Content Warning: This piece contains references to sexual assault, which may be triggering to some.
You know those random Facebook friend requests from old acquaintances you never approve or deny, but just let sit there in Facebook friend limbo forever? Or until you graduate them to “Blocked”. I got one of those a while back, at first I didn’t even recognize his name. But when I did, I realized it was the guy who had raped me nearly 10 years ago.
There’s a lot of attention on consent education lately, we are often reminded that if it’s not yes, it’s no. It’s that simple. Then there’s my personal favourite, the tea analogy. It reminds us that sometimes a person thinks they want tea, but they might still change their minds. Even if someone has already gone to the trouble of making the tea.
It took years before I actually realized and accepted something that had happened to me around the end of college might have been rape. It was, like many cases, just a small house party. With, like many cases, someone I thought I liked. I always assumed that if this ever happened, I would just hurl the guy off of me, kick him in the nuts and run. So easy!
But I underestimated the weight of someone bigger, stronger, and more intoxicated than me.
It’s still weird to say — or even type, for a couple reasons. These are the reasons I blamed myself, the reasons I never talked about it, and the reasons I had so much trouble calling it what it really was.
We had done it before
With hindsight and a mildly more mature brain, I realize this doesn’t mean shit. But at the time it was the biggest hurdle. I was told and believed that I was being confusing, I thought it was my bad for saying yes one time, and no another. However, there is nothing confusing about the words “no”, “stop”, and especially not, “get the fuck off me”. That last one is particularly difficult to misinterpret. He acted like he couldn’t hear me, and those words were not said quietly.
The difference comes down to something really simple. The first time was consensual, and the second time was not. For some reason I believed that it couldn’t really be rape with someone you had already had consensual sex with, or rather, that he couldn’t be blamed… That it was my own fault because we had crossed this bridge once before and it was okay, so it’s natural that it would be expected now.
It wasn’t violent
I grew up associating the word “rape” with being brutally, physically attacked. This is also bullshit. Television, movies, and horror stories of the 90’s had taught me that it was almost always dramatically violent. This was not like that. Though I was restrained, I never felt scared that this person was going to hurt me (in a way beyond what he was doing). I just felt like I didn’t want to be having sex with him. And so I didn’t think it qualified. That’s why they’re called rape “survivors”, right?
Sadly, in my mind the experience didn’t feel like a big enough deal to be called what it really was. I didn’t understand that it could wear many different masks.
I was still me afterwards
I always pictured rape victims as being severely mentally and emotional scarred after their experiences. I had that image of somebody rocking back and forth sitting on the shower floor, or being startled anytime anyone came too close to them. But I didn’t feel this way. Sure, I sobbed into a McDonald’s bag with my then-best friend immediately afterwards, but the sun still rose the next day, and the day after, and after a few sunrises, I felt pretty normal. Albeit a little confused and pissed off… I didn’t suddenly hate men — or myself, I wasn’t sexually traumatized, and I‘ve never felt personally offended by comedy routines that touch on rape.
But what I was, was afraid to tell people. I had pride and was worried about looking like some stupid girl who got herself into a bad situation. Maybe deep down I was just worried someone would correct me.
It wasn’t until a conversation with a friend about 3 years later, when that finally happened. His name came up because of a mutual friend, and I told her the story after drinking a water bottle of vodka and Crystal Light, (I know, I know, but it was so cost efficient.)
I literally had to be told that I was raped before I truly believed it.
But I’m not a victim, and my friend* isn’t a rapist…
Ok, so it turns out that maybe we are those things. But it was the heaviness of those words that made me think otherwise. I’m a copywriter, so I spend a lot of time analyzing words, their definitions, and the right scenarios to use them. I struggled with identifying as a “victim”, I felt like by doing so, I would be taking something away from real victims. Victims are people who were involved in horrific and tragic events, people we feel bad for. People who might now be damaged. But I learned that this too, can wear many masks.
And rapists? Well they are dangerous, they go to jail… Growing up, the word conjured images of a knife wielding psychopath. But this person didn’t look like that. He was my friend, we used to go out for pizza, we set our best friends up together, and talked nearly every day. I almost felt the need to defend him. He was just being stupid that night, just being drunk… or in hindsight, just being a rapist.
Before this happened, I used to wonder why women stayed silent. I used to think, if a guy ever did that to me, I would publicly blast and destroy him in as many ways as possible… I didn’t do this. I actually never saw or spoke to him again. But I’m not writing this now for revenge, I’m writing about it because the attention and awareness put on consent has been rising dramatically, and with the number of stories being shared it finally feels like a safe place to get mine out of my system. A place where I am believed, instead of told I am confusing and misleading. It took months to even publish this, and I shudder at the thought of anyone I know reading it.
But that is exactly the problem I want to help change.
These feelings are amplified now that I have a daughter, kids need to grow up knowing how fucking simple consent is. Not the over complicated intricate web that was spun for me. Even if it seems like it’s complicated or in some grey area, even if it’s hiding behind different masks, at the core it’s as black and white as tea.