Since graduating from college and finishing my B.S. (lolz) degree, I’ve been ironically free to learn what I really want. I’ve had much more time to read, listen to podcasts, and watch Netflix documentaries. After an overdue phone call with a friend of mine, she recommended that I watch “The Hunting Ground” on Netflix. It’s a documentary about sexual assault on college campuses. I also watched “It Happened Here,” a very similar film on the same topic. I highly recommend them both!
Sexual assault has always been a topic lurking in the back of my mind, but it recently surfaced again because someone very close to me is going through the process of attempting to report someone for sexual assault. Unfortunately her school has responded with, “There isn’t anything we can do about it unless we have hard evidence, like a confession.” He is her ex-boyfriend and she has to see him almost everyday. My heart really goes out to her and all women who have experienced sexual assault. It’s much more common than most people would believe. I believe It takes a certain type of person to commit such an act, but I also think we could all–men and women alike– use a real education on consent and what sexual assault is.
I am one of the one in six American women who is sexually assaulted at some point in their lives. I was sexually assaulted when I was 17. At the time I didn’t know it was sexual assault. I had been going through a period of my life where I had recently lost my virginity and didn’t know much about sex or relationships. I was sleeping around a bit, so at the time, I brushed it off as just another guy I slept with. But I do know that what happened haunted me. I tried to act like it didn’t bother me, even hanging out with the guy again (in a group). But the fact of the matter is, I spent several nights crying about it, and it definitely had a big impact on how I viewed myself and men in general. It emotionally distanced me even more from them, made me afraid of them, and caused me to be more distrusting of people in general–something I had already been struggling with most of my life. However, I wasn’t as tuned into my emotions back then, so I didn’t realize what had happened to me was THAT wrong. I knew it was wrong, but I mostly blamed myself.
I was at a party where there was heavy drinking going on. In fact, when I first walked in, there was a girl throwing up in a bucket. Probably not a good omen. I was hanging out with these 2 guys who were friends and somewhat in my friend group. I was drinking and smoking weed, and I recall one of them giving me a drink. At some point in the night I blacked out. I remember making out with one of the 2 friends who I thought was cute at the time, and that wasn’t unwanted. But I started to black out shortly after that. I continued to fade in and out of my blackout throughout the night. I remember the other of the 2 friends started to take an interest in me. I was not attracted to him or interested. I don’t remember much else. What I do remember is that when I came out of the blackout I was on top of him, having sex. I instantly rolled over and was horrified–other people were in that room, watching. Even now I can feel the shame and pain in my heart. I fell asleep and woke up to find my underwear on the ground. I was extremely embarrassed. I couldn’t believe I would do that. A group of my “friends” were going out to breakfast the next morning and I asked if I could join and they ignored me, looking at me like I was trash. I was so embarrassed and ashamed. I went home that day, hungover and feeling like shit.
Later that week, I heard that the guy I made out with told people I gave him a blowjob at the party. At the time I thought he was lying and made it up, but looking back, it could’ve been true. I had blacked out, which, with more experience drinking, I can say has NEVER happened to me any other time. No matter how much I drink, I don’t black out. I will usually throw up before it gets to that point.
Anyway, I found out even later that a friend of mine who had been at the party, overheard me telling the guy who assaulted me (which I can now say with confidence is what happened) that I didn’t want to hook up with him because, “I don’t shit where I eat,” a phrase I liked to use at the time. I don’t recall saying that to him or even having that conversation. I felt betrayed–like why hadn’t anyone intervened? Instead I just felt like a slut at the time and again, blamed myself. But I know for a fact I wouldn’t have done that willingly, had sex in a room full of people, no matter how many guys I had consensually slept with in the past.
To this day I wonder if I was drugged because again, I never black out. I’ll never know. And even if I wasn’t, I’ll still be haunted with the memory of knowing that even though I continually said no, some guy still had sex with me IN A ROOM FULL OF PEOPLE.
Even though I was drinking at a party, even though I had slept around before–I didn’t deserve that. I wasn’t asking for it. Yes, if I hadn’t been in that situation, drinking at a party, it wouldn’t have happened. But I was and it did. I was just being a normal teenager going to a party where my friends were. But that wasn’t the decision that led to me being sexually assaulted. It was the decision of a person who took advantage of my drunkenness and inexperience even after I said “no.”
