When I was one month into being 17 and in the first month of my first semester at art college, I was raped by a dude in the middle of the afternoon… when we were both totally sober. There were no weapons involved. I wasn’t beaten. At the time I didn’t even realize that I had been raped. In fact, it took me months to realize what had happened. Rape was something that happens in the middle of the night at gunpoint to stupid women who walk around the streets alone. Rape was something that happened to girls who weren’t paying attention to their surroundings. Rape was something that happened to girls who got drunk or did too many drugs and passed out, like that girl from the movie Kids. I wasn’t that kind of girl. I had a good head on my shoulders. I had the good sense to avoid danger. I didn’t smoke, barely drank, and hung out with a good crew of people. I was skinny and shy, but I really thought I knew people. I was really good at reading people all of my life. It just came naturally to me.
So when a seemingly normal guy I’d met before in one of my classes asked me if I wanted to hang out with him and a few other people I knew up in his dorm after lunch, my alarms didn’t go off at all. I mean it was the middle of the day… nothing bad happens before night time. I was psyched actually. Here I was, only a month in and I was on my way up to a dorm to hang out with some cool people with dreadlocks. It was the 90’s and I was from a small town, cut me some slack here… Anyway after I watched this guy finish off a gigantic sub with tons of raw onions on it, we walked across the street to the dorms. On the elevator ride up he said he wanted to stop by his room on the way to grab something. So we walked down the hall to his room and the moment we got into his room, he closes the door behind him, pushes me up against it and starts kissing me in a rather ungentlemanly way.
I was so surprised at first that I didn’t know how to react. I mean, a few moments ago I was watching him eat this gigantic onion covered sub and now his tongue was in my mouth. All I had time to think about was “eww onions…” and then suddenly I was on his bed. He was so forceful and fast. He wasn’t giving me any time to think this through. I was lying there, underneath this guy from my class, and my mind was racing to keep up with what was happening to me. It was sort of like this:
“I have lots of hormones going on right now. That part where we were making out against the door was fun. Eww onions. Is he wearing CK1? He’s kinda cute but not really my kind of guy. Did he think that when I said I liked his hat that I meant that I wanted to jump his bones? I didn’t mean to flirt. Did I give him mixed messages? I didn’t mean to give him mixed messages. Do I want to be doing this right now? I don’t know? Weren’t we just supposed to be grabbing something and going upstairs to hang out with the dreadlock people? I need air. I need time to think. How did I get myself into this situation? Eww…. onions…”
Meanwhile this guy is like full on smashing me so hard into the mattress that I can’t actually move or speak. I’d been with dudes before. By that time I’d had two boyfriends, both of whom I’d slept with, but I’d never been with a guy who was so physically forward with me. I had never been in a situation where things were happening too fast for me to think or decide how I felt or what I wanted. I felt him wrestling with the button on my jeans. I had no idea what to do and it took me far too long to even realize that this guy was totally going to have sex with me, whether I had said I wanted to or otherwise. By the time I realized this, however, he was already inside me. No protection, no consent, no… NO. NO THIS IS NOT HAPPENING TO ME. No. I don’t want this. No. I’m not that kind of girl. I had decided, in the course of what felt like forever but was probably only two or three minutes, that I wanted this to stop…
“STOP!” I manage to get out of my mouth, despite the fact that his face was smashed into mine. I started struggling and pushing him off of me. He jumped back saying something about not realizing I wasn’t “into it” with this look of nervousness in his eyes. I’ll never forget his nervousness, because he knew what he was doing. He knew he was going too far, but even though he knew, he didn’t try to stop himself for one second to ask me if it was okay. He never gave me the chance to say anything…
And I didn’t say anything. It took me months to say anything. I didn’t say anything, even after I went and got tested because I was convinced that, despite the extremely short amount of time he was all up in my business, he had impregnated me and given me AIDS like the girl in Kids. Meanwhile I went to class with this guy. I ran into him in the hallway. I’d see him crossing the street or across the cafeteria, and each time I’d have the same reaction. My heart would start racing. I’d feel like I couldn’t breathe… and then I’d remember the smell of onions on his breath, mingling with the scent of CK1… and I’d feel dirty, sick, violated. I kept telling myself that it was my fault. I was the one that went up there to his room. What did I expect, heading to a college boy’s dorm room? I must have given him mixed messages. I’ll just learn from my mistakes and not let it happen again. I’ll be sure not to trust anyone like that again. I must have done something to deserve it. It was my fault.
