I’ve never been raped.
But I’ve almost been raped.
At the time, though, that’s not what I called it. Well, truthfully – I didn’t call it anything at first because I didn’t speak of it. But when I would begin to talk about it, I found ways to call it everything other than attempted rape. I also found ways to diminish it, feeling as if there wasn’t much to discuss since I’d been lucky and was spared. Even when I would later tell my younger sisters the story, I would relay it to them as a cautionary tale. I’d say, “so this was the ugly situation I found myself in,” and I’d make sure to tell them what they should be on the lookout for to ensure they didn’t end up wondering what happened on a random night out with people they thought they knew.
I told them how my thoughts at the time were simple: “Oh my God, thank God that didn’t happen!” “I’m never drinking alcohol again.” “I shouldn’t have trusted them.” “I hate him.” “Oh my God, thank God that didn’t happen.” I relayed all the details, too, telling them how what started out as an innocent night of girls and guys hanging out and drinking turned into a nightmare in which I was being carried into the bathroom to finish throwing up by the very same man who’d just tried to have sex with me 2 minutes before.
I told them how my girls and I thought we were drinking one thing and later found out that the guys had planned all along to switch out the vodka with Everclear to get us drunk faster. I told them how scary it was to one minute think that I was fine and the next minute see the room spinning and feel someone pick me up, wanting him to stop, but not being able to move my limbs. And I told them how I was extremely lucky because right before the guy could insert anything, my stomach muscles kicked in and I began throwing up all over the place.
It was good for them to hear, and I’m glad I finally got to the point where I could talk about it with them. But the thing is, I framed this cautionary tale as being more about my naivete than about the guys’ wrongness. And while I had every good intention in what I was saying, an older sister wanting to make sure her younger sisters were not hurt in the same way as they journeyed on to college, I was misguided and wrong.
What I didn’t realize at the time was that I was still reeling from what happened, not in the sense that I was haunted by it, but in the sense that my perspective had been skewed. I’d spent so much time by that point thinking about what I did wrong and what I could have done differently that I was transferring that message onto them. I never said “making sure you don’t do this will prevent you from getting raped,” but I also never said that night wasn’t my fault.
What’s striking to me now is how I put the blame on myself. How it became my fault that people I called friend led me to believe I was drinking one thing when in actuality, I was drinking something else. How it was my fault to have believed them, and my fault for putting myself in that position. My fault for putting my girls in that position since those guy friends were supposedly mine. But really, when I think about it – my thought process was the natural progression for many of the things the general public says anyway. Because if we’re spending so much time talking about ways in which women should try to avoid getting raped, it naturally puts the blame on the victim. And that gets taken in internally too.
Sure, I knew the men were wrong, but my focus was always on me and what I could have done differently. How I could have avoided that “situation.” I was treating myself no differently than the way we’ve seen people react to the Steubenville victim, saying she shouldn’t have been that drunk and maybe she wouldn’t have been in that position. The inconvenient truth is that she’s probably thinking that too. I know there are some things I would do differently about that night if I had a time machine. But the bigger truth is that regardless of what I drank, whether I knew what it was or not, because of the state of drunkennes I was in, no one had the right to try to have sex with me in that condition.
And no one had the right to have sex with her either.
But sadly, these kinds of things go on daily in our country. And until we change the conversation about rape from being this violent act done by some stranger jumping out of the bushes, it will continue to happen. I know in my instance, even though I said no several times, because my body wouldn’t move and I wasn’t fighting him, the guy didn’t think he was doing anything wrong. In the same way, those guys in Steubenville didn’t think they were doing anything wrong either at the time. To them, she was just an object. It was a joke. They were partying and having a good time. She wasn’t a person who was being defiled and raped.
That’s why talking about this is so important. It’s not enough to go on with our lives once this story dies down and continue living unaffected. But it’s also not enough (and unfair and dangerous) to only talk to women about it. Men need to be a part of these discussions. They need to know that having sex with someone who can’t give consent isn’t a good time. It isn’t a joke, and it isn’t something she’ll “just get over.” It’s rape. Whether you know her or not. Whether you “believe” her “no” or not. It’s rape. And it’s never her fault.