Colleges are just starting to get the message. Maybe for the sake of saving their own asses, but at least it’s being talked about. There’s still a lot more work to be done. I think the message should be discussed as early as high school. I think boys and girls alike should be receiving the message, because many young people, especially young girls and women, based on our nature, whether it’s socialized or biological, tend to give people the benefit of the doubt and trust others more than we maybe should. And even though I was in no form to stop it from happening, as many girls are not, I didn’t even know that what happened to me was rape until a few years later. I’m still a bit confused about everything that happened. If I had been given a more comprehensive education about sexual assault maybe I would’ve reported it. And in some cases people do know what’s happening but feel helpless to stop it because they feel bad for the offender, like maybe they should comply because they were being flirty and were therefore “asking for it,” or if they were interested in the person and wanted to be liked. I think young people need to be taught that unless they are certain they and their partner(s) want to participate in that act, and if they feel pressured at all, they should not go through with it. There will always be someone else interested who won’t pressure you into doing something you don’t want to. It doesn’t show love and it won’t keep them around.
I’m not saying this will prevent sexual assaults from happening, but it would be a step in the right direction. I don’t recall ever being educated about sexual assault in high school, not even in health class. I remember my mom talking to me about how to not be a target AKA not walking alone at night, not drinking or doing drugs, keeping aware of my surroundings, telling me horror stories about girls who were abducted…it made me think rape was something that happened when you were alone with a stranger. My bad feelings about the situation were internalized at the time–not because it was unwanted but because I had been part of something dirty.
The more I look back on it, the more I realize that I was likely targeted. He only showed interest in me when I was extremely inebriated (and possibly drugged). I wonder if he’s done this to anyone else.
I know now there is less of a stigma against victims of sexual assault, and I am so grateful for the men and women who keep pushing this movement forward. However, clearly there’s a lot more work that needs to be done. I think that many women, myself included, go into college and even high school parties very naive and inexperienced. Sex wasn’t a topic freely discussed in my house. It was even looked down upon as inappropriate and we were told not to do it or really even talk about it. While that can’t be prevented, I think some cases where people are taken advantage of could be.
When we travel to foreign countries, we are warned of how to prevent getting pick pocketed and even to stay away from places with rare terrorist attacks. However, I was never taught about how to avoid situations where I could be sexually assaulted by someone I knew, which is the most common form of sexual assault. 7 out of 10 rapes are committed by someone who the victim knows. I was told not to drink because it was bad for you, and bad things could happen, but not to drink in moderation because people can easily use alcohol to take advantage of you. Again, not that it definitely would’ve stopped me from binge drinking. But I think opening that conversation would’ve been helpful both at school and at home.
Again, I will say, that I was drinking at a party and I was in a high-risk situation. But it still wasn’t my fault. I also drive in a car everyday, which is also a high-risk situation, but if I got rear ended by another car and was injured as a result, I wouldn’t be blamed. However, I also wear a seat belt when I get into a car to prevent injury. I think that young people should be better prepared for what to expect when going into these situations, but it’s also VERY different from my car analogy. We are all humans, not machines, and being hurt by sexual assault isn’t an “accident”: it’s something that needs to be addressed for what it is– an act of violence and predation!
According to RAINN (Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network), here are some tips on how to respond if someone is pressuring you to have unwanted sex:
1. Remember it isn’t your fault. You didn’t do anything to warrant this. No matter what the other person is telling you.
2. You have no obligation to anyone but yourself. Only do what you feel comfortable with. You have no responsibility to follow through with anything.
3. It’s ok to lie. If your safety or sense of comfort is at risk, do whatever you have to do to get out of the situation.
And this is taken straight from RAINN’s website about how consent works. They did an awesome job here, especially in the section about what consent does NOT look like, so I didn’t change anything:
Positive consent can look like this:
- Communicating when you change the type or degree of sexual activity with phrases like “Is this OK?”
- Explicitly agreeing to certain activities, either by saying “yes” or another affirmative statement, like “I’m open to trying.”
- Using physical cues to let the other person know you’re comfortable taking things to the next level
It does NOT look like this:
- Refusing to acknowledge “no”
- Assuming that wearing certain clothes, flirting, or kissing is an invitation for anything more
- Someone being under the legal age of consent, as defined by the state
- Someone being incapacitated because of drugs or alcohol
- Pressuring someone into sexual activity by using fear or intimidation
- Assuming you have permission to engage in a sexual act because you’ve done it in the past
Looking back at my own experience, the person who assaulted me:
- refused to listen when I said no
- acted when I was incapacitated by drugs/alcohol
- possibly assumed that because I’ve “done stuff in the past,” and maybe even based on what I was wearing, that it would be ok
For anyone who has ever been in a similar situation, know that if it felt wrong, if you felt like you were being pressured to do something you didn’t want to do, if you were in the wrong place at the wrong time, it wasn’t your fault. And it never will be.