I finally told my high school ex-boyfriend. He freaked out and said that I absolutely had to tell the school what happened and he couldn’t believe I was still taking classes with a guy that “raped” me. It was the first time I’d actually toyed with the idea that maybe… just maybe… this guy had raped me. So, months later, after the guy probably thought he had dodged a bullet, I told the school. He was immediately expelled. I should have felt relieved. I felt guilty. I. felt. GUILTY. I actually felt guilty for getting him kicked out of school. That’s how powerful my denial was. I had convinced myself that it wasn’t rape… not real rape… for so long, and when I was finally able to admit that it was, I still felt guilty. I was convinced that I had let myself get raped. It took me years to realize that none of it was my fault. It took me even longer to realize that it wasn’t his fault either.
The reasons why it took me so long are a direct result of the confusing information given to me. “Sex is wrong” vs “Sex rules the world.” “Don’t dress like a slut” vs “Here are Cindy Crawford’s boobs and inner thigh areas in this magazine that teaches women how to dress.” “Save yourself for marriage.” vs “Sex is natural, sex is good, not everybody does it, but everybody should.” Add that to what I’d been told by countless brochures, lectures, teachers, television shows, etc… through out my whole life. I’d been told how best to avoid rape. I’d been told to go for the balls. I’d been given tons of information on what to do after I was raped. But no one had ever told me how to recognize it for what it was when it didn’t come in the middle of the night around a dark corner somewhere. No one mentioned that grey area, that fine line, where you aren’t sure what you want or how you feel. No one told me that I could have ever been confused about whether or not I’d actually been raped.
Add that to the fact that I’m guessing this dude from my class was, as I was, bombarded with sexual imagery everywhere, and yet we weren’t told how to deal with our sexual desires. No one showed this kid the right way and the wrong way to have sex with a person. I’m guessing that the only thing this dude knew about sex was from watching pornography of women being violated in all sorts of horrible ways and just totally, and completely unrealistically, loving the shit out of it. How was he supposed to realize that in the real world he should, you know, maybe ask me if I was actually game for a bit of the old in-out, when these ladies on Ass Blasters IV seem to be just ready for a throw down whenever. No, it doesn’t make what he did okay, but the blame can’t be entirely on him when society has taught him that he’s a man and if he wants something, he should take it and take it forcefully because that’s what “real” men do.
I’m now 34. I wish I could say that I learned right away from my mistakes when I was 17, but I managed to make all sorts of other mistakes a long the way. I wish I could say that I’ve never had sex with anyone that I didn’t love, but I can’t. I’ve slept with dudes that I told myself I’d never sleep with. I’ve cheated. I’ve lied. I’ve slept with people just for revenge. I’ve slept with people just so I didn’t have to be alone. I’ve slept with people so that I had a place to sleep. I’ve woken up in strange beds with men I only know on a first name basis and felt guilty and wrong and like I’d made a huge mistake. Part of that was just me working stuff out. Part of it is just being a human animal. But I knew what rape was and how to recognize the difference between making a drunken mistake and being violated against my will. I knew when to take responsibility for my own actions and when to stand up against someone who has taken something from me.
I know now that consent is something that cannot be implied. It isn’t something that can be guessed at. Consent must be given, otherwise it’s not consent. Trust is something that cannot be implied. Trust must be earned. This guy from my class didn’t know anything about trust, or consent. He didn’t know a thing about what good sex is, because good sex requires both. Perhaps he learned eventually. Perhaps not. I hope for his sake he learned from it. I learned many things, but the thing that is most valuable to me is that I learned how to forgive my 17 year old self for not knowing how to react to a situation like that.
I wrote this down so that maybe some 17 year old girl will read it. Maybe, if she unfortunately finds herself in a situation like this, she’ll know what to do. Maybe she’ll be able to stop it before it starts, but if she can’t, she won’t blame herself if it does. She’ll know it’s not because of anything that she did. She’ll be able to see rape for what it is, even if it doesn’t come at her in the night. Even if it comes from some dude she sorta knows in the middle of the day. Even if it comes when she’s had too much to drink one night. Even if she can’t remember what happened. She’ll know the difference between a drunken mistake and a violation of her trust and her body.
I wrote it in the hopes that some 17 year old kid, who’s maybe watched too much porn in his free time, will read it and he’ll suddenly wake up. He’ll realize he’s disgusted by what this dude did to me. He’ll make a promise to himself that he’ll never treat a woman the way that this dude treated me. He’ll know what it means to be a gentleman. He’ll feel inspired to learn how to really be with a woman. He’ll know not to do nasty things to girls when they are passed out and then put them on the internet, not because of fear of getting caught, but because he will know that it’s wrong to do that to a person. And yeah okay, maybe he won’t eat a sub covered with raw onions before he tries to make out with a girl. Cause like… gross.