The boys I hookup with hate asking questions. We’ve all sat in health class and listened to Mr. G describe consent as an ongoing conversation, But questions like “Do you like this?” and “Would you do X?” and “Is this okay?” and “Did you finish?” are questions no one ever even thought to ask me until just this past year. If our hookup culture is anything, it is notoriously silent on all fronts. In sexual encounters where this culture of silence feels most prominent, I have this image of myself that pops into my head wherein I am just a trash can with my name scrawled on it in sharpie. I can’t talk, I can’t move, I can only hold things. I call it a sexual receptacle.
The first time I conjure up this image I am in tenth grade, making out with my boyfriend when he starts to push on the top of my head. At first I think maybe this is just him trying to be sexy–a misguided attempt to be hot by being rough. But he keeps pushing, and it’s not painful or uncomfortable and I don’t feel unsafe, it’s just constant–almost in the background. And I realize that he thinks he is posing a question. To him, this is equivalent to asking politely for a blowjob. I silently push back, a firm “no,” holding my lid tightly shut.
The second time this happens, I am in the middle of a subway car on my way to a party, talking to an upperclassman who wants to know whether he has a shot with my friend. I tell him I think she might be interested in someone else, and he looks dejected for a minute before leaning in and kissing me. I pull away, refusing his offer. He looks at me, vaguely surprised. I stare back. He leans in again and I, pushed back against the wall of the car, reluctantly oblige, my lid pried open.
A few weeks later I am with the same boy at a different party. I am talking with friends when he approaches and puts his arm around me. I walk away, pretending to go join another conversation across the room. He follows me a moment later and drapes his arm back across my shoulder. I silently shrug it off, give a small smile and pretend I need to use the bathroom. I spend the rest of my night dodging eager arm attached to clueless guy, once again stuck in the position of having to defend my space.
In too many of my sexual encounters, verbal conversation seems replaced by a kind of sexual charades–clarity and consideration sacrificed out of fear that talking will ruin “the mood.” That rocks though, because I hate “the mood,” because a lot of the time “the mood” is absolutely toxic. A lot of the time, “the mood” seems to promote unwilling silence and and utter lack of interest in the other person’s comfort. I hate the mood because the mood makes me a receptacle: ready and eager to give you head, something to do with your tongue or your arm. Slowly, though, I am learning not to take shit from the boys I hook up with–to talk to them and demand that they talk to me. With words, not actions.
There are certain things that we hear about throughout our lives, and we know they are real, but we don’t truly comprehend how real they are. Although it would be nice to discern hardship by reading about it, or by listening to people talk about their experiences, we are a self-absorbed species. We perceive the world through the lens of our own experiences, and this hinders us from relating to people who we differ from. Ultimately, we are only mindful of the hardships that we have experienced first hand. I’ve always considered myself fairly empathetic, but I’ve learned that the best listener may never be able to perceive the most seemingly trivial pain. We cannot fathom the severity of anything until it applies to us directly. We cannot judge people, because each person is composed of different experiences that create their identity. I realized how hard it is to understand other people’s experiences, when I felt like no one would ever understand what I had experienced. No matter how clearly I described the fear that penetrated each bone in my body while it was happening, and the disbelief and powerlessness I experienced right after, no one could play it over and over in their minds as easily as I could. No one could understand how this was the tip of the iceberg- why this broke me in half the way that it did. I was alone, trapped in an indelible memory.
I was tempted not to call it rape. When he told me that he thought I wanted it, for a second, I considered that I made it seem that way. I thought, maybe I should have been clearer. But then I thought, how much clearer could I have been, I said no… I said stop… He told me that I shouldn’t let something so little ruin “what we have,” so for a moment I thought that I was being weak, and that I was pitying myself. I told him that he violated my body and didn’t take me seriously, and he told me that I could have pushed him away. He told me that if he knew I would react this way, he would have never done it. Implying that rape is acceptable, as long as the girl doesn’t react. That’s when I started to think, maybe I should let this go. If I don’t call this rape, if I call this a miscommunication, then I won’t have to suffer. I thought to myself, I’m strong enough to pretend this didn’t happen and go on with my life. Me and him have been hooking up for the past month, so it was normal for this to happen… right? Thankfully, I now realize that I am a victim of rape culture.
Most people have heard of rape, but “rape culture” is something that is not discussed as frequently. Rape culture fosters people to blame themselves, to believe that rape is warranted, and to disregard rape. This culture enables rapists to go unpunished- 97% of rapists, to be exact. Once I learned about rape culture, I understood why I was rationalizing a foul act that could never be excused. In Caroline Kitchens’ essay, “It’s Time to End ‘Rape Culture’ Hysteria,” she shares the guilt she experienced when she told a trusted friend that her roommate’s boyfriend raped her, and was asked, “You were drinking, what did you expect?” (Kitchens). Other people that she chose to confide in asked her if she was wearing something provocative or if she had done something to cause the assault. Interrogating the victim on his or her actions perpetuates the notion that the victim could have done something different to avoid being raped. Kitchens writes, “These questions about my choices the night of my assault — as opposed to the choices made by my rapist — were in some ways as painful as the violent act itself.” The after math of rape does not have to be as painful as it was for Kitchens, but we live in a society that blames women for being assaulted. Living in a society that overlooks women has made it difficult for me to accept that I was a victim of sexual assault.
The thoughts going through my head were similar to Ellie’s, a student at Vassar College who experienced disappointment when she did not receive acknowledgment of the rape she reported. The college decided that there was not enough evidence to prove that the perpetrator was aware she was not in a state of consent, so he never experienced ramifications. Ellie was not upset because she wanted him to suffer, she was upset because of the way the administration handled her situation. She writes,
“I wanted to feel safe and okay on this campus, but I didn’t want to do anything that was going to ruin his life or hurt him… (referring to the administration) By not placing this at the forefront of their agenda, something that would help alleviate the pain that victims of rape and sexual assault experience, it sends a lasting message that these issues are unimportant. Everything about this process was ultimately cold, sterile, and terrifying, and I reached a point in the process where I had to ask myself: am I more afraid of my perpetrator or this school?” (Amicucci)
Ellie was looking for acknowledgment of the pain she was suffering, and in turn she received disdain and neglect. She was brave enough to report an incident that shook her entire life, and in return she was shamed by her peers and discredited by the institution she invests herself in. The pain she suffered and continues to suffer was dismissed by the administration, expressing that the College does not acknowledge the severity of sexual assault. The decision to dismiss Ellie’s appeal must have made it even harder for her to accept the incident and find justification in her sorrow. This is why I decided not to report my incident.
I continuously doubt myself and find myself justifying my perpetrators actions. I often need friends to remind me that what happened was cruel and unacceptable. So when my friends told me that I needed to report my offender to protect other girls, I half-heartedly agreed. I knew they would find it selfish, so I didn’t immediately tell them that I am not going to report the incident. As Ellie expressed, I do not want to ruin my perpetrator’s life, because I would forever live in guilt. If I were to report my rapist and receive publicity, there would be people who would make me feel remorseful. The justice that Ellie sought was unfulfilled, so why would my situation be acknowledged? I have no “evidence,” and my perpetrator is an athlete, so I am certain that there would be no retribution. At first I felt guilty for deciding not to file a report, but as I learn about rape culture, I am realizing that the decision is out of my control. I cannot report the incident because I am afraid of the people who will detest me; I am afraid of an administration that will disappoint me. But primarily, I still do not entirely believe that I was raped. There are parts of me that still believe it was my fault, that believe I am over-analyzing, and that believe he is not a rapist. I often look up the definition of rape, as a way to verify my experience. Rape is defined, as “vaginal intercourse by force, without consent, or with a victim whom the perpetrator knows is mentally disabled, mentally incapacitated, or physically helpless.”
“Sexual misconduct is defined as various violent and/or non-consensual sexual acts. Silence, passivity, acquiescence, or lack of active resistance does not constitute or imply consent on its own. In addition, previous participation in sexual activity, however recent, does not indicate current consent to participate, and consent to one form of sexual activity does not imply consent to another form of sexual activity.”
Both of the provided definitions explicitly state that under the conditions of my experience, I was raped. There is no way around it- my perpetrator violated the sexual misconduct policy of my University. I have read through all 18 pages of the “student gender-based/ sexual misconduct policy,” and I am happy with the detailed investigation and care my Univeristy claims to provide for situations like my own. Unfortunately, these definitions do not suffice. As a victim of rape culture, I am stricken by impotence, and cannot accept that I was raped.
As I live and breathe the effects of my experience, I continue to ponder the question: why? I cannot fathom how any human being could have the capacity to mercilessly violate another being, and why rape has become so prevalent. Psychologically, people often have sex to feel desired, not even because they physically want to experience sexual intercourse. (Radwan) Rapists believe that they are satisfying their sexual desire, but they are actually attempting to achieve a desire they are unconscious of. Some of these unconscious desires could be expression of power, compensation, regaining control, feeling superior to the opposite gender, or revenge. My perpetrator did not believe that he raped me. There is no way of knowing his intentions, but I believe that he had an ulterior motive he was not conscious of. This does not excuse my rapist’s actions; this merely aids me in understanding why this happened to me. Rape is so common because we live in a patriarchal society that encourages men to assert their sexual dominance over women, as a way to feel established and gain control over their lives. Rape culture causes victims to believe that they motivate their offenders to be rapists, but the victim is never responsible. The victim is the vessel in which the rapist projects his or her own motivation. I wasn’t raped because I shouldn’t have trusted him. I wasn’t raped because I acted like I wanted it. I wasn’t raped because I didn’t push him away. I wasn’t raped because I needed to learn a lesson. I was raped because he’s a rapist.
Kitchens, Caroline. “It’s Time to End ‘Rape Culture’ Hysteria.” Time. Time, n.d. Web. 03 Dec. 2014.
Amicucci, Elanor. “An Open Letter to the Administration of Vassar College: I Have NOT Forgotten.” Boilerplate Magazine. Boilerplate Magazine, n.d. Web. 03 Dec. 2014.
Radwan, M. Farouk. “The Ultimate Source for Understanding Yourself and Others.” Why Do Men Rape Women. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 Dec. 2014.
I., and Introductio. 04.130 STUDENT GENDER-BASED/SEXUAL MISCONDUCT POLICY Authority: Chancellor (n.d.): n. pag. Web.