if they don't. Those girls that reported those rapes this week- I cannot tell you how impressed I am by their incredible bravery. If this blog or any media coverage reaches them, I only want them to hear words of support, sympathy and awe for what they are going through. Going forward with a legal process is an immense amount to ask of someone. There is so much focus on the responsibility of the victim, and it can be a traumatizing experience. Defend your friend's choice and let them know that you realize it is theirs to make and are there for them either way.
- Remind them from time to time that you don't mind talking about it. Remember, it is much harder and more painful for them to live through than for you to listen to. Do not suggest solutions or ways in which you think they may have avoided the outcome, or could avoid it in the future. Just listen.
- It is never too late to offer support. Never ever. The pain is still there, the potential for love and support is still there.
If You Have Been Raped
You are not alone, and it was absolutely not your fault. If you haven't taken advantage of resources in your area, do it now. It is never too late. I did three months of therapy, and I was sure that it wasn't having any affect, until the end, when I really did feel better. I didn't have to talk about the rape, I just talked. The counselors at rape crisis centers are uniquely qualified and it is a place where you can go and know that you are among people that understand what you have been through. Also? It gets better. It really, truly does.
A Special Note to Men
Please do not feel the need to defend your gender. Rape victims feel blamed and terrorized by the gender wars that erupt from conversations about date rape and acquaintance rape, and as you know, they are all around you, whether you know who they are or not. You do not need to defend the poor choices of other men, you are not them. Drop all the talk about extensive cautionary procedures. Support these women and their right to safety by expressing your anger about what happened to them among your friends and family. Be an example to the following generations by practicing safe sex and avoiding use of demeaning language. Women should always feel as safe as the men feel in their communities, and you can help to make that a reality. Visit MenCanStopRape.org for more resources and information.
This was a really painful thing for me to write and talk about but I am fiercely proud that I could. I shouldn't have to hide it. I did nothing to deserve it, it came and hit me in the face. The fact that victims feel like they have to hide this from their communities like a dirty little secret is wrong. It will eat them from the inside. It is my dream that girls like me will see this and feel seen and acknowledged. It is my dream that men and women will read this and find some tools to begin showing their support to those they love, because I know they want to. We need to be surrounded and embraced, and men and women need to gather together and be on the same team about this. We can do this. Begin trying in your small circle today.
Thank you for taking the time to read this, or pass it to a friend. I appreciate each and every one of you for the time and thought that you have invested in the message I have to share.