Women are still shamed for having been sexually assaulted or raped, and women are even blamed for being assaulted. Nothing is worse than being violated in the sickest of ways and then being told that you don't have a right to feel bad: it was your fault. “If you wanted it to stop, you would have pushed him away.” “You would have ran.” “You would have called the cops.” The list goes on and on. I've heard them all. I've even been told by a man that I wasn't sexually assaulted: “You can't be sexually assaulted if he's your boyfriend,” as if a man has any rights to my body simply because we are exclusive.
These rape-culture mindsets have made it difficult for me and other women to share our stories, or to even admit we’ve been assaulted. It's hard to feel safe enough to share with one person, let alone the world, that someone has taken from you what was not theirs to take. People, both men and women--typically women who haven’t been assaulted, or don’t understand what sexual assault actually looks like--will tell you it's your fault. Why? Why is it any woman’s fault that she is violated by someone she trusts? By someone who desired her, in that moment, when she didn't want to be touched? Women who say they've been assaulted or raped are told to “Shut up,” to stop their “bitching,”or other things that excuse men's actions as “Okay.” There are a few things I would like to discuss in this article to hopefully have some lasting impact on women who have suffered as I have.
1. Just because he's your boyfriend, your husband, or your current beau, he is in no way entitled to your body. If you don't want it or aren't in the mood, then communicate that information the moment you've made that decision. The hope is he won't pressure you, will respect your wishes, and despite some awkward moments while you regroup and make a change of plans, you'll survive and be glad you said something. Unfortunately, not every man will respect your words or boundaries. He will coax you, he will insult you, saying that you "owe" him after arousing him, or he will simply take. In situations like this, you need to shut him down immediately and leave. Nothing good comes out of believing bullshit like you “owe” him just because his dick is lifted. Just because he's “your man,” does not mean he owns you. Just because you love him, does not mean you have to have sex with him if you don't want to. That's called rape. If you don't want it, that is sexual assault and not only will it ruin your relationship in ways you never thought imaginable, it will haunt you for many, many years to come.
2. You are in complete control of what you are and are not okay with. If you're okay with a little bit of “horseplay” but not sex, full disclosure will help prevent any miscommunication. If he can't just play without wanting to push you down and take what isn't his, then, as a couple, you should either find something else to do or agree that you won't work out as a couple. He should also be respectful enough to communicate with you if he wants the result of your play to be sex. No relationship requires sex as a stipulation of intimacy. Sex can be a beautiful thing when two compliant partners are in agreement of their comfort zones and what they want to do. Every couple is different, but what is consistent is that no woman (or man) owes her body to anyone else. There is no argument, no excuse, no idea that stands valid against the fact that your body is YOURS.
3. It’s not your fault. If someone walks up and smacks you across the face, are you responsible for their actions? No. If someone grabs your ass without your permission, is that your fault? No. If you said, “No,” or, “Not tonight,” and he still pushes you down, and explores your body with you laying rigid, is that your fault? ABSOLUTELY NOT! You’ve said "No." You’ve said all you need to say to alert your assaulter to the fact that you’re not interested. You laying there IS NOT you giving consent. A lot of situations like this are misinterpreted as consent, but it’s not. Relationships are delicate, and, being in a situation where everything is happening faster than you can process, does not mean you’ve given your consent. If you’ve never experience a situation like that, then you might not know how to respond when someone crosses your boundaries, especially if you don’t want to offend them by being firm in your dissent. I’ve had men who did respect me cross that line, where I actually had to use a firm tone of voice for them to stop.
4. Never be afraid to assert yourself in a situation. The unfortunate truth of the matter is: you have to be firm in situations like this. Sometimes “No” doesn’t say enough. Be brave; push him away, raise your voice and add a tone that says, “I’m not playing, now stop.” When you’re trapped in a new situation, it can be confusing to know the right course of action. If you don’t feel comfortable in a situation, get out of it as quickly as you can. If you have to be rude to do it, then do what you must. No relationship is worth someone disrespecting you in the ultimate, most defiling way possible. If he’s willing to treat you that way in the first place, putting his physical urges before your basic human rights, then you don’t need him in your life anyways--and if you love him, he’s still not worth it. No man--no “love”--is worth putting your needs below someone else’s desires.
5. Talk about what happened. Don’t feel scared or ashamed to admit you’ve been hurt and wronged. It’s a fact of your life. There’s nothing wrong in admitting that you’ve had a life experience. You’ll also find that, the more you talk about it, the more you will be able to accept that it did happen, and be able to process what you experienced, in order to move forward with your life. Don’t let anyone tell you it was your fault, either. If they won’t listen to reason, then tell them, “Thank you for listening to me talk, but I have nothing further to say that will reach an agreement with our differing views,” and walk away. First try to inform your listener, but if they completely buy into rape culture mentalities, then they won’t see your experience for what it really is. Don’t be afraid to take ownership of your own life; walk away, be brass if necessary, but never let someone bring you down. Finding the right person to listen to you, however, can make all the difference in recovering.
6. Time really does heal all wounds; it takes work, processing, support, and courage, but healing is possible. It’s been 5 years since I’ve been assaulted by a man I both loved and trusted. I still have moments where I feel what can only be described as an “empty” or “broken” shell, but these moments are fleeting and don’t last. They are often brought-on by other stressors in my current day life. But the positive side is: I no longer flinch when I’m touched. I’m open to trusting people again. I feel brave, strong, and confident. Despite what I’ve experienced, I can feel free of the ties to a person who hurt me, once upon a time. I feel no lingering hate for a person who maybe didn’t understand his own actions. I don’t make excuses for what transpired between us; but I know holding a grudge will only hold me down.
I hope women everywhere will take the time to understand that, unless you’ve been put into one of these situations, you may not actually see a person’s actions for what they are: assault, or otherwise in everyday life. No woman, especially not a young or impressionable woman, will realize a situation as one with potential for sexual assault until she’s been in one, and most likely becomes assaulted. Hindsight really is 20-20, and you can recognize a situation for what it was, and what it is, after it has transpired. That’s the hardest part of stopping first time assaults: you won’t always recognize the red flags as flags at all.
Once a woman has been assaulted, it’s hard for her to forget, or be ignorant to, actions that convey assault. These women will be the wiser and stronger. Perhaps by sharing their stories, these women can help stop future assaults. Hopefully we can reach women and young women who haven’t been in these situations, and help them to have a warning as to what potential assault looks like. By the time I watched a helpful “Stop sexual assault” video through my college’s undergraduate program, it was too late. If only I’d seen the video a year earlier, I would have had a better idea of how to stop what seemed like a boyfriend showing his girlfriend his “affection,” but was actually a boyfriend disrespecting what his girlfriend had asked of him, and taking something he had no right